"I ain't never met someone who didn't like parfait. You never hear someone say, 'Hey, you want some parfait?' 'Hell no, I don't want no parfait!'"
-- Donkey, 'Shrek'
Parfait is a small, chilled, cream-based dish.
The name is derived from the French parfait meaning, literally, something perfect. The dish itself is French and only arrived in England at the turn of the 20th Century.
A standard parfait is made with a base of cream and eggs, which is whipped into a light custard and then chilled until it is solid. There are many kinds of parfait built on this simple base. In the United States, parfait usually refers to a sweet dessert with ingredients such as fruit and biscuits. Israeli chef Tsachi Buchester specialises in a halvah parfait, and Gooseberry and Elderflower Parfait is a delicious and unusual variation. Savory parfaits, such as Duck Liver Parfait, are often seen in Europe.
Unlike its cream-based dessert counterparts (ice cream and mousse), a parfait is not stirred while it is chilled. The creamy custard in a parfait is usually whipped; stirring it during the freezing process would cause the air bubbles to collapse and ice crystals to form.
A parfait is usually associated with layers. Usually, a parfait is served in a tall, ornate glass designed to display the alternating layers of custard, fruit and biscuits. In certain culinary circles, any layered dessert is referred to as a parfait, and the creamy custard may be replaced with ice cream. Parfait may also be served in a ramekin.
Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, Emeril Lagasse and the many Iron Chefs all have recipies for parfaits. Below is Ian Parmenter's recipie for Prune and Armagnac Parfait. The prunes may be substituted with the fruit of your choice - strawberries and peaches work very well. The Armagnac may be replaced with Cognac or rum.
Ian Parmenter's Prune and Armagnac Parfait
- 6 egg yolks
- 140g caster sugar
- 450mL thick cream (double cream, for preference, or any kind of thickened cream)
- 5 tbsp Armagnac
- 20cm sponge cake, sliced horizontally into two thin layers
- 450g of the pitted prunes
- 125g caster sugar
- 100mL of Armagnac
- To make the conserve: Combine the prunes and the 125g caster sugar with 250mL cold water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower heat and simmer gently until mixture is of a jam-like consistency.
- Cook until just warm, then stir in Armagnac. Set aside. Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk. Reserve.
- In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the 140g caster sugar with 140mL water and cook until mixture reaches the soft ball stage (112ºC on a sweet thermometer). Starting with tiny drips, whisk the sugar syrup into the egg yolks. When completely combined, set aside to cool.
- Whisk the cream and as it starts to thicken, whisk in Armagnac. Continue whisking until soft peaks form.
- When the egg and sugar mixture is cold, fold into the cream mixture and beat until soft peaks form.
- To serve:
- Either place a thin layer of sponge cake in the bottom of a ramekin. Spread the conserve over the sponge, then top with the cream mixture and freeze overnight;
- Or fill a parfait glass with alternating layers of sponge cake, cream mixture and conserve.