Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Coconut, Lemon, and Strawberry Semifreddo

The first thing I will say in this post is that this does not require an ice cream maker. I say this first because I despise seeing a recipe I really want to make, getting really excited (and hungry!), then getting 2/3 of the way through the recipe only to discover it requires an ice cream maker, or a vitamix, or a Yonanas machine (Yes, that is seriously a machine you can buy for your kitchen). This recipe requires none of those crazy gadgets, just a regular blender or food processor.

In all fairness, S and I do own an ice cream maker. I've just never been able to convince it to churn out anything but thin milkshake consistency ice cream that never hardens up properly in the freezer. I'm not sure if I should blame the ice cream maker or the freezer, but it's a disappointment all around. 

Strawberry season is here, in all of its juicy, plump, short-lived deliciousness. Last weekend was my very favorite farmers market- New Amsterdam Market, and every stand selling produce had lovely little baskets of tiny red strawberries, sweet and juicy and warmed by the Manhattan sun. Even some non-produce peddling stands, like the quince jam folks were selling the berries. It was just impossible to resist buying a box. 

My parents grew a strawberry patch in backyard when I was a kid, and a fresh sun-warmed, perfectly ripened strawberry picked from the plant and popped directly into my mouth was just about my favorite summertime treat. Going out with a little bowl and returning with it half full and the rest in my belly was my idea of a good summer morning. 

We rarely made anything with the berries that grew in the yard, they were so spectacular on their own they rarely needed any kind of accompaniment, but this week I knew I wanted to turn my little berry basket into something delightful, something summery, something refreshing, something frozen.

Summers in NYC are hot. I'm lucky to live by the East River, so we get a nice little breeze through our part of Chinatown, but as soon as you turn inland and head uptown into the Manhattan thoroughfare the little breeze dies out and is replaced by heat rising from baking sidewalks, central air conditioning exhaust vents, and of course, the engines of the tens of thousands of vehicles surrounding you at all times. Every summer I've seen in NYC has been hot. Supposedly it was especially, record-breakingly hot last summer but I could've sworn everyone said that the year before, too. 

We manage to air condition every room in our apartment except the kitchen. Air conditioning the kitchen would require installing the window unit into the only window in the kitchen, the same window we use to access the fire escape we use as a makeshift patio/garden, and the window that provides all of the light in these photographs. So that is not happening, which means the kitchen, already the hottest room in most homes, is especially hot in ours. So I wanted to make a frozen dessert that didn't take too long to put together so I didn't have to spend too long in the sweatlodge we call a kitchen.

This semifreddo is about as close to perfection as a dessert can come. While it does need to freeze overnight, the part of the recipe that requires you to actually do anything is super short and simple. If you nix the topping it doesn't even require any cooking! The topping is delicious though, crunchy, honey flavored, and healthy!

This whole dessert is pretty healthy actually. It's vegan, and sweetened only with honey. If you replace the oats in the topping with glutenfree oats it'll be glutenfree too. However, upon tasting this, even the most tried and true dairy and sugar lover would be satisfied. Not because it tastes like milk, but because it is incredible. The cashew-coconut cream is so rich and creamy and delectable, the crunchy topping is so satisfying, and the chunks of frozen strawberry are sweet and wonderful. The texture is great, a bit firmer than ice cream cake, it melts into a thick milkshake consistency on your tongue. This may be my new favorite summer dessert. 

I imagine this semifreddo being served at a garden party, under a very starry sky, on a lovely stone patio beneath trees strung with fairy lights, surrounded by lots of lush plants like ferns or tall grass. I can see it now, being placed in the middle of a glass topped, rough wooden legged, diy dinner table strewn with tea lights and half empty wine glasses. This is pretty much how I imagine everyone who doesn't live in the city lives, having large extravagant garden parties in their beautifully landscaped backyards. I, on the other hand, ate a slice of this out on the fire escape I treat as a porch, beneath the glaring fluorescent lights of the Manhattan bridge, but safely above the smell of hot garbage down on the street, and it was lovely. It would be lovely anywhere.

Coconut Lemon and Strawberry Semifreddo

2 cups cashews
14 oz coconut milk
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 C honey
8oz sliced strawberries
pinch of salt

Topping (optional):
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 C roughly chopped almonds
1/4 C shredded coconut
1/2 C oats
1/4 C quinoa
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp coconut oil

In the bowl of a food processor, or a high speed blender, place the cashews, coconut milk, lemon juice, honey, and salt, blend until very smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Mine still had a slight grain and I just didn't worry about that at all. If you have a fancy-shmancy high speed blender, it'll probably be totally smooth. 

Line an 8inch loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper, leaving extra hanging over the edges for easy removal.  Pour in the coconut milk mixture. Fold in sliced strawberries gently. Cover and place in freezer while making the topping.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. In a medium bowl combine the chia, quinoa, almonds, coconut, and oats. In a small bowl combine the coconut oil and honey. If your coconut oil is solid microwave it a moment to liquify. Mix honey and coconut oil well, then pour over the chia/almond/etc mixture and mix well until everything is coated and sticky. 
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper, pour topping mixture out onto parchment paper and smooth into a single layer. It will be all stuck together, don't concern yourself with this, you want it to form little clumpy bits so the chia and quinoa don't end up all loose and tiny. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until beginning to feel crispy and toasty. It'll firm up a bit more as it cools, so it's ok if your oats aren't totally crisp when taken out of the oven.
Allow to cool, then break up any especially large clumps. 

After semifreddo has chilled for one hour and the topping has cooled, sprinkle desired amount of topping over top of semifreddo and very lightly push down to guarantee it sticks, but is still on top. Freeze again, this time for 8 hours or overnight, until firm. It should feel like a quite firm ice-cream cake when done. 

Once frozen, use parchment paper to remove from the loaf pan, and a large sharp knife to cut off slices. If it won't come out of the pan at first, submerge the bottom of the loaf pan in warm water for 10-15 seconds, and it should lift right out. If too firm when initially removed from freezer, allow to stand at room temp for ten minutes before cutting, but I didn't have to do this, mine was ready to cut immediately.

You can serve the whole cake immediately at a party, or wrap up any leftovers in plastic wrap and store in freezer. Semifreddo will be good frozen for about one week, after that it may become too solidly frozen to cut easily.
You will have extra topping leftover, unless you really go crazy putting it on the semifreddo. It's essentially granola though, so it makes a great snack, or breakfast cereal.


  1. This looks great! I am wondering if I could use almond milk instead of coconut milk and get the same results. Have you tried other milks?

  2. I made this on Saturday for a dinner party. I was a little sceptical to be honest but wow. It truly was the most incredible dessert! Thank you.