In Melbourne, as in many other parts of the world, the summer months bring an abundance of fruits which can be enjoyed as the basis of a light and refreshing dessert. Think strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, nectarines and peaches.
Of the stone fruit, the best performed in our home state this season have been the yellow peaches, which suits us just fine. We like them ripe and eaten raw; halved and chargrilled, to accompany spatchcock; halved, covered in a mix of ground hazelnuts, sugar, spices and cream, then baked; and poached. I have mentioned the last of these in relation to a peach and raspberry trifle we shared with my father in the festive season of 2014.
With such a plentiful supply of quality fruit, I have poached peaches regularly this summer, usually four at a time. My recipe, which can also be used to poach larger nectarines, produces a result that is quite luminous, as well as delicious.
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup water
2 cups lightly-wooded Chardonnay
juice of ½ lemon and 1 orange (you could peel some of the skin and add that too)
1-2 cinnamon sticks
3-4 cardamom pods
3 cm of fresh ginger peeled and cut into matchsticks
½ vanilla bean cut into thick matchsticks (or ¼ tsp vanilla essence)
4 peaches that are firm and just ripe
- Place all ingredients except fruit in a saucepan large enough to hold fruit and liquid snugly, and bring to simmering point to create a thin syrup.
- Simmer the syrup for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
- Score the skin of each piece of fruit along the natural groove before poaching; then it will come off easily once it has cooled.
- Add fruit to the syrup and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes. (I use a wooden skewer, gently, to confirm that the fruit is just cooked through.)
- Remove fruit using a slotted spoon and boil syrup to reduce by about one-third. Allow the syrup to cool a little then strain over peeled fruit.
- Serve at room temperature.
A poached peach is quite versatile. You can eat it adorned only by the syrup; slice some over your breakfast cereal; insert fine slices into a pocket cut into a very thick slice of bread en route to a luxurious dish of French toast, as we have; incorporate slices in a trifle or, as many Australians do, to decorate the whipped cream atop a pavlova.
Or, continuing the nationalistic theme, you can prepare a Peach Melba.
As many Australians know, this dessert was created and named in honour of Dame Nellie Melba. As even more Australians know, Melba was born and raised in Melbourne – hence her adopted surname – and became one of the most renowned operatic singers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The original Peach Melba was created at London’s Savoy Hotel by the legendary French chef Escoffier. He subsequently amended the recipe to produce something akin to what we know today.
There are countless thousands of ways in which Peach Melba can be prepared, but all of them include peach, a berry and a cream. My version is relatively simple: a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, segments of poached peach and a strawberry coulis. Here are two pics of how it turns out. The first, prepared by Maggie, looks prettier. For the second take, I increased the ratio of peach to coulis, to suit my palate.
To make the coulis, I put one punnet of hulled ripe strawberries, about 30ml of lemon juice, 20ml of Cointreau and 60ml of caster sugar in a food processor and work it for about 30 seconds to dissolve the sugar. These ratios will vary, depending on the flavour of the berries, but, if you are going to serve it with ice-cream and sweet-ish peaches, it is important to retain a tart edge to the coulis. That is, unless your sweet tooth is over-sized!
Pavlova PS. For decades, Australians and New Zealanders have argued, mostly good-naturedly, about which country can lay claim to being the birthplace of the pavlova. For the latest findings on this topic, read here. Very interesting!