Well, it has definitely been a funny old summer. Occasional days of blazing sun, but mainly wet and, a lot of the time, irritatingly windy.
Even when it’s been dry, the blustery conditions have put paid to the odd barbecue, and many of our lovely plants and shrubs have been damaged overnight. As I write this piece, in the second week of August, my view out across the Colne Valley is obscured by thick grey clouds and sheeting rain. I think I need a holiday.
I’m not much of a sun worshipper, but a week or two lying by a pool with a stack of books and a constant supply of crisp rosé is just about all I can think of right now.But, we must struggle on regardless, and act like it’s not happening, and in this spirit I present this week’s recipe.
It’s a riff on the famous Peach Melba, that classic dessert created by the celebrated chef Auguste Escoffier in 1892. The legend goes that the famous Australian opera singer Nellie Melba, in London to perform, was invited as an honoured guest to dinner at The Savoy, where Escoffier was head chef. He created this dish in her honour, and on the night it was served in an elaborate carved ice swan. The winning combination of peaches, raspberries, ice-cream and almonds instantly caught on, and for a while it was everywhere.
It seems to have fallen away in popularity in recent decades – back when I was a kid, peach and raspberry-flavoured things were all the rage. A pot of Peach Melba Ski yoghurt was a lovely way to finish lunch! And most restaurants featured it on their menu as a fixture, be it the very fine versions at the top tables, or just a bowl filled with cling peaches, tinned raspberries, a squirt of ‘plastic’ cream and a packet wafer in a town-centre café.
It still remains an absolutely perfect combination of flavours, temperatures and textures, and it’s this evergreen recipe that we’re going to play about with.
For the peach element, I decided to use the very-much-in-vogue flat peach, though a regular peach works just as well, as does a nectarine, for those with an aversion to the ‘fur’ of the peach skin (my mum cannot abide the feel of peaches). These are halved, stoned and quickly roasted in a hot oven until tender, with a sprinkle of sugar and a drizzle of lemon juice. The raspberries are served fresh, as well as in the form of a simple coulis (another lovely throwback to the 70s, there) and we add the almond element by making a seriously crunchy biscuit which we’ll crumble all over the dessert before serving.
On top, instead of the classic vanilla, I thought I’d carry through the fruity theme and make a home-made raspberry ripple. Another flavour modern tastes seem to have outgrown, it’s always been a favourite of mine – a delightful combination of cool, creamy vanilla strewn with thick seams of tart raspberry sauce. Instead of making ice-cream which, on a domestic basis, can be a bit of a chore (unless one is lucky enough to own an ice-cream maker), I chose to use my basic parfait mix which works a treat with the raspberry ripple recipe.
It’s so easy, and can be used as a base for a million other flavours from plain vanilla to mint choc-chip. Just knock up a basic mix and add whatever flavourings or ingredients you fancy.
So, a version of the classic brought bang up to date, and the perfect pud for a warm summer’s day. Let’s hope we get one eventually!
For the peaches:
8 flat or round peaches, or nectarines, not too ripe
A little unrefined golden caster sugar
The juice of 1 lemon
For the almond crisp:
25g liquid glucose
120g unrefined golden caster sugar
120g chopped almonds
120g white bread, finely diced
80g icing sugar
40g butter, melted
1 free-range egg
For the raspberry ripple parfait:
6 free-range egg yolks
250g unrefined golden caster sugar
The seeds of 2 vanilla pods
500ml whipping cream
2 x 225g punnets raspberries
A splash of lemon juice
A few extra raspberries
A few fresh mint leaves
A suitable freezer-friendly container for the parfait
Let’s get the parfait made first: Take one and a half punnets-worth of raspberries and place in a non-reactive pan with a splash of lemon juice. Heat gently until the raspberries are just beginning to break down. Pass the fruit through a plastic sieve, pressing well to get all the pulp out. Stir the coulis and chill until required.
Chop the remaining raspberries and set aside. Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla seeds and the sugar together until very pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it stands in a firm peak. Fold the two mixtures together until fully mixed. Pour a small amount into your ice-cream container and drizzle over some of the raspberry coulis.
Dot a few pieces of fresh chopped raspberry over the surface. Layer up more parfait mixture, sauce and raspberries until you have used up the parfait and raspberries. Reserve the remaining coulis to use as garnish. Pop the parfait in the freezer and allow to set for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
Now for the almond crunch: preheat the oven to 170ºC / Gas 3. Toast the almonds until golden and set aside. At the same time, toast the cubes of bread until deep gold in colour, and set aside also. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the glucose and caster sugar in 150ml water and heat all the way to 160ºC.
Mix in the chopped almonds, stir rapidly, and pour onto a sheet of baking parchment into a flat pool.
Quickly place another sheet of baking parchment on top and use a rolling pin to roll out the mix as thinly as possible. Leave this to set up for an hour or so.
When the mix has fully hardened, chop it finely by hand or pulse in a food processor. In a large bowl, sift the cornflour and icing sugar, then add the chopped nut caramel and toasted bread. Stir in the melted butter and the egg and bring together into a homogenous mixture.
Spread the mixture thinly onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until set and deeply golden. Cool on a wire rack, then break it into clumps and store in an airtight container.
To finish, heat the oven to 220ºC / Gas 7. Halve the peaches and remove the stones. Place on a well-buttered baking sheet, and drizzle with lemon juice and a little sugar. Roast the peaches, basting occasionally until they are soft and slightly caramelised.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. To serve, spoon a little raspberry coulis onto each plate, and add two or three peach halves. Scatter pieces of almond crunch and fresh raspberries around, and top with a couple of scoops of raspberry ripple parfait.
You may dust with icing sugar and add a little mint or thyme of you wish.