Make this Traditional Chocolate Hazelnut Semifreddo for your next party. Or just to devour at home! It's an elegant frozen Italian dessert combining gelato and ice cream in one mouthwatering dish. This semifreddo is creamy, rich, and luxurious with a mousse-like texture. Full of chocolate and topped with toasted hazelnuts, this really is a showstopper.
I'm on a bit of an ice cream kick at the moment. The weather is warming up and I want to be ready for the Summer months with a slew of ice cream recipes ready to make. My Pecan Praline Ice Cream is a family favourite. The Strawberry Mascarpone Ice Cream is loved by my girls, whereas my husband adores the decadent flavours of Caramel Brownie Ice Cream. Me? I think this Chocolate Hazelnut Semifreddo is winning as I adore ANYTHING with chocolate and hazelnuts!
What is Semifreddo?
Before I tell you more about my recipe, let's backtrack briefly and I'll tell you about semifreddo as you may be wondering what it actually is!!
The word semifreddo in Italian translates to 'half-cold' or 'half-frozen'. Even though it's technically a frozen dessert, its consistency remains softer than that of regular ice cream. Unlike traditional ice cream, it doesn't require an ice-cream churner and is formed into a loaf pan and unmolded once frozen to be then sliced and served rather than scooped.
This dessert is the elegant aunty to the standard ice cream cake. With nuts or fruit adorned on top, a semifreddo is undeniably more sophisticated making it an entertainer's dream.
There are normally three components to a traditional semifreddo.
- You have a whipped cream which adds richness but also volume (i mean air!) keeping the semifreddo light and creamy.
- You also have a zabaglione which is the Italian version of the French sabayon. Essentially they are both made with egg yolks, sugar and usually Marsala wine, beaten together over heat until thick. In a semifreddo, this is where you add the flavourings such as nuts, fruit or chocolate. To intensify the hazelnut flavour, we'll use a hazelnut liqueur rather than a sweet wine.
- Lastly, there is the meringue, which is purely egg whites and sugar whisked until fully aerated and folded through the mixture which adds sweetness, and like the whipped cream, air to maintain a light texture. A super traditional semifreddo would use an Italian meringue (made with sugar syrup) but I kept it simple by using a standard meringue.
Each of these elements is not difficult to do, but a word of warning- there are a few bowls of washing up. Think of the end result though!
Why you'll love this recipe
- The list of ingredients is short. Don't you love a recipe where the ingredients required are minimal. I know I do!
- Looks beautifully refined. With the various steps involved, this isn't a dessert you can throw together in a hurry. But my goodness is it worth the effort!! When ready to serve topped in drizzled chocolate hazelnut spread and candied hazelnuts ... it's exquisite!
- Make ahead for the perfect entertaining dessert. Being a frozen dessert, you can make this one or two days ahead of when you need to serve it. That cuts down on the hands-on time that you can spend with guests instead.
Here, you can see the ingredients needed to make the chocolate semifreddo. I've highlighted a few ingredients below with specific notes that is worth reading.
- egg yolks - the yolks need to be at room temperature before you make the zabaglione. This helps them heat more evenly and break down the sugar crystals when heated in the bain-marie.
- Granulated sugar - either golden or white granulated or caster sugar can be used here.
- Hazelnut liqueur - Italian Frangelico Liqueur is what I included in the zabaglione, but the alcohol is totally optional. I love the taste that it imparts, but if you prefer to leave it out then the semifreddo will still taste delectable. Add one teaspoon of vanilla extract or hazelnut extract as a substitute.
- Egg whites- just like the egg yolks, ensure that they are at room temperature before using. The whites whip up a whole lot better when at room temperature rather than cold. Better capacity to whip means airier egg whites which result in a lighter, mousse-like semifreddo.
I'm going to share with you the steps needed to make this fantastic frozen dessert. There are a few steps but each one on its own is not complicated. I have plenty of process images so that you can visualise what each stage should be. Look out for my tips throughout.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
1. Prepare the loaf pan and whip the cream. Before we continue with anything, the loaf pan needs to be lined with plastic wrap. Make sure to let it overhang so as to fold back over once the semifreddo mixture is made and poured in (Image 1). I grease the pan before adding the plastic wrap to make sure that it doesn't slide around.
2. Whip the cream. In a medium-sized bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. You can use your trusty stand mixer or an electric hand-held beater for this (Image 2). If using a hand-held beater, then just before it reaches soft peak stage, turn the machine off and release the whisk, then do the last part of whisking by hand. You have much more control against overwhipping this way!
TIP: If you overwhip the cream.
Add an extra 60ml (¼ cup) of cream into your over whipped cream and whip on low, or slowly with a hand whisk. The cream will come back together.
3. Make the zabaglione. In a heatproof bowl (metal or glass), add the eggs, ⅔ of the sugar (½ cup) and the liquor (optional) or vanilla/hazelnut extract. (Image 3). Whisk until pale and fluffy (Image 4). Use electric hand-held beaters or whisk by hand.
Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with an inch or so of simmering water. You're creating a bain-marie here. Set the pan over low heat on the stovetop and whisk the mixture continuously until it thickens and doubles in volume. This can take about 5-10 minutes to achieve. Don't be tempted to turn the water to boiling as it may cook the eggs too quickly. When the whisk is lifted out of the mixture, it should ribbon down and leave a trail on the surface (Image 5 & 6).
4. Add chocolate and Nutella. Add the chopped chocolate and Nutella. Whisk until both are melted and combined into the zabaglione (Image 7 & 8). Note: for the sake of the photo, I removed the bowl from the pan to photograph, but just keep the zabaglione on the heat then add the chopped chocolate and Nutella. Stir until melted then remove the chocolate zabaglione off the heat.
TIP: If the chocolate seizes.
The chocolate when mixed into the zabaglione may seize and form a big lump and you'll think you've ruined it and give up. Don't! Add a ¼ cup of boiling water into the bowl and with a rubber spatula, stir it in over the gentle heat and the chocolate zabaglione will come together and become thick, smooth and glossy.
This is a great tip if your ganache ever seizes too!
5. Whip egg whites. In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy and soft peaks form. (Image 9) Add the sugar and continue whisking until sugar has been incorporated (Image 10). They won't go thick and glossy like a regular meringue as the amount of sugar added to the eggs is a quarter of what it would be normally when making meringue.
6. Combine Ingredients together. Alright! Now that we have our three separate components made, the whipped cream, the chocolate zabaglione and the meringue ... let's combine them all together.
Add the cream to the chocolate zabaglione. Fold it through in two batches so as to maintain as much of the trapped air in the cream as possible (Image 11 & 12).
Add meringue to the chocolate mixture. Now add the meringue, but this time, add it in three parts, folding slowly and gently with each addition (Image 13 & 14). This is important as the mousse-like texture of a traditional semifreddo relies on the trapped air from the whipped cream and egg whites.
TIP: How to fold in the egg whites
A little technique I use to fold in egg whites to maintain the volume, yet incorporate them into the mixture is to use a scoop and fold method.
Using a rubber spatular or large spoon, slice straight down to the bottom of the bowl. Then scrape the spatular along the base and curve of the bowl gently scooping up and folding the batter and egg white on top.
Then turn the bowl by a quarter turn. Now repeat the scoop and fold motion, turning after each one. Repeat until the egg whites are fully incorporated without deflating.
Be patient! Don't be tempted to stir. It may take time, but the two will fold successfully if you don't rush!
7. Pour into the prepared pan and freeze then serve! Once all the ingredients have been combined, pour the mixture into the prepared pan and level off the top with an offset spatula (Image 15). Now, fold the plastic wrap overhang to cover the top of the semifreddo (Image 16). (Note: this will actually be the bottom when we tip the semifreddo out onto a serving plate once frozen.)
If you have any remaining mixture, then pour it into an airtight freezer-safe container- and freeze. You can eat this straight from the tub once frozen - I call this a little chefs bonus!!
Freeze for a minimum of 6 hours or until set.
When ready to serve, remove the pan from the freezer, open up the plastic wrap and turn out the semifreddo onto a serving platter and remove the pan. Carefully remove the remaining plastic wrap (Image 17).
TIP: How to get smooth edges on the semifreddo
For neat, smooth sides, use a hot butter knife to smooth any wrinkles made by the plastic wrap (Image 18).
Drizzle over warmed Nutella and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Slice and serve immediately.
Just a note- it doesn't take long for this dessert to soften, so remove it from the freezer just before serving. If entertaining, I like to turn it out onto my serving platter before guests arrive and putter the platter in the freezer. That way you can pull it out, decorate and serve it within a matter of minutes. Perfect alongside your after-dinner espresso.
Here are a couple of ideas to switch up your chocolate semifreddo.
Chocolate Semifreddo with cherry sauce: Cherries and chocolate are a match made in heaven. (If you're in Australia, Cherry Ripe's are where it's at aren't they!!) Heat 1 cup of pitted fresh cherries in lemon juice and sugar until they soften. Add some kirsh if you fancy. Let the fruit and juice cool, then spoon over the semifreddo.
Chocolate and pistachio semi freddo. Pistachios are synonymous with Italian baking - so let's swap out the hazelnuts for toasted pistachios instead. Substitute the hazelnut liquor from marsala wine and decorate the frozen semifreddo with crushed pistachio biscotti and toasted biscotti for textural contrast.
Chocolate mint semifreddo. Ok, I think I might have my Christmas dessert sorted with this one! Use Mint Chocolate Bars instead of dark chocolate (Lindt makes a fabulous one), and add a teaspoon of peppermint extract into the zabaglione. Ooh this one would be something special. I'd decorate with a chocolate sauce and chocolate curls!
Pro tips re-cap
- Line the freezer pan with clingfilm. This is the only way to take the semifreddo out of the pan.
- Finish whipping the cream by hand. You have a better feel of the texture of the cream and won't overwhip it.
