Chic patisseries in Paris -- including Pierre Herme, Jean-Paul Hevin and Fauchon -- showcase them, and prominent French chefs such as Guy Savoy, Yves Camdeborde and Helene Darroze put them on their menus. A pretty, tiny one might come with your aperitif, or it might be the last dazzling thing you see on the table at the end of a meal.
But what are they? They're called verrines, an appetizer or dessert that consists of a number of components layered artfully in a small glass. (The word verrine refers to the glass itself; literally, it means "protective glass.")
Intriguingly composed, they're a study in textures, flavors, colors and temperatures. A beautiful glass might be filled with a layer of mushroom flan, sauteed wild mushrooms, a julienne of prosciutto, parsley gelee, wild mushroom emulsion and topped with a potato and prosciutto galette. Another will have clementine and mint syrup, fresh clementines and a gingerbread "crumble."
American chefs are just starting to catch on to the verrine. But in France, it's a culinary trend that's captured just about everyone's imagination -- including home cooks. Several cookbooks about verrines have been published in France, with titles such as "Manger Dans un Verre" (Eating in a Glass), "Un Plat Dans un Verre" (A Dish in a Glass) and "Divines Verrines.
"At the moment, we see things served in verrines everywhere," says Kirk Whitlle, pastry chef at Michelin two-star restaurant Helene Darroze.
Nearly all the desserts in the restaurant Le Salon are verrines. One has layers of bay leaf-flavored panna cotta, Mara des Bois strawberries, lemon gelee, lemon crumble and strawberry sorbet. Another has salted caramel ice cream, chocolate-cumin tuile and Madong chocolate cream.
They're big, too, at the 6-month-old restaurant Sensing in the 6th arrondissement. The place is gleamingly hip, with its long alabaster bar and clouds projected on the walls. Michelin-rated three-star chef Guy Martin took over the space, transformed it into a modern bistro and installed executive chef Remi Van Peteghem, formerly of Lasserre and known for his modern French dishes.
Van Peteghem says he started creating original verrines at Sensing four months ago, serving some in delicate glasses with inclined bases "like the Leaning Tower of Pisa."
On his "Le Snacking" menu is a savory verrine of what he calls a bavarois of foie gras with a Port gelee and an emulsion of Jerusalem artichoke, for which he uses a soda siphon to achieve the right texture. Another starts with a layer of scrambled egg yolks, then a puree of Jerusalem artichoke, topped with a crispy piece of walnut bread. "Like an oeuf a la coque story," he says, referring to a soft-boiled egg served with mouillettes, which are pieces of toast meant for dipping. On his dessert menu is the clementine and mint verrine.
"There is no limit to the number of layers, but I like to work with just a few to respect the identity of each flavor," Van Peteghem says. "The customer should always be able to recognize and know the difference between the layers. Odd numbers look better as a composition."
Creme de la creme
"I started using verrines 20 years ago," says Paris-based three-star chef Guy Savoy, who also has a restaurant in Las Vegas in Caesars Palace. "My childhood prompted me. I saw in those verrines all the desserts of my childhood -- chocolate mousse, rice pudding, creme caramel," dishes traditionally served in glass coupes.
Step into a Pierre Herme shop in Paris, and you'll see glass pastry cases filled with rows of elegant verrines.
"Verrine -- it sounds like terrine. I refer to them as emotions. Very French," says master patissier Herme. "I am interested in the architecture of desserts, in tastes and textures and senses." Herme says he developed many of his emotions from other desserts, translating them from his elaborate cakes.
"This is new in pastry shops," he says of the popularity of verrines, though he introduced his emotions in 2001. But it was in the mid-'90s that chef Philippe Conticini says he started creating desserts in glasses. In 1999, he became consulting chef to Petrossian in Paris and New York, where he introduced Manhattanites to his tentations, or temptations, and emotions salees, savory emotions -- desserts served in coupes or glasses and filled with intriguing components both savory and sweet.
Herme's emotion exotic is a look at the architecture of a verrine. "There are a lot of steps, but it's not so difficult" to make, Herme says. The first layer is a pistachio creme brulee, then comes a crisp, almond dacquoise cookie, next a "salade" of pineapple accented with cilantro and Sarawak pepper, then another cookie and a layer of coconut tapioca; at the very top is a disk of white chocolate. The pineapple looks as if it's magically suspended between the two thin cookies. Dig into it with a spoon, and you come up with an amazing array of flavors and textures, the creaminess of coconut pudding studded with chewy tapioca, the crunch of almond cookie, refreshing pineapple and the deep, almost sweet note from the Sarawak pepper, and finally the velvety pistachio creme brulee.
