Brownie-Brown Sugar Parfaits

When I lived in San Francisco, the baking community was a very friendly group and we all mingled easily. One of the people who I particularly admired and liked was Emily Luchetti, who was also a pastry chef and cookbook author. Her desserts were known for their stunning simplicity, which highlighted bold flavors as well as local ingredients, and whose recipes walked a balance between home-style and sophisticated. And even more importantly, she tends to like two of my favorite things – chocolate and caramel – and she uses them frequently.

Emily’s newest book is The Fearless Baker, a book of 175 easy-to-make desserts that won’t intimidate anyone. I asked her if she would be interested in doing a guest post, and when she suggested something combining…you guessed it, caramel and chocolate brownies, I couldn’t wait to share the recipe with you. Please welcome this guest post by Emily Luchetti. -david

A common dilemma for chefs who participate in out-of-town events is what mise en place to take and what to prepare on site. Making dessert for 500-1000 people at a walk-around tasting away from your familiar work place takes logistical and advanced planning. If I have a couple of events within a month of each other, prepping the same dish is easier the second time around. I have a much better idea of how to pack it all. Since different audiences are at each event, it’s not like I am serving identical desserts to the same people. (It only took me 20 years in the business to figure this out!)

My dessert for offsite events this winter/spring was Brownie Brown Sugar Parfait. Originally I created it for the opening menu at Waterbar in San Francisco. It is perfect road trip dessert. There are 4 components brownies, caramel sauce, toasted pecans and a brown sugar pastry cream that’s lightened with whipped cream. Most of it can be made ahead of time and put together later in Connecticut at The Mohegan Sun Casino, or in Miami at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

Turns out 8 trays of brownies, 5 pounds of toasted and chopped pecans, 3 chef coats, a couple of knives, spatulas, and whisks weigh 33 pounds. And surprisingly they ALL fit into a suitcase that would fit in an overhead bin. The caramel sauce and brown sugar pastry cream were triple bagged and sealed in my trusty Food Saver vacuum seal machine and packed into a Styrofoam-lined cardboard box with some cold paks.

I coughed up $50 (ouch) for the baggage fees as there was no way I could explain to three burly TSA agents why I had knives in my carry-on. As my “luggage” disappeared from view, I said a little prayer that it would arrive intact. During the plane ride, I had nightmares of the caramel sauce leaking out of the box as they tumbled down the baggage claim chute. If that did happen, I was going to deny that the box was mine. Luckily all arrived intact.

While you won’t be making this at home for 500 people, the lessons I learned on breaking this recipe into steps can help you out at home too. The brownies and pecans can be made a couple of days ahead or even longer if you freeze them. The brown sugar pastry cream can be made two-three days in advance. Whip the cream, fold it into the pastry cream and assemble the parfaits the day you want to serve them.

Have you ever taken a dessert on the road?

Brownie-Brown Sugar Parfait
Print Recipe
Six servings
From The Fearless Baker (Little Brown and Co. 2011) by Emily Luchetti
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 cups of half-inch pieces of your favorite brownies
1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
About 2/3 cup good-quality caramel sauce
1. In a medium saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugars. Whisk in the evaporated milk then the cornstarch and vanilla.
2. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula until the mixture thickens to a mayonnaise-like consistency, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture gets lumpy at any point, remove the pan from the heat, switch to a whisk, and whisk until it’s smoothed out.)
3. Transfer the cooked brown sugar custard to a medium bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.
4. Using a stand mixer with wire whip attachment, or hand-held mixer and medium bowl, whip the cream on medium-high speed until it forms softly mounded peaks. You want the cream somewhere between liquid and soft peak. It should just begin to hold its shape. If the custard has become really thick stir it with a rubber spatula. Fold the cream into the cooled custard.
5. Put three pieces of brownie, a generous 2 teaspoons of caramel and 2 teaspoons pecan pieces into the bottom of 6 parfait, wine, cocktail, or on-the-rocks glasses.
6. Spoon on 1/3 cup of the custard. Top with three more brownie pieces and then drizzle with 2 teaspoons of caramel sauce and sprinkle on 2 teaspoons pecans. Continue layering the custard, brownie pieces, caramel, and pecans.
7. Cover each glass with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

Text and recipe by Emily Luchetti. You can visit Emily at her website and follow @emilyluchetti on Twitter. Photo by Brooke Gray.

Related Recipes

Chocolate-Cheesecake Brownies

Gluten-Free Brownies

Simple, Little Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

Emily Luchetti’s Cherry Pie (Good Food)

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  • March 19, 2012 11:59am

    I need to have a dinner party this week just so I can make these. If I don’t have friends over I am afraid I will manage to eat the 6 serves all by myself!

  • Sissy
    March 19, 2012 2:35pm

    This looks delicious — I would say you definitely lived up to your name (Fearless Baker) by taking all this on the road! Thank you for your post.

  • March 19, 2012 2:59pm

    That looks AH-MAAAAZING. Cannot imagine taking something on the road like that – brave woman!

  • Cris
    March 19, 2012 4:08pm

    Glad everything made it!

    I took a six tier wedding cake, four huge sheet cakes, and the cake decorations – large flat chocolate pieces shaped like different Chicago area landmarks from my suburban home, into the city – in my Volkswagon Passat. On a hot summer day. And then up four flights of stairs.

    And that was the last cake I baked for the next three years. Some things scar you.

  • Sharon
    March 19, 2012 4:35pm

    What always comes back in my suitcase is pecans and gratefully they don’t leak. The imported pecans from Australia that end up here are just not the same (though I’ve read the trees were from the US!) I no longer have to lug back bags of brown sugar, unavailable here in its American form, since I discovered adding molasses to white sugar.

    These goodies look like I need to give a party.

  • March 19, 2012 4:41pm

    Emily, I enjoyed reading the details of packing/travelling with your dessert! It looks like a divine recipe.

    My longest journey carrying a dessert was taking a small, tiered wedding cake that I made in New York City to Italy for friends’ wedding. After a long trip (subway > commuter rail > 2 airplanes > train > car ride), the cake and I both arrived intact. Travelling with a wedding cake certainly made for an interesting trip, one filled with lots of interesting conversations and encounters along the way!

  • March 19, 2012 5:01pm

    Reading these comments about how they’ve hauled food from one end of the planet to another and up 4 flights – I’m obviously letting my side down because I’ve never taken food anywhere but across town.

    These brownie/brown sugar parfaits are simply devine. Thanks so much to Emily for sharing!

  • Ruth
    March 19, 2012 5:06pm

    I have all of Emily Lucetti’s cookbooks and have made many, many of her recipes over the years. They are all wonderful. I have probably made her goat cheese cake 50 times and never tire of it. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  • March 19, 2012 5:12pm

    This recipe looks delicious – I need to come up with an excuse to make it! And coming from Emily Luchetti, it’s bound to be delicious. I was lucky enough to have my wedding cake created by Emily as a gift from her husband (my boss in San Francisco at the time). I have been a huge fan ever since! Now that I’m living near Paris, I’ll have to give her baking a try here.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • March 19, 2012 5:14pm

    I’d prefer to find a leaky box of caramel sauce in the airport carousel than an escaped box of poisonous snakes (why does Snakes on a Plane continue to haunt me?!)


  • March 19, 2012 5:24pm

    And I thought I had trouble packing. These looks heavenly! I’m pretty much a chocoate and caramel girl myself–can’t ever pass it up.

  • March 19, 2012 5:27pm

    Congratulations on the cook book, Emily. Loved this post, the recipe and just imagining that caramel sauce oozing out of a suitcase. So happy this didn’t happen to you! I had to take a “dessert” on the road last week, when flying to Scotland from Paris to demonstrate making macarons in a library (no kitchen!) and so prepared my shells in advance, only to find most of them crushed by going through the security belt twice. Lots of fun, though! So small in comparison with your marathon!

