Frozen Espresso Parfait for a Crowd

Ottolenghi's Frozen Espresso Parfait recipe is the ultimate crowd-pleasing dessert that can be made ahead. With the rich creamy coffee parfait set between chocolate meringue bases, topped with crunchy praline and a caramel whisky sauce, how can we resist?

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Introduction

This is, in effect, an over-sized ice cream sandwich: what Helen would have called an ‘Eskimo Pie’, growing up in Australia. There are various components to this crowdpleasing dessert, but the whole thing can be made well in advance and kept in the freezer to prevent any on-the-day meltdowns. However much work is involved, it is worth it: people cry with joy when they have this!

If you want to lose one element, you can do without the caramel sauce (which would also make the whole thing booze-free). We love it, but the parfait still works well without this sweet and final ‘ta da’.

Serves 12-16

Ingredients

For the meringue bases:
75g chopped hazelnuts (or 75g whole blanched hazelnuts)
80g icing sugar
20g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
125g egg whites (from 3 large eggs - the yolks are used in the parfait)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
100g caster sugar
200g dark cooking chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped into 1cm pieces
For the coffee praline:
125g caster sugar
2 tbsp water
1 ½ tsp finely ground espresso coffee (such as Lavazza)
For the espresso parfait:
350ml double cream
6 large egg yolks (you will have 3 from the meringues)
250ml espresso coffee
2 tsp coffee extract (we use Trablit Liquid Coffee Extract, but any brand is fine)
For the caramel sauce:
330g caster sugar
80ml water
160ml double cream
75ml whisky

Essential kit

You will need: a 20cm square cake tin with a removable base, a small parchment-lined tray with a lipped edge, an electric whisk, and a sugar thermometer for the parfait.

Instructions

1. For the coffee praline, put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and place over a low heat. Stir to combine until the sugar has melted. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the sugar begins to brown at the edges. Gently swirl the pan so that the sugar cooks evenly, resisting the urge to stir. When the caramel has turned a clear amber – after about 1 minute – remove from the heat and pour on to a small parchment-lined tray (with a lipped edge). Tilt the tray as it sets to get a thin layer of caramel. Sprinkle all over with the ground coffee and set aside until completely cool and hard. Once cool, transfer to a food processor and blitz until roughly ground: pieces will range in size from powdery to about 0.5cm wide. Set aside until ready to use.

2. To make the meringue bases, preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4 and position two shelves in the oven: one in the middle and one at the bottom. Cut two sheets of baking parchment to fit two large baking trays. Using the base of the tin in which you are going to freeze the parfait (we use a 20cm square tin, but other tins work, see Kit Note below), trace around the base on to each of the sheets of parchment. Turn the paper over and place on the baking trays so that the side you have drawn on is facing down but still visible. Set aside: this will be the template for the meringue bases.

3. If starting with whole hazelnuts, spread them out on a baking tray and roast for about 15 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly brown. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, chop them finely into 0.5cm pieces. If starting with chopped nuts, just spread them out on a baking tray and roast for 7–8 minutes. Set aside until completely cool.

4. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together into a bowl and set aside. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat on a medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until soft peaks form. Gradually add the caster sugar – a tablespoon at a time – and continue to beat for 2–3 minutes, until very stiff. Gently fold in the sifted icing sugar and cocoa powder and the hazelnuts.

5. Divide the meringue mixture in two and dollop on to the two traced sheets, smoothing it out with a small metal spatula to fit the traced shapes. It will spread slightly, but you can trim it back so that it fits the tin snugly later.

6. Place the meringue sheets on to the middle and bottom shelves of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until the meringues are crisp and dry (the inside will still be a little bit soft). Check the meringues halfway through the cooking time, rotating the trays and swapping them between the shelves if one is taking on more colour than the other. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Once the meringues are cool, trim the edges so that they fit neatly into the tin in which the parfait will be frozen. If the pan has a removable base, use this to help you trim the meringue bases.

7. Place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl and set it over a small saucepan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl is not touching the water. Stir occasionally until melted, then set aside to cool slightly. Brush the flat side of each of the meringue bases with the melted chocolate and immediately sprinkle the coffee praline all over the chocolate so that it has time to adhere to the chocolate before it sets. Set aside to dry while you make the parfait.

8. To make the espresso parfait, place the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Beat until soft peaks form, then transfer to a container and store in the fridge until ready to use. 

9. Place the egg yolks in a clean bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place, in preparation for the next stage. Put the espresso coffee and sugar into a medium saucepan and place over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer the coffee syrup. In the meantime, begin whisking the egg yolks on a medium-high speed. Keep checking the coffee syrup with a sugar thermometer and when it has reached 118°C (‘soft ball’ stage), pour the hot coffee syrup slowly down the rim of the bowl on to the beating yolks, which should be thick and creamy by now. Continue to whisk at medium-high speed until the bowl is no longer warm to touch – 10–15 minutes – then add the coffee extract. Whisk to combine, then turn off the mixer.

10. Prepare the tin; while the yolks are whipping and cooling, line the sides and base of your chosen tin with baking parchment, making sure there is an overhang on all sides. Place one of the meringue bases on the bottom, chocolate side down. It should fit neatly, with no large gaps around the sides.

11. When the yolk mixture is cool, remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream in three batches. Do not over-mix as you want to keep the parfait light and airy, but do make sure that there are no big lumps of cream. Pour the parfait over the meringue base and use a small spatula to smooth and even it out. Carefully place the second meringue sheet over the top of the parfait, chocolate side up. Press gently to ensure the meringue is completely in contact with the parfait. Cover with cling film and place in the freezer for at least 12 hours, or until completely firm.

12. To make the caramel sauce, combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and place over a low heat. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally, then increase the heat to high. Do not stir beyond this point. Cook until the caramel is a deep amber colour, then remove from the heat. Carefully add the cream – stand back here, as the mixture will bubble and splutter – and return the pan to a low heat. Stir until the caramel is smooth, add the whisky and decant into a jug. If making the sauce ahead of time, store it in the fridge, then reheat in a pan over a low heat when ready to serve.

13. When ready to serve, remove the frozen parfait from the freezer and, using the overhanging paper, gently pull the whole thing out. If your tin or tray has a removable base, push the parfait up from underneath. Slice into small blocks or rectangles with a warm knife, pour over the caramel sauce, and serve.

Cook's tip: The caramel sauce can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the fridge, ready to be drizzled over just before serving. The coffee praline can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the freezer (not in the fridge, where the sugar will ‘weep’) until ready to use. You can also make the meringue bases in advance (before spreading with the melted chocolate and praline): they keep well in an airtight container for 3 days. However much you decide to get ahead, the parfait needs freezing for at least 12 hours once assembled, so you are forced to get ahead this much at least.

The parfait can be assembled and stored in the freezer for up to 1 week, ideally, but it will keep well in the freezer for up to 1 month.

If making the meringue bases the day before the parfait, reserve the egg yolks for the parfait. Store the yolks in a small bowl, add a teaspoon of water directly on top, wrap the bowl in cling film and place in the fridge. 

Kit note: We like to make this in a 20cm square cake tin with a removable base. The removable base makes things easier, but it’s not strictly necessary. So long as it’s lined, you’ll be fine to use any similar-sized tin or tray. You will also need a sugar thermometer for the parfait.

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