A bright sign points the way to the ripest peaches for people to pick at Erie Orchards on July 22, 2010 in Erie, Michigan.
The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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.
Peaches and Dream Pie
2½ cups fresh peeled, diced peaches
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup flour, divided
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
Cook's note: For the pie crust, use the recipe below, your favorite recipe, or a pre-made crust.
If using homemade crust, dust the work surface with a sprinkling of flour. Roll the dough ball out into a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to a pie dish and carefully work it into place, folding any overhang under and crimping the edge as you go. Cover the crust in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Make the peaches-and-dream filling: Arrange the diced peaches in the pie shell. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and honey until they just come together. Sprinkle the mixture with the salt, ½ cup of the brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of the flour, and whisk until just combined. Pour the mixture over the peaches.
Make the pie topping: Place the remaining ½ cup of brown sugar, the remaining 1/3 cup of flour, and the butter in a bowl. Use your hand to work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mix looks like coarse sand. Assemble the pie. Sprinkle the pie topping across the filling, and bake for 45 minutes or until the filling is bubbly (be sure to place a sheet pan on the oven rack directly below the pie to catch any filling that bubbles over). Let the pie cool overnight before serving.
Yield: 1 9-inch pie
Source: Baked Explorations, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Classic Pie Dough
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold, unsalted butter
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together. In a measuring cup, stir ¾ cup water with several ice cubes until it is very cold.
Cut the cold butter into cubes and toss them in the flour mixture to coat. Put the mixture in the bowl of a food processor and pulse in short bursts until the butter pieces are the size of hazelnuts.
Pulsing in 4-second bursts, slowly drizzle the ice water into the food processor through the feed tube.
As soon as the dough comes together in a ball, stop adding water. Remove the dough from the food processor and divide it in half. Flatten each piece into a disk and wrap each disk first in parchment paper and then in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 1 hour. (The dough can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator before proceeding with your recipe).
Yield: 2 single-crust 9-inch pie crusts
Source: Baked Explorations, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
1 tablespoon lemon juice, optional
1½ pints good-quality vanilla ice cream
1 heaping cup fresh ripe raspberries
6 tablespoons 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 step: Place the peeled peaches in a large bowl of cold water mixed with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. 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 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 puree. Strain purée into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve (you can just push them with a spoon through the sieve without using the blender, if you have the strength), 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 until 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 ½ cup of vanilla ice cream into each serving dish. Place two of the sugared 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.
Yield: 6 servings Source: PBS, The Literary Kitchen
Peach and Tomato Gazpacho with Cucumber Yogurt
3 large tomatoes, cored, divided
½ cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
¾ cup finely diced English cucumber
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 garlic clove, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Quarter 4 peaches and 2 tomatoes. Process them along with the onion and cider vinegar in a food processor until smooth. Chop remaining peach and tomato. Stir into puréed mixture. Season with kosher salt and white pepper to taste — it might take a fair amount of salt. Cover and chill 1 hour. Meanwhile, combine cucumber, yogurt, chives, and garlic in a medium bowl. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours (chilling can dull the seasoning, so you may need to add more salt and pepper before serving). Ladle gazpacho into bowls. Spoon cucumber mixture over gazpacho. Drizzle each serving with about 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.
Yield: 5 cups Source: Southern Living