By Jessica Roy A couple of weeks ago, I spoke too soon regarding the chill in the air. I'm not going to complain about the Miami-like warm streak we've been having, especially since I am still having nightmares about last year's 40-foot high snow pile at the end of the street. However, the temperature can be a bit confusing for our countdown to Christmas since I am feeling more inspired to come up with spring-style recipes than winter ones. Alas, I'm doing everything in my power to spread holiday cheer, and that includes coming up with a deliciously luscious dessert recipe that is pretty and perfect for seasonal parties, even if you are wearing shorts while you celebrate.

With such a fabulous name, this week's recipe of Caramel Berry Creme Parfaits is one that is light and creamy with a special touch of homemade caramel. I'm a fan of making small tasting portions in ramekins or clear shot glasses for just a taste of sweet that's not overwhelming.

The only tricky part of this recipe is monitoring the heat of the pan during the caramel making process. This is a 'dry caramel' technique which uses heat to melt the sugar and cook out any residual moisture in each granule to achieve that beautiful brûlée. When sugar melts in one part of the pan, gently push or shake the unmelted sugar crystals over to the melted spot to evenly continue to heat the sugar.


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Once the sugar has reached the desired color (darker equals more deep amber brûlée flavor), remove the pan from heat and prevent crystallization (chunks from forming) by adding a touch of acid -- a.k.a. lemon juice. Swirl in a touch of cream and bring the pan back over low heat while slowly stirring, to bring the sauce together. It may look like a mess for a few minutes, but have faith, continue stirring, and a smooth sauce will eventually appear. If some crystallized pieces have formed, then no worries, just pull them out before serving.

Chef's tip: Use a heavy gauge uncoated metal pan for the caramel, and a wooden spoon or silicone spatula for stirring.

Caramel Berry Creme Parfaits

2 cups fresh berries

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 cup heavy cream (for caramel)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream (for whipping)

Add the sugar to a heavy gauge uncoated metal sauté pan, and turn heat on to medium. Allow sugar to melt and start to bubble and tan. As parts of the pan become hotter, gently swirl any still-white sugar over to the warmer parts of the pan to melt. Once the all of the sugar has melted and turned tan, remove from heat and swirl in lemon juice. Next, add 1/2 cup of heavy cream, and return the pan to low heat while stirring slowly with a heatproof spoon or spatula. Allow the sugar and cream to cook together until smooth -- this will take several minutes. Remove any crystalized pieces of sugar. Remove from heat, and toss the berries gently into the sauce.

Meanwhile, in a sturdy bowl, whip cream with vanilla extract to stiff peaks.

Spoon a layer of whipped vanilla creme into serving dishes, add a layer of caramel and berries, top with a final dollop of whipped cream and serve.

Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.