Crème fraîche parfait served on top of Earl Grey sablés.
1 cup good-quality heavy cream
1 tbsp buttermilk
1-1/3 cup water
4 tbsp sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp agar flakes*
1 cup crème de violette liqueur
Earl Grey Sablés**
7 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp loose-leaf Earl Grey tea, finely ground
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
Crème Fraîche Parfait
2-1/2 gelatin sheets, or 1-3/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1/4 cup water, if using powdered gelatin, plus 1/2 cup water
1 cup Crème Fraîche (see above)
2/3 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
* Agar is made from seaweed and, like gelatin, it's used to solidify liquids. Agar flakes are available in Japanese markets and natural food stores, often hear the seaweed. The key to smooth texture when working with agar flakes is to make sure they're completely dissolved. If agar flakes cannot be found, 1 tsp of agar powder can be substituted for 1 tbsp of agar flakes.
** The sablé recipe makes more cookies than you need for the parfaits, but as long as you're going through the effort, it's worthwhile to have extras to nibble on. To infuse the dough with Earl Grey flavour, I grind up tea leaves and steep them in just a bit of melted butter. It's a rule of thumb that loose-leaf tea is of higher quality than tea in tea bags, but there are exceptions to this rule, of course, so if you have good-quality Earl Grey in bags, you can empty out a bag and use the tea in this recipe.
Step 1: Whisk together the cream and buttermilk in a small bowl or container. Cover and let stand overnight at cool room temperature until thickened. Refrigerate until cool, at least 3 hours.
Step 1: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the water, sugar, zest and agar flakes to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook, still stirring, until the agar is completely dissolved and the mixture thickens into a clear gel with no visible agar pieces, about 8 minutes. Stir in the crème de violette and cook for 1 minute longer.
Step 2: Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours or up to 1 week.
Earl Grey Sablés
Step 1: In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwavable bowl at full power, melt 5 tbsp of the butter. Stir in the tea and let steep for 10 minutes.
Step 2: Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl.
Step 3: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the unstrained tea-infused butter and the remaining 10 tbsp room-temperature butter on low speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, followed by the salt, and mix on low speed until well combined. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.
Step 4: Scrape down the bowl, and then add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed just until the dough is uniform, about 15 seconds, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for another minute.
Step 5: Set the dough on a large sheet of parchment paper and press it into an even, flat rectangle measuring about 5" x 6". Lay a second sheet of parchment paper on top and roll out the dough to an even 1/8" to 1/4" thickness. Remove the top sheet of parchment and, using a large knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 2" squares. The dough will be soft, so don't try to remove the squares until after chilling. Slide the parchment paper with the dough onto a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until the dough is cold and firm, at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. The longer the dough chills, the less it will spread during baking.
Step 6: To bake the sablés, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Step 7: Use a small metal spatula to transfer the chilled dough squares to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1" apart. Because this dough toughens too much when rerolled, we save any cookie dough scraps and bake them as snacks for our café employees. They are best baked on their own baking sheet with the baking time reduced by 1-2 minutes.
Step 8: Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies are the slightest golden brown colour, 12-14 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Let cool to room temperature.
Crème Fraîche Parfait
Step 1: Line an 8" square cake pan with plastic wrap.
Step 2: If you're using gelatin sheets, fill a medium bowl with ice water and submerge the sheets in the water. If you're using powdered gelatin, pour the 1/4 cup of water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface. Let either stand for 5-10 minutes.
Step 3: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the crème fraîche and cream on medium speed until the mixture holds soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, whip the crème fraîche and the cream in a large bowl with a hand mixer or whisk. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 hour.
Step 4: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the remaining 1/2 cup of water, the sugar and salt and cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, and then continue simmering without stirring until the syrup registers 230°F on a digital thermometer.
Step 5: Meanwhile, wash and dry the mixer bowl and add the yolks. Using the whisk attachment, whip the yolks on medium speed until lightened in colour, 3-4 minutes.
Step 6: Immediately transfer the syrup to a heatproof liquid measuring cup. With the mixer running on medium-low speed, add the hot sugar syrup to the yolks in a thin, steady stream; aim to pour it into the small space between the mixer bowl and the whisk.
Step 7: If using gelatin sheets, lift the softened sheets out of the bowl and squeeze out the excess water. While the yolk mixture is still hot, add the sheets or the bloomed powdered gelatin to the bowl and whip on low speed until the gelatin has dissolved and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
Step 8: Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a flexible rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly fold in the whipped crème fraîche until no streaks of colour remain. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and smooth with an offset spatula. Cover in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.
Step 9: Just before using the coulis, purée the solidified mass in a blender or food processor until it has the texture of pudding, about 3 minutes.
Step 10: Invert the frozen parfait from the pan onto a cutting board, remove the plastic wrap and, using a large knife, cut the block into 2" squares. Use immediately or return to the freezer until ready to use.
Step 11: To assemble, have ready small serving plates. Spoon 3 tbsp of coulis onto each plate and smooth it with the back of the spoon into a 3" round. Nestle a sablé into the coulis on each plate, and then top it with a parfait. Serve immediately.
Do Ahead: This dessert has a few different components that require preparation before it can be assembled. The crème fraîche needs to sit out overnight and should be prepared at least 2 days before the dessert is to be eaten. Stored in an airtight container, it will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. The coulis must chill for at least 3 hours before processing, but can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The parfaits need to chill for at least 4 hours before serving, but can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 week. The mixed, rolled, and cut Earl Grey sablé dough must cool for at least 45 minutes before baking and can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days. Stored in an airtight container, the baked cookies will keep for up to 1 day at room temperature.
See more recipes from Caitlin Freeman.
Reprinted with permission from Caitlin Freeman's Modern Art Desserts (2013 Ten Speed Press).