Vanilla pudding is lightened with whipped cream and layered with rum-soaked ladyfingers in parfait glasses. Chef Sichra tops his with piped white meringue swans he has made earlier -- lovely, but optional. The vanilla sugar mentioned is sugar in which vanilla beans are stored, imparting a delicate vanilla flavor. If you choose to use vanilla bean seeds, just use 2 tablespoons plain granulated sugar in place of the vanilla sugar.
- Milk - 1-3/4 cups
- Sugar - 1 cup
- Vanilla Sugar - 2 tablespoons (alt. scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
- Vanilla pudding powder - 1/2 tablespoon
- Gelatin Powder - 1 packet
- Cool Water - 1/4 cup
- Heavy (whipping) cream - 1/2 pint
- Rum - 1/4 cup
- Simple syrup (see Basics) - 1/4 cup
- Ladyfingers - 12, split in half crosswise
- Bittersweet Chocolate - 2 ounces, chopped
- Ladyfingers - 8, split crosswise
- Heavy (whipping) cream - 1 pint
- Maraschino Cherries - 8
- Mint leaves - 8
- Meringue swans - (optional)
Bring 1-1/4 cups of the milk to a boil over medium-high heat with the sugar and vanilla sugar. Reduce the heat to medium. Sprinkle the pudding powder on the remaining cold milk and blend until smooth. Slowly pour this mixture into the boiling milk, whisking gently. Let the milk come to a boil, lift the pan, and let the milk subside, Again, put the pan on the heat and let the milk start to boil, then lift the pan and let the milk subside. Do this three more times. Remove milk mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature; press plastic film directly on the surface and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Dissolve the gelatin in the water. Warm the water slightly over low heat until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Let it cool again to room temperature. Take the pudding out of the refrigerator and press through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Add the liquified gelatin to the pudding mixture and blend gently with a whisk. In a deep bowl, whip the cream to firm peaks. Fold a large spoonful of whipped cream into the pudding mixture, then gently fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream.
Combine the rum and simple syrup in a small bowl and brush the ladyfingers in the mixture. Fill parfait glasses with alternating layers of ladyfingers and cream. Chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
To serve: Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Dip one end of each ladyfinger half in the chocolate and place on waxed paper to cool. Beat the cream until firm peaks form; put the cream in a pastry bag fitted with a medium fluted tip. Place the glasses with the chilled creams on desert plates. Pipe a whipped cream swirl on the tops of the chilled creams. Garnish each with a dipped ladyfinger, maraschino cherry, and mint leaf. Set a meringue swan swimming on the top of the whipped cream swirl (optional).
Note: The swans are made by preparing a standard meringue just like that made for meringue cups or crisps, then piping plump body shapes and S-shaped necks and heads. When baked until just dry -- no color -- and cooled, a hole is made in the front of each body with a small knife and a neck inserted.