  • March 19, 2012 5:33pm

    What an excellent cookbook idea. I love it AND this recipe.

  • Zoe
    March 19, 2012 5:38pm

    I pack loaves in shoeboxes. Nothing crazy.

  • March 19, 2012 5:51pm

    This looks delicious, Emily. Thank you for the recipe! I would’ve been so nervous about checking that bag. Glad it turned out fine. :)

  • Chandana
    March 19, 2012 6:47pm

    Looks sooooo good. I had not heard about Emily Luchetti until this blog post … thank you for the guest post .. I will surely go check out her cookbooks now! Got to make these!!!!!!!!

  • March 19, 2012 7:04pm

    I remember being a kid and watching my mom and other family members undertake these exercises in packing when returning from vacations to visit family in the Caribbean. There is also a family story of a wedding cake traveling from New Jersey to New York with an unofficial speed racer at the wheel and everyone else holding on for dear life.

  • nina
    March 19, 2012 7:28pm

    I have always traveled with baked goods in my luggage to take to family in Miami and LA. Keep cakes in the pans they were baked in, cover with a cardboard round (or square) sealed inside a plastic bag, and any frosting in an airtight container, frost when you arrive. Banana bread in a shoe box is perfect, like Zoe suggested. Everybody loves the homemade goods!

  • Deborah
    March 19, 2012 8:40pm

    Bless you! Finding recipes I can make at home and assemble across town always puts me at a loss. I have many dinners and potlucks I need to supply food for and you just solved a problem for me.

    May I request other transprtable recipes be posted?

  • March 19, 2012 9:09pm

    Yum. I love the story here. I can relate to the knife thing – I am always so scared someone is gonna want to swipe my AllClad measuring spoons or Wustof santoku and wish I could bring them in carry on!

  • March 19, 2012 9:49pm

    This looks so fabulous. I want to make it ASAP. Where can I get evaporated milk in France? Is it called something different? I’ve looked every where.

  • March 19, 2012 10:22pm

    You should ask my aunt about driving 30 miles with the Boxing Day trifle in her biggest and best bowl, precariously perched on the knees of her three sons…. it always arrived safely, though, and was always delicious!

    My limit for travelling with desserts is a couple of banoffee pies on the back seat of the car taking them to church, which isn’t exactly far. I have even been known to walk them there…

  • March 19, 2012 10:43pm

    I flew from Oregon to DC with complete meals in my luggage more times than I care to remember while our daughter was in college. My home-made (& then frozen) chicken noodle soup was her favorite. We are now traveling in the sunny SoCal desert, so I will be preparing this dessert in the kitchen of my motorhome – how’s that for portable?

  • Cynthia
    March 19, 2012 10:54pm

    Will be traveling this weekend and am taking Lasagne Bolognese with me. This might just get squeezed in for dessert!. Sounds divine!

  • Phyllis Heagney
    March 19, 2012 11:06pm

    I took baked wedding layers, buttercream and tools with me for my brother’s out of town wedding. I packed the layers back into their pans with the pans layered smallest on the bottom, ziggurat-style. Everything got there in great shape, made the ganache and hulled the strawberries onsite, assembled it and voila, perfect!

  • March 19, 2012 11:16pm

    Lots of delicious things going on here, Emily. I take desserts on the road frequently because I travel by foot and by bus and go to lots of potluck events. Pies, cakes, cookies and quick breads are the best travelers (I make bundt or tube cakes so as not to have any sliding layers).

  • Michael Duffy
    March 20, 2012 12:22am

    Looks great to me! Thanks for sharing the trials and tribulations of a traveling chef. And thanks for figuring out the recipe-for-six so we don’t all have to make 500 servings of this amazing desert. (We would all look like the Michelin Man!)

  • March 20, 2012 3:12am

    Beautiful recipe. I know so simply by reading the ingredients. :)

    This looks like a wonderful baking book. Thanks for the ‘heads-up,’ I’ll definitely be seeking it out.