Chefs might tend toward the elaborate, but a verrine offers the perfect opportunity to experiment in one's own kitchen. The French cookbooks include versions such as one with sable cookies and lemon curd or another with eggplant "caviar" with ricotta and coppa. Even a favorite dish can inspire one: A simple Italian salad becomes a verrine with layers of slow-roasted tomatoes, burrata and pesto, with a garnish of crisp prosciutto. Or butterscotch pudding, a wafer cookie, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Meanwhile, French chefs have brought verrines to Las Vegas. At L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, diners sitting at the counter get a peek into the kitchen, and general manager Emmanuel Cornett says they're often intrigued by a verrine called l'oeuf en cocotte, an egg steamed in the glass on top of a parsley puree. Once the egg is cooked, it's topped with sauteed mushrooms and a mushroom foam.
"People are often pointing to it and asking, 'Oh, what is it?'" Cornett says. "I hadn't heard the word verrine. I called it layered things in glasses."
One of the signature dishes at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas is a verrine, one that Savoy calls "colors of caviar." The first layer is caviar suspended in a vinaigrette, topped with creme caviar, a puree of haricots verts, and finally a sabayon of golden osetra caviar from Iran.
"We play with the different tastes, like the acidity of the vinaigrette with the softness of the cream and sweetness of the French bean," executive chef Damien Dulas says. "We tell people not to eat just one layer by one layer but all layers at the same time. They're all complementary."
A verrine has been spotted at Opus in Los Angeles. "I didn't know what it was called," chef Josef Centeno says. "I was inspired by a dessert panna cotta," he says of a tiny verrine he serves as an amuse -- celery panna cotta, celery root puree and pureed Okinawan purple potato with tonburi, the dried seed of broom cypress (also known as land caviar).
"Each layer is a different temperature," he says. "The panna cotta is chilled, the celery root puree is at room temperature, and the potato is warm, because the flavor of each layer is best at each of those temperatures."
Note: Sarawak pepper is available online at www.lepicerie.com. You can substitute other high-quality black pepper. Coconut puree (such as Boiron brand) and pistachio paste are available at www.lepicerie.com. This recipe requires glasses about 3 inches high and 21/2 inches in diameter. Reserve extra almond tuiles for another use.
FOR ALMOND TUILES:
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
-1/3 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
21/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg white
21/2 tablespoons flour, sifted
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, in a small frying pan over medium heat, toast the sliced almonds until golden brown and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
2. In a food processor, grind the almonds and half the sugar to a coarse consistency, pulsing for about 25 seconds.
3. In an electric mixer, cream the butter with the remaining sugar until well-incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the salt, cream and ground almond mixture. Mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg white and mix well. Add the flour and mix until incorporated.
4. Make a template by tracing a 3-inch round cookie cutter onto a thin piece of cardboard. Cut out the circle and trim the rest of the cardboard to within 1 inch around the hole.
5. Place the template on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Spoon 1 rounded teaspoon of batter into the template. Using an offset spatula, smooth the batter as evenly as possible in the template. Space the tuiles several inches apart.
6. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, rotating once, until the tuiles are dark golden brown around the edges and golden in the center. They will not brown evenly. Watch carefully during the final minute because they burn easily. Let cool completely on the Silpat, then gently lift the cookies off the baking sheet. Makes 20 tuiles.
FOR PISTACHIO CREME BRULEE:
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
21/2 teaspoons pistachio paste
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 of the sugar until incorporated and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, boil the milk and cream with the rest of the sugar and the pistachio paste until the sugar and the pistachio paste have dissolved, about 2 minutes. Whisking, add in the egg yolk mixture until incorporated.
2. Strain the pistachio creme mixture through a chinois or fine-mesh sieve. Fill each of 6 glasses with 1/4 cup of pistachio creme. Place the glasses in a 9-inch-square pan and fill with simmering water to the top of the custard in the glasses. Bake 20-25 minutes. The texture, when the creme comes out of the oven, should be just set (not firm). Let cool in the water bath to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.
FOR COCONUT AND TAPIOCA "JUS":
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons small-pearl tapioca
1 sheet gelatin
ª cup whole milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup coconut puree
1. In a small bowl, soak the tapioca in cold water for 2 hours. Drain the tapioca into a fine-mash strainer and rinse with cold water. Drain well.
2. Soak the gelatin sheet for 20 minutes in cold water. In a saucepan, heat the milk with the sugar and the orange zest. When it comes to a boil, add the tapioca and cook 35 minutes over low heat.
3. In a separate saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Drain the softened gelatin and incorporate it into the milk-sugar mixture, then mix in the coconut puree and the boiled cream. Remove from the heat and chill in an ice bath until thickened to a pudding consistency, about 10 minutes.
FOR PINEAPPLE AND ASSEMBLY:
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple (cut into 1/4-inch dice and drained of juice)
1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
5 cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Pinch of black freshly ground Sarawak pepper
1 tablespoon mango (or apricot or pineapple) jam, melted
1. In a small bowl, mix the cubed pineapple with the zest, the finely chopped cilantro and the black pepper; mix them gently. Add the melted mango jam and toss gently. You should do this just before assembly so the fruit is just dressed, not macerated.
