What's Up World: Italian Lemon Semifreddo


It's hard to believe that we're already  halfway through our What's Up World series! This week, we landed in Italy, and the pressure to perform is really on. For one, the majority of my background is Italian. And also, we live in a city with a heavy Italian influence. It's a place where older ladies line up outside the Italian deli on Saturday mornings to buy fresh-baked focaccia bread, where masses are said in Italian on Sundays, and where names like Frank Sinatra and the Cake Boss hail from. As we began reading through the book about Italy, I felt distracted, wondering what kind of food we would cook from the country. It was too hot for heavier Italian fare, and pizza was out of the question because we admittedly eat it too much. A quick search had me counting 22 pizza parlors within a 1 mile radius of our home. Luckily, the book helped me decide. The school aged narrator began her day as most children do in Italy with a breakfast full of cookies, cakes and bread.  You can imagine the initial excitement from my kids as they read this—a response that was soon followed by the realization of the unfairness of it all. Why do THEY get to eat cake for breakfast and we don't?

"My dear children," I said as I wrapped my arms around them and pressed them closer to me. "One day when you're a parent like me, you can drop your kids off at school, go straight to the coffee shop, and eat the biggest and the best breakfast pastries every single morning. And you can eat the whole thing by yourself without anyone asking for a bite.  Didn't you know that's what mommy does while you're at boring school?  I eat cake all day long."

Okay I didn't actually say that, but a part of me may have taken the smallest pinch of pleasure in watching their reaction to this imaginary tale. So instead, I said yes, that we can make a dessert, but that we would eat it after dinner. And so we went to it.

We went with a lemon semifreddo--an ice cream-like dessert that requires no ice cream maker, which is good, because I don't have one. Traditionally, to make a semifreddo, you would line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and pour the mixture inside the pan until it's frozen. Then you simply lift out the mold, unwrap it from the plastic, and be left with a beautiful rectangular cake. For our version, we went with individual glass ramekins so there would be no fighting over who got the bigger slice, and also because of that wonderful unknown that comes with giving children something glass and holding your breath that it won't break. Also, aren't they pretty?



Lemon desserts transport me back to the last time I was in Italy--it was a few months before I got pregnant with my oldest child and my husband and I had gone to the coastal city of Positano where lemons grow as big as melons. This dessert would give us the opportunity to tell the kids about the trip, and maybe even remind my husband that our 10 year anniversary is coming up and that a trip back to Italy would be a lovely present that I would think that I wanted until I boarded the imaginary plane sobbing about the potential dangers that could occur overseas and away from our children.

But back to real life in my kitchen. For this recipe, the kids took turns using the electric mixer and I stressed to them that the beaters always had to touch the bottom of the bowl, unless they wanted a sugar explosion all over the kitchen, which in retrospect, they wouldn't have minded. With my assistance, they learned to hold the bowl steady with one hand and hold the beater in the other. They also enjoyed squeezing the lemon juice and sucking on the remaining peel. Do any of your kids like eating lemon as much as mine do?


Overall, the hardest part for this recipe was patience in waiting for the ice cream to harden and in keeping the freezer shut long enough so that it would--they loved sneaking peeks! And as you can imagine with any recipe that uses sugar as the main ingredient, the kids loved every last lick that they could get. My husband and I still have no international travel plans, but I would otherwise say that our trip to Italy was a success!

Be sure to join us next week as we fly to South Africa!


Lemon Semifreddo

makes 8  6-ounce ramekins or 1 9x5x3 loaf pan


2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

7 large organic egg yolks

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately 4-5 lemons)

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups mixed berries


Using electric mixer, beat whipping cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Transfer all but 1  cup of whipped cream into a separate bowl and refrigerate. Add confectioner's sugar to the remaining whipped cream and beat for 1 minute more. Place the sweetened whipped cream in the refrigerator.

In a large glass or metal bowl, whisk together granulated sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon and salt.  Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until mixture registers 170°F, about 4-5 minutes. Carefully remove bowl from the saucepan and place it on the countertop. Using an electric mixer, beat mixture for at least 5 minutes until cool and thick. Fold in UNSWEETENED chilled whipped cream. Divide mixture evenly among ramekins and freeze at least 8 hours. Once ready to serve, dollop semifreddo with sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries.