Traditionally served as an after-dinner drink, Bénédictine--the spicy, herbaceous cordial invented in 1510 by a Venetian monk living in Normandy--also makes a fine assaisonment for desserts. Although I've sipped plenty of Bénédictine (especially during my grad school years when the sophisticated drink satisfied my lust for everything Gallic), I'd never actually 'cooked' with Bénédictine until a few weeks ago. Inspired by a visit to Fécamp, where the elixir was born, I returned to my kitchen determined to concoct something that would highlight this renowned liqueur.
Although Bénédictine is flavored by a blend of 27 herbs and spices, I find the vanilla particularly outspoken, making it a good accompaniment to sweets made with cream, custard, and chocolate. One of my favorite samplings during last month's trip to France was Soufflé Normand served at Rouen's La Couronne, said to be the oldest auberge in the country. The dessert combined a frozen soufflé topped with hot baked meringue splashed with Bénédictine just before serving. It was, in a word, magnificent.
The proprietor generously shared the recipe but after translating it, I found the technique a bit too time consuming for most home cooks--including me. As an alternative, I created an incredibly easy faux frozen soufflé. It's rich and frosty, and just a tad old fashioned, making it a good choice for holiday entertaining, multi-generational affairs or whenever there are Francophiles to impress. As an accompaniment, try a sparkling wine or Champagne as an accompaniment (the wonderful Taittinger 'Nocturne' Sec Champagne reviewed in this issue would be a promising candidate). The bubbles and acidity in sparkling wines are a pleasant foil to the unctuousness of the creamy parfait.
For information about Bénédictine, go to www.benedictine.fr/anglais.
This recipe--a simplified version of La Couronne's Soufflé Normand--is easy, fast, and virtually foolproof.
Serves 4 to 6
1 quart best-quality vanilla ice cream, softened to the consistency of crème frâiche
2 tablespoons Bénédictine
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
Bénédictine, to serve, optional
Crisp, vanilla-flavored sugar cookies to serve, optional (Note: Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies are an excellent choice)
- Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Continue beating while slowly adding the sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in 1 tablespoon of the Bénédictine and set aside.
- Place the ice cream in a separate bowl, add the remaining Bénédictine and fold to mix. Fold in the whipped cream until just blended; do not over-blend or the mixture will deflate.
- Divide the mixture into 4 to 6 parfait glasses or water goblets. Immediately place in the freezer and freeze until solid, about 2 to 4 hours. (Note: Exact timing will depend on size of parfait glasses.)
- To serve, place parfait glasses on a dessert plate (use a doily between plate and goblet to keep the goblet from slipping) and top each parfait with additional Bénédictine if desired. Serve with cookies, and glasses of off-dry sparkling wine or Champagne.
Visit Sarah Belk King on the web at SBKproductions.com.