There’s a certain moral dilemma to Central Michel Richard’s snowman vacherin: If your dessert has a really cute face, can you stand to crack it open with your spoon?
That’s exactly what you’re instructed to do when ordering the holiday treat, available for $10 now through at least the end of January at the downtown French-American restaurant.
A vacherin, executive chef Tony Roussel says, is a classic French dessert consisting of a meringue shell that’s filled with such ingredients as whipped cream, ice cream and fruit. Making Central’s version is a laborious process: “You have to do it step by step, starting with the body and then the hat and scarf,” Roussel says. “It takes three hours.”
The first step is pumping meringue (a gooey mixture of egg whites and sugar) out of a pastry bag and hand-sculpting it into snowman form. Each figure is placed on a sheet pan and baked for three hours, which allows the meringue to harden. Once the Frosty look-alike is ready to go, it’s adorned with a marzipan hat, scarf and nose; the hat is dipped in dark chocolate and stuffed with almond cake. The tiny eyes are also made out of chocolate. Central prepares about 100 shells at a time and makes a new batch every few days.
Though you wouldn’t guess it, the snowman is hollow on the inside — until it’s stuffed with malted vanilla bean ice cream. It’s then surrounded by a moat of French whipped cream, raspberry sauce and a handful of blueberries, plus a sprig of rosemary. (The latter is decorative, meant to emulate a Christmas tree.) The finished product is presented with a sparkler .
Then comes the hard part. There’s only one way to dig in: annihilation via utensil.
While the snowman is billed as serving two, plenty of diners opt not to share, Roussel says. “It’s very sweet, but at the same, not too sweet,” he says. “It feels light because of the whipped cream and the fruit and the raspberry sauce.” Some people order it to go, then fill the meringue shell with their own ice cream at home.
The snowman vacherin was created by the late Michel Richard at Citronelle, his Georgetown restaurant that closed in 2012. Richard, a pastry chef by training, saw it as a charming way to serve a plate of happiness to his customers, says Central’s general manager and wine and beverage director, Brian Zipin, who worked with Richard for more than a decade.
“Michel was known for texture and whimsy and flavor and always having this element of fun,” Zipin says. “He was always trying to explore new avenues for presentation and flavor, and he liked to surprise his guests. I know he got great joy in seeing the reaction we get when we bring this out to the table.”