Kitchen Project #34: All about parfait
Ice cream adjacent dreams + Frozen Desserts Glossary + sugar syrups!
Welcome to another edition of Kitchen Projects. I’m so happy to have you here.
Today we are talking about one of my favourite subjects EVER: ice cream. Well, actually, an ice cream adjacent topic: parfait. I’ll be sharing a beautiful recipe for vanilla parfait (ft. the most juicy pods from Zazou Emporium) with a gorgeously gooey peach swirl.
Over on KP+ I’ll be teaching you the ways of granita and all the details on how to build your own formulations plus my recipe for cucumber mint granita that has been blowing my mind for the last few (hot) days! I’ll also be sharing a discount code for the Zazou Vanilla Emporium and doing a giveaway of some of their pods.
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PS. Due to lark! duties, there will be no KP newsletter next weekend but KP+ content wont be affected
Announcing the lark! in the park menu
I’m so excited to announce the menu for next weekend’s lark! x Weino Bib picnic box collaboration this Saturday 31 July. One of the reasons I started the pop-up was so I could collaborate with my favourite brands and people and Weino Bib are definitely that. Together, we’ve put together a hamper of dreams to serve four people and I’m so excited to unveil the menu to you now:
The picnic boxes are *super* limited edition go on sale tomorrow at 10AM on the weino bib website. The boxes will be available to collect between 10AM-12PM on Saturday 31 July at Weino Bib’s shop, 39 Balls Pond Rd, London N1 4BW.
Hopefully see you there!
The world of ice cream and beyond
One of the best things about being a pastry chef or working in the industry is getting to choose your own adventure. When I started out, all I cared about was cakes. Spurred on by the atomic rise of momofuku cakes, I was obsessed with making and building layer cakes. Next came patisserie, followed by viennoiserie, followed by sourdough. And after working night shifts for a few years and needing a change of scene (and sleep pattern), I knew that the next step in my journey had to be Ice Cream. I mean, what kind of life journey doesn’t include Ice Cream?!
A hugely formative part of my Ice Cream knowledge comes from spending two summers making Ice Cream sandwiches at Happy Endings. Working there really opened my eyes to the world of frozen desserts. From balancing flavours to building formulations, there was so much I didn’t know and hadn’t even factored in. You think patisserie is scientific? WAIT til you hear about Ice Cream. It was a huge learning curve and a topic that I didn’t realise had so much depth and so many levels.
As well as my experience making ice cream for two summers, this Kitchen Projects is written with the help of a few sources, namely ‘Frozen Desserts’ by Francisco Migoya and ‘The Secrets of Ice Cream’ by Angel Corvitto. Two brilliant resources I can highly recommend. They are quite pricey, coffee table sized books but they go deep. I hope to give you an overview of it and perhaps make you look at your next scoop with even more love & respect.
Alright, let’s do this
What actually *is* Ice Cream?
The world of ice cream is vast.
Though I should say now we can’t actually call it ‘ice cream’. Not all the time.
The rules around labelling products as ‘Ice Cream’ are a bit mixed worldwide. Here in the UK - which uses the EU guidelines - we allow pretty much anything to be called Ice Cream. It doesn’t have to have a minimum milk solids or even include any fat from dairy, meaning vegan or plant based desserts can be proudly labelled ‘ice cream’ on our shelves over here.
However in the US, to call your product Ice Cream it needs to have at least 10% milk fat and 20% milk solids. This is why if you compare products and branding on the UK Ben & Jerrys website compared to the US Ben & Jerrys website, they’re careful not to call their plant-based products ice cream - it’s always a ‘frozen dessert’!
The downside to the UK/EU not regulating their products as much as the US, or specifying dairy fat is that many ice cream manufacturers choose to add vegetable oils or other less delicious fat sources in their formulations. Now, I’m not saying you can’t make something tasty with that, but it is a reminder to always check the ingredients list of whatever you’re buying.
Light as air
Ever heard of overrun before? It’s an area of ice cream production that is fairly heavily regulated. Overrun literally refers to the percentage of expansion achieved by adding air into your base.
