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Grana Padano


More Perfect than a Parfait


"Semifreddo is the pastry evolution of gelato (ice cream)," says Marino Marini, chef, culinary investigator and author of articles and books on many aspects of Italian cuisine. In fact, both gelato and semifreddo belong to the category of iced desserts. However, while gelato is prepared out of a mixture of eggs and milk, semifreddo arises from the combination of whipped – half whipped, that is – fresh cream and a flavour component, which can be chocolate, hazelnut, nougat, fruit, confectionery or pastry custard (crema inglese or crema pasticciera, in Italian).

So, despite the confusion that the name 'semifreddo' might generate – 'half cold' in English, 'medio frío' in Spanish – we are talking of a fully frozen preparation. They taste different; gelato contains water which creates that frozen sensation to the palate, semifreddo doesn't; semifreddo has a softer texture even when it´s eaten at a temperature below freezing.

Marino Marini

"As an iced dessert semifreddo has not a long history," states Marini, who is currently the librarian of the International School of Italian Cuisine in Colorno, Parma, in the Northern Italy. He adds: "What we describe today as semifreddo has, in reality, a very short history; it was born around the end of the 19th century and it is clearly an evolution of the French parfait." The legends about French parfait and semifreddo being very popular during the Renaissance have no historical corroborations. Gelato certainly was trendy, but not semifreddo, and certainly, as we will see further on during the Tour La Vita è Dolce, gelato was invented in Italy and then travelled to France (with Catherine de Medici and then with her sister Marie). In contrast, the first published recipe of a French parfait is dated 1869 (Parfait au café), while in Italy, recipes of semifreddo start to appear at the end of the first decade of the 20th century. "The chef of Maria Luisa, the Duchess of Parma at the beginning of the 19th century, knew only about gelato and sorbet," adds Marini.

French Chocolate Parfait

The French parfait (perfect) was given this name, because the balance of its ingredients was – and is – very important. Only the perfect equilibrium between sugar, liquid, fat and solid parts allows the attaining of that texture typical of parfait and semifreddo – hard while also creamy. Parfait and semifreddo have other common characteristics. They contain one part of whipped cream and one of custard and the flavour component. The basic difference between the two is that French parfait contains a pate a bombe (sugar syrup at 120 C added to whipped egg yolks), while semifreddo all'italiana contains Italian meringue, which is quite different from the normal one made with egg whites montato a neve – whipped to stiffness – with icing or granular sugar and then dried in the oven at a temperature inferior 110° C, without humidity. Instead the Italian meringue is egg white, montato a neve, over which sugar syrup at 120 C is then poured and mixed: the result is a more rubbery and shiny.

Blueberry Semifreddo

The Italian meringue enhances even more the sensation of the creaminess of semifreddo and it is much more elegant. "In this sense," says Marini, "Italian semifreddo is more perfect than French parfait." For this reason it requires a lot of attention and is a challenge even for the professional chef and/or pastry chef, let alone the home cook. Master pastry chefs, manuals and books recommend a scientific approach to the making of semifreddo. To achieve a correct balance of the ingredients the proportions should be as follow: Sugar 20-27%; fat 15-24%; solids 5-10% (the total of solids should be 42-55%); proteins 5-7%.

A last note: zuccotto, the famous refrigerated dessert, born in Tuscany, possibly at the time of Bernando Buontalenti, the architect who perfected some techniques to make gelato, is not a semifreddo. "It contains some Genoese sponge," says Marini, "which has nothing to do with semifreddo."


Orange Semifreddo at Piazza Italia, Beijing, for an unforgettable week

On the week of July 30th through August 5th, Piazza Italia’s executive chef, Vincenzo Pezzilli, and chef de cuisine, Maurizio Lai, will be representing China in “La Vita è Dolce”. Beijing will be the only stop in China on this 20-city journey bringing together GVCI Italian master chefs and dessert lovers around the world.

Orange Semifreddo by Chef Vincenzo Pezzilli

Piazza Italia has prepared a warm welcome for all the guests taking part in this first-ever, world event, trying to satisfy their sweet-toothedness with a selection of Beijing’s most authentic Italian desserts. During the week, Orange Semifreddo, a tart topped with a frozen orange-infused mousse, will be the main protagonist at the Boscolo Restaurant in Piazza Italia on the third floor, Tiramisu, instead, will be the heroine at the Voglia di Vino on the second floor, and Zeppole di San Giuseppe will be waiting at the Dolce e Salato, on the first floor, to be savoured.

