Friday, July 17, 2015

Peach Melba is a French chef's dessert for an Australian

Dame Nellie Melba, Australian opera singer, in costume

Famous French chef, Auguste Escoffier, created "Peach Melba" for Australian opera singer, Nellie Melba, who dined at his restaurants in London in the late 1890's and early 1900's.

"Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) was probably the most famous soprano in the world in the early decades of the twentieth century. Born Helen Porter Mitchell, she took the stage name of Melba as a contraction of her native city of Melbourne. She was based in Europe for long periods but toured Australia extensively. Melba worked tirelessly to raise funds for charities in Australia during World War I. In 1920, she became the first artist of international reputation to participate in direct radio broadcasts."  Source:  Museum of Australian Currency
PBS food writer, Tori Avey tells the whole story at The History Kitchen. Or click here to go to the site:
I compared The History Kitchen recipe (which she says is translated from Escoffier's words) to many different versions in my French cookbooks and online, and came back to the original to try.
I can see why this is such a popular dessert! Creamy and cool, rich but not cloying.
The key to a great Peach Melba is perfectly ripe peaches.  So either let them ripen on the windowsill or speed up the process by putting them in a paper bag, loosely closed, at room temperature for a couple of days.

Peach Melba
(adapted from Escoffier's Peach Melba on The History Kitchen on PBS)

Serves 6-8

4 ripe, tender peaches
superfine sugar
1-2 t. fresh lemon juice
1 pint vanilla ice cream like Ben & Jerry's
12 ounces fresh ripe raspberries
1 heaping cup of powdered sugar
4 T. slivered almonds, toasted

Note:  Make the raspberry sauce and peel/sugar the peaches, at least an hour before your serve the dessert, i.e., be sure to do it ahead of time.

For the raspberry sauce, use a mini-food processor or blender, to puree the fresh raspberries.
Strain the pureed fruit through a sieve to remove the seeds.
It takes a long time -- about 5 minutes of continuously pushing the fruit through the sieve, and scraping the juice from the bottom, but you will be left with just the seeds.  Which should be discarded/composted.
Put the strained fruit back in the food processor and add the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, and process until smooth.  You will be adding a cup of powdered sugar in total.
Chill it, covered, in the refrigerator, until time to serve.
For the sugared peaches, carefully peel the peaches*, remove the pit, and slice in half.  Squeeze lemon over them, then sprinkle sugar on both sides, cover and put them in the refrigerator to chill until time to serve.

*There are many suggestions as to the best and easiest way to peel peaches, with most references recommending blanching then shocking them in cold water, to make the peel easy to remove.  I have always found that if I am patient and careful, I can just peel them with a good paring knife.

For the almond topping, spread the almonds in one layer and either toast them in a toast oven or regular oven, just until they begin to color.  Watch them carefully, and don't let them burn.  I noticed that Escoffier called for raw blanched almonds, but toasting them always brings out more flavor.

For the ice cream, you can make your own from scratch like Escoffier did, but with so many good options available in the supermarket, we chose Ben&Jerry's Vanilla.

To assemble the dessert:

Choose a nice vertical glass dish so you can see the layers.

Place one big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the bottom.

Add the raspberry sauce.

Place a peach half to the side, so you can still see the raspberry sauce and ice cream, sort of like a hat.

Then, sprinkle the toasted almonds on top.
Serve promptly.

I can't believe it took me this long to discover Peach Melba.


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