Fig semifreddo

A rich fruit syrup base of figs, marsala and thyme lets this simple frozen dessert deliver big flavour.


Sitting somewhere between ice cream and mousse – lighter than both, too – semifreddo is a dessert that loves fruit flavours. I make it throughout the year with whatever’s in season. Even in the depths of winter, when heavier baked desserts would be the norm, a frozen dessert made vibrant with citrus juice (tangerine is my favourite) can be a welcome treat to brighten up dark days and sluggish palates.

In late summer and early autumn, figs roll through the market in waves as the different varieties come into ripe perfection. As I write, the first flush of tiny, deeply purple-skinned fruit have arrived. Their season is short, so there’s an urgency about getting them into my kitchen and transforming them into something that celebrates their loveliness. Quick sticks.

Here, the figs are reduced to a richly flavoured syrup, complemented with two ingredients that work beautifully with figs: marsala wine and thyme. These form the basis of the semifreddo’s flavour, to be whisked into a buff-coloured foam with egg yolks and folded into whipped cream.

There are a couple of ways to set semifreddo. A metal loaf tin, lined with plastic wrap, will produce a squared-off plank to be carved into thick slices. Alternatively, as I do, you can pour the mixture into a couple of rice bowls, to make nicely domed individual servings.

You can, if you’re more efficient than me, make this in a single day as long as you start early. I find it easier to make the syrup a day ahead and bring it all together the next day. It doesn’t need any attention once in the freezer, just time, so leave yourself at least 6 hours between the making and the eating. A trickle of honey and a few quartered fresh figs alongside make for an easy, memorable dessert.

Fig semifreddo

Serves 2.

200g (½ pound) figs
60ml (¼ cup) marsala
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon light muscovado (or brown) sugar
180ml (¾ cup) whipping cream
2 egg yolks

Chop the figs into roughly 3cm (1 inch) pieces and place in a small saucepan with the marsala, thyme, sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes until the figs are very soft. Strain out the solids and discard them.

Reduce the liquid over medium-high heat until you have ½ cup syrup left. Let it come to room temperature, cover and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Set aside.

Put a small saucepan with 2cm (1 inch) of water on the stove and get it simmering. Meanwhile, fill your kitchen sink with cold water to a depth of about 10cm (4 inches).

Put the egg yolks and fig syrup in a metal bowl that will fit over your saucepan. Set the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk until the mixture thickens, becomes very foamy and triples in volume. You can do this by hand with a balloon whisk, though a small handheld electric mixer with a balloon beater will make very fast work of it.

Take the bowl off the saucepan and set the base into the water in the sink. Continue to stir gently with the whisk for a minute or so until the mixture cools down.

Add the foamy egg mixture to whipped cream and fold together until incorporated. Pour into your prepared container (see note above), smoothing down the top. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 6 hours.

To serve, remove from the freezer and let it sit out for 5 minutes. This will be enough to thaw out the edges, making it easy to lift out or unmold.