Piazza Italia, Beijing

But there is more: on Saturday, August 1st, 2009, there will be a Semifreddo Cooking Demonstration and on the same day, at 5:00 pm on the 2nd Floor, at the Boscolo Etoile Academy, guests will be able to learn the lost art of preparing an authentic Italian Semifreddo. For Saturday, Chefs Pezzilli and Lai have organized a special La Vita è Dolce night with a tantalizing Italian dinner including Grilled Scallop with Porcini Mushroom in Truffle Oil, Octopus Amatriciana, Porchetta-Style Stuffed Cornish Hen, and of course Orange Semifreddo. Executive Chef Vincenzo Pezzilli is particularly excited about La Vita è Dolce, which coincides with another super spectacular event. “From 1st to 8th August, Piazza Italia has scheduled many events to celebrate the Italian Soccer Super Cup, with two series A protagonists of the calibre of Inter and Lazio,” he says. The Orange semifreddo with white chocolate, raisins and almond crunch with vanilla sauce created at Piazza Italia, will pass into history as the iconic sweet of this exceptional event.

Pezzilli: an exceptional Italian chef abroad

Vincenzo Pezzilli

Vincenzo Pezzilli is the executive chef, of the three restaurants (Boscolo, Voglia di Vino, Dolce e Salato) and the cooking school (Boscolo Etoile Academy) on the premises of Piazza Italia, Beijing, which is the largest Italian food center in the world, opened in September 2008 in China Central Place. From the market section to the fast food of the first floor; from the wine cellar to the cooking school and the food courts of the second floor; from the fine-dining restaurant to the events room of the third floor, Piazza Italia combines retail and restaurant businesses to provide customers and friends with the chance to experience Italy thoroughly
Vincenzo Pezzilli began cooking in the kitchen of a restaurant in his native Rome when he was still a kid. Soon, cooking became his passion and he got his formal training at the Roman outpost of Le Cordon Bleu. He then went to Washington where he worked in a number of D.C. restaurants, including Perry's and Sesto Senso. Pezzilli went back to Rome in 1995 where he taught a pastry course and cooked at Il Piccolo restaurant. Vincenzo, once again, went abroad to perfect his skill at Paul Bocuse’s Ecole des Arts Culinares et de l’Hotellerie in Lyon, France, where he was also selected to cook for the Great 7. After graduating at the top of his class, Vincenzo worked in Belgium under Chef Pierre Wynants at Comme Chez Soi awarded three stars by Michelin. He returned to the United States, as executive chef of Mad 28, in New York City, where he became a star of the local culinary scene. Vincenzo has created exciting Italian dishes, updated with twists inspired by his interest in the history of food, as well as his travels and experiences.


Italian semifreddo: Unique, Delicious and Scientific

The seventh step of La Vita è Dolce, in Beijing, is dedicated to one of the most important icons of Italian Pasticceria around the world, consequently one of the most counterfeited. It’s not very easy to make, it commands knowledge of techniques and rigorous respect of the ingredients’ proportions. Here the step by step recipe by Francesco Elmi.
Here a step by step recipe of Semifreddo as suggested by Fabbri.


Semifreddo all'Italiana

Ingredients for Semifreddo

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1250 gr Cream
750 gr Confectioners' Custard
125 gr Crushed hazelnut nougat
250 gr Egg whites
500 gr Granulated sugar
100 gr Water
(photos 2 & 3)


Preparation Meringa all'Italiana (Italian Meringue)

Weigh out 400 gr of sugar and pour it into a copper saucepan and add the water (photo 4), place on the stove and bring to 121° C – syrup (photo 5) will form.
Place the egg whites and the remaining 100 gr of sugar in the Planetary mixer and begin to whip; trickle in the hot syrup and continue whipping until cooled. A cream of very foamy and glossy aspect will form (photo 6).

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Composition Semifreddo

1250 gr Whipped cream
750 gr Confectioners'Custard
375 gr Meringa all'italiana
125 gr Crushed hazelnut nougat


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Lightly mix the meringue with the confectioners'custard (photos 7 & 8), then still mixing lightly, add the nougat (photo 9) and finally the cream (photo 10).
Fill the moulds (photo 11) and quick-freeze (photo 12).
12 to 14 servings.


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This recipe is from Luca Caviezel’s book (Scienza e tecnologia del semifreddo artigianale).


Confectioners´ Custard


1 Lt milk
260 gr granulated sugar
280 gr egg yolks
60/ 80 gr flour
2 gr salt
1 vanilla pod


Bring the milk with the vanilla to a boil (photo 13).
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, flour and salt well (photos 14 & 15).
Add the milk and mix with a whisk.
Simmer until it reaches a creamy consistency.

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Recipes Editor and La Vita è Dolce Worldwide Tour Coordinator: Elena Ruocco.

Photos: Paolo Della Corte- FOOD REPUBLIC