Caramelized Peach Melba
Classic for a reason
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I’ve always had a fondness for the classics. In these days of constant recipe reinvention — sometimes to the point of silliness — there’s something to be said for simplicity. There’s a reason certain dishes endure the test of time. They’ve been around forever because they just work. Peach Melba is a great example of this. This simple (and easy!) classic dessert has just three elements, but all you have to do is taste it to understand why it’s been around since 1892-ish, when it was invented, or at least codified, by the great French chef Auguste Escoffier.
In case you don't know who he is, he basically wrote the book on French cooking. He also imposed the brigade system (which you may have become aware of recently if you watched The Bear, and who hasn’t?) into restaurant kitchens that were previously loud, riotous places where drinking on the job was commonplace. His influence is still felt today, especially in his Le Guide Culinaire, which most chefs have on their bookshelf as a reference. The English version is simply titled The Escoffier Cookbook.
But back to peach Melba. As I’m wont to do, I did a deep dive for the purposes of this newsletter so I could tell you more about peach Melba and where it originated. A simple Wikipedia search told me that it was Escoffier who invented the dish in honor of the Australian soprano Nellie Melba, for whom Melba toast was also named (fun fact!) when he was the chef of the Savoy hotel in London.
I also learned that pêche Melba is considered to be the ancestor to the pijama, a popular Catalan dessert created at a famous restaurant in Barcelona called Set Portes (7 doors). This version is a combination of flan, ice cream, and fruit — usually peaches, but sometimes pineapple. Remarkably, I ate alone at this grand restaurant back in the 90s. I don't remember much about the meal, but I liked it enough to buy their cookbook — even though it was in a language I didn't understand — as a souvenir, and dragged it around Spain for a week or two.
Anyway, I don't think Escoffier would have approved of the Catalan version, which was invented in 1951, since the classic recipe consisted of “tender and very ripe peaches, vanilla ice cream, and a purée of sugared raspberry.” He was quoted as saying, “Any variation on this recipe ruins the delicate balance of its taste.”
I caramelize the fruit, since I think any cooked fruit tastes better caramelized, and make a sauce that leaves some of the raspberries whole. Other than that my recipe hews pretty closely to the original.
I wonder what Escoffier would think?
Caramelized Peach Melba
When a dessert is this elemental, it’s important that each component be of the best quality and flavor, especially the peaches since they are the star of the show!
2 (6-ounce) containers raspberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large peaches, ripe but firm
1/2 vanilla bean
About 1 pint vanilla ice cream
Combine half the raspberries, half (1/3 cup) the sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until sugar melts and the mixture comes to a boil, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Cook until the raspberries break down completely, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Strain into a small bowl, pushing the solids through a strainer, and gently fold in the remaining raspberries. Let cool and chill until needed.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over butter. Add the vanilla bean and stir. Add peaches, cut-side down. Cook until they start to brown, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; cook until sugar caramelizes, about 6 minutes more, spooning syrup over peaches occasionally. At this point the peach skins should have loosened. Carefully remove them using tongs and discard.
Reduce heat to low, turn peaches, and cook until caramel turns amber in color, about 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.
To serve, place one peach half (cut side up) on each of 4 plates and add a scoop of ice cream to each plate. Spoon a generous amount of raspberry sauce over each one and serve immediately.
What to Cook with All Those Summer Veggies!
Last week I shared a pair of recipes with my paid subscribers — my flavorful Grilled Miso Eggplant and a simple, delicious Summer Zucchini Bake — that capitalize on the peak summer produce we’re currently enjoying. If you’re interested in gaining access to these recipes (as well as the full Susanality archive with many others!) consider subscribing! I’ll keep the seasonal recipes coming through late summer and beyond. Also: a reminder that you can gift a subscription to any food lover or home cook in your life. It makes for a delightful, sustainable, and unexpected gift for the person that has enough stuff.