- Add boiling water to seized chocolate. This is the best trick if your chocolate seizes when adding it to the zabaglione. It will create a smooth mixture in a matter of moments.
- Fold the three components using the scoop and fold method. And take your time- this process involves patience!
Frequently asked questions
Absolutely! That's the beauty of this dessert and one of the many reasons it is such a popular dessert for entertaining. Make the semifreddo up to a week in advance. Once frozen, you can even turn it out on a serving plate and freeze it until you require it.
I suggest freezing the semifreddo for a minimum of 6 hours but strongly recommend freezing it overnight.
Parfait, a frozen dessert, originates from France and is made from a base of sugar syrup, cream and egg yolk. It's often flavoured with fruit and liqueur.
That's a good thing! It isn't meant to be. It's a soft set frozen dessert. The combination of zabaglione, whipped cream and meringue create trapped air in the mixture giving the semifreddo a mousselike texture.
Equipment you’ll need
- Loaf pan (9x5-inch) - This is the pan that I used to freeze the semifreddo in. It doesn't have to be exact- just the closest pan that you have available.
- Medium mixing bowls - Admittedly you need three mixing bowls here. But it's a small price to pay for a dessert that tastes exquisite!
- Bain-marie - You can use an official bain-marie if you have one- but the majority won't have this specialist piece of equipment lying around. So make a homemade version by placing a bowl over a saucepan. Simple right!
- Electric hand-held mixer - I suggest using an electric handheld mixer to whip the egg whites - it's a LOT quicker and easier!
And there you have this incredible recipe. I love a quick and easy recipe, and I know this one can feel like there are quite a few steps to the method. I truly hope that this won't deter you from having a go at making this Chocolate Semifreddo. The taste is unlike anything you've ever had.
If you don't fancy the unfolding part and slicing it - then add the mixture straight into a freezer-safe pan, swirl through the Nutella and sprinkle over the hazelnuts. Scoop to your heart's content! This frozen dessert really does bring the ultimate satisfaction and contentment to ice cream and chocolate lovers Enjoy!!
More Italian recipes
If you tried this Hazelnut Chocolate Semifreddo or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
Don't forget to subscribe to the newsletter, so that you don’t miss out on more delicious food, tips and news but also the chance to download your FREE DESSERT E-BOOK! Happy baking friends!
Classic Chocolate Hazelnut Semifreddo
- Medium mixing bowls
- Saucepan To create a bain-marie with a mixing bowl
- Electric hand-held beaters with whisk attachement
- 360 ml whipping cream
- 4 large eggs, yolks and egg whites divided
- 150 g granulated sugar, divided into 100g (⅔ cup) and 50g (⅓ cup)
- 30 ml hazelnut liqueur
- 200 g dark chocolate 70%, finely chopped
- 220 g Nutella, divided into 150g (½ cup) and 70g (¼ cup)
- 50 g hazelnuts, skinless and toasted (See notes), coarsely chopped
- Prepare the loaf pan. Line a 2lb loaf pan (9x5-inch) or freezer-safe plastic container with plastic wrap, leaving plenty overhanging the sides.
- Whip the cream. In a medium bowl, beat the cream on medium-high speed just until firm peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Refrigerate. Clean and dry the beaters if using a handheld electric whisk.
- Make the zabaglione. Using electric beaters, whisk egg yolks, 100g (⅔ cup) sugar and hazelnut liquor together in a separate heatproof bowl until pale and slightly fluffy. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Continue to beat on medium speed, frequently scraping down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, until the zabaglione is thick, almost doubled in volume, and the beaters leave a trail when you lift them, about 5-10 minutes. (Don't be tempted to turn the water up to boiling as it may overcook the egg).
- Add chocolate and Nutella. With the bowl still on the saucepan, add the chopped chocolate and 150g (½ cup) Nutella and stir until melted and combined.If the mixture seizes and becomes a thick lump in the bowl, don't panic, add ¼ cup of boiling water, a little at a time. Stir until the chocolate zabaglione loosens and becomes a smooth consistency again. Remove the bowl from the heat and set it aside.
- Whip egg whites. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Add the remaining 50g (⅓ cup) sugar and whip until well combined (about another minute).
- Combine ingredients together. Using a spatula, gently fold cream into the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by egg whites. Fold gently and keep as much air in the mixture as possible to ensure your semifreddo stays light.
- Pour into the prepared pan and freeze, then serve! Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared loaf pan and smooth flat with an offset spatula. Freeze for a minimum of 6 hours or until set but preferably overnight.When ready to serve: Remove the semifreddo from the freezer, open up the plastic wrap and invert it onto a serving plate. Carefully remove the remaining plastic wrap. There will be wrinkled impressions on the sides of the semifreddo - if you prefer a smooth finish, run a hot butter knife along the surface.Warm the remaining Nutella in the microwave for a couple of seconds, then drizzle it over the top of the semifreddo and sprinkle over the chopped, toasted hazelnuts.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.