    My blood pressure rose when I read your adventure, David. My daughter asked me to bake the cupcakes for her wedding. I live in Texas and she resides in northern California. Thank goodness for months of advance notice and a best friend from Chicago who flew in to help me bake and decorate. I simply do not know how you professionals do it. My friend and I took up drinking the minute we finished the bake-off. ;) (Just kidding, but we did celebrate with a few bottles of pear champagne at the reception, along with all the wine that was served during dinner…burp.)

  • Catherine Negus
    March 20, 2012 3:23am

    I regularly take desserts of all kinds to Toronto, about an hour and a half from home base. The most challenging occasion was three years ago my daughter enlisted me to bake her wedding cake. We decided on an elegant, 4 tier cake. A week and a half before the wedding I broke my left arm (at the elbow, very nasty) in a cycling accident. With lots of help, I was still able to make the cake. It had to be carefully packed up with the base and assorted components, and transported to the wedding site. There was so much going on the day of the wedding, but even with my arm in a sling (very unelegant for a wedding) the cake was fully set up just before the ceremony. Happily, the wedding cake was a success in spite of the set backs.

    Thanks for the great looking recipe, Emily. It’s one I will definitely have to try.

  • Antonella
    March 20, 2012 3:37am

    Hi i’m from Argentina.
    I’m don’t speak english but when i saw u in NATGEO i feel so close to Paris so thank u

  • March 20, 2012 4:12am

    Brown sugar pastry cream sounds incredible! I’m pinning these parfaits. Can’t wait to make them!

  • Michele
    March 20, 2012 4:57am

    sigh…brown sugar pastry cream sounds absolutely lovely!

  • Joyce Howe
    March 20, 2012 5:33am

    David, Congratulations on WINNING the Saveur “Best Professional Blog”. I did vote for you… and I feel like you sooooo deserve it (to win).

    • March 20, 2012 11:02pm
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t see the nominations, but there’s so many great blogs out there. Nice to see round-ups of them and glad you like the blog : )

  • March 20, 2012 6:09am

    wow these look so rich and classy. i agree that brown sugar pastry cream sounds just incredible.

  • Freda
    March 20, 2012 6:25am

    Last June I prepared a feast for 64 people in my home – medieval recipes – four mains , sides, plus veg option and dessert, then packed it and all the serving dishes in my car and drove for an hour. The site kitchen had only one oven and 4 elements. It certainly tested my skills in planning and organization.

    The year before I made my sister’s wedding cake. July in Toronto can be very hot and humid. Made for quite a lot of fussing to keep fondant from melting during the 2 hour drive.

  • March 20, 2012 11:46am

    The recipe shure sounds delicious! At the moment I’ve got a lot of free time, so I think there is a good chance of seeing me in my kitchen trying it out in the next days.

    I always travel with an assortment of zip-lock bags and tupperware containers for picnics and events like that. (And: I’ve got no car/driver’s license, so this is an extra difficulty.) Arriving on side I begin to assemble things like layer desserts or salads in glasses – much to the astonishment of people who have never seen me doing this before and to the delight of people who know what to expect.

    My respect for traveling with whole wedding cakes! Just thinking about it makes me dizzy…

  • March 20, 2012 2:37pm

    Love this guest post! Great writing voice :) I went searching and found her blog so thanks for sharing. Now this dessert hits everything I love about dessert. The only way to make it better would be the ability to make it ahead…which you can…this one hit it out of the ballpark! Can’t wait to try and my next “do-ahead-stress-free” dinner party.

  • Sharon deRham
    March 20, 2012 2:41pm

    Hi, David,
    I am from the Napa Valley, living in Vaison la Romaine. I have invited some French girlfriends over to make your Banana Bread (with chocolate.) I have been bringing baking powder over from the US but I can’t keep up with the demand. You are becoming known among my French friends here.

