England, it seems, cannot quite decide whether or not it is, in fact, summer. Blustery showers give way to huge swoops of sunshine, which stick around just long enough to dry the puddles, before clouds reappear to ruin our fun. This pudding then is a dish that can cope with both extremes: a dish that is so sunny in flavour and sufficiently vibrant in colour that it will brighten even the dullest of days. Peach melba is the taste of summer, but with the gentle fruit poaching of later months: it is terribly comforting to have the blipping of fruit in syrup, even if only for a few moments. But the vanilla ice cream and sweetsharp raspberries firmly cement this dish in the summer months, even if those months are slate grey.
This pudding has an illustrious and global history: invented in the late 19th century by celebrated French chef Escoffier at the Savoy for a dinner thrown to celebrate Australian soprano, Nellie Melba. The original dish was not subtle, served in an ice-sculpted swan which held the peaches and vanilla ice cream, with a halo of spun sugar. When Escoffier remade the dish for the opening of the Carlton Hotel, he wisely replaced his ice sculptures with a simpler raspberry sauce.
I’ve opted for the latter, you’ll be pleased to hear. The joy of this dish is in its simplicity: its clean flavours, the silky softness of the just-cooked peaches, and the natural sweetness that comes from the fruit, brought out by judiciously small amounts of sugar.
Try this with crumbled amaretti biscuits for added crunch, or change up the ice cream for an inauthentic but delicious twist: cinnamon ice cream would be lovely, as would one streaked through with honey, or maybe try this recipe for Earl Grey ice cream. The syrup is lightly spiced, and takes on the flavour and scent of the peaches: keep it for future fruit, or use it as a base for a summery cocktail, or a fantastic Bellini. It goes like this…
4 peaches, still a little firm
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
4 balls of vanilla ice cream
Makes: Pudding for 4
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
1. First, make the syrup. Place the sugar and 400ml water in a medium-sized pan, and heat until the liquid becomes clear – this won’t take more than a couple of minutes. Add the bay, peppercorns and cinnamon stick, and turn the heat down; let the mixture simmer for a couple of minutes more to infuse with the aromatics.
2.Cut the peaches down the middle, but don’t split the two halves Place them in the syrup, and cook for 5-10 minutes until the peaches are tender, gently turning them over as they cook. The peaches are done when their skin begins to wrinkle and ride up the sides. Remove from the syrup and place to one side to cool. Don’t discard the syrup!
3. Place the raspberries in a small food processor and blitz until they are smooth. Add two tablespoons of the poaching syrup and continue blending. Pass the coulis through a sieve to strain off the raspberry seeds.
4. Remove the skin from the cooled peaches: it should slip right off. Gingerly divide the peaches in two along the cut lines – the peaches will be quite fragile by now and carefully lift out the stones.
5. Place two halves in each serving bowl, alongside a fat boule of vanilla ice cream, and drizzle with the raspberry sauce.