Not generally being one who goes in for themed or color-coordinated desserts (I like to plan my dessert-eating around taste rather than appearance), it can’t be denied that a fresh pile of red and blue berries, situated against a backdrop of pale cream, is certainly a nice way to celebrate the 4th of July. The fact that the best summer berries around here tend to ripen just around the beginning of July seems almost fortuitous, if not obvious. But, with such gorgeous piles of raspberries and blueberries haunting me at the market, how could I not make a red, white, and blue treat in anticipation of the 4th?
These little parfaits are a perfect combination of creamy, citrus-tinted coolness, juicy berries, and a fantastic hit of barely sweetened crunch (and by barely sweetened, we’re talking only around 2 tablespoons of added sugar, total). When I dreamed them up, I had visions of a simple treat that could be carted out post-picnic feast, or easily highlight a night of fireworks-viewing. Since everything but the assembly of these fine fellows can be completed ahead of time, they are a perfect make-ahead treat. They are great for a crowd, and you can even set out the individual components of the dessert, give each of your guests a small glass or bowl, and let each person assemble their own parfait. Then all you need to do is grab yourself a blanket, settle in under the stars, and wait for the celebratory fireworks to start.
Last Year: Semolina Flatbread with Arugula, Mint, and Spinach Pesto (this is perfect for picnics) and Sour Cherry Upside Down Cake (this is perfect for…everything)
Red, White, and Blue Berry Parfaits
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used almonds and pecans)
1 cup cold heavy cream
½ teaspoon powdered sugar
drop of pure vanilla extract
¼ cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon zest (or orange zest)
2 to 3 cups blueberries and raspberries (or other berries of your choice)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine flour, dark brown sugar, white sugar, and salt. Add the vanilla and butter and, using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is uniformly incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs that form clumps when pressed together. Stir in the chopped nuts.
Using your hands, press the crumbly dough into a rough ball or mound. Then, using your fingers, pinch off ½-inch pieces of dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. If some of the pieces fall apart or happen to be larger or smaller than ½-inch, don’t worry. The dessert police will not come knocking on your door.
Place the pieces of dough on the middle shelf of your preheated oven. Bake the pieces for 17 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the pieces are dark golden and your kitchen smells like cookies. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Using an electric beater or, if you have forearms like Lou Ferrigno, a wire whisk, beat the cream until it barely begins to thicken and hold super soft peaks. Add in the softened mascarpone and lemon zest, and beat for just a few seconds, until the mixture holds soft peaks, but is still quite creamy and light.
To assemble parfaits, drop a few berries into the bottom of a small glass, then add a few pieces of crumble (crumbling them even further, if you wish), then dollop on a spoonful or two of mascarpone cream. Repeat layers once more, then top each parfait with a berry or two.
I used 8-ounce glasses for the pictured parfaits, and I was able to make about 8 parfaits, with a bit of crumble left over. You can, of course, easily double this recipe and make twice the parfaits, to feed a whole crowd of revelers.