Apple Crisp Parfait
A parfait is a great party dessert — elegant looking but essentially quite simple. This one is really fun to put together, and I have the kids help me: they love to crack and crumble up into hundreds of pieces the big brown sugar crisp I've baked, then layer them in the parfait glasses (and pop lots of crumbles into their mouths too, I've noticed).
Like the crisp, the poached apple cubes are delicious all by themselves. You want to use flavorful, tart-tasting apples that will keep their shape when cooked but soften up nicely and remain moist too. Good varieties are Greening, Granny Smith, Northern Spy and Golden Delicious. Some of the heirloom cooking apples that orchards are growing again would be fine too — we can never have too many varieties of apples to enjoy.
Hands-On Time: 35 minutes
Ready In: 1 hour
Yield: 10 or more servings
For Poaching the Apples
4 pounds firm, tart apples for baking (see note above)
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons), freshly squeezed and strained
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
For the Parfait
3 cups heavy cream, for whipping
2 to 3 cups Brown Sugar Crisp Crumbles (recipe follows)
A large saucepan, 5- or 6-quart capacity, with a cover
- Cut the apples in thick wedges, peel, and cut away the cores and seeds. Slice the wedges into chunks and cubes, an inch thick or larger (don't cut them too small or they will overcook). As you work, put the apple chunks in a mixing bowl and toss with some of the lemon zest and juice, to prevent browning. When you're finished, you should have about 10 cups of apples mixed with all the zest and juice.
- Pour the sugar over the apples, and toss gently to coat the pieces. Turn all the fruit into the saucepan, slosh the bowl with the 1/2 cup water to rinse out all the sugar, and pour that into the pan too.
- Set the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. Stir the apples gently (so they're all heating), cover the pan, and cook about 2 minutes. Remove the cover, and continue to boil, reducing the juices, stirring the apple chunks around a couple of times, but not mushing them up. After 5 or 6 minutes, when the apples have softened and turned translucent on the outside (they won't be cooked all the way through), remove the pan from the heat. If the chunks have started to all apart, turn them out of the saucepan into a bowl to stop cooking; otherwise, let the apples and the remaining liquid cool to room temperature (the chunks will reabsorb some of their juices as they sit).
- The apples can be cooked a day ahead and refrigerated; let them warm up a bit before serving.
Poaching the Apples
Brown Sugar Crisp Crumbles
Yield: 4 to 5 cups of crumbled-up crisp
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons cold water
A food processor or hand-held pastry cutter
A rimmed baking sheet
- Preheat the oven to 400.
- It's quickest to mix the crisp in the food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Put the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt in the workbowl. Process briefly to blend the dry ingredients. Drop in the butter pieces and pulse a dozen or so times, until the butter has been uniformly cut into a sandy powder of small bits. Sprinkle on the water, and process for a couple of seconds only, just to moisten the dough; it should still be rather loose and granular.
- To mix by hand, blend the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and cut the butter into the grainy powder with a pastry cutter. Toss the powder and water with a fork to moisten.
- Line the baking sheet with the parchment paper. Sprinkle the loose grains of dough evenly — in one layer — in an oval shape about 8 by 12 inches, filling in any holes and keeping the layer thin; don't compress them.
- Bake for about 10 minutes, then rotate back to front, for even heating. The crumbs will have melted together, spread out in a thin layer, and perhaps started to bubble. Bake for another 7 to 10 minutes or more, until the layer is deeply caramelized, golden brown all over (and probably very dark on the edges). It will resemble a giant brown sugar cookie.
- Set the pan on a wire rack, and cool until the cookie is very crisp. Cut or break off any burnt edges. Crack the cookie into crispy flakes, an inch or smaller. This is a good size for munching; you can crumble them up a bit more when layering the parfait.
Assembling the Parfaits
- Have the apples, crumbled-up crisp, and serving glasses ready.
- Whip the cream until soft peaks form, by hand or in an electric mixer. (No sugar or flavoring is needed, since the apples and crisp are quite sweet.)
- Spoon about 1/2 cup of apple chunks into each glass, making a thick layer that fills the bottom. Scatter crisp crumbles on top — anywhere from 2 to 5 tablespoons on each parfait. Plop 1/2 cup or so of whipped cream on top of the crisp crumbles.
- Now repeat the layers — apples, crumbles, cream — in each glass. These can be smaller amounts, or as ample as the bottom layers, for an impressive and generous dessert.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Bastianich (Knopf, 2004).
Poaching the Apples