Verrines an elegant, sweet alternative to peanut buster parfaits
There I was yesterday (Fat Tuesday), in line at the Alliance Bakery on Division Street, just killing an hour and searching for something sweet. Customers kept streaming in, picking up to-go orders of chocolate-covered or jam-filled paczki. My eyes drifted from the elegant, little macarons (the ginger/peach flavor, incidentally, was both delicious and texturally sound) to a pair of verrines - French-style layered desserts that most of us would simply call parfaits.
The two I ended up choosing couldn't have been more different. Even though I'm not a big chocolate fan, I felt, in the name of professional duty, I should try the milk chocolate, hazelnut praline, Rice Krispie (pictured above, on the left). But the fruit fiend in me also gravitated to the raspberry-rose-lychee flavor as well. I first tried the chocolate, which had a thin, delicate disc of milk chocolate cremeaux at the top; below it, a milk chocolate whipped cream embedded with tiny bits of milk chocolate. Below the cream rests a hazelnut meringue cake, which hovers above a clutch of hazelnut and praline-coated Rice Krispies. Another chocolate wafer protects the bottom layer, which is simply a dense pool of milk chocolate ganache. The problem with the construction is that by the time the tines of my fork reached that sub-Krispie layer my tongue was already getting chocolate fatigue; the promised hazelnut flavor was sadly absent from the meringue cake, and due to its stiff texture, it's hard to capture all of the layers in one scoop. The owner tells me that this verrine is already under revision, and will most likely change by next week.
Then I moved over to the beautiful, rose-hued raspberry verrine, and my mood rapidly improved. At the top, beneath a rose petal, the upper half of a raspberry macaron, embedded into a soft layer of rose cream (an anglaise base of milk, heavy cream, yolks and sugar, flavored with rose syrup); it's set with gelatin to keep it firm. Below that, a wide layer of yellow chiffon cake; in the middle of the glass, a deep red raspberry puree, flavored with lemon juice then set up with pectin to give it body. Finally, the bottom layer: a tropical lychee cream, made from lychee puree that's cooked with heavy cream and set with pectin. A few fresh raspberries rest beneath the lychee cream, offering one final fruity surprise as your fork/spoon scrapes the bottom of the glass.
The bakery has a third version, which was, alas, sold out. The bottom features a pistachio brulee cream covered by a coconut chiffon cake; on top of the cake, some coconut milk-steeped tapioca. At the crown of the verrine, a thin layer of coconut cake topped off with fresh pineapple, cilantro and lime zest, and sealed with a white chocolate disc. A fourth, soon-to-come version this Spring will include cooked blueberries and pinot noir, reduced to a compote, then covered with a lemon panna cotta, a vanilla cake and topped off with a burnt meringue. Guess where I'll be in three weeks.