Skip to Content

How to Make an Italian Ice Cream Cake that Is Perfect for Summer

Our contributor shares her no-churn method for making an ice cream cake or "semifreddo" to keep cool this summer.

Ice cream cake (semifreddo).

Ice cream cake (semifreddo).

This sweltering heat is the perfect season for cool, refreshing sweet treats. As someone with an August birthday, I have always loved an ice cream cake. These days, the temperature isn’t the only thing going up; prices are, too. And if you’ve purchased an industrial ice cream cake, you know that even a very small one can easily cost $30 or more.  

I remember my grandmother would never go to a restaurant or buy anything in a store that she could easily make at home. “Why waste your money when you do better making things at home,” she would say.

Taking her guidance to heart, I created this semifreddo “ice cream cake.” It is my homemade spin (no-churn involved!) on an industrial-style ice cream cake.

Semifreddo is a refreshing and frozen dessert that is served, as the name suggests, “almost cold.” Think of something along the lines of homemade soft serve.

Semifreddo is easy enough and can be prepared the day before. Making it at home costs a fraction of what an industrial, store-bought cake does, not to mention that it tastes so much better.

It does involve some logistical planning and a lot of bowls, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never buy a store-bought ice cream cake again. And you can make semifreddo in almost any flavor you like.

Here, I’m keeping it simple: vanilla and chocolate. Vanilla is not as common in Italy as it is here in the U.S., so this cake is really a marriage of  an Italian method used to create a riff on an American classic.

While I suggest using a batch of my ice crean sandwich cookies ground up for this, feel free to use any store-bought cookie you like. I have used amaretti, savoiradi, and even ground-up breakfast biscotti. However, if you are going for that old school ice-cream cake vibe, those ice cream sandwich cookies are the key.

A few notes:

• As with all my recipes, feel free to up the sugar if you like things sweeter.

• Use a good quality vanilla for this. I use Trader Joe’s bourbon vanilla or Nielsen Massey. And adding some vanilla bean paste really enhances the flavor. I like a strong vanilla, so I tend to use a lot; if you don’t, feel free to lower the amount.

• I use extra dark chocolate for this, the Emilia brand from Italy, but Trader Joe’s works fine. The reason I use extra dark chocolate is that once the chocolate gets combined with the other ingredients, it becomes more like a milk chocolate. You could use milk chocolate if you like, but I find that dark tastes better.

• This recipe involves a lot of bowls, and, ideally, two mixers. Give yourself plenty of time. I’m lucky enough to have two mixers: one KitchenAid and my grandmother’s handheld mixer from the 1970s that still works like a charm. You can do this with only one; however, you will need bowls to transfer the whipped and beaten ingredients into, and you will need to consistently wash the bowl and beaters throughout the process.

• In any recipe that calls for egg whites beaten to stiff peaks, always start with that as a first step. And remember your bowl and beaters need to be very clean, otherwise the whites won’t beat.

• Finally, this needs to set in your freezer. I recommend what I call “freezer Jenga” before you start. Make sure you have room for the finished cake to rest in your freezer for a few hours or overnight.


Italian Ice Cream Cake

Italian Ice Cream Cake

Recipe by Chiara Montalto Gianinni
0.0 from 0 votes


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 5 5 eggs, separated

  • 1 pint 1 heavy cream

  • 1/3 cup 1/3 sugar to be beaten with egg yolks

  • 2 tbsp. 2 sugar to be beaten with cream

  • 2 tbsp. 2 sugar to be boiled in about 1/4 c water

  • 2 2 -3tbsp. vanilla (use a good quality one, such as Nielsen Massey)

  • 1 1 (heaping)tbsp. vanilla bean paste

  • 200 grams 200 extra dark chocolate (such as Emilia)

  • 1 1 batch ice cream sandwich cookies, ground - or store-bought cookies, amaretti, savoiardi, or plasmon


  • Separate eggs well, be sure not to get any white with yolk or yolk with white.
  • Beat egg whites in a mixer till stiff peaks form; transfer to another bowl.
  • Beat cream with about 2 TBSP sugar and transfer to another bowl, if using only one mixer.
  • Beat egg yolks with about 1/3 cup sugar till pale and yellow, at least ten - 12 minutes.
  • While yolks are mixing with sugar, in a bagna Maria or double boiler, melt chocolate and cool.
  • In a separate pot, boil water with sugar till at least 160 degrees (when bubbling slowly).
  • little at a time, add the water and sugar into the yolks /sugar mixture. You won’t need all the water but do want to temper the eggs. It should have a thick, mayonnaise-like texture and will run a little.
  • Divide the yolks / sugar mixture in half by eye.
  • In yolk mixture that is still in your mixer, add the melted chocolate and mix till uniform and combined.
  • Add in 1/2 the whipped cream and mix till combined.
  • Fold in one half the egg whites until fully combined. You can use beater on a very slow speed if you prefer but be very careful not to deflate the egg whites. It should be smooth and uniform.
  • Place crumbled cookies on the bottom of a springform pan.
  • Add chocolate semifreddo on top of the cookies.
  • Place in freezer to set while you assemble the vanilla.
  • Wash mixer bowl, if necessary.
  • Place remaining egg yolks / sugar in clean mixer bowl and add vanilla and vanilla bean paste, if using, mix.
  • Add remaining whipped cream and stir to combine.
  • Fold in remaining egg whites and fold to combine; again, use a clean mixer on a slow speed, being careful not to deflate the semifreddo. It should be smooth and uniform. Take springform from freezer. Chocolate won’t be fully solid but should be firm to the touch.
  • Add another layer of cookie crumbs and top with vanilla semifreddo
  • Return to freezer and freeze at least 2-4 hours or, better, overnight.
  • Take from freezer at least ten minutes before serving.
  • Optional - frost with whipped cream, cocoa, pistachio, or whatever you like

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @appetitomagazine on Instagram and hashtag it with #italianfoodanddrink

Like this recipe?

Follow @Appetitomagazine on Pinterest

Follow us on Facebook!

Follow us on Facebook

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Register to continue

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Appetito

6 Must-Try Gelato Flavors at Qui Si Gode in Ascoli Piceno

Our contributor recommends six gelato flavors at Qui Si Gode in Le Marche's provincial capital of Ascoli Piceno.

July 17, 2024

Felice Brickell Opens This Week in Miami

The fast-spreading Felice brand from SA Hospitality brings a Tuscan-themed flagship to Miami’s bustling Brickell neighborhood.

July 16, 2024

A Summer Gift Guide to Live Like an Italian in the Season of the Sun

Our contributor shares an array of premium Italian food and drink gift boxes to share with friends and family this summer.

July 16, 2024

Appetito’s Favorite Italian Spots on NBC’s “New York Live”

Watch Appetito's EIC, Andrew Cotto, on New York Live sharing a few of his favorite authentic Italian places in NYC.

July 15, 2024
See all posts