Air is an extremely important ingredient in ice cream - it’s the reason ice cream melts on your tongue and has the beautiful light-yet-creamy texture we so know and love. When it is churned, the ice cream base increases in volume as air is trapped in a network of ice crystals. Plainly speaking, an ice cream with 50% overrun will increase 50% in volume.
In modern food processing techniques some companies have learnt how to maximise the volume of the ice cream by increasing the overrun to extreme levels - 100%, 150% or 180%! This is a useful technique for companies aiming to sell lower calorie desserts - you can pump up the over run and your product will have lots more air = lots less calories.
The texture of a dessert with really high overrun isn’t bad - since it’s filled with air, it does quite literally melt in your mouth. These sorts of high over run desserts will also not freeze quite as hard as other ice creams due to the high volume of air. Ever had a Mr Whippy that almost floats away as you eat it? OVER RUN! Tried halo-top 300 calorie per pint ice cream? OVER RUN! It’s pretty genius and does have its place in the Ice Cream world, though I’m definitely a fan of the denser ice creams out there.
Frozen Desserts Glossary
In today’s KP, I won’t be covering Ice Cream balancing or formulation I don’t actually have an ice cream machine at the moment. Although this is a bit of a shame, it does mean I can cover some of the other fabulous icy desserts out there that allow you to get your ice cream fix WITHOUT the kit.
Alright, let’s start by looking at the whole spectrum of frozen desserts. Here’s the lowdown:
Ice Cream - simply put, Ice Cream is the OG dairy base - usually cream, milk and classically doesn’t use any egg - when churned and frozen has a network of stabilised air bubbles within, affording its beautiful texture
Custard Ice Cream - same as above, but with eggs in the base (usually make a creme anglaise then churn that)
Frozen Custard - Like the above but more egg yolks
Sherbets - Similar texture to ice cream but the fat is reduced and sugar is increased to maintain texture. This sugar might come from fruit puree. All sherbets have in common
Gelato - Although its a bit unclear what regulates gelato as gelato, it generally has a lower over run. Compared to ice cream, which has about 50% over run, gelato is about 20% meaning it’s much more dense. To achieve this, it’s churned a bit more slowly so less air is whipped into it
Frozen Yoghurt - Fro-yo isn’t a super regulated product so the contents are a bit changeable. That being said, it is predominantly a mixture of yoghurt, milk and milk solids. Confusingly, you can have yoghurt ice cream which does not equal frozen yoghurt. Generally, fro-yo is formulated to be less sweet/contain less fat than ice cream
Soft Serve - Soft serve is pretty similar to ‘normal’ ice cream base but it is processed through a special machine that churns a LOT of air into it as it freezes (high overrun). This gives it its distinct, ultra smooth texture. Soft serve often uses quite a lot of commercial stabilisers - or, alternatively, egg yolks - in it to maintain its shape at room temp
Sorbet - Sorbet is churned like ice cream but has no dairy. They are usually ¼ - ⅓ sugar
Spuma - Spuma is sorbet with a portion of Italian Meringue folded in just as it comes from being churned. The result is an ultra smooth - but a bit eggy - sorbet!
Shaved Ice - a block of fruit juice or flavoured water is frozen then scraped with a fork or some sort of sharp shaver directly before serving
Granita - Similar to a shaved ice, Granita is formed of small ice crystals that are scraped and agitated during the freezing process. It’s usually a fruit juice or infused syrup with about 20% sugar to help with the structure (remember, sugar is an antifreeze). It’s super textural and flavourful
Water ice - your classic ice lolly! Doesn’t need to have a smooth texture like sorbet does, just needs to be flavourful and can be set into lots of shapes
Parfait - An aerated frozen dessert which combines several ‘foamed’ things - like whipped cream or a pate a bombe or a meringue. Basically, you just need there to be air involved. Think of it like a frozen mousse. A parfait is both rich and airy at the same time!
Semi Freddo - An Italian dessert that translates as ‘half cold’ - due to the high amount of air in a semi freddo, even if you eat it frozen, it doesn’t taste too cold, hence the name. The air is due to a hefty combination (usually) of pate a bombe, italian meringue and whipped cream
I think parfait is a bit of a dark horse of the frozen desserts world. Before I worked at Happy Endings, I didn’t even know what it was. I mean, I knew that Donkey from Shrek rated it highly, but other than that it was a mystery.
