It’s easy to take for granted the year-round availability of some ingredients, thanks to our modern megamarts and the phenomenon of “supply and demand.” It took me nearly 18 years to realize that nuts didn’t actually just appear on shelves, but started out growing on trees just like regular produce, and in fact had harvest seasons as well. Shocked to find a tree producing walnuts close to home one fateful autumn day, I marveled that fewer people celebrated the harvest of these delectable and often pricey morsels. Who wants to eat dusty old walnuts that have been sitting on a store shelf all year? Try to seek out fresh nuts for these parfaits and you’re sure to taste a difference.
Though you’ll end up with far more sponge candy than you can possibly pile into these parfaits, there’s no safe way to make it in any smaller of a batch—doing so would result in a potful of burnt sugar. The good news is that there should be no trouble in finding other uses for it, since this unassuming confection is surprisingly addictive all on its own. Try coating medium-sized pieces in chocolate and see how quickly it disappears!
You’ll want to make the sponge candy first since it needs sufficient time to cool and harden before it goes into the parfaits. Begin by laying out a Silpat or piece of parchment paper near the stove. Combine the corn syrup or agave, sugar,
Cook the sugar syrup, swirling the pan gently every now and then to “stir” the contents, until it reaches 300°F, approximately the hard-crack stage. Remove from the heat, and in a separate dish, mix together the baking soda and remaining water so that there are no lumps of soda remaining. Stir this mixture into the hot sugar and be prepared to work very quickly.
The mixture will bubble furiously, and as soon as the baking soda is completely incorporated, pour the molten candy out and onto your waiting Silpat or parchment. Do not press it down or spread it out with your spatula, or else you’ll knock the bubbles right out of it. Let cool, undisturbed, until it’s at room temperature and can be snapped into pieces. Set aside.
The mousse starts out life in the same way you would prepare a cooked pudding; vigorously whisk together the nondairy milk, cornstarch, coffee powder, and sugar in a medium saucepan until no lumps remain. Turn on the heat to medium and cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened significantly, about 5–8 minutes.
Transfer the pudding base, still warm but not screaming hot, into your blender or food processor. Add in the vanilla and toasted walnuts, and thoroughly purée until the mixture is silky smooth. It will take longer for a food processor to do the job, so just be patient, and remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl every now and then to keep everything incorporated. Move the silken mousse into a bowl, place
Slice the figs in half and arrange them with the cut sides facing up on your prepared baking sheet. Brush them all over with oil so that they’re lightly coated, and sprinkle sugar over the tops. Slide the sheet into the oven and
Once you have all of the components ready, assembly is very quick and easy. For each glass, layer a few spoonfuls of walnut mousse at the bottom, followed by a handful of chopped walnuts and sponge candy pieces, then another few spoonfuls of mousse, and finally top it off with more walnuts, candy, and the baked figs. Repeat in remaining individual glasses.
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