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Strawberry Parfaits with Black Pepper and Balsamic Vinegar

Zesty black pepper and molasses-like aged balsamic vinegar meld with ripe, fresh late-spring strawberries for an intensely flavored dessert. A layer of rich vanilla ice cream mellows the assertiveness of the ingredients and rounds out the dish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs. high-quality aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. kirsch
  • 1 pint high-quality vanilla ice cream
  • Sweetened whipped cream for serving

Directions:

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, roughly crack the peppercorns. Hull the strawberries and halve about half of them lengthwise. Place all the strawberries in a bowl and add the cracked pepper.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Cover and bring to a simmer, checking the sugar often. Once the sugar starts to melt, uncover and swirl the pan occasionally until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Continue to simmer, uncovered, until the sugar turns to a deep amber brown caramel, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Carefully add the strawberry mixture to the caramel (it will fizz vigorously and harden in spots). Using a heatproof silicone spatula, stir the berries into the caramel as best you can and cook, stirring often, until any hardened bits of caramel have melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the balsamic vinegar and kirsch. Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

When ready to serve, let the ice cream stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften slightly. Layer the ingredients in 6 stemless wineglasses or parfait glasses in this order: strawberries with juices, ice cream, more strawberries with juices and finally, whipped cream, dividing the ingredients evenly. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Desserts, by Raquel Pelzel (Oxmoor House, 2008).