Rather than a chocolate dessert for Valentine's, I prefer one that's creamy, light, and airy, just like this parfait. Not the layered yogurt concoction in a glass topped with granola and fruit, a parfait is a frozen treat of whipped egg whites and whipped cream flavored with fruit purée. French in origin, the dessert's name, parfait, translates to 'perfect.' Its texture resembles that of mousse, but since it is frozen, it eats much like an ice cream. For this dessert a citrus sponge cake provides the base on which the parfait sits. The blood orange syrup, which is the flavoring and coloring for the parfait, also serves as a drizzle over or alongside the dessert.
A few years ago I tried a parfait for the first time at Pigalle restaurant in New York. In fact it was a blood orange parfait. I was pleasantly surprised that the dessert menu offered this seasonal option as well as a good selection of French classics. I clearly remember it was the dead of winter, so a frozen dessert might not have been most diners' first choice, but for me it was. The parfait was made in a ring mold with a sponge cake bottom and served with syrup. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ever since then, a blood orange parfait has been on my list of recipes to create. Here I make it for Valentine's Day in heart-shaped form using the most beautiful blood oranges.
Blood oranges come in three main varieties all with a characteristic red interior. For this recipe I use the Moro variety, which is native to Sicily and is known for its variation in color, from amber to crimson and often nearly black. The rind also has blushes of red. Its flavor is sweet, a bit tart, and almost tastes like raspberries. In fact blood oranges contain the same pigment and antioxidant, anthocyanin, as dark fruits such as raspberries and grapes as well as vegetables such as red cabbage and eggplant. Adding the beautiful juice of blood oranges to the parfait not only lends citrus flavor but also creates a lovely pink color, the perfect hue for a Valentine's heart.
Blood Orange Parfaits
for the blood orange syrup:
1 cup blood orange juice (about 6 oranges)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
for the sponge cake:
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon blood orange zest (about 1 orange)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
for the parfaits:
4 large egg whites
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 supremed blood orange, for garnish
To make syrup, bring blood orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan. Add sugar. Reduce to low simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
While syrup reduces, make sponge cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a small rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment, and butter again. In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients: flour and baking powder.
In a small bowl, using a wooden spoon, beat together egg yolks and sugar until light and frothy. Stir in orange zest.
In stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Drizzle in egg yolk mixture. Fold in dry ingredients by hand until combined. Spread mixture evenly into baking sheet. Bake until edges are lightly golden and cake springs back when touched, about 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
Using a 4-inch heart-shaped springform cake pan, cut out 4 hearts from the sponge cake. Place a heart-shaped cake into bottom of each springform pan.
To make parfait, beat heavy cream in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Remove whipped cream to a bowl. Beat egg whites with sugar in the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Drizzle in half the blood orange syrup and mix until combined. Fold in whipped cream by hand until combined. Divide parfait mixture among springform pans, smoothing tops. Set pans on a tray and place in freezer to chill overnight.
Unmold heart-shaped parfaits from springform pans by releasing spring and use a small offset spatula to lift out parfaits onto plates. Parfaits should not be taken out of freezer beforehand, but just before serving. Drizzle with remaining blood orange syrup and garnish with blood orange segments. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.
Joseph Erdos is a New York–based writer and editor, but above all a gastronomer and oenophile. He shares his passion for food on his blog, Gastronomer's Guide , which features unique recipes and restaurant reviews among many other musings on the all-encompassing topic of food.