2. Carefully trim an almond tuile with kitchen scissors to fit the glass, then place the tuile on top of the pistachio creme. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the pineapple mixture on top of the tuile. Then place another tuile atop the pineapple mixture. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the coconut tapioca onto the tuile. Garnish with an edible flower, such as a violet or pansy. Serve immediately.
-- Adapted from "ph10 Patisserie Pierre Herme"
Per serving: 465 calories, 8 g protein, 46 g carbohydrates, 29 g total fat, 16 g saturated fat, 200 mg cholesterol, 116 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. Calories from fat: 56 percent.
RED, WHITE AND GREEN VERRINE
Burrata is available at Whole Foods stores.
6 Roma tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 paper-thin slices prosciutto
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons burrata cheese
Cracked black pepper
Fleur de sel
1. Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Cut the Roma tomatoes in half lengthwise and place them cut-side up on a rack set on a baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over them. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
2. Roast the tomatoes for 4-41/2 hours, until they are very tender and begin to collapse and show some browning. Remove from the oven and let cool, then coarsely chop. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.
3. Using a mortar and pestle, work the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a fine paste. Grind in the pine nuts and basil until a smooth paste begins to form. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil, then work in the Parmigiano cheese, mixing to combine. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and adjust seasoning if necessary.
4. Add olive oil to a large skillet until the oil fills the pan to about 1/4 inch deep. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and when the oil is hot but not smoking, add the prosciutto slices; they should sizzle lightly. Cook until nearly crisp, 4-41/2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and let cool before breaking into 6 shardlike pieces for garnishing the verrines.
5. For assembly, spoon about -1/3 cup roasted tomatoes into each of 6 glasses, about 31/2 inches high by 3 inches in diameter.
6. Spoon a generous 2 tablespoons of burrata cheese over tomatoes to make an even layer in each of the glasses. Top with about 1 tablespoon pesto in each glass, spreading it to the sides of the glass. Spoon 1 tablespoon burrata into the center of each glass, leaving an edge of the green pesto showing. Drizzle a little olive oil over the burrata and sprinkle cracked pepper and fleur de sel. Top each glass with a shard of prosciutto.
-- From Los Angeles Times test kitchen director Donna Deane
Per serving: 330 calories, 13 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 29 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 48 mg cholesterol, 584 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 79 percent.
Serves 6 as an appetizer
Note: This recipe requires six glasses, about 41/2 inches high and 21/2 inches in diameter.
1 head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 cups heavy cream, or quantity sufficient to cover
Freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely diced (Þ-inch) watermelon radish
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely diced (Þ-inch) jicama
1 tablespoon plus 21/2 teaspoons best-quality olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 cup chopped brioche (about 1/4-inch pieces)
11/2 teaspoons clarified butter
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup finely chopped cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon minced chives
1/2 teaspoon minced chervil
31/2 ounces mizuna (about 41/2 cups loosely packed)
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1. Place the 1-inch cauliflower pieces in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover with the cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cover the pot. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes, paying attention not to scorch the bottom. Strain the excess liquid and puree the cooked cauliflower in a food processor. Pass through a fine-mesh strainer and adjust seasoning with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste. Set aside.
2. In 2 small bowls, separately toss the watermelon radish and jicama each with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon lime zest and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
3. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. For the crumble, toss the brioche with the clarified butter in a bowl. Spread the brioche on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or Silpat and toast until lightly golden, 5-7 minutes. Place the brioche on paper towels and allow to cool. Place the chopped hazelnuts on a lined sheet pan and toast until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Cool. Combine the toasted brioche, finely chopped cauliflower, minced parsley, chives and chervil, and the hazelnuts. Season with 11/2 teaspoons olive oil, Þ teaspoon salt and a tiny pinch of white pepper, or to taste.
4. For the mizuna emulsion, first blanch the mizuna in a saucepan of salted boiling water, just long enough to bring out the color. Strain and shock in an ice bath. Strain again, and puree the mizuna in a blender or food processor. Pass the puree through a fine-mesh strainer. Add the vegetable stock to the puree. Season with a pinch of salt. Just before serving, emulsify the puree in a blender or using an immersion blender with 1 tablespoon olive oil to incorporate until light and frothy.
5. Place about 1/4 cup cauliflower puree in each of 6 glasses. Top with 11/2 tablespoons each of the dressed watermelon radish and jicama. Cover with 11/2 tablespoons of the crumble. Finish with a few tablespoons of froth from the mizuna emulsion. (There will be extra mizuna emulsion.) Serve immediately.
-- From Damien Dulas, executive chef of Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas
Per serving: 196 calories, 4 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 16 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 116 mg sodium, 4 g fiber. Calories from fat: 73 percent.