Alice Waters is famous for having served a single peach as a dessert.
She wanted to make a point; that if the product is perfect as is, why manipulate it?
If only I had the ability to go out daily, test peaches, and select the perfect ones for my version of a Peach Melba. I have neither the time nor the orchard, so I had to figure out a way to present a delicious peach dish while accepting all the problems of the regular old peach, regardless of whether they were grown in B.C. and picked up at the market or if I had to make an emergency run to the store to get through service.
Fresh fruit is not something I am particularly used to dealing with. When I was a pie-maker, it was all frozen. When the season allowed, I sorted, trimmed, sliced, and froze for later use. Aside from a garnish or two of strawberry or raspberry, often fruit came puréed from France, as previous menus haven’t often required full-on fruit love.
Now that I am in the position to write my menu completely, I decided to embrace my love of flavour over sweetness, to highlight seasonal produce over chocolate. I chose the Melba because it is one of the most recognized desserts in the world. It was designed by Escoffier while he worked in London’s Savoy Hotel for singer Nellie Melba (whose name was also given to the toast and the sauce). Originally served in a swan made of ice, the simple dish consists of four ingredients: Peaches, raspberry coulis, almonds, and vanilla ice cream.
Flavour has always been essential to me. As one who is not inclined to eat dessert but does so as a show of support for the pastry world, I often am disappointed by how fatty and sweet the final course can be. When I was vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free, I had to work hard to make food, sweets in particular, that had flavour rather than blandness, as the typical purchased items for those with limited diets tended to be. For this reason I love to use spiced, natural extracts, zest, and oils in order to boost the awesome in a dish.
On a trip to the amazing Silk Road Spice Merchants in Inglewood (Old Calgary), I marvelled at their vast collection of bitters. Bitters was something I’d always wanted to incorporated into my pastry tupperware of all things tasty-enhancing, but I didn’t really know what to do with them.
And there I found this:
Because nature, while based on near-perfect design, does not always produce perfection…
… my peach problem was solved instantly. A simple light syrup with a couple of star anise, toss of clove, peel of lemon, and and two table spoons of Peach Bitters vacuum packed (essentially infused without cooking) with sliced peaches resulted in a product that looks similar to a canned peach but retains a bite and the freshness of uncooked peaches, tasting like the best peach you’ve ever had. Just needed a helping hand is all. This way the peaches could stay preserved in perfect condition for a couple of days and all taste identical, no chances for one person to have an amazing Melba and another to have one that is subpar.
I paired the perfect peach slices with a raspberry fluid gel, bitter almond financier, butter powder, almond praliné, and micro greens. Finished with vanilla gelato and a sprinkling of ground Grains of Paradise for warmth, it may not be served in a swan carved of ice, it’s still pretty awesome.
Bitter Almond Financier (makes 15 small cakes)
60g Ground Almonds
6g baking powder
1 tbsp Saigon Cinnamon
Good Pinch Salt
150g Egg Whites, whisked to break up proteins
1 tsp Natural Almond Extract
65g Browned butter, bits included
Whisk all dry ingredients together, then whisk in whites and almond extract without over mixing. Remove a third of the batter to mix in thoroughly with the browned butter, then incorporate with the remaining batter. It will be quite runny. Pour into small, greased silicone moulds or muffin tins and bake for 15-18 min at 350F.