Layers of Flavor

Parfaits are the perfect make-ahead treat everyone will enjoy.

July 06, 2005|By Elinor Klivans | Elinor Klivans,Special to the Sun

Everybody likes parfaits. ... Parfaits are delicious."

Wise words indeed spoken by Duncan the donkey in the movie Shrek. Parfaits are really do-ahead sundaes that are made up of different combinations of ice cream, sorbets, sauces and often some sort of a crunchy addition.

They should be made at least a day before serving, and you can keep a stash of these ready-to-serve sundaes in your freezer for up to a week. Let's see -- everybody likes them, lots of flavor choices, easy to prepare and lend themselves to advance preparation. Sounds like Duncan knows his oats, or should I say his parfaits?

My mother used to serve parfaits as our Sunday lunch dessert. She layered them in long, narrow glasses that were saved especially for our parfaits and served them with long iced-tea spoons, so we could spoon up every bit of sauce from the bottom.

The "Sunday flavor of the week" could include ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt and each new week brought a new choice. On sweltering summer days, my mother cooled us off with coconut ice cream or sorbet and mango sorbet layered with toasted coconut and white chocolate or a cool mint chocolate-chip ice cream and chocolate-fudge combination.

Inspiration even came from a box of candy and there were Bing cherries covered with milk chocolate-fudge sauce combined with cherry-vanilla ice cream.

Her theory was that the more good stuff that went into a parfait, the better it would taste. Store-bought cookies, ladyfingers, pieces of crunchy candy and chocolate chips all found their way into the parfait glasses.

Glasses that let the colorful layers show through and have at least a10-ounce capacity work best. Traditionally, parfaits are made in sundae glasses or glasses that have a stem, but even ordinary bistro-type glasses work well and lend a hearty quality.

A presentation that looks especially luxurious is to use extra-large goblet-style glasses that hold as much as 20 ounces, then fill them half or three-quarters full. Be sure to spread all of the sauces and ice creams to the edge of the glass so the colorful layers show through.

Parfaits are a perfect choice for serving to a crowd. Quantities are easily doubled or increased to make enough to fit any size crowd. It is fun to have several different choices so guests can pick their favorites.

A general method for building a parfait is to begin by putting a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of the glass. Continue by alternating three layers of ice cream or sorbet with sauce or crunch additions, or better yet, use both, then top it off with a swirl of sauce.

Rocky Road Parfaits with their sticky frozen marshmallows mixed with a crisp frozen dark-chocolate coating plus toasted walnuts and layered with chocolate ice cream illustrate this decadent parfait style.

A dollop of freshly whipped cream can be added when it is time to serve them. Chocolate sauce, a thick orange or lemon-curd type fruit sauce, butterscotch sauce or caramel sauce are good choices. These sauces retain a good soft texture when frozen between layers of ice cream.

Be sure to cool any warm sauces before assembling a parfait, so they do not melt the ice cream. When using a raspberry or strawberry fruit sauce, swirl some of the sauce into about 1/2 cup of the ice cream or add a tablespoon of liqueur to each 1/2 cup of sauce. This prevents the sauce from becoming icy and hard when it freezes in the parfait.

On the other hand, quickly cooked and slightly thickened lemon or orange sauces remain pleasantly soft even when frozen.

One example is a parfait that pairs vanilla ice cream with orange sauce and is reminiscent of the popular vanilla-ice-cream-and-orange-sherbet-covered Popsicle combination. Lemon sauce or store-bought lemon curd could replace the orange sauce for another option.

It is best to use a good-quality ice cream rather than a premium one. An ultra-rich premium ice cream is unnecessarily rich for parfaits. The sorbet or frozen yogurt option is a lighter choice that also works well.

When assembling a parfait, soften the ice cream just until it is easy to scoop and spread. The less the ice cream melts, the better it will taste after it freezes firm again. Soft, but not melted, ice cream also will retain its creamy texture and tend not to form undesirable ice crystals.

To store a parfait, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap then freeze it for up to 1 week. Good wrapping protects parfaits from absorbing odors from other foods and from becoming "icy" on top.

At serving time, it is such a pleasure to take out as many glasses as needed. Let the parfaits sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to soften slightly before serving them. Then get out your long spoons and dig down deep.

Elinor Klivans' newest book is Cupcakes! published by Chronicle Books.

Rocky Road Parfaits

Makes 6 servings

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or semisweet chocolate chips

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups mini marshmallows

3 pints chocolate ice cream, softened just until spreadable

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