Maple syrup semifreddo
<i>Desserts</i>, by Belinda Jeffery.
Maple syrup semifreddo Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery.

Fans of home-made ice-cream face two options: spend $500 or so buying a bench-top refrigerated churner, or turn instead to semifreddo.

Actually, you can make ice-cream by hand, if you have the patience and wrist strength to whip the ice-cream every 20 minutes as it freezes - to stop it crystallising and ensure it stays smooth. Or you can buy a cheap churner that you put in the freezer first, but this needs freezer space, makes only small amounts and (in our experience) isn't the most successful option.

Semifreddo is the ice-cream for which you need no churning equipment. Meaning ''semi frozen'', it's made by folding cream into the egg base (along with flavourings) and, as a result, has a softer and lighter texture than ice-cream. For the egg base, you can use either yolks or whites. Some recipes call for hot-sugar syrup to be poured into beaten egg whites; others for the syrup to go into beaten egg yolks. Others still call for the yolks and sugar to be beaten over simmering water. Most include cream in roughly equal quantities to the egg mix. All semifreddos differ from classic ice-cream, for which you make custard - cream, egg yolks and sugar cooked carefully, and for which you need to churn.

Diana Lampe, Raspberry and Amaretto Semifreddo.
Diana Lampe's Raspberry and Amaretto Semifreddo. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Chef and cookbook author Belinda Jeffery is a fan of pretty much all kinds of ice-cream, including no fewer than 14 ice-cream and six semifreddo recipes in her new book, Desserts.

She says semifreddo is the perfect option for people who don't have ice-cream machines, and is quick and simple to make. Techniques vary, she says, even offering a recipe that requires no heat at all - the amaretti semifreddo on this page, which simply has whipped egg whites folded into cream that has been sweetened and flavoured with amaretto. This is a recipe that reminds me of a family dessert we called ''chantilly ice'', made of cream folded into beaten egg whites, then mixed with crushed meringues, then frozen (which might be a cheat's version of a recipe attributed to Julia Child that calls for cream folded through an Italian meringue).

Jeffery, who had her own cafe in Sydney before moving to Mullumbimby near Byron Bay a decade ago (where she writes for Delicious magazine), says semifreddos can vary enormously in texture, depending on the method you use. Pouring hot syrup on to beaten egg whites (the way you make an Italian meringue) gives a lighter semifreddo than beating egg yolks and sugar over heat.

Diana Lampe, Raspberry and Amaretto Semifreddo.
Diana Lampe, Raspberry and Amaretto Semifreddo. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli makes what he calls a chocolate ''parfait'', which uses similar techniques. He first makes a Swiss meringue - egg white and sugar whipped over simmering water, which he folds into melted chocolate, then cream. Parfait, Jeffery says, is essentially the French version of semifreddo.

While the typical recipe has the same amount of cream as meringue, you can change the ratios for a different texture, reducing the cream if you like. Some flavours work better as semifreddo than others, Jeffery says, citing strawberry, which she likes better as an ice-cream than semifreddo. Whichever method you use, an important tip, she says, is to keep beating the egg mixture until it is cool, which helps stabilise it. Don't add the whipped cream until the eggs are cool, otherwise it will melt.

''Other than that, they're just so easy to make and so effective,'' she says. And for all the differences in technique, put a scoop of ice-cream, semifreddo, gelato or parfait in a cone and hand it to someone, they're probably not going to notice the difference.

Maple syrup semifreddo
Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).
Maple syrup semifreddo. Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).

Amaretti semifreddo with amaretto almonds

Serves 6

This semifreddo is top of my list for using amaretti biscuits. The crunchy sugar-coated amaretto almonds are very moreish and useful to have on hand, so I always make the full amount and keep them in the freezer ready to quickly dress up a simple cake or dessert.

Amaretti semifreddo with amaretto almonds
Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).
Amaretti semifreddo with amaretto almonds. Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).

110g amaretti biscuits (see below)

600ml thickened cream

⅔ cup (110g) icing-sugar mixture

Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).
Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).