Ice cream is great, don’t get me wrong, but you kind of need a lot of equipment. And that equipment is expensive. Its not really practical or accessible for most people.
Parfait is a really useful tool for pastry chefs because it can be done with simple equipment - your KitchenAid. In a pinch, I reckon you could make it happen with an electric hand mixer too, though you may get less volume.
The major difference between parfait and ice cream is that; ice cream has air whipped into it as it freezes; parfait has air whipped into it and is frozen after!
Here’s a basic formulation for parfait:
Sugar syrup at 118c-121c + Egg Yolks = Pate a Bombe
Pate a Bombe + whipped cream + flavours = Parfait
Another reason to really vouch for parfait is that it is liquid at room temperature. This means it can be piped or shaped into moulds or frames. Ice cream, once churned, begins to rapidly melt, meaning it’s not as shape friendly. This means you can create beautiful desserts much more easily. This means you canput those moulds that have been hanging out at the back of your cupboard for 3 years to WORK. Ice cream sandwiches? YES! Baked Alaska? YES! Ice cream bon-bons? DOUBLE FRIGGIN YES!
Pate a Bombe
Pate a Bombe is basically an italian meringue except it’s made with hot syrup poured over egg yolks, not egg whites. Unlike whites which can increase 8-10x in volume, yolks aren’t quite as capable of the drama and can only increase around 4x in volume. Egg yolks whipped up alone with sugar won’t achieve stiff peaks. Definitely don’t hold the bowl above your head to test them.
Pate a Bombe is the key to unlocking other dishes like french buttercream and mousse and definitely something worth getting to know. So, what is happening when we pour hot syrup onto the yolks?
It’s much similar to what is happening when we've made other foams together. Remember genoise? Remember meringues? The same thing is happening - as the eggs (whites or yolks!) are whipped, the curled-up proteins begin to unfurl (aka denature) and air is introduced, creating a foam. This unfurled protein and air bubble network results in an increased volume and fluffy texture. The addition of sugar stabilises this network and makes it shiny and firm.
Using a hot syrup (between 118c-121c) rather than cold, granular sugar to create a foam has a few benefits and works exactly the same way. Firstly, you’re pasteurising / cooking your eggs. By pouring in the syrup, the temperature is raised above a ‘safe’ temp and partially cooking the mixture. This means the mixture can hold its structure for longer, too. As well as this, a sugar syrup absorbs extremely quickly and well into the mix so you don’t have any issues with grainyness later on.
When you’re making a pate a bombe, the volume and the texture is limited in comparison to meringues, because there’s less proteins available to make a network - egg yolks have only 75% proteins compared to whites.
The deal with sugar syrups
Sugar syrups are very useful tools in the pastry kitchen. I’m sure you’ve made them before but I’m not sure we’ve ever discussed them in detail.
When you make a sugar syrup all you are doing is mixing sugar and water, heating it and then using a thermometer to judge how much water has been evaporated off.
Pure water, as we know, cannot pass 100c as this is its boiling point. Once you mix in sugar, the boiling point changes and the temperature can climb way past this. The amount of water present will define how the sugar will behave in whatever recipe you’re using. This is why you can achieve different results by taking the sugar syrup to different temps. The more water you evaporate off, the thicker the syrup will become. You continue heating it and evaporating off the water until the concentration of water is so small (less than 1%) it becomes caramel, our fave!
Here’s a visual for you. (Btw, I made the syrup with golden caster sugar which is why it looks caramelised!):
For the pate a bombe, we want our sugar syrup to be between 118c - 121c. The best thing I’ve ever learnt about sugar syrups is to LISTEN. When I was working for Dominique Ansel in NYC, I was talking to Chef Dominique himself whilst making a sugar syrup that needed to get to 120c. I kept turning around to check the temp as Chef Dominique was talking to me and he said ‘You’ve got lots of time! Don’t worry’. Amazed, I asked ‘How did you know that without looking?’ to which he replied ‘I can still hear it!’. As water evaporates rapidly (in the 100c region), it is NOISY! So rest assured, if you can hear your sugar syrup it's still quite a way off being ready.
