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Sabayon and Amaretti Semifreddo



This divine dessert holds three firsts for me: the first time I tasted the first version – sublime! Then there was the first time I tasted my aunt’s version: glom. I was disappointed not because hers was not good, but because she was insisting that what she had made was what I had originally tasted (she had been present at the event), when, in reality, it was a different recipe, one I personally did not like as it was missing an essential ingredient and had too much of another. Oh yes, I had lofty taste even as an 8-year-old.


More recently, a couple of years ago to be precise, was the time when my brother Roberto insisted I save room for dessert while we were dining at a favorite trattoria in his Tabiano (Parma) neighborhood. I was already stuffed with Tagliolini al Tartufo, Crisp Fried Porcini Mushrooms and some of their not-to-be-missed roasted potatoes, but he was so determined that I decided to have at least a bite. I cleaned the plate. Said trattoria is Trattoria del Sole, and here you can see a post about them that will show you how to make fresh egg pasta for ravioli and tagliatelle with step by step images.


The semifreddo I had that night, and again two days later, and once more two days after that – yep, three times – was a third version of the same dessert, and it was divine with its three layers of textures and flavors loving each other to perfection. This semifreddo is typical of the region (area around Parma, Italy), and, though it remains essentially the same, recipe, name and presentation vary slightly depending on who is making it. And that is the way it should be.


A few days later, back at my parents’ home in Varese, I dashed over to my aunt’s kitchen (she lives next door) and asked for the original recipe so I could update it and make my own to match the one I had moaned over at the trattoria. Fast forward by a couple of months, back in my Honolulu apartment. I decided it was time to get to work and whip up this divine concoction. Friends were coming for dinner the following week, and that would be the perfect test.

Believe it or not, none of the specialty food stores in Honolulu carried the essential ingredient: amaretti. Darn! Thank goodness for on-line shopping. I found them from a couple of my usual on-line suppliers, but ended up buying just the right kind from Amazon.




As I read my aunt’s recipe, it became clear that she had done to it what she usually does: modified it to match her need for less of this (fat) and less of that (sugar). I am not big on super sweet or super rich desserts myself, but desserts like these are not made to be light, they are made to be enjoyed as a treat. Just to make sure, I ran it past my brother, who agreed that the doses had been modified. We re-modified the recipe together to make it make sense and… Score!


My final and most recent first was when I tasted my own. Talk about moaning! If I had known that doing this dessert right would taste so good, I would have included it in the restaurant menu years ago. Except I used to squirm so much every time I thought of the version I didn’t like that there was no way I could subject my clients to the same squirming.

Honestly, I think mine is the best of the three versions, even if I say so myself – and sometimes you just have to.

That smooth, creamy topping with just a hint of coffee followed by the amaretti crunch and finished by the zing of the rum-drenched ladyfingers. Are you drooling yet?


This is an easy dessert to make, and it works really well for a larger dinner party. I chose to make mine in single portions, but you can very well arrange the whole thing in a large baking dish or mold (square or round as you like) and then slice portions out of that. That is how the trattoria does it. You can see the photo of their serving in this post.



yields 7-8 portions (double up as needed)


– 6 large egg yolks

– 185 gr. (6.52 oz.) sugar (super fine works best)

– 500 ml. (just over 2 cups, or 16.9 fl. oz.) fresh whipping cream

– 1 Tablespoon ground coffee powder – being in Hawai’i at the time I used 100% Kona coffee, but you can choose whichever coffee you like, even decaf if you don’t want the caffeine; just DO NOT use instant coffee

– ladyfinger cookies, or some sponge cake if you prefer, for the base – the original biscuits used are very typical of the Parma area, and are not to be found outside of it, so I adapted with the closest possible solution

– about 2 & 1/2 cups crunchy amaretti cookies (yes, there are also tender ones available, so you need to make sure to get the crunchy ones)

– Rum – I used a light colored rum made in Hawai’i as I know that a basic light colored one was what the trattoria had used, but you can select any rum (or liqueur) you prefer; just be aware that the final flavor will change, which is fine as long as you like it

– a couple of Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder for decoration, if desired


You will also need either 7-8 extra large single portion ramekins (see image below), or a 8-9″ round baking pan, preferably with removable bottom, or any other mold that might work for you and that is freezer safe. The porcelain ones I used are 4″ in diameter, and 2 & 1/2″ deep/high. I purchased them at the Williams-Sonoma store. They are a standard item, so they should always be available, unless they are temporarily out of stock. Another good place to find a good assortment of bakeware and various cooking supplies on O’ahu is Executive Chef. They have a store at Ward Warehouse Center and one in Kailua.




1. Line the single portion ramekins with cling wrap. If you are using a baking pan with removable bottom, you might want to butter it and then top it with a round of parchment paper. Set aside.


2. Break the amaretti cookies into uneven crumbs using your fingers. Set aside. Sneak a couple into your mouth, they are so good.


3. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, whip the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy, pale yellow and flowing ribbon-like when lifted. You can do this either manually with a whisk, or with an electric processor such as Kitchen-Aid. Add the coffee powder and blend.

In another large glass or stainless steel bowl, whip the cold cream to firm peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the egg and sugar mixture starting with the whisk and finishing with a spatula. Use circular movements from up to down and vise versa to avoid deflating, and continue until well blended. Set aside.




4. Pour some rum in a bowl or deep dish. Dip the ladyfingers (or sponge cake pieces) in the rum, making sure they are soaking up well, and place them on the bottom of the ramekins or baking pan, covering it completely. You may have to cut the cookies down to size first to make them fit in the smaller ramekins. Generously sprinkle the broken amaretti cookies on top of the soaked ladyfingers. Fill up the rest of the ramekins or pan with the egg cream. Cover with cling wrap and then with a layer of foil for extra protection. Place them in the freezer overnight or for 4-5 hours.





If you used the ramekins like I did, you will need to pick up the edges of the cling wrap in a pinch and gently juggle the semifreddo until it detaches from the bottom. Cling wrap clings: it’s both a blessing and a pain. Place the wrapped semifreddo on the counter, open the cling wrap then lift the dessert out with the help of a metal spatula and place it on individual serving plates.


If you used the cake pan: heat the blade of a flat table knife, or a narrow metal spatula, with hot water then run it around the edge between the semifreddo and the sides of the pan to loosen the dessert. Remove the ring. Slice the semifreddo into the desired portions, also using a heated knife blade or spatula which you will clean after every slice if you don’t want to end up with messy looking slices. Lift out onto individual serving plates.

Dust with cocoa powder if desired and serve.




Note: it is important that the rum soaked cookies are on the bottom, as the weight of the amaretti and cream layers will make sure they retain all the moisture. I am saying this because I tested an upside down version I made and it does not quite work. In spite of careful coverage, some of the liquid evaporated from the ladyfingers. That rum bite is an essential part of the experience.


The frozen semifreddo (if one large one), or semifreddi (if many single portions) will keep in the freezer for about 2-3 months. I would not extend after that. Not that you will, as this dessert comes with a warning: it is so good that you might be asked for seconds, so have extra on hand. You might also want to give away any leftover portions, or you will hear them calling your name from the freezer. They are very insistent and very loud.


So, go whip away, then come back and let me know how you enjoy this recipe in the comments!




If you have enjoyed this recipe, you might also be interested in these other desserts:



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