Parfait, which means perfect in French, is used to describe two different types of desserts:
- a dessert consisting of layers of ice cream, fruit, etc., served in a tall glass
- a rich cold dessert made with whipped cream, eggs, and often fruit
American readers will be more familiar with the first meaning and French readers with the second. When I received the suggestion to create a strawberry parfait, I immediately consulted my favorite resource Frozen Dessert by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir, and under its guidance, I created a dessert in the French tradition. Their basic recipe for parfait, which they recommend to follow to the latter for best result, is available on this page. (The book is regrettably out of print.)
The book's authors write that "Fruits and flavorings that increase the solid content of the ice really spoil the light character of the parfait." Hence, I took a somewhat circuitous route to obtain a parfait that would have a natural strawberry flavor and still maintain its lightness. I routinely oven-roast strawberries to make various dishes, from risotto to lassi to salad dressing and was once again inspired by them.
Oven-roasting the strawberries (fragole) and preparing the sugar syrup can be done in advance. Then, just make sure you have about 45 minutes of time to prepare the parfait. The freezer will take care of the rest without intervention — no ice cream maker necessary.
For the oven-roasted strawberries:
- 1 pound strawberries, preferably organic or pesticide-free
- ½ teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ultra-fine or granulated sugar
For the sugar syrup:
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons / 125 g granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup / 120 ml water
For the parfait:
- 4 egg yolks of large eggs, possibly from pastured poultry
- 3/4 cup / 180 ml sugar syrup
- 1 cup / 240 ml whipping cream, fresh and possibly organic
- 4 tablespoons / 60 ml roasted strawberry juice (it is fine if the amount of juice is 1-2 teaspoons / 5-10 ml less)
Oven-roast the strawberries
Wash the strawberries and, leaving them whole, carve out the stem.
Place the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and sugar, and toss gently.
Heat the oven to 350 F / 177 C.
Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat that is wider and longer than the baking sheet, so no juice can escape from any side. Place the strawberries at the center of the sheet on a single layer.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and then transfer to a storage container until ready to use. The strawberries will release some juice while baking, so when transferring them, make sure you pour all the juice into the container with the berries.
Prepare the sugar syrup
In a glass jar, stir water and sugar until the latter is completely dissolved. Warming up the water makes the process easier.
Place a lid and refrigerate until ready to use. This will make a bit more than necessary for the parfait.
Note #1: I use unrefined cane sugar and my syrup is honey-colored.
Note #2: in Frozen Dessert, Liddell and Weir explain that they use boiling water to make their syrup and add a vanilla bean to it. I never do that, because I prefer to add vanilla where I want. Also, they prepare 1 quart / .95 liter at a time, something I never do, because I don't use it often.
Prepare the parfait
Place a (steel) bowl in the refrigerator. The whipping cream will also be in the refrigerator.
Place the egg yolks into another (steel or other non-reactive material) bowl and whisk them until light and paler. I prefer to use a spring whisk for this, while the book mentions an electric hand mixer.
Warm up the sugar syrup to body temperature, then whisk it, one tablespoon at a time, into the egg yolks. Do not rush or the eggs will scramble.
Place the bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water. The bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Heat the mixture, stirring every now and then with a wooden spoon to make sure that it does not overcook either at the bottom or along the side of the bowl.
When the mixture reaches 185 F / 85 C or when it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (i.e., when you draw your finger across, the line should stay clear) take the bowl off the pan. This will take 20 minutes or so. Do not rush.
If it is not already there, pour the mixture into a large, deep mixing bowl (otherwise, in the next step, you'll have sticky fireworks). Using an electric hand mixer, beat on high speed for one minute, then at medium speed for 3-4 minutes and finally at low speed for 5 minutes. At the end, the beaten mixture will be thick: if you trail a ribbon of it over the surface, it will hold.
Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
When ready, take out of the refrigerator the empty bowl and pour the whipping cream in it. Beat until soft peaks form.
Measure the amount of juice needed from the oven-roasted strawberries and make sure it is also chilled. (Use the strawberries to make lassi or similar blended beverage or chop them and use them to top yogurt or breakfast cereal.)
Take out of the refrigerator the bowl with the egg olk and syrup mixture and gently fold the whipped cream into it in four batches. Use a spatula and a light hand for this step.
After folding the second batch of whipped cream, add half the amount of strawberry juice and fold it in, then repeat with the other half. Continue with the remaining two batches of whipped cream, folding each in until until evenly mixed. The end result is homogeneous and feels airy.
Pour into a plastic freezer box, cover the surface with a piece of wax paper, place a lid on the box and freeze for at least two hours.
Take the box out of the freezer ahead of serving the parfait. If it is frozen solid, it will need about 15-20 minutes in the refrigerator to soften enough to be served.
I use my small ice cream scoop (1 1/4-inch / 3 cm diameter) to make small balls of parfait and place them into Martini glasses, then decorate the surface with a light dusting of shaved extra-dark chocolate (cioccolato).
This is a rich dessert: it is quite sweet (dolce), creamy but light in texture, with a definite, intriguing strawberry flavor (sapore di fragola), which comes as a surprise, since the color of the parfait does not suggest the deeply red fruit is involved in its preparation. A small portion is sufficient to satisfy the palate, so the recipe will delight a lot of guests.
Happy National Strawberry Parfait Day!
This is my contribution to edition #439 of Weekend Herb Blogging, an event started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, now organized by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once and Brii of briggishome. and hosted this week by Lucia of Torta di rose.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the semifreddo alla fragola audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]