One of my favorite summer desserts is a verrine. The word comes from verre, French for "glass," and with this recipe the medium is indeed the message: The dessert is composed like an English trifle or parfait and served individually in clear containers. The transparency allows you to see each colorful layer. One can also go the savory route; a crab-and-tomato verrine, for example, could make a terrific appetizer. But the most popular variation is sweet, such as this combination of cherry, white chocolate, pistachio, and verbena.
As with many recipes, the key is to use a variety of textures and flavors, each element enhancing the others. The pistachio pound cake has a slight crunch, while the white chocolate–and–lemon verbena mousse is creamy and refreshing. I alternate these ingredients with layers of fresh sweet cherries soaked in kirsch, a cherry liqueur, and top it off with chopped pistachios for added texture and color. There are countless variations on this recipe: Try using berries, apricots, peaches, or figs instead of cherries, for example. A lemon pound cake would work just as well, or, in place of the verbena tea, substitute an infusion made with fresh mint from the garden. For summer picnics, I use jam jars instead of small glasses to hold my verrines—twist on a lid and you've got the perfect portable dessert.
CHERRY, WHITE CHOCOLATE, PISTACHIO, AND VERBENA VERRINE
Makes eight 10-oz. verrines
Pistachio Pound Cake
1¼ cups (10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups shelled unsalted pistachios
1½ cups sugar
1½ cups all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat a 5 x 9 loaf pan with cooking spray.
Melt 2 T of the butter in a small pan over medium heat, and add 1 cup of the pistachios. Cook, stirring until toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until it forms a thick paste, about 3 minutes. Roughly chop the remaining nuts.
With an electric mixer, beat the remaining butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the pistachio paste and then the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and then slowly add the flour until well combined. Fold in the remaining chopped pistachios.
Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Let the cake cool, then remove it from the pan and cut it into slices, and then into approximately ½-inch cubes.
White Chocolate–Lemon Verbena Mousse
1¾ cups heavy cream
2 bags lemon verbena tea
6 oz. white chocolate chips
In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream and lemon verbena tea bags and heat to just below a simmer. Set aside, covered, for 45 minutes. Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl. Remove the tea bags from the cream and bring to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate, let sit for 1 minute, then stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Up to 8 hours before serving, using an electric mixer, beat the white-chocolate cream until stiff peaks form.
1 lb. fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 T kirsch liqueur
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
½ cup cherry jam
¼ cup shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped
In a bowl, stir the fresh cherries, kirsch, lemon zest, and cherry jam to combine.
To build each verrine, place approximately 3 T of cherry mixture in the bottom of a jar or parfait glass, add about five cubes of pound cake, a sprinkle of pistachios, and about 3 T of the mousse. Add another layer of pound cake, a spoonful of cherry mixture, a sprinkling of pistachios, and then top with mousse and a final sprinkle of pistachios.
WHAT TO DRINK
Daniel Johnnes, wine director of Daniel restaurants, recommends an off-dry Champagne — such as ($40) — as the ideal accompaniment for this dessert. "Its refreshing citrus aroma marries perfectly with the lemon verbena," he says, "and its effervescence leaves the palate clean and refreshed." As an alternative, he suggests the stylish ($60) or a Vouvray Tendre, a still wine from the Loire Valley.