    I went to G. Detou, and found “Baking Powder.The label says it is “diphosphate disodique E450i–Carbaonate acide de sodium
    E500 ii Farine de ble.

    Can this be used be used in place of American baking powder?
    Sorry this does not pertain to this posting of yours. I love your books and blog.


    • March 20, 2012 11:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve not used the baking powder from Detou, since I bring over my own baking powder – since I’m familiar with it and how it behaves, so can’t advise. But why not try it and see?

  • March 20, 2012 4:29pm

    WOW these look delish and pretty easy to make. I think I found my next receipe to try out on my coworkers ;)

  • March 20, 2012 5:24pm

    Ohhhh David, that’s a whole lot of ingredients I would love to consume on a daily basis but need to wait for a special occasion. Your parfaits look delightful! And with all the remodeling you’ve been doing, you deserve a few!

  • ranchodeluxe
    March 21, 2012 3:25am

    David, you are always so generous with your recipes. We tried this tonight and it was so nice. I thought to pay it forward and perhaps you will try and enjoy. Grazie mille for all you do.

    Vegetarian Tortilla Chili

    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 med onion chopped
    3 mixed chilis(jalapeño, Serrano etc)
    2 cloves garlic chopped
    1 can diced tomatoes undrained
    1 can Rotel w/ lime & cilantro
    1 can pinto beans rinsed and drained
    1 cup water
    1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
    3/4 tsp kosher salt
    1 med zucchini, unpeeled & chopped
    Corn tortilla chips
    3/4 cup Yancy’s Buffalo Cheese(hot)
    4 Tbsps chopped fresh cilantro

    In 4 qt Dutch oven, heat oil over med heat. Add onion, chile & garlic. Cook 5-7 mins . Stir frequently until tender.
    Add chile powder, cook til fragrant, 1

    Stir in tomatoes, beans, water and salt. Heat til boiling. Reduce heat cover and simmer 20 mins. Stir occasionally. Stir in zucchini. Simmer uncovered 5-7 mins longer, stir occasionally, until zucchini is tender.

    To serve place tortilla chips in individual serving bowls. Place shredded cheese on too and spoon chili over. Sprinkle cilantro and serve.

  • March 21, 2012 6:54am

    Gotta try these!

  • Li-hsia
    March 21, 2012 8:31am

    Do you have an accompanying recipe for the caramel sauce?
    And congratulations to Emily Luchetti for entering the James Beard Who’s Who Hall of Fame!

  • March 21, 2012 3:27pm

    wow..this looks very tasty :-)

  • Kamuflirt
    March 21, 2012 4:22pm

    Wow. Talk about delicious looks…!

  • March 21, 2012 5:21pm

    These sound heavenly. But, since I’m on my way to San Francisco, I may just have to give Waterbar a try!

  • March 21, 2012 5:28pm

    Thank you for introducing me to Emily and her love of chocolate and caramel, I’m excited to check out her books and learn more. I also completely enjoy and can relate to your blog, having lived in France and love cooking and baking I smile and giggle often with your stories.

  • Cris
    March 21, 2012 6:50pm

    One more story – we always have chocolate sandwich cookies filled with butter/powdered sugar/peppermint/candy cane cream for Christmas. My mom makes them every year and we eat them by the dozen.

    On my brother’s second Iraq deployment he was there over Christmas and we tried to find a way to keep the cookies fresh (butter!) and intact (the chocolate layers are soft) over the possible month it would take for them to travel. My thought was that while ziploc bags were okay, vacuum packing would be better.

    So, we borrowed a vacuum sealer, placed the cookies carefully apart, and then watched the machine squish the heck out of them. They turned into little balls! I think he probably had to eat them with a spoon, though he swears he enjoyed them.

    As his next deployment, to Afghanistan this time, will again be over Christmas, I’ll have to come up with a different bright idea.

  • March 21, 2012 7:17pm

    Wow that brown sugar pastry cream sounds flipping delicious. Definitely bookmarked this one!

