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Peaches are worth the extra effort

Find some of the best recipes in 'Baked Expectations.'
FIT Staff
Aug 2, 2013

If the juice runs down your chin, you know you have a good peach.

If the juice runs down your hand, you know you have a very good peach.

But if the juice runs down your arm, well, that’s a perfect peach.

The perfect peaches are almost here, with their mysteriously fuzzy skin, their perfectly ripe flesh, and their juice that you can lick off your elbow. That’s what we typically think of when we think about peaches, eating them fresh and, if possible, straight off the tree.

But where is the challenge of that? Peaches are transcendent on their own, but I wanted to make them part of other dishes.

I wanted to make them even better than they are by themselves, if such a thing is possible.

The most obvious way to use peaches in a dessert — other than peach ice cream, which is frustratingly hard to get enough peach flavor when it is homemade — is to make a peach pie.

But a plain old peach pie is too easy, too ordinary. I wanted something more remarkable, more extraordinary.

I found it in a recipe for Peaches and Dream Pie in Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

The authors do not claim credit for the idea of basing a pie on the unbeatable combination of peaches and cream; it is “a recipe that has floated around the country in many forms,” they write. But the version they present is truly inspired.

There is a special place in heaven reserved for whoever it is that first thought of combining sour cream, eggs, honey, and brown sugar.

This ambrosial custard is at the heart of this pie. It is poured over a layer of diced peaches resting on the bottom of a pie crust, preferably homemade. Then, a mixture of brown sugar, butter, and flour is sprinkled over the top before baking.

The resulting pie is simply gorgeous, with multiple hues of brown and tan, and an aroma so tantalizing you’ll want to be sure the windows are closed to keep it longer in the house.

And the taste?

The taste is amazing, its rich custard deliciously cut by the slight tang of the sour cream. It’s highlighted by the sweet and juicy peaches, offset by the delicately flaky crust. You do not specifically taste the crumble on top, but your mouth knows it is there. A little extra brown sugar and butter never hurt any pie.

I next turned to an absolutely classic peach dessert, a popular favorite for more than 100 years, though it has recently fallen out of favor.

It shouldn’t have. Peach Melba was created by perhaps the most influential chef of all time, Auguste Escoffier. In 1893, he was living in London and working in the famous Savoy Hotel. One day, he heard the renowned Australian soprano Nellie Melba sing in the opera Lohengrin, and he was so taken by her voice that the next day he invented a dessert and named it for her.

It was not to be his only tribute to the singer, by the way. Some years later, when she was suffering from an upset stomach, he invented Melba toast for her.

Though Escoffier is known for his complex and intricate recipes, Peach Melba is actually very simple. It consists of a peach that has been blanched, peeled, and sugared, cut in half and placed over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A sweet raspberry syrup is drizzled on top of that — it is just the juice of raspberries mixed with powdered sugar — and the whole thing is topped with pieces of almonds.

The flavors of the ice cream — try to use a good-quality vanilla — the sugared peach and the raspberry all come together in a most delightful way. And the contrasting textures, with the almonds providing a wonderful bit of crunch, give you something to ponder while you gobble it up.

Finally, I wanted to explore the savory side of peaches, or at least savory-ish. Such a sweet fruit can, in fact, be used with an entree, if it’s the right entree.

Take, for instance, Peach and Tomato Gazpacho with Cucumber Yogurt. a dish that Southern Living magazine says “captures summer in a bowl.” For the last decade or so, people have been making gazpacho out of things that are not tomatoes, and this soup takes that idea halfway. Yes, it has tomatoes, but it also has an equal amount of peaches.

Tying the soup together is a garnish of Greek yogurt, chives, garlic, and cucumber. Put it all together and it tastes fresh and refreshing, just the thing to cool down with on a hot summer’s day.

And it’s so light and healthy, you won’t even feel bad to follow it with a piece of Peaches and Dream Pie, or a Peach Melba.

Or, what the heck, try them both. The bounty of summer comes just once a year. Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.