After it quietens down, I do tend to use a digital thermometer but there are some tell-tale signs - the syrup slows down and is visibly thicker, there is hardly any steam and the bubbles are larger (1cm?), bursting and popping irregularly. I’ve probably taken somewhere in the region of 1000ish 118c sugar syrups so I’m pretty used to what it looks like. But I still rely on the thermometer just to be sure!
What happens if you overshoot the temp?
If you accidentally overshoot your sugar temp, don’t sweat it! You can simply add a little water (careful, it may spit) and then reheat the solution. Remember, all the temperature indicates is the sugar/water concentration so you can totally course correct. Unfortunately this doesn’t work if you’ve accidentally got to caramel as the physical structure of the sugar has changed.
Perfecting the whip
At Happy Endings, we used to whip the cream for our parfait batches by hand - up to 2.5kg at a time! Although this was mainly to do with the equipment we had, it was a wonderful way to really get in tune with the whipping process. And get major forearm guns.
When you whip the cream for your parfait, you don’t want to take it too far. When you fold together the pate a bombe and cream, you will continue introducing air into the mixture so you don’t want to accidentally overwhip. So, err on the side of caution for this - you want it to have enough body to hold itself up but don’t take it so far it wants to split on you!
Don’t forget, the best way to whip cream is side to side, not round and round! You want to be smashing the whisk back and forth causing as many collisions as possible + aerating it confidently and rapidly.
Perfecting a fruit swirl
The problem with adding fruit to ice cream is the water content - fruit is around 85% water. And you *know* what happens to water when it freezes. It gets HARD and ICY! Although that’s pretty nice for an ice pop, you don’t want to be crunching through ice cream unless there’s pretzels or cookies involved.
So, if you want to incorporate fruit, or indeed a fruit swirl, into your frozen desserts, we need to reduce the water content and add enough sugar to ‘depress’ ie. ‘lower’ the freezing point of the mixture. You know how earlier we talked about how adding sugar to water means we can take the mixture ABOVE boiling point? Well, sugar also lets you go BELOW freezing point meaning things with lots of sugar in are able to stay soft even at very low temps. Perfect for mix-ins!
When we learn about churned ice creams, I promise to tell you all about freezing point depression. This basically refers to how ‘soft’ or scoopable the ice cream is when frozen. There are a few ways to change this but sugar is one of the major players.
So, if you want a lovely fruity swirl that is not at all icy, we basically have to make a fluid jam. We’ll be processing the fruit with a significant percentage of sugar to prevent textural problems later on and evaporating off some of the water, taking it to that magical temp - 104c. As an alternative, you can just use jam, home made or shop bought.
The role of invert sugars
We touched briefly on invert sugars in the toasted genoise recipe a few weeks ago. Here’s a reminder:
Inverted sugar is one of those things you don’t *HAVE* to know about it, but the fancier pastry books you buy, the more often you’ll see it mentioned. Inverted sugar can be made by adding sucrose to liquid and ‘breaking’ the bond with an acid - all inverted sugar means that the glucose and the fructose molecules have been ‘separated’ and so are both available to create bonds. This has some benefits - from delaying water movement to improved sweetness - but we’ll talk about this more when we get onto a subject like ice cream… one of these days.
Invert sugar is one of the ingredients you’re going to see a LOT when you start going down the ice cream rabbit hole. It’s a really popular ingredient with ice cream manufacturers because it helps add body to the mixture and its thick viscous texture helps create a really smooth final product. Invert sugar has a different molecular structure to sucrose, meaning it disrupts granular sucrose struture, resulting in smaller crystals. It is sometimes described as ‘resisting crystallisation.’
Invert sugar is often used in fruity frozen desserts because of the properties above - it produces something smooth and creamy rather than icy.