70ml amaretto

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 egg whites

¼ tsp salt

Amaretto almonds

100g flaked almonds

30g caster sugar

about 3 tsp amaretto (see below)

Coarsely chop the amaretti biscuits and set them aside – a mixture of crumb sizes is perfect.

Put the cream into a large bowl and sift in the icing-sugar mixture. Using a hand-held electric beater, beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Reduce the speed and gently whisk in the amaretto and vanilla. Refrigerate.

Wash and dry the beaters thoroughly. Whip the egg whites and salt in a clean, dry bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Remove the bowl of amaretto-flavoured cream from the fridge. It may have lost a little body from sitting, so if necessary give it a brief whisk to thicken it again. Gently stir in the chopped amaretti biscuits, then fold in the beaten whites (these also might need another brief whisk with the beaters).

Pour into a container, cover it with a tight-fitting lid and freeze overnight. The texture will be quite soft; it firms a little after a couple of days.

To make the amaretto almonds, preheat the oven to 150C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Toss the almonds and sugar together in a bowl with enough amaretto to moisten them lightly. Spread in a single layer on the tray. Bake, turning frequently, for about 20 minutes until golden. Transfer the tray to a wire rack and cool completely. Sometimes a few clump together, but I rather like this because they look pretty. Store them in an airtight container in the freezer. (There is no need to defrost them before using them.)

To serve the semifreddo, scoop it into bowls or goblets and sprinkle amaretto almonds over the top.

Amaretti and amaretto

There are many different amaretti biscuits on the market, some much better than others. I try to buy Amaretti di Saronno because to my mind their ?avour has just the right bitter-sweet edge – neither too intense nor too insipid.

Amaretto is a delicious almond-flavoured liqueur sold in distinctive tall, tapered bottles.

From Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, $50).


Maple syrup semifreddo with gold-leaf brittle

This semifreddo is an unashamedly brazen celebration of the flavour of maple syrup. It was inspired by a honey semifreddo I tasted when I was teaching at the Ruth Pretty Cooking School in New Zealand. Each component - the gold-leaf brittle, semifreddo and lace biscuit shells - can be made days ahead.

Serves 8-10

⅔ cup (160ml) pure maple syrup

8 egg yolks

600ml thickened cream

2 tsp vanilla extract

almond lace biscuit shells (recipe below), to serve, optional

gold-leaf brittle (recipe at right), to serve, optional

Bring the maple syrup to the boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Boil for two minutes, watching it doesn't scorch around the sides of the pan.

Put the egg yolks into a large bowl (preferably stainless steel, as it will help the mixture cool faster). Beat with a hand-held electric beater on high. Slowly pour the boiling maple syrup on to the yolks, beating all the while so it is quickly incorporated. Beat for six to eight minutes until it becomes pale, thick and cool. I tend to pick up the bowl as I do this, to allow air to circulate, cooling it faster. Or sit the bowl in a larger one that contains ice and a little water.

In a separate bowl, whisk the thickened cream with the vanilla extract until very softly whipped. Gently fold into the maple syrup mixture.

Pour the semifreddo into a freezer container, seal tightly and freeze overnight. (As it keeps well for a couple of weeks, you can make it well ahead of time if you like.)

To serve, sit one (or two) lace biscuits on each plate, if using, then add a scoop or two of semifreddo.

Spear a long shard of gold-leaf brittle into the semifreddo.

From Desserts, by Belinda Jeffery (Lantern, an imprint of Penguin, October 2012, $50).

 

Gold-leaf brittle

This keeps indefinitely in the freezer and is great to have on hand to dress up desserts, in shards or crushed. The most difficult thing is handling the gold leaf. It's beautiful, but very, very delicate and flighty.

1 cup (220g) castor sugar

½ cup (125ml) cold water

2-3 sheets edible gold leaf

Line a large, shallow baking tray with baking paper and sit it on a board or thick tea towel.

