Brad Spence's Salted Butter Semifreddo

July 31, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A no-cook, smooth, scoopable frozen treat without an ice cream maker -- in our new favorite flavor: salted butter.

Brad Spence's Salted Butter Semifreddo from Food52

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This week's recipe solves a timeless, universal summer problem: how to make a soft, scoopable ice cream without a fancy machine. Just like that. Solved!

It also takes care of another serious issue, one we didn't know we had: the issue being that we didn't know salted butter was a flavor. It's impossible to say which will be the more lasting improvement to humanity.

More: Another improvement to humanity? S'mores Ice Cream.

Our tale begins when chef Brad Spence was visiting the Jersey Shore with his wife, eating Springer's ice cream, as he had all his life. The butter pecan got him thinking.

Back in his restaurant Amis in Philadelphia, Spence wanted to recreate the not-so-sweet butter ice cream -- but the kitchen didn't (and still doesn't) have an ice cream or gelato machine. So he developed the recipe without fancy equipment, using a method any home cook with a whisk and a few bowls could pull off. 

"It was one of those things -- I put it on the menu and I can't take it off," Spence told me. Now he serves it year-round, on blueberry tarts and in hot fudge sundaes in summer, over spiced pound cake in winter. Scoops melt over yeasted waffles and collapse into maple milkshakes. 

And you have every reason to make it at home -- because all you have to do is whisk and fold. If you have some light machinery to help you, it will take no more than 20 minutes to assemble. (If you're riding on the strength of your whisking arm, maybe a little longer.)

Here's how it works:  

Cream egg yolks and sugar until they curl up, pale and buoyant.

Pour in melted (but cooled) butter and salt.

Fold in whipped cream, then whipped egg whites. (No, the eggs aren't cooked. Just buy them from a trustworthy source -- Spence's come from Green Meadow Farm in Gap, PA -- or you can use pasteurized eggs.)

Once this airy yellow fluff has a chance to freeze for several hours, unattended, it's semifreddo.

Brad Spence's Salted Butter Semifredoo from Food52

It tastes a little like butter pecan or French vanilla (without the pecans, or the vanilla) and perhaps even more like a well-salted sugar cookie dough. It's astonishingly creamy and smooth for what little attention you've given it. Maybe it's all the air you whipped in, or the power of yolks and cream -- but I'd like to think it's the butter. 

Brad Spence's Salted Butter Semifreddo from Food52

As our Managing Editor Brette Warshaw pointed out when she hunted down this recipe, this is an anytime, any season pantry frozen treat. You have butter, eggs, sugar, and salt, don't you? Cream, maybe? And ... a freezer? 

If you answered yes to all of the above, then you don't need to go to the store, or pre-freeze any component parts, or even stop to flick on the stove. There's nothing stopping you. Nothing.

Brad Spence's Salted Butter Semifreddo from Food52

Brad Spence's Salted Butter Semifreddo

Adapted from Amis Restaurant in Philadelphia, PA

Serves 6 to 8

8 egg yolks + 4 egg whites, divided (reserve remaining 4 egg whites for another use)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (175 grams)
1 stick + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photo of Brad Spence from Vetri Family website, all other photos by James Ransom 

