For a short time when I was a little girl, parfaits struck me as the absolute height of dessert sophistication. I’m not sure if I actually had one out somewhere or just saw them in a cookbook or movie (one of the soda fountain scenes from the Music Man, maybe?), but they struck me as so fancy, and I wanted to make my own. My “recipe” was layers of vanilla ice cream and crushed up Oreos, and I’m here to tell you it was delicious. And gave me just the spiffy feeling I was looking for. Unfortunately, my zealous eating meant spoon scratches on our tallest drinking glasses, so my mom put a stop to my parfaits (don’t be sorry for me–I just moved to a regular old bowl of vanilla topped with crushed Oreos. Joie and I ate an astonishing amount of ice cream back in our youth). I can’t say that I had that back in the day parfait love in mind when I first decided to make these pumpkin mousse treats, but as soon as I dipped my spoon into the layers the memory came back. Luckily, we seem to have scratch proof glasses, so this dessert is staying on the holiday roster.
Christmas was a very different holiday for my family this year. Joie and her beau stayed in Sweden to celebrate, and my dad came to Brooklyn to be with Hal and me. I knew I wanted to create a Christmas dinner for the three of us that would feel really special but not stress me out (too much). And when it came to choosing a dessert I had a few additional specific criteria in mind–I wanted to be able to make it ahead, and I wanted it to have both pumpkin and “crunchies,” the two keys to Hal really loving a dessert. Ina to the rescue, once again. These parfaits ticked all the boxes, and were such a big hit that I made them again for Valentine’s Day.
Both the ingredient list and instructions are pretty simple, especially for a dessert that looks so nicely complex. The flavors of pumpkin, dark rum, orange, and nutmeg work beautifully together, and are mellowed by folding in whipped heavy cream to create the loveliest pale orange mousse. Both the look and the taste are light, but this is not exactly a light dessert. It is Ina, after all. The layers are mousse, whipped cream, and broken up ginger cookies for crunch, built as high as your taste and glassware will allow. A note about the cookies: yes, I did use ginger cookies, as the recipe suggests. And my dad and I really enjoyed them. For Hal, though, I went with bits of Oreos, per his specific request. Pumpkin and Oreo are not exactly a match made in heaven in my world, but he loves them together. And given my history with Oreo parfaits, I was happy to comply.
I learned a really gross cooking lesson the last time I made these: heavy cream can smell totally ok, but still taste very much not ok. Did everyone else already know this? In planning for my Valentine’s meal I knew I had some recently opened cream in the fridge, and so didn’t bother to add more to my shopping list. When it came time to put the parfaits together I gave the cream a sniff and all seemed hunky dory. So I whipped it up with a little vanilla, and swiped up a finger full to check for flavor before starting folding it into the pumpkin and rum mixture–thank goodness. It’s a testament to this dessert that you can accidentally feed yourself a mouthful of off whipped cream and still want to keep on parfait-ing. After dancing around the kitchen frantically drinking water to get the taste out of your mouth, of course.
Nearly missed kitchen catastrophes aside, I love this dessert. It looks so much more complicated than it is, feels like a special treat, and is awesome to be able to just pull out of the fridge after dinner. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it might make an amazing faux creme brulee. That was actually the plan for the leftovers from Valentine’s Day (since two people don’t exactly need 8 servings of this, no matter how happy they might be to have them), but we sadly discovered that our new kitchen torch didn’t come pre-loaded with propane. Oops. Luckily, given what a hit these parfaits were in my house, I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity to give it a try soon.
yields 8-10 servings
1/4 cup dark rum (we used Appleton)
1 packet (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin powder
1 15-ounce can pumpkin (not pie filling)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large egg yolks
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
sweetened whipped cream
8 to 10 ginger cookies, broken into pieces (and Oreos, if you must)
Place rum in a heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for 10 minutes for the gelatin to soften.
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg yolks, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set the bowl of gelatin over a pan of simmering water and cook until the gelatin is clear (note: I wouldn’t say mine has gotten exactly clear either time, and it’s seemed a-ok). Once the gelatin mixture is clear(ish), mmediately whisk it into the pumpkin mixture. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.
To assemble, spoon some of the pumpkin mixture into parfait glasses, add a layer of whipped cream, then some cookie bits. Repeat, ending with a third layer of pumpkin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. To serve, decorate with whipped cream and more cookies (Ina also recommends crystalized ginger on top, if you happen to have it / feel like adding it to your list).