  • March 21, 2012 8:02pm

    I’ve taken cakes on the road…I use the lid from paper boxes, i.e. office paper box. The plate is wider than the cake, I put the cake in the inverted lid and put in the trunk and place some objects around it so it doesn’t slide.

  • March 21, 2012 8:17pm

    Here’s my caramel sauce recipe-
    Emily Luchetti’s Caramel Sauce

    Yield: 1 3/4 cups

    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1/2 cup water
    1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

    Stir together the sugar and the water in a medium saucepan. Heat the sugar over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

    Brush the insides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to eliminate any sugar sticking to the sides. Increase to high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar is amber colored, 8-10 minutes.

    Remove the pot from the heat. Wearing oven mitts, slowly add one quarter of the cream. Be careful as the caramel will sputter as the cream is added. Using a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula, stir the cream into the caramel. If the cream sputters, stop stirring. Let the bubbles subside and then stir again. Carefully add the remaining cream. Stir until combined.

  • kpgallant
    March 21, 2012 8:56pm

    Emily was one of the best things about STARS in the day…she is still one of the best things about the dining scene in San Francisco, and a New Englander[originally]to boot!!

  • March 21, 2012 11:08pm

    This recipe is going to be the hit of our family reunion this weekend! I’m so excited to make it. Thanks for putting in on your site!

    Grandma Kat

  • Merry
    March 22, 2012 12:46am

    Oh, that looks lovely!

    My idea of taking desserts on the road usually looks like taking Apple Cream Pie to a family gathering or a taking a cake that travels well along on a camping trip.

    Once I made hot fudge sauce for a crowd at a campground. What an ordeal that was, both the making and the cleanup! I’m totally on board with make ahead idea these days. Except for pumpkin donuts, which isn’t dessert-ish but still worth my trouble out there for the fellowship of making and eating together.

  • March 22, 2012 1:29am

    Thx for the guest post Emily; these look divine! :)

  • March 22, 2012 7:17am

    Haha the best I’ve done is lug a single jar of speculoos from France to Vancouver, so afraid that I’d arrive with cookie spread filled with glass shards and hence, speculoos-less. Thankfully all arrived intact. This dessert looks divine, I need to give it a try next time I’m feeling fearless.

  • AJ
    March 22, 2012 10:02pm

    Great post & recipe!

    My one experience travelling with dessert was bringing home some Sprinkles Cupcakes back from LA to Denver as a surprise for my sister. No tense situation arose but a few of my friends back home had some choice words for what probably went through the minds of TSA agents scanning for cupcakes in hand luggage belonging to a bearded ethnic guy as myself. Luckily for once, hilarity (or any incidents) did not ensue. The cupcakes, which my sister agreed were one of the best we had ever had!

    Aj the Dj

  • Geraldine in Spain
    March 25, 2012 8:22am

    Ladies and DaviD,
    Got up this a.m. early preping for a three hour horse ride around a
    local nature reserve. Having had my computer off for over a week I began

    The first page I opened, AS ALWAYS, was Davids. I came across the
    Brownie Brown Sugar Parfaits…..Sitting there with my paltry cup of
    coffee, albeit Italian Roast fronm ITALY….my mouth watering sufficient
    the catties began to wonder if the old girl had finally cracked.

    What an amazing recipe and story of travel and travail!!!!! You are indeed a brave Lassie to make a trip like that. Your courage and recipe have given me the
    strength to hit google and to purchase your book as it must
    be great.

    THANKS and keep up the great work ;you all do. As I’m a retired by force
    cook/somewhat pastry person I admire your courage to continue and to keep
    the world smiling!

    Geraldine in Spain

  • March 29, 2012 4:45pm

    David, I bought The Perfect Scoop last weekend and have produced an ice cream recipe a day from it! I thought the Guinness and Milk Chocolate was over the top until I tried the Malted recipe. I literally did die and go to heaven. And then got promptly ejected as I have many more recipes to make (tonight: Tiramisu and Peanut Butter).Thanks for such original AND delicious recipes.