The long spoon that comes with a parfait is a dead giveaway that the delectable treat about to be set in front of you is no ordinary ice cream dessert. It is called a parfait (French for “perfect”) and will probably be served in a tall, narrow glass. The shape of the glass is not as important as the fact that it’s transparent. We have made parfaits in everything from oversize martini glasses to cone-shaped footed glasses. What matters is that you can see the layers of fruit and ice cream, which define a parfait. The long spoon, of course, is what you need to get to the bottom.
Our best guess is that ice cream parfaits are spin-offs of sundaes, first called “Sundays” and invented in the late 19th century in Evanston, Ill., by a fast-thinking druggist who saw his ice cream and syrup concoction as a way to get around the ban on drinking ice cream sodas on the Sabbath. By the turn of the century, “Sundays” were renamed “sundaes,” and restaurant suppliers were selling tulip-shape dishes custom-made for layering scoops of ice cream and spoonfuls of topping. Parfaits, if done right, are more than slap dash arrangements of ingredients piled on top of each other and smothered with whipped cream.
When designing a parfait, choose flavors and colors that work well together. Our Berries and Cream parfait, for instance, is a stylish combination of strawberry ice cream and raspberry sorbet. Instead of syrup, we added fresh berries and a spoonful of orange liqueur. For a crunchy contrast, we crumbled on a few ginger wafers. It’s ridiculously easy to put together, and in the best-of-show category, it gets the blue ribbon.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.