Although everyone is back at school I am still enjoying these last few days of summer. I thought since i’ve been absent from my blog for awhile I would post two recipes, both showcasing the ripe peaches available right now. The first recipe for Peach Melba comes from a foreign source of inspiration, Auguste Escoffier, while the second recipe for peach squares comes from my grandmother. Peach squares are something my family craves every summer and I finally had the opportunity to learn from my grandma how to make them.
I am still attempting to chip away at the list of must know chefs before I start school, which brings me to the legendary French Chef Auguste Escoffier. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by Escoffier’s recipes, however, his famous Peach Melba is simple. It only uses six ingredients. Escoffier is known as the King of Chefs and Chef of Kings in the food industry. He is credited with updating and popularizing French cooking. The French culinary master made great contributions to modern French cuisine including recipes for the five mother sauces, which are still used by chefs today. He also aimed to elevate being a chef to a respectable profession.
Escoffier’s Peach Melba has been a signature dish since 1893 when he created the dessert to honor the opera singer Nellie Melba. Traditionally Escoffier’s dessert uses fresh peaches, fresh raspberries, homemade ice cream and slivered almonds. The ice cream is scooped over two poached peach halves and then topped with the raspberry “Melba” sauce.
I used fresh peaches , however, I decided to use frozen raspberries for my take on Peach Melba since they were to be blended and strained anyway. I cut the peaches into large segments so it was easier to eat rather than leaving them in large halves. I happened to have homemade vanilla ice cream so I used that, however, to save time a good quality vanilla ice cream would work just fine! I also used sliced almonds rather than slivered because we already had them on hand in our house. You can be as traditional or as casual as you want when you make this dessert. The modifications I made were merely to save a couple bucks and time, not to alter the integrity of Escoffier’s Peach Melba.
Escoffier’s Peach Melba
Yields 6 Servings
6 ripe, tender peaches
1 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream (fresh homemade is best)
1 heaping cup fresh ripe raspberries
1 heaping cup powdered sugar
6 tbsp blanched raw almond slivers (optional)
Boil a medium pot of water. Keep a large bowl of ice water close by. Gently place a peach into the boiling water. Let the peach simmer for 15-20 seconds, making sure all surfaces of the peach are submerged. Remove the peach from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge it into the ice water for a few seconds to cool. Take the peach out of the ice water and place it on a plate. Repeat the process for the remaining peaches.
When all of the peaches have been submerged, peel them. Their skin should come off easily if they are ripe, thanks to the short boiling process. Discard the skins. Halve the peeled peaches and discard the pits.
(Optional) Place the peeled peaches in a large bowl of cold water mixed with 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or ascorbic acid powder. Let the peach halves soak for 10 minutes. Drain off the water and gently pat the peach halves dry with a paper towel. This step will help to keep the peaches from oxidizing and turning brown.
Sprinkle the peach halves with sugar on all exposed surfaces. Place them on a plate in a single layer, then place them in the refrigerator for 1 hour to chill.
Meanwhile, make the raspberry purée. Place the raspberries into a blender and pulse for a few seconds to create a purée. Strain purée into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on the solid ingredients and agitating the mixture with a metal spoon to extract as much syrupy juice as possible. It will take a few minutes to extract all of the juice from the solids. When finished, you should only have seeds and a bit of pulp left in the strainer. Dispose of the solids.
Sift the powdered sugar into the raspberry purée, adding a little powdered sugar at a time, and whisking in stages till the sugar is fully incorporated into the syrup. It will take several minutes of vigorous whisking to fully integrate the powdered sugar into the syrup. Refrigerate the raspberry syrup for 1 hour, or until chilled.
Assemble six serving dishes. Scoop 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream into each serving dish. Place two of the sugared peach halves on top of each serving of ice cream. Divide the raspberry sauce between the six dishes, drizzling the sauce over the top of the peaches and ice cream. Top each serving with a tablespoon of raw almond slivers, if desired. Serve immediately.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend the morning with my grandmother learning how to make flaky pastry dough like my great grandmother. This recipe for peach squares has been passed down generationally through our family – however, I think it skipped a generation because my mother has never attempted to make them for us! The recipe for peach squares acts as a backbone for other “square” recipes. Depending on what’s available you can use whatever fruit is in season… blueberry squares, apple squares…the possibilities are endless! You can be as creative as you want – my family favors the plain peach squares best.
The recipe for peach squares (posted below) is based off of what my grandmother and I used that day. It was challenging to come up with exact measurements because typically my grandmother goes off of what looks and feels right. Pastry dough is difficult to make if you don’t know what your looking for. You have to be able to judge whether it needs more water or more flour and when it is just right! Something I am still learning how to do!
The key to perfect peach squares is light flaky pastry dough with a soft, jelly-like fruit center. In order to achieve this you have to handle your dough as minimally as possible with your hands and avoid adding too much liquid to the fruit filling. I was not as careful as my grandmother when adding the peaches to the dough so we needed to add additional tapioca pearls to soak up the juice.
Don’t let all the instructions that follow for peach squares scare you off. They really are much simpler than they sound. It is a delicious dessert that feeds a lot of people and it can be adapted to fit any season!
Grandma's Famous Peach Squares
Yields 1 14×17 inch cookie sheet (roughly 24 squares)
4 cups all purpose flour (plus additional for rolling)
1 1/2 cups shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1/2 peck of large peaches (roughly 12)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/3 cup of instant tapioca
1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/4 cup of water (additional to thin icing)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, shortening and salt. Mix together with a fork until it crumbs together to form “pea-size” balls. Check with your hands to see if it sticks together. Slowly incorporate the cold water using the fork to combine. When the dough starts to come together use your hands to lightly mix in the remaining flour and crumbs. Make sure to handle the dough as little as possible with your hands – the temperature needs to remain cool. This will keep the dough light and flaky.
Set the dough aside. Peel and wash all of the peaches. Cut small peach segments around the pit. Place the segments in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl combine sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour the sugar mixture over the sliced peaches. Set aside.
Cut the pastry dough into two halves (one slightly larger than the other). Roll out the larger half to fit the bottom and sides of the cookie sheet. Lay the pastry over the cookie sheet and press along the bottom and sides. Cut the excess pastry dough around the sides. Add the scrapes to the other half of your pastry dough.
Roll out the second sheet of pastry to fit over the top of the cookie sheet. Then using a slotted spoon (to avoid excess liquid) layer the peach mixture over the bottom pastry dough. Only add the peaches. Do not add the juice from the peaches and sugar. Cover with the second piece of pastry dough. Dock the top of the peach squares with a fork. Before placing the peach squares in the oven pat the top of the pastry dough with slightly damp fingers. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until the top is slightly golden. Keep a close eye on them to avoid over cooking.
In the meantime, combine confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
Remove the peach squares from the oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack. Then drizzle with icing and enjoy warmed up or cool.
The best way to store peach squares is by placing a piece of wax paper over the top and putting them in the refrigerator. Cut pieces to serve. Do not pre-cut squares and store them or cover entire tray with plastic wrap. Both will result in mushy peach squares.
Sources: "Escoffier's Peach Melba." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2013. "Auguste Escoffier." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013.