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Nicole July 7, 2014
I cannot believe I found this article! I had this exact salted butter semifreddo at Amis and have not been able to get it out of my head since! So excited to try this! It was served with a rhubarb marmalade which was an amazing compliment to the rich, creamy flavor.
Katie W. November 7, 2013
There is nothing stopping me. Other than it's 11:13 at night, but tomorrow.....
Blythe S. October 8, 2013
I had salted butter ice cream on french toast as a dessert in Paris last month, and can't wait to try this at home!
Joshua C. September 2, 2013
I just made this over the weekend and was blown away by how easy this was to make. I really think this recipe earns the "Genius" stamp. We live in South Africa and everyone of our guests claimed it was the best ice cream they have had in the country. They did not believe me when I said we did not use an ice cream machine.
Jack Z. August 25, 2013
Can you put it in a pastry bag and dole it out like casino butter on desserts. Very attractive, I would think. So far, everyone's just shoveling it with their spoons...not that it's a bad thing.
anne August 8, 2013
I laughed out loud when I read your liner quote, "how to eat butter in a socially acceptable situation," or some such. I often think, when I am in the kitchen alone, if anyone saw me doing this, I would be publicly scorned! I sneak little bites of icy cold butter when I am cooking! There. I said it. I eat butter. Now, sir, I am off to make butter ice cream. Good-day.
walkie74 August 5, 2013 I'm not supposed to have white lumps in my semifreddo?? Just checking...
Kristen M. August 5, 2013
No, you shouldn't -- does it look like maybe the egg whites didn't incorporate?
walkie74 August 6, 2013
I think the egg whites made it in fine, but maybe I didn't understand how to fold in the whipped cream without deflating it. Well, phooey. Still tastes good, I guess...
Iconic F. August 4, 2013
When I had this in Philly at the restaurant, I'm not kidding, I thought I was going to cry it was good! LOL!!! awesome stuff
dao August 1, 2013
wow never saw yolks+sugar sooo creamy. Maybe should invest in new machinery? in any case this recipe is brilliant. Tried frozen yoghourt the other day, and even with mascarpone it remains a bit hard to scoop. Will try this one with butter, although will plan my sports routine before I have this in the fridge!
ina P. July 31, 2013
YUM! Only problem with using pasturized eggs (which we use exclusively in my restaurant for safety's sake...) is that you can't whip the egg whites. Just doesn't work. And remember, organic doesn't mean 'safe'.
saltandserenity July 31, 2013
Salted butter could be my very new favourite flavour!!!
fiveandspice July 31, 2013
You're killing me! I'm a butter swiper too. And a cream swiper. And I love eggs. In other words, this may be my kryptonite, well except that it would just make me crazy happy and sugar high instead of depleting me of my power. And on a summer fruit tart? Or with spice cake? Oh lordy.
Kenzi W. July 31, 2013
Confessions of a butter swiper.
LauriL August 1, 2013
Haha!Images of all you butterswipers across america has me more than chuckling!
bclelia July 31, 2013
I can't wait to try this! How long would this keep in the freezer and are their specific instructions?
Kristen M. July 31, 2013
Yes, on the recipe page here! It should last a couple days in the freezer before it starts to deflate a little.
Judy B. November 5, 2021
Here it the year 2021 and it’s never too late to comment!
Have made this delicious dessert many times. In my experience, it keeps a long time in the freezer. Just tasted some that I made at least two months ago. (Probably longer!) still delicioso!
There’s only me and I only make a half recipe and it’s still a lot.
Betty A. July 31, 2013
This is wonderful! I do not own an ice cream machine and have been making homemade ice cream by hand. Can't wait to try this semifreddo recipe. Thanks for sharing. Just in time for mid-summer!
Carolyn F. July 31, 2013
Years ago my aunt made butter milkshakes. She had joined Weight Watchers and would make a dietetic version with no ice cream and no butter, using hefty portions of her bottles of butter flavoring from the baking aisle at the market. This recipe would have indeed been her favorite! The first ingredient for her spaghetti sauce was one pound of butter and is almost the same recipe as Marcella Hazan's version but of course used much more butter.....
Kristen M. July 31, 2013
Loving these butter memories!
Lizzie 4. July 31, 2013
This recipe & chef on the food channels has a fancy mixer. I just have the one you hold....will it work? I hope so, it looks so delicious!!!
Kristen M. July 31, 2013
Yes! You can get there even just whisking by hand -- but your arm would be pretty tired.
kbtalley July 31, 2013
how about if you DO happen to have an ice cream maker on hand?
Cookie16 July 31, 2013
I second this!
Kristen M. July 31, 2013
Haven't tried it, but I can't imagine it not working!
kitchenista July 31, 2013
I've made "ice cream" (arguments abound regarding this "frozen treat") using this recipe: It is VERY easy to do and very easy to create all sorts of flavors (I've made it with lavender, Meyer lemon, & honey and I've tried bourbon, caramel, & sea salt--who hasn't done that, though). The recipe works indeed, and gets good reviews. I do find there is a slight aftertaste or film though, probably from the condensed milk?
EmilyC July 31, 2013
I'm glad you're posting this during peak peach season -- this with a freshly sliced peach would be amazing. Great find Kristen and Brette!
Brette W. July 31, 2013
Great idea! Sounds like my perfect summer dessert.
runner115 July 31, 2013
does it have to be salted butter?
Kristen M. July 31, 2013
Actually, it's unsalted butter (you add the salt separately) -- so you can adjust the salt to your taste. I just updated the article to clarify, thanks!