Rachel Allen: Life is so peachy
Though a perfect peach needs no accompaniments, Rachel Allen uses their natural sweetness in a variety of desserts
The peach trees here at Ballymaloe stand against the gorgeous south-facing wall of the cookery school. The elegant trees are well sheltered with screens in the wintertime, as the Irish climate is not as forgiving as that which they're used to.
Then, in the summer, the screens are removed and you can see the courageous little Irish peaches begin to appear. Last year, because of the hot sun soaking into their leaves, the peaches were sweeter than ever. As good as any you'd buy in the South of France or Spain, and made all the more delicious when you've picked them yourself.
Even if you haven't a peach tree of your own, this is the time to eat peaches - the height of summer, when they haven't travelled too far to your plate, and are as juicy and tender as they'll ever be.
I love the doughnut peaches you can buy. I've even seen them for sale in Lidl for the past few years. They're smaller than regular peaches, with a distinctive flavour and a characteristic squashed, doughnut-like appearance.
When it's ripe and soft, a great peach needs little embellishment. Nature has done all of the considerable work to bring us such a feast. Then again, I still love putting them to work in desserts, and even in salads. Their divine flavour is perfect for cakes and jellies. And, much like a mango, they bring a welcome burst of sweetness to salads, especially with the savoury crunch of some toasted nuts.
Roasting peaches brings out some extra sugar in the fruit - doing this also enhances their flavour through caramelisation. It's a useful idea to roast peaches that aren't quite sweet enough to begin with, as this gives them a helping hand. I'll also roast peaches that are very slightly overripe. It helps preserve them, too. A roasted peach will keep for a few days in the fridge. Reheated, they'll make a fabulous addition to vanilla ice cream and, perhaps, some raspberry sauce.
3 peaches, about 450g (1lb)
150g (5oz) caster sugar
425ml (15ƒfl oz) water
The juice of 1 lemon
4 teaspoons gelatine powder
50ml (2fl oz) water
A few borage or thyme flowers (optional)
Ice cream or fresh cream, to serve
First, cut the peaches in half and remove the stones, then cut the fruit in half again, lengthways. Place the quartered peaches in a saucepan with the caster sugar, the water and the lemon juice on a medium heat, and stir as it comes to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the peaches are soft all the way through, but not falling apart.
Once cooked, remove the peaches from the poaching syrup. Peel the peach pieces and discard the skins. Put two peach quarters in each individual serving glass or bowl (little glass bowls look better).
In a small bowl, mix together the gelatine powder with 50ml (2fl oz) of water, place it in the fridge for five minutes to sponge, then tip it out and stir it into the hot syrup, heating the syrup a little more - if the syrup is hot enough, the gelatine should dissolve. Take the saucepan off the heat, then pour over the peaches in the serving bowls. Allow the desserts to cool, before placing them in the fridge to set. This should take a couple of hours.
Sprinkle with the borage or thyme flowers, if you're using them, and serve these on their own, or with ice cream or fresh cream, whichever you're using.
Quick fruit brulée
2 bananas, peeled and cut at an angle into 5mm (ªin) thick slices
4 nectarines or peaches, stones removed and flesh cut into wedges 5mm (ªin) thick
16 strawberries, hulled and quartered
100g (3ƒoz) caster sugar, plus an additional tablespoon of caster sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons mascarpone or whipped cream
In a large bowl, toss the sliced bananas, the chopped nectarines or peaches, whichever you are using, and the quartered strawberries with one tablespoon of the caster sugar and the lemon juice. Divide between individual bowls, adding a few blobs of the mascarpone or whipped cream, whichever you're using, to each one.
Next, make the caramel to go on top. Place the 100g (3ƒoz) caster sugar in a small to medium saucepan on a medium heat and stir. It will begin to look lumpy and sandy, but don't worry - just keep stirring. Eventually, it will become viscous, turning from golden to a rich caramel colour. Altogether, this can take up to about 12 minutes.
Using a spoon, carefully drizzle all the caramel over the mascarpone or whipped cream, whichever you're using, and over the fruit. Set aside for about five minutes, just to allow the caramel to cool and set hard, then serve.
Peaches with mascarpone, pistachios and honey
25g (1oz) butter for greasing
3 tablespoons mascarpone
3 tablespoons honey, clear and runny
50g (2oz) pistachios, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. First, butter an ovenproof gratin dish. Cut a cross at the bottom of each peach and put the peaches into a heatproof bowl. Pour freshly boiled water over them to cover them, and leave for a minute or two.
Carefully remove the peaches from the bowl and, using a sharp knife, peel off the skins.
Halve and stone each peach, and place, cut-side up, in the gratin dish. Cover with tinfoil, then put in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the peaches are soft. In a bowl, mix together the mascarpone and the clear runny honey.
Remove the peaches from the oven and spoon the mascarpone-and-honey mixture into the cavity of each peach, dividing it up equally.
In a non-stick frying pan, toast the chopped pistachio nuts on a high heat for a minute or two, tossing them regularly to avoid any burning.
Serve the peaches with a good drizzle of honey and scatter the toasted chopped pistachios on top.
Peach upside down cake
50g (2oz) butter
175g (6ƒoz) brown sugar
6 peaches, halved and stoned
200g (7oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Qtr. teaspoon bread soda
Half teaspoon salt
200ml (7fl oz) buttermilk
75ml (2ƒfl oz) sunflower oil
Whipped cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.
Melt the butter in a 26cm (10in) diameter ovenproof frying pan.
Stir in 50g (2oz) of the brown sugar, and cook on a gentle heat for two to three minutes.
Add the halved peaches, placing them cut-side down, in a single layer. Continue to cook for two to three minutes, then remove them from the heat and set them aside. Sieve the plain flour, the baking powder, the bread soda and the salt into a bowl.
In a measuring jug, or a small bowl, whisk the eggs and add the remaining brown sugar (125g/4ƒoz), the buttermilk and the sunflower oil, then mix everything well.
Next, whisk in the dry ingredients from the first bowl, until everything is combined to form a liquid batter. Pour the mixture over the cooked peaches.
Put the frying pan of peaches and batter in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes. To check if the cake is done, press the centre with your finger. It should feel springy to the touch.
Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, before turning out on to a serving plate. Serve the cake warm, or at room temperature, with softly whipped cream.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine