Too Many Recipes, Too Few Peaches
White Peach & Vanilla Jam, White Peach & Saffron Jam
These were based on recipes from Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber, la fee des confitures "the jam fairy" whose legendary confitures handcrafted in Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, have beguiled even the likes of Alain Ducasse, Antoine Westermann, the Troisgros family, and Pierre Herme, whose revered establishments she supplies. If you dislike the tight texture of jams and jellies made with the addition of commercial pectin, this is the book for you - Ferber's technique often calls for the maceration of fruit, sugar and lemon juice overnight (lemon not only brings out the fruit's flavour and preserves its colour, but also awakens the gelling power of the naturally occuring pectin). In the case of low pectin fruits, she adds apply jelly - the "pectin stock" jelly - to facilitate jelling. The succulent texture of the peach slices in these two jams is preserved thanks to a two-step cooking process - the macerating syrup is first boiled to a sufficient concentration at 221 degrees Fahrenheit before the fruit is added.
Peach and Blackberry Shortcakes
Aside from butter-slathered toast, I love jam in shortcakes. Still warm from the oven, these shortcakes are split and filled with the vanilla-scented peach jam, then topped with some softly whipped cream and tart blackberries.
With good jam, homemade or otherwise, crostata is a doddle. The quality of the jam, in fact, is imperative, given that no other flavouring doctors the tart. As for the pastry, any favourite sweet short crust recipe is fine - for crostata, I like using pasta frolla, the basic sweet short pastry of Italian baking (Carol Field's recipe from The Italian Baker is unimpeachably fine and silken). Crostata is charming in its rustic simplicity. But never one to leave well alone, I couldn't resist dressing them up with a few slivers of emerald green pistachios, and serving a slow-roasted peach drenched in orange caramel (from Gordon Ramsay's Just Desserts) alongside.
For American home classics such as crisps, cobblers and fruit pies, I consistently turn to Baking Illustrated, the no-nonsense goofproof companion for the home baker by the editors of Cook's Illustrated. As blueberries throw off a good bit of juice, I added a tiny pinch of potato starch to the fruit mixture - as a thickener here, it's superior to flavour-dulling cornstarch or flour. The cinnamon and nutmeg spiced streusel topping is given added crunch with chopped pecans, and emerges from the oven wonderfully crisp and crumbly - some vanilla ice cream, or heavy cream, is all else that's needed.
This is adapted from Johanne Killeen's lovely recipe in one of my favourite books, Baking with Julia. I must come clean about my great weakness for Mini Me desserts - I am fatally drawn to recipes for the miniaturized form of any classic cake. Even in the case where I'm not a huge fan of the fully-grown version, so long as the recipe title reads"baby", I'm a goner. Luckily, in this instance, I actually do like upside-down cakes - yes, even the maraschino-topped pineapple ones (in fact, especially the maraschino-topped pineapple ones...). Here, individual cake pans (you could use jumbo muffin pans) are slicked with melted butter, brown sugar and pinenuts, before the peach slices and butter cake batter are added. Best eaten warm, when the caramelised juices are at their sticky best.
I must also confess my soