I love when I get a recipe by chance. And chance – and the need for a bottle of wine – is what got me this one. It happened in Paris a few years ago at my favorite wine store, La Dernière Goutte (The Last Drop). Thibault Lafarie was in charge that day and after I'd detailed what I was making for dinner so that he could help me choose the right wine, he said: One day you should make my favorite vacherin - the recipe's been in my family for generations. Invitation accepted! I told Thibault that if he gave me the recipe, I’d certainly make it. It took him a while to send me the recipe and it took me even longer to make it. But once I’d made it, I kept making it.
Nowadays, when you see the word vacherin, you can reasonably expect a frozen dessert of meringue and ice cream, usually whipped cream too. Thibault’s family’s vacherin is a frozen dessert with meringue, but instead of ice cream, the layers of crushed meringue are separated by a parfait mixture, a very old-fashioned preparation, perhaps old-fashioned enough to have been served in royal palaces. We Americans think of a parfait as its own kind of layered dessert, but in French patisserie, a parfait is a mixture of egg yolks and sugar, whipped whites and whipped cream. It’s like very rich no-churn ice cream. Once parfait-layered and frozen, the vacherin is served the way Thibault's family serves it - with caramel sauce and toasted almonds.
Everything about this vacherin matches the things I love most in a dessert:
It’s simple and elegant; dressy, but not formal.
It’s easier to make than you’d think.
It can – in this case must – be made ahead.
It’s got rhythm – the textures and flavors play against one another.
It tastes great!
It’s also a dessert that’s perfect for a small celebration, as so many of our celebrations will be this year. You can make the vacherin, cut just what you need and tuck the rest back in the freezer. Pull it out when you want a treat. It doesn’t have to be an occasion – the dessert makes it one.
I'll be back before the New Year strikes - see you then!
Makes 6 to 8 servings
A WORD ON THE EGGS IN THE PARFAIT: They’re raw. If you feel uncomfortable eating raw eggs, replace the parfait filling with ice cream; see Playing Around. If you do make the parfait, use the freshest eggs you can find. Local eggs are good; organic eggs are good; local organic eggs are best.
PLAN AHEAD: The dessert needs to freeze for at least 6 hours.
1 1⁄4 cups (300 ml) very cold heavy cream
3 large eggs, preferably organic (see headnote), at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups (100 grams) broken pieces of meringue (homemade - recipe here - or store-bought)—you want pieces of all sizes, from small chips to pebbles and peanuts
Caramel Sauce, homemade or store-bought, warmed
About 1⁄2 cup (about 50 grams) sliced almonds, toasted
You need to build the vacherin in a 2-quart mold. If you have a soufflé dish, that would be very French. Alternatively, make it in an 8-inch springform pan or a 2-quart bowl.
Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the cream until it holds medium peaks. If you’re using a stand mixer, scrape the cream into another bowl (unless you have a second mixer bowl). Cover the cream and refrigerate. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk, if you used them, or the beaters.
Working in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 2 1⁄2 tablespoons of the sugar together until slightly thickened and pale. Beat in the vanilla.
Put the whites in the clean bowl of the stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl that you can use with the hand mixer and beat until they turn opaque. Still beating, sprinkle in the remaining 1⁄2 tablespoon sugar, then continue to beat until the whites form medium-firm peaks; you don’t want the whites to be too stiff.
Working with a large flexible spatula, carefully fold the whipped cream into the yolks. It’s okay if you have a few streaks of yolks at this point. Turn the whites into the bowl and very delicately fold them in. Try to be as light-handed but thorough as you can. The mixture will deflate—it’s unavoidable; just be quick and gentle.
Sprinkle one-third of the meringues over the bottom of the soufflé dish (or pan or bowl) and cover with half the parfait mixture, then repeat, ending with meringue, so you have 3 layers of meringue and 2 of parfait. Press a piece of plastic against the top surface and freeze the vacherin for at least 6 hours. (The vacherin can be frozen, tightly covered, for up to 1 month.)
Shortly before serving, unmold the vacherin by dipping the dish or bowl (not the springform) into warm water, wiping it dry and inverting it onto a platter. Or, better yet, warm the sides with a hairdryer and then turn out the vacherin. If you’ve used a springform pan, you can just run a table knife around the edges of the pan, remove the sides and leave the vacherin on the base. Pretty up the sides, if necessary, with a small offset spatula or a table knife. Pop the vacherin back into the freezer until you need it.
When ready to serve, pour the caramel over the vacherin, letting some of it run down the sides and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Serve immediately.
STORING: Leftover vacherin will keep for up to 1 month, well covered, in the freezer.
PLAYING AROUND: CLASSIC ICE CREAM VACHERIN
Replace the parfait filling with whatever flavor—or flavors—of ice cream you like. Just before you’re ready to serve, unmold the vacherin, cover the top (and the sides, if you’d like) with whipped cream and scatter over the toasted almonds. Pass a pitcher of the caramel sauce at the table.