KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 — Pink and rosy, a peach in the fullness of ripening is a beautiful thing. Perhaps there’s no better way to eat this fruit (which is rich in vitamin C, potassium and fibre) than in its natural state but how many of us are satisfied with leaving something as it is?
One classic pairing is to combine ripe and sweet peaches with rich, velvety cream. And since its journey from its native China along the Silk Route to Persia and later Europe, there’s no dish more associated with this fruit than the Peach Melba.
While the Peach Melba is considered somewhat dated and unfashionable today, did you know it used to be the dessert du jour in the early 1900s? In fact, this sweet concoction of peaches with vanilla ice-cream and raspberry sauce was originally a tribute to a famous opera singer.
In 1892, Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba was staying at the Savoy Hotel while performing in Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at Covent Garden. The Savoy’s chef, George Auguste Escoffier, came up with a new dish to honour Melba at a dinner party thrown by the Duke of Orléans. Escoffier artfully presented peaches and vanilla ice-cream on an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera.
Later, during the opening of the Carlton Hotel in 1900, Escoffier created another iteration of the dessert by omitting the ice swan and topping the peaches with raspberry purée. This is the version we recognise as the Peach Melba today.
Opera singers may devour vanilla ice-cream happily but I find most commercial ice-creams too sweet. To make ice-cream from scratch at home would certainly enable me to control its sugar levels but I’ve neither an ice-cream machine nor, frankly, inclination to whip up a batch.
To be honest, I’m just too lazy. To enjoy peaches and cream (and vanilla) without all the fuss, why not replace the vanilla ice-cream with crème fraîche infused with fresh vanilla seeds? That’s all the vanilla fragrance and creaminess with none of the sugar.
Baking peaches in organic honey helps bring out a deeper sweetness to the fruit without making it too cloying. Toasted almond flakes lend a nuttiness to balance the cream and sweet juices. A simple dessert surely but one even opera divas may approve of, ice swan or no ice swan!
HONEY BAKED PEACHES WITH ALMOND FLAKES & VANILLA CREAM
When buying peaches, look for fruits that yield slightly to pressure. Those that are too hard aren’t ripe yet; some softness is acceptable since you’ll be baking them. Don’t worry about the amount of yellow, pink or red colouring on the skin as this isn’t an indicator of ripeness.
However, if the fruit is green, it probably means it has been picked prematurely; put it back. Use your nose: the stronger the scent, the more likely the peach will be more flavourful.
For storing, keep peaches at room temperature. If they are soft and already ripe, they can be refrigerated but make sure you use them before they are past their prime. Fruit that is too mushy won’t hold up well when baked.
Have fun making this recipe your own by substituting the ingredients according to what’s in season or your personal preference. Instead of peaches, try other stone fruits such as nectarines and plums. Replace almonds with pecans, cashews or walnuts. Crème fraîche may be substituted with Greek yoghurt or sour cream.
8 ripe peaches, halved and stones removed
1 tablespoon organic honey
70g almonds, toasted and chopped coarsely
300g crème fraîche
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Slice the peaches into halves and place into an oven-friendly pan. Drizzle honey over the peaches, making sure every half receives some. Bake in the oven for 20-40 minutes until fork-tender.
To make the vanilla cream, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods into a small bowl of crème fraîche. Combine till the vanilla has evenly infused the crème fraîche then set aside.
Remove the baked peaches from the oven. Sprinkle some of the chopped almond flakes into the middle of each half. Place two to three peach halves onto a dish. Spoon some vanilla cream over this and sprinkle some more almond flakes on top.
Serves 6-8 people.