Not-quite peach melba
I remember as a little girl being taken by my grandmother to a rather grand restaurant in Sydney. I must have behaved well, for as a reward I was allowed to order whatever I liked for dessert. I didn’t have a clue what all the French words on the menu meant, but I was very fond of peaches and ice cream and figured a dessert that featured both would have to be good. However, I was in no way prepared for what the waiter, with a knowing smile and wink placed in front of me; two rosy peaches sat in a puddle of raspberry sauce with three scoops of vanilla ice cream strategically placed around them (I rather suspect the dish was normally served with one or two scoops but the waiter was very much on-side!). A large bowl of softly whipped cream was served separately, and I proceeded to eat my way through the lot, much to the amusement of all around me.
To this day, I have a soft spot for this classic dessert – it’s so retro and wonderful, and although this version isn’t entirely traditional, as the peaches are grilled rather than poached, it’s still very much in the spirit of that unforgettable first bowlful.
- 6 small or 4 large just-ripe freestone peaches (ideally white but yellow are fine too), halved and stones removed
- 2-3 tablespoons caster sugar
- The best quality vanilla bean ice cream you can find, for serving
- 120g fresh raspberries, extra, optional
- Raspberry sauce:
- 80g caster sugar
- 1/2 cup (120ml) water
- 225g raspberries (fresh or frozen)
- Sugared almonds:
- ¼ cup (20g) flaked almonds
- 2-3 teaspoons pure icing sugar
For the raspberry sauce, put the sugar and water into a small saucepan over high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat a little so the syrup bubbles steadily, then leave it to cook for 4 minutes. Remove it from the heat, let it cool in the saucepan, then pour it into a container, seal it tightly, and chill it.
Once it’s cold, pour the syrup into a blender along with the raspberries and puree them together (or if you have one, use a stick blender to puree the two together). Now comes about the only bit of hard work in this recipe, and that’s straining the puree to remove the seeds (I know this sounds a bit of a pain, but I hate getting seeds stuck in my teeth, so I always do it – at least it gives your arm a good work-out!). Sit a fine sieve over a bowl and pour the puree into it, then work the mixture with the back of a spoon to extract as much of the pulp and liquid as possible – remember to scrape the bottom of the sieve as a surprising amount of puree can stick to it. When it’s done, scrape the puree into a small container, cover it tightly and store it in the fridge (you can make this a few days ahead of time if you like).
For the sugared almonds, preheat an overhead grill to medium-high. Spread the almonds as best you can in a single layer on a foil-lined baking tray. Sift the icing sugar evenly over the top. Run the almonds under the grill, stirring them gently every now and then, and watching them closely until they’re pale golden (the sugar will only caramelise in patches and mainly remain white.) You need to watch them like a hawk in the final stages of cooking as they can go from gorgeous and golden to burnt in the blink of an eye. When they’re ready, remove them from the grill and let them cool and crisp up on the tray. Store them in tightly sealed jar until you need them (they stay fresh for a couple of days and are really delicious on all sorts of things such as cakes, ice cream, or sprinkled over a bowl of fresh fruit salad).
To cook the peaches, preheat an overhead grill to medium-high. Sit the peach halves, cut-side up, on a baking tray lined with foil and sprinkle them evenly with the sugar. Slide them under the grill and cook them until they’re caramelising around the top edge, about 6-8 minutes. Remove them and leave them to cool, then slip off the skins (if they won’t come off easily just leave them on.)
To serve, nestle 2-3 peach halves in 4 shallow bowls, cut-side up, and drizzle some of the raspberry sauce around them. Add a scoop (or two) of ice cream, and a few raspberries, if using, then scatter the sugared almonds over the top. Serve immediately.