Parfait (from the French meaning “perfect”) is a type of frozen dessert that dates back to 1894. At that time parfaits tasted like coffee and it was a frozen treat. Eventually, these layered ice cream desserts were laced with fruit syrups or liqueurs.
Modern day parfaits are usually prepared in tall glasses and the visual appeal of these traditional layered desserts makes them a favorite on many party menus. Popular parfait ingredients include fruit, nuts, chocolate, coffee, ice cream and yogurt. Strawberry parfait, mango parfait, apple parfait, peach parfait, yogurt parfait are all different kinds of parfaits that are served chilled as a casual dessert.
Around the world, parfait can mean many things. In France, parfait refers to a frozen dessert made from a base of sugar syrup, egg and cream. In the UK and Germany, parfait refers to a very smooth meat paste (or pâté), usually made from liver (chicken or duck) and flavored with liqueur. In Italy, Italian ice is a frozen confection somewhat similar to shaved ice or snow cones but should not be confused with gelato, Italian ice cream. Sometimes, parfait-like confections are sold in Italy that layer different flavored Italian ices with gelato. This type of parfait dessert may be called gelati, which may be confusing.
In the United States, parfait refers to a popular dessert made by layering fresh or canned fruit and/or liqueurs with ice cream in a tall, clear glass and topped with whipped cream. In Canada and the northern United States, parfaits may also be made by using yogurt layered with granola, nuts and fresh fruits, such as peaches, strawberries or blueberries and are intended to be a healthier alternative to the ice cream/mascarpone and heavy cream parfaits.
Parfaits may be prepared as comfort food or as a health food, depending on the ingredients used. With ice cream, nuts and whipped cream, parfaits can be pretty high in calories. Yogurt in different forms, such as low-fat yogurt, organic yogurt or Greek yogurt, to name only a few, can be chosen according to suitability for the type of parfait you want to make. Yogurt parfaits make a delicious and nutritious breakfast.
Yogurt Parfaits can be made with unflavored yogurt or flavored varieties. The recipe may be made with a variety of yogurts with different consistencies, depending upon your taste. Full fat yogurt may be preferred by people who do not have to be conscious about losing weight. Those who prefer organic food, can choose to make their parfait with the organic varieties, while others may opt for regular.
Making a yogurt parfait is quite simple. A parfait glass is filled with layers of yogurt, granola and fruit. The layers are repeated and the final topping may be berries. It should be noted that it’s always better to fix a yogurt parfait and serve it immediately, otherwise, the cereal may get soggy and lose its crunchiness, thus making the dish less palatable.
Gelatin Parfaits are prepared by layering different fruit flavored gelatin (jello) in a parfait glass and topping the mixture with whipped cream and nuts. As the gelatin takes time to set, about 4-5 hours, make this parfait only when there is adequate time to prepare the gelatin before the occasion in which it is to be served.
Mixed Fruit parfaits are made with a base of sour cream mixed with sugar, fruit juice of choice and a liqueur. The mixture is placed at the bottom of a parfait glass, fresh fruits are placed as the next layer of the parfait, followed by a final layer of chocolate shavings. The dish is best served after being chilled for a couple of hours.
All parfaits are not desserts, as some are savory dishes made of seafood, vegetables and even foie gras. Savory parfaits are made in the same way as the dessert parfaits, except of course, with different ingredients. The common factor is their method.
Here are a few parfait recipes to suit a variety of tastes. Let your imagination create even more.
Italian Hazelnut Parfait
- 1/2 cup skinned hazelnuts
- 15 ounces part-skim ricotta
- 1/4 cup low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 25 amaretti cookies
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 ounce semi-sweet or sweet chocolate, grated (for garnish)
Set the oven at 375 degrees F.
Use 4 tall glasses.
In a baking pan, toast the hazelnuts, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned; cool. Chop the hazelnuts coarsely; transfer to a bowl.
In another bowl, whisk the ricotta until creamy, then whisk in the yogurt, ¼ cup of the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate.
Meanwhile, place cookies in a large zipper-top plastic bag. Use a rolling-pin to crush them to the size of peas.
In a cold bowl with cold beaters, beat the cream and the remaining ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar until it holds soft peaks.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture into each glass, sprinkle with amaretti and a few hazelnuts (save 2 tablespoons of the nuts for the top garnish).
Continue to layer in this way, ending with a thin layer of ricotta. Add a spoonful of whipped cream and top with the reserved hazelnuts and grated chocolate.
Fresh Fruit Parfait
These parfaits are perfect for breakfast or for dessert.
- 1 rounded cup (½ dry pint) blackberries, raspberries or hulled strawberries, plus 2 extra berries per person for garnish
- 1 rounded tablespoon seedless raspberry jam
- 2 large, ripe, firm bananas
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 cups melon balls from two or three different types of ripe melon
- Two 8-ounce containers vanilla yogurt
- Optional additions: Your favorite granola or some dry-toasted sliced almonds or walnuts and fresh mint leaves for garnish
Place the berries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender. Process the berries until thoroughly pureed.
Place the jam in a 1-quart saucepan. Position a fine-mesh sieve over the pan and pour the berry puree into the sieve. Using a sturdy rubber or wooden spatula, rub the puree through the sieve, leaving the seeds behind (straining is not necessary if using only strawberries). Bring the pureed mixture just to a simmer over low heat, stirring to break up any coagulated jam. Remove the pan from the stove, pour the mixture into a bowl and let it cool.
When you’re almost ready to serve the parfaits, lay each peeled banana on a flat surface and with a melon ball scoop make banana balls. When you’ve measured at least 1 cup, toss them with the lemon juice to prevent discoloring.
Gently fold together the banana and melon balls. Place 1¼ cups of the fruit balls in each parfait glass and ladle 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt over the fruit. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the berry puree on top of the yogurt. Allow the parfait to sit for a few minutes so the toppings can trickle down throughout the fruit.
If desired, top each parfait with a tablespoon or so of your favorite granola or some toasted sliced almonds. Garnish each serving with two plump berries and a sprig of fresh mint.
Healthy Tiramisu Parfaits
- 4 oz (half of 8-oz package) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened
- 3/4 cup skim ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 container (6 oz) vanilla yogurt
- 1/3 cup cold brewed espresso or strong coffee
- 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur
- 1 package (3 oz) soft ladyfingers, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 oz semisweet baking chocolate, grated (1/4 cup)
In medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in ricotta cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until the mixture is creamy. Beat in yogurt until well blended.
In small bowl, mix espresso and coffee liqueur.
In 8 small parfait glasses or clear drinking glasses, layer half of the ladyfingers, half of the espresso mixture and half of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle each with about 3/4 teaspoon grated chocolate. Repeat layers.
Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour to blend flavors but no longer than 4 hours. Store covered in refrigerator.
Tomato Caprese Parfaits
- A pint of grape tomatoes, halved
- A cup of basil leaves, sliced thin
- 16 ounces of fresh mozzarella, sliced and then cut into small wedges
- 1/2 cup prepared pesto
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Balsamic vinegar
- 4-6 parfait glasses depending on size
Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pesto to make it more pourable. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the tomatoes.
In attractive parfait glasses, layer tomatoes – mozzarella – basil and then a drizzle of each – pesto and vinegar. Repeat until glasses are full. Top with the basil shreds.
This recipe makes a great summer first course.
- 4 ounces light cream cheese, softened
- 4 ounces crab meat
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
- Shredded lettuce
- Cocktail sauce, homemade or store-bought (homemade recipe below)
- Boiled shrimp, peeled, shells and tails removed and diced
- Prepared horseradish sauce, homemade or store-bought
- Light sour cream
- Grape tomatoes
Combine cream cheese, crabmeat, lemon juice and seafood seasoning until well blended.
Line the bottom of tall parfait glasses with shredded lettuce. Add a layer of the crab spread. Add a drizzle of cocktail sauce. Add a layer of diced boiled shrimp and more cocktail sauce.
For the topping, combine equal amounts of horseradish sauce and sour cream. Spoon a dollop on top of each parfait and add a grape tomato.
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons grated horseradish
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine all ingredients, making sure the sugar has dissolved. Store covered in the refrigerator.
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