When you read the word “parfait” what do you think of? If, like me, you live in North America, you probably imagine a trifle-like layered dessert or breakfast treat, made with some combination of fresh fruit, crunchy layers of crumble, crushed cookies or granola, and soft creamy layers of yogurt, whipped cream, ice cream or compote. You probably envision it served piled high in a clear glass that shows off its layers.
But several weeks ago - though, living in the midst of these end-times has obliterated my former sense of the passage of time; it could just as easily have been months - I came across a beautiful photograph in Delicious UK magazine of an affogato parfait , that, though technically a layered dessert, was nothing like any parfait I’d seen before. It seems that in Britain and its southern hemisphere former colony Australia, the word parfait is used to describe cooled or frozen custard desserts - sometimes shaped into a loaf tin and served in slices. In concept and form, they’re more like a sweet cousin of the savoury chicken liver parfait than the North American trifle-like parfait.
I was inspired by the elegant simplicity of this sort of dessert, like something straight out of the pages of a Diana Henry cookbook, a dessert you might find being carried out to a table full of relaxed and casual diners on a terrace somewhere in the south of France or Italy. Such appeal is aspirational, a sort of wishful thinking, as I myself am far from serving casual desserts to friends on summer patios. I’m working shifts at a bar while wearing a mask or otherwise shut-in at home, mostly alone, trying to stick to my self-imposed twitter ban and struggling to keep up with the laundry and dishes. But I liked the idea of it, however illusory, the story evoked by this parfait and its image, that must surely be real to someone, somewhere. I decided to use the affogato parfait as the jumping off point for a personal photography project. As such, the choices I made developing the recipe were primarily aesthetic and practical, but the flavours and textures of the finished dessert turned out so well that I had to write up the recipe.
I wanted to recreate a similar composition to that of the Delicious UK image, while playing around with some detailed styling. Instead of affogato flavours, I went with citrus and tropical fruit. Lime because I had a massive bag of limes in the fridge that were in need of using up and passionfruit because of its beautiful colour and the striking pattern created by its large seeds.
To add layers to the styling of the parfait, I made the passionfruit into a syrup to drizzle over top, crushed-up some extra ladyfinger cookies - although if you do the same know that they are a bit bland this way, as they don’t soak up any flavour from the moist ingredients around them like the cookies inside do, which is, I assume, the purpose of a ladyfinger - added some tiny meringues I made out of the leftover egg whites and finished with some of my garden-grown pansies. I’m realizing now that this somewhat undermines the simplicity that drew me to the English-style parfait in the first place, but, that’s okay. Decorating my parfait was a perfect opportunity to use some of the many edible pansies I grew this year, that I’d been struggling to find a use for - other than, of course, their decorative value in the garden.
For anyone paying attention, I’m posting this recipe a little out of season – especially for what’s been an unusually cool September. At the same time, I’m often puzzled by how quickly the online food world moves from one season to the next. The timeline never really fits my own growing season, which begins late and is relatively short. I’m often just seeing rhubarb in the market and peas in my garden when everyone online is moving on to summer produce. Much of my summer produce - tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant especially - isn’t ready for harvest until August or September and, with a few season extension strategies, sometimes even into October, when everyone online is moving on to pumpkins and stone fruit.
Just outside my kitchen door, a few summer harvests remain, and with the seasons as unpredictable as they have become, more warm weather is always a possibility. In other words, summer may still have a few last breaths to take, and if you find yourself in need of an easy, refreshing dessert this vanilla lime parfait is a delicious and nearly effortless option. Elaborate decoration is, of course, completely optional. You could always serve this parfait straight out of the loaf tin with the passionfruit syrup drizzled over top - it’s probably more elegant that way, anyway.
Vanilla-Lime Parfait with Passion Fruit Syrup
A no-bake, light and refreshing custard-based dessert with citrus and tropical fruit flavors. A perfect make-ahead easy dessert for serving guests.
For the Parfait
- 1 1/4 cup (300ml) heavy cream
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (150ml) whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 egg white
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (60g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
- 2 tablespoons lime juice (plus 1-2 more, to taste)
- 500ml (1/2 liter) vanilla ice cream*
- 8-12 ladyfinger cookies
For the Passion Fruit Syrup
- Pulp from 3-4 passion fruit
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- Add the cream and milk to a medium-sized pan and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-low heat. In the meantime, in a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks together with the sugar, one tablespoon of the lime zest and two tablespoons of the lime juice. Whisking so the eggs do not scramble, add the hot cream and milk to the egg mixture. If you want to be extra careful, temper the egg mixture by mixing in some of the hot milk and cream, a few tablespoons at a time, before pouring in the whole pot.
- Pour the mixture into a clean pot and stir over medium heat until thickened into a custard. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool. Taste the custard. If you find the lime flavor too mild, add another tablespoon of lime juice.
- As mixture cools, line a loaf tin with plastic wrap, so that it hangs over the sides. With an electric beater, beat the egg white into soft peaks and gently fold into the cooled custard. Pour the custard mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Transfer the tin to the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.
- Remove the vanilla ice cream from the freezer and set aside to soften slightly, about 20 minutes, though the time needed will vary, depending on the ice cream. Remove the loaf tin of parfait from the freezer. Break apart 8 lady fingers and crumble them evenly over top of the custard layer. Mix the remainder of the lime zest with another tablespoon of lime juice and drizzle over top of the crumbled cookies. Then layer the vanilla ice cream on top, smoothing the surface with a spoon. Cover well with plastic wrap and freeze solid, at least 3-4 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, make the passion fruit syrup: in a small saucepan over low heat add the sugar and water. Stir until dissolved. Add the passionfruit pulp and stir to combine. Set Aside. If you don’t want your syrup to have seeds, you can run it through a sieve, but they add a crunchy textural element and a beautiful pattern to the finished parfait. Remove the parfait from the freezer and turn out onto a platter. Cut into slices and serve immediately with the passion fruit syrup and, if desired, extra crushed lady fingers.
*I’ve noticed that the quality of the ice cream impacts how frozen it gets and how quickly it melts. Cheaper ice creams seem never really to freeze completely and begin to melt very quickly. This parfait is best served immediately after removing it from the freezer – particularly if you go with an inexpensive vanilla ice cream.
Adapted from Delicious UK