Put the sugar and cold water into a medium saucepan over high heat (don't use a dark, non-stick pan). Stir constantly to dissolve, then stop stirring and bring to the boil. As it boils, wash down the sides from time to time with a pastry brush dipped in water to dissolve sugar crystals. Watch closely as it thickens because it changes colour quite rapidly. Cook to a deep golden brown, then take off the heat and carefully pour it on to the prepared tray. Hold the tray with a thick cloth and tilt it gently to spread the syrup. Leave to set. When it's nearly set, use a fine artist's paintbrush to gently pull a smidgen of gold leaf off its backing sheet and press it lightly on to the surface of the brittle so it sticks. Repeat this, dabbing the gold leaf here and there all over the brittle. Break it into large pieces. Layer in an airtight container between sheets of baking paper and freeze.

Edible gold and silver comes in different forms but I mainly use sheets from the Gold Leaf Factory International (goldleaf.com.au).


Raspberry semifreddo

Serves 8

Make semifreddo a day or two before you wish to serve it for optimum flavour and texture.

200g fresh or frozen raspberries

4 free-range eggs

170g caster sugar

500ml pure cream

grated zest of ½ lemon

¼ cup amaretto liqueur or 1 tsp vanilla extract

fresh berries and amaretti biscuits to serve

 

Line a 1.5-litre loaf tin or plastic container with plastic wrap or baking paper. Baking paper will give a smoother finish to the semifreddo. Take frozen raspberries from the freezer, if using.

Set a saucepan with about five centimetres of water on the stove and bring to a bare simmer. Choose a bowl that sits over the saucepan, making sure the bottom does not touch the water. Put the eggs and sugar in the bowl and whisk for six to eight minutes with an electric hand-held mixer until pale and thick. The heat increases the volume of the mixture and cooks the eggs. Eggs should be cooked to 65.5C for safety.

Take the bowl off the heat and continue whisking until the egg mixture is quite cool.

Partly crush the raspberries with a fork. Whip the cream in a large bowl to soft peaks and flavour with the lemon zest and amaretto liqueur or vanilla extract. Gently fold the egg mixture and the raspberries into the cream with a spatula or whisk.

Tip into the prepared mould and seal with plastic wrap or a lid. Place in the coldest part of the freezer and freeze for four to six hours or overnight until firm.

About 45 minutes before serving, transfer to the fridge to soften then turn out onto a plate and decorate with fresh berries. Dust the berries lightly with icing sugar if you wish. Cut into thick slices. Offer the amaretti biscuits to crumble over the semifreddo. A fresh raspberry sauce is also a lovely accompaniment.

Recipe by Diana Lampe, a Canberra writer; dlampe@bigpond.net.au


Almond lace biscuits

Makes about 30

120g unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

½ cup (110g) caster sugar

½ cup (80g) almonds, skin on, finely ground

3 tsp plain flour

1½ tbsp pure cream

1 heaped tsp finely grated mandarin zest (or lemon or orange zest)

Preheat the oven to 180C, then line two or three baking trays with baking paper and set them aside.

Put the butter, sugar, ground almonds, flour, cream and zest into a smallish saucepan over low heat. Stir regularly just until the butter has melted, then remove the pan from the heat and let the batter cool a little.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of warm batter on to the prepared trays, leaving an eight-centimetre gap between each spoonful so the biscuits can spread - and they will, quite a lot.

Pop the trays in the oven, and bake the biscuits for six to eight minutes, or until they're bubbling and golden brown. If your oven cooks a bit unevenly, turn the trays back to front and swap the shelves they're on halfway through the baking time.

When the biscuits are ready, remove them from the oven, and leave a minute or so to settle and cool a little on the baking trays. Then, using a fine palette knife, carefully lift them on to a wire rack to cool completely - they will be quite soft. If any of the biscuits have run together during baking, use kitchen scissors to snip them apart. If you would like to mould the biscuits so they're curved rather than flat, gently shape the warm biscuits over a rolling pin or something similar until they set firmly, then transfer them to the rack to cool. (You can also mould them over little upturned ramekins to make shells to hold scoops of ice-cream.)

Let the trays cool a little and wipe any butter off the baking paper between batches.

When cool, layer in an airtight container between sheets of freezer wrap, seal tightly, and store in the freezer (they keep well for up to a month). They only take a few minutes to defrost.