The thing worth mentioning about invert sugars is they are sweeter - around 30-40% sweeter than sucrose. Relative sweetness is the term used to discuss how sweet different sugars are in comparison to sucrose (ie. table sugar.) Here’s a link to a table with all the details.
To benefit from the magic of invert sugars, today’s parfait recipe uses honey. Not only does this add lovely flavour, it helps make this be the dreamiest creamiest ice cream out there!
Alright, let’s make it!
Vanilla parfait with peach swirl
Adapted from Frozen Desserts by Francisco Migoya
This base recipe will be the foundation to all of your parfait / ice cream dreams! Ripe for mixing things in or adding nut pastes, let this vanilla parfait base be the springboard you need to make all the custom desserts you’ve ever wanted. I made up a batch of this and stirred through caramel sauce and chocolate covered cookie/hazelnut bits (I used my base recipe from this article). It was mad tasty:
90g egg yolks
50g caster sugar
265g double cream
1-2 vanilla pods
Fresh peach swirl - you can use any fruit here
250g peaches (weight after skin is removed and stone removed)
30g lemon juice
It’s important you make this swirl in a proportionally sized pan. I made this the other day in a pan that was too big and the batch reduced way too quickly and ended up making a chunky, slightly scorched jam. Not too cute.
Peach ripple method
Skin and cut up the peaches into chunks
Add peaches into a small saucepan with sugar and lemon juice
Heat over a medium heat until the peaches release all of their liquid and it is bubbling
You now need to reduce the liquid so the sugar concentration is correct - keep it on a medium heat until all the froth has gone and it looks thick and shiny. It should reach around 104c
Pour into a container and leave to cool slightly then blend with a hand blender before using
Vanilla parfait method
First split your vanilla pods - scrape out the seeds and set aside
Now get your egg yolks whisking. You want your egg yolks to be super fluffy by the time your sugar syrup is ready. Don’t worry - you can’t overmix them
Add sugar, honey and water to a saucepan along with the scraped vanilla pods. Stir it to make sure all the sugar is dissolved
Heat the sugar syrup until it reaches 118c. To avoid crystallisation, for the first 1-2 mins as its heating up I like to add a lid. This means any random sugar crystals will be dissolved during condensation
Change the mixer speed to low. In a steady thin stream, pour the sugar syrup down the edge of the bowl, avoiding the whisk so it doesn’t splash. Also, be careful the vanilla pods don’t fall in. You need to do this step quite slowly as not to accidentally pool the syrup at the bottom of the bowl
Turn the mixer back to high speed and whisk until cool - the mixture should be thick and fluffy. Around 10 mins should be plenty
Meanwhile, whip the cream and vanilla beans until soft peaks are reached
Fold together the two mixtures - you should start by adding a 1/3rd of the pate a bombe into the cream and ensure its homogenised before adding the rest in
Now it’s time to build your ice cream! Start by putting around 100g of parfait into the loaf tin followed by a drizzle of the fruit swirl. Continue layering it up until you reach the top. Finish with a decorate swirl flourish. Be generous with the fruit swirl and use it all!
Freeze until totally firm. Overnight is probably best
To make scoops, leave the parfait out for 5-10 mins before scooping you would any ice cream
At lark! I served this ice cream as a slice. Remove it from the tin (a warm wet cloth can prove useful here) and slice it up. To finish, add crumble (this recipe is great), chiffonade mint, a little honey, salt and a fruity AF olive oil. Finish with a little sprinking of maldon salt. I promise it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat and a bit of a showstopper dinner party dessert
Nicola, I can’t wait to make this. What kind of direction would you recommend going in for the biscuit/cake component of an ice cream sandwich so that it doesn’t get too hard if eaten straight from the freezer? I like the idea of an ice cream sandwich as a dessert for a BBQ but not sure how to approach that element.
This looks so beautiful. The recipe sounds like an aerated uncooked custard. I didn't know french parfaits are a frozen dessert. I was planning to make individual shooters of this, but would it even keep its texture on a dessert table for long or would it basically become shooters of melted ice cream? I have been searching online for hours about how quick it melts. I don't know anything about genuine french parfaits. Even if I come up with an ice bath serving tray, will it stand a chance for an hour or so?