I scream, you scream, we all scream for…parfreddo? Your dinner-party guests will love you.
Parfait and semifreddo are the French and Italian names for a frozen dessert that you can think of like a cross between ice cream and frozen mousse. While less popular than ice cream (America’s favorite dessert, no shocker), they do have several advantages for the home cook looking to create a fun DIY dessert. In addition to their ethereal texture, they have the versatility to work with almost any flavor, from fresh fruit to nuts, coffee, and chocolate.
As frequent home cooks, we are big parfreddo fans here. Unlike ice cream, you don’t need any special equipment to make it, and parfreddo exhibits greater stability at warmer temperatures—so it keeps its shape as it warms and “melts” slower, making it ideal for large parties, plated desserts, and for use in ice cream cakes.
To get to the brilliance of parfreddo, we need to dive into ice cream science a bit. Ice cream is made by freezing flavored pastry cream (cream and sugar, typically cooked with egg yolks to thicken) in a machine that churns the mixture, whipping it as it cools, but preventing it from solidifying completely. The problem with making ice cream at home is that you really, truly need a great machine to get you to a point where the ice cream looks pretty similar to that pint of McConnell’s sitting in your freezer.
A decent machine will set you back a small fortune and take up a large chunk of your kitchen’s real estate. The cheapo prefreeze-the-bowl models are fine and fun for making gelato with your kids. But in our experience, spinning a homemade batch can be pretty deflating if you’re looking to make quality ice cream. Enter the parfreddo, which comes out consistently incredible, provided of course that you don’t try to cut any corners.
Making a batch does take a little patience. The big difference from ice cream is the eggs are cooked with hot sugar syrup, then the whipped cream and flavoring is folded in—and the whole batch is frozen in a mold. Cooking the syrup to the proper temperature requires a candy thermometer and some attention to detail, but it’s a technique worth mastering if you’re interested in making desserts because cooked sugar is a main component of so many pastry and candy preparations, from meringue and marshmallows to lollipops, fudge, and caramel.
Traditionally, the mixture is frozen in a loaf mold and sliced into portions. But because of the stability, you can freeze it in pretty much any shaped mold, making it an excellent choice for kids’ birthday parties (shouts to Fudgie). Here are a couple of classics that won’t let you down.
TASTE editor in chief Matt Rodbard and chef Daniel Holzman are friends. Matt has many food and home cooking questions. Daniel has many food and home cooking opinions. This is called 100 Questions for My Friend the Chef.