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Perfect parfait

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If you read that in French it reads perfect perfect. Actually, since the first word is English it probably reads more like “garble perfect”. Ok, perhaps I should stick to my language instead of trying pun in other peoples’…

Over the summer I had the opportunity to spendĀ five hours in a kitchen with a real-life chef, who owned her own restaurant for eight years. It was a fairly cool, if slightly scary experience (she frowned when I tasted the sauce by dipping my finger in it. Apparently in top restaurants they have these hygiene rules that mean you have to use a spoon. Urgh.) During this time, besides learning how to make a huge selection of dishes, mayonnaise and Hollandaise from scratch (one is basically a cooked version of the other), a really good tomato sauce (use butter. Lots and lots of it) I also learned how to make a parfait.

I’ve never really been into making frozen desserts at home, partly because I don’t have an ice cream maker, which I thought was a fairly crucial tool for such delights, and partly because I don’t have the space in my freezer. Not to mention that desserts consisting of double cream and egg yolks are not a sensible thing to have lying around in large quantities. However, it turns out parfaits are really easy to make, you don’t need any special equipment (except maybe an electric whisk and, as discussed, I’m not such a fan of them anyway) and you can freeze them in individual moulds so you only eat one. At a time.

The basic recipe for parfait is very simple, egg yolks whisked with sugar and a little alcohol (this helps to make the parfait softer once it’s frozen), with whipped cream and some fruit or other flavouring of your choice. The higher the water content of the fruit, the more alcohol you need to soften the parfait, or you could add some melted white chocolate, to increase the fat content and stop it setting so firm. The flavour combinations you could go for are basically limitless. Having bought a bag of beautiful cranberries, only to discover they are far too sour to eat out of hand (um, is this common knowledge?) So i turned these into a lovely cranberry sauce/jelly-type affair, some of which I used to flavour the parfait, and some of which was served with the parfait. I decided to use some cointreau as well, to give it a nice cranberry orange flavour, and since it was for a dinner party I smartened the whole thing up with some cinnamon tuiles (as far as I can tell, they’re just really, really thin biscuits). All the components can be made in advance so it’s ideal for parties when you have more than enough other things to be worrying about.

Cranberry-orange parfait with cranberry jelly and cinnamon tuile

This was a pretty flawless dessert, if I do say so myself. The one thing I would change next time is to sieve the cranberry jelly before it sets. Although as a rule I despise passing things through sieves since it is tedious, time-consuming and essentially pointless as chances are what you’re discarding is edible, it would make a big difference here. Though I’m sure most of the goodness in cranberries is in their skin, the skins roll up and add a slightly spiky texture to the jelly otherwise. Obviously if you’re not a perfectionist, don’t bother. It tastes just fine with the skins in.

Cranberry jelly

300g fresh or frozen cranberries
120g white sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cointreau
250ml double or whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons cranberry sauce

1. To make the jelly put the cranberries, sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook on a high heat, without a lid, for about 15 minutes, or until the cranberries are soft and bursting out of their skins. The harder you boil the mixture, the firmer it will set. Using an immersion blender puree the mixture. Quickly push the sauce through a sieve to remove the cranberry skins and then set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cointreau until very pale in colour and foamy. In a medium bowl, with a clean whisk, whisk the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in 2-3 tablespoons of the cranberry jelly, depending on how strong a flavour you want. You can also swirl this in instead, to achieve a marbling effect.

3. A couple of spoons at a time fold the cranberry/cream mixture into the egg yolks. When done, divide the mixture between 4 ramekins. Cover with clingfilm and freeze for at least 2 hours, or until required.

Makes 4 0.2l ramekins, and plenty of leftover cranberry jelly.

To serve, remove the parfaits from the freezer. Run a knife (nothing too sharp) around the edges of the ramekin and up-end each parfait on a small serving plate. Spoon some of the spare cranberry jelly on, or to the side of the parfait and garnish with a cinnamon tuile.

Cinnamon tuiles

Adapted from AP – and this is a lesson in why you should use recipes from a reputable source, since they clearly tested this recipe exactly zero times. Eight egg whites and two cups of flour produces 36 teaspoon-sized pieces of dough, WTF? However, adapted to make something completely different, and generally ignoring most of the quantities this recipe produced some great tuiles. So that’s ok.

2 egg whites
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup gf flour blend
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons (27g) melted butter
1 tablespoon double cream

1. Preheat oven to 190 C.

2. In a large bowl whisk the egg whites with the sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in the gf flour, salt and cinnamon very gently. Add the cream and cooled melted butter and stir just until mixed.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop 2 tablespoons of the mixture onto the sheet and spread into a very thin layer using an offset spatula. Add another tablespoon of mixture if necessary, but the tuiles should be fine enough you can almost see through them. When the mixture has been evenly smoothed out pop in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to turn brown, and the centre is almost set.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and working quickly, using a cookie cutter cut out circles from the tuile. Don’t worry about lifting them off the baking sheet just yet, just make sure you have cut all the way through the tuile (it’ll be quite sticky) and through to the paper. Then leave the sheet to cool on a wire rack. Once cool you should be able to lift the tuiles off the sheet with a knife. If the circles have extra bits of tuile still clinging to them these should snap off readily.

5. If you’re not using the tuiles straight away pack them away very carefully between layers of greaseproof paper. Be careful as they will be very fragile. The irregular bits of tuile left over can be eaten straight up, or used to decorate desserts.

Makes at least 6 or 7 baking sheets of tuile, and each baking sheet gave me 10 complete circles (though some snapped). If you have enough tuiles then pour the remaining mixture onto a lined baking sheet so it’s half an inch thick and bake for 10 minutes, until set in the middle. Cut this into little finger biscuits and serve with tea, coffee, or ice cream.

Written by guffblog

9th December 2010 at 19:29