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Recipes for Italian lemon desserts

Light, bright semifreddo or torta make a memorable end to a meal.

Lemon-amaretti semifreddo. Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty/Jim Scherer

Following a grand holiday meal — like the ham or lamb you may be planning for Easter — a lemon dessert can be especially welcome for its light touch and bright flavor. Two great options come from Italian cooking. Semifreddo is essentially a mousse frozen into a loaf. Accented with layers of crumbled amaretti cookies and almonds, every slice offers an enticing combination of textures, from the cool, just-dense-enough mousse to the crisp cookie nuggets and nuts. The simple (and gluten-free) lemon almond cake, called either Torta Caprese al Limone or Torta Caprese Bianca, hails from the isle of Capri, and is a lighter relative of a popular chocolate almond cake. This version is lighter yet, because I omit the white chocolate that’s usually included to give the lemon more presence.



Makes 1  loaf

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

1 tablespoon finely grated zest and 3 tablespoons juice from 1 large lemon

¾ cup sugar

2 large eggs plus 3 large yolks


1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted and cooled

2 cups pea-sized crumbs from about 5 ounces amaretti

Thin lemon slices or wedges, for garnish, optional

Line an 8½-by-4½-by-2½-inch loaf pan, preferably metal, with plastic wrap, leaving a 6-inch overhang at each end, and chill in freezer.

With a hand-held or standing mixer at medium speed, beat the cream until it begins to thicken. Adjust the speed to high and continue beating until firm peaks form, about 2½ minutes longer in a standing mixer. Scrape the whipped cream into a medium bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl used to whip the cream. In a small saucepan off heat, stir the zest and sugar until moist and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs, yolks, and ½ teaspoon salt, and whisk to blend well and begin dissolving the sugar. Add the lemon juice 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking to combine after each addition. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly (reach into the corners of the pan), until the mixture thickens and registers about 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, add the vanilla, and stir to incorporate it. Pour the mixture into the strainer and stir to work it through the mesh until just the zest is left; discard the solids.


With a hand-held or standing mixer at high speed, beat the lemon mixture until it is very pale, has increased in volume by about 50 percent, and the bowl is no longer warm to the touch, about 4 minutes in a standing mixer. Add the whipped cream and, using a flexible spatula, rapidly but gently fold to combine.

Remove the prepared loaf pan from freezer. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the almonds and 2/3 cup amaretti crumbs evenly in pan, spread half of the lemon mixture evenly over nuts and crumbs; repeat with another 3 tablespoons of almonds and 2/3 cup amaretti crumbs and the second half of the lemon mixture; finish with a third layer of 3 tablespoons almonds and the remaining 2/3 cup amaretti crumbs. Gently tap the pan on the work surface to help release any air trapped in the loaf, fold the overhanging wrap over to cover mixture, and freeze for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. Invert the semifreddo onto a serving plate and remove plastic wrap. Using a serrated knife with a sawing motion, slice and serve at once, sprinkling with a few of the remaining almonds and garnishing with a slice or wedge of lemon, if desired.


TIP: Chopping the amaretti with a knife, as opposed to crumbling them with your fingers, allows for more control over the size of the cookie pieces. Mark Schou


> Lemon-Gingersnap Semifreddo

Makes 1  loaf

Gingersnaps aren’t at all Italian in spirit, but they taste great with the lemon.

Follow the recipe for Lemon-Amaretti Semifreddo, substituting gingersnaps for the amaretti.


Makes 1 9-inch torta

Rather than grinding your own almonds, you can use 1 2/3 cups of store-bought almond meal.

Nonstick baking spray

1¾ cups slivered or whole blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 large eggs, separated

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons finely grated zest and ¼ cup juice from 2 lemons

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Whipped cream and/or fresh berries, for garnish, optional

With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray, put it on a baking sheet, and set aside.

In a food processor, process the almonds until finely ground (but not sticky or moist; do not overprocess), about 30 seconds (you should have 1 2/3 cups). Add the baking powder, pulse to combine, and set aside.

With a hand-held or standing mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until frothy. Adjust the speed to high, and with the motor running, gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar; continue to beat until thick, glossy, and the mixture holds firm peaks, about 1½ minutes in a standing mixer (do not overbeat). Scrape the beaten whites into a large bowl and set aside. In the now-empty bowl used for beating the egg whites (no need to clean it), beat the remaining sugar and the lemon zest at medium speed until moist and fragrant, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the yolks and beat at high speed until very thick and pale, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary, about 2½ minutes. Add half the lemon juice and beat to combine. Add the remaining lemon juice, vanilla, and ¾ teaspoon salt, and beat to combine. With the motor running at medium speed, gradually add the almond mixture, continuing to beat until just combined, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary.


Add about a quarter of the beaten whites and, using a flexible spatula, stir until just combined. Add the remaining beaten whites and rapidly but gently fold to combine. Scrape the batter into the springform pan, smooth the top, and bake on the baking sheet until the top is browned, the edges pull away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Remove the sides of the pan; carefully remove the pan bottom, dust the torta with confectioners’ sugar and transfer to a serving plate. Slice and serve with whipped cream and/or berries, if desired.


Adam Ried appears regularly on America’s Test Kitchen. Send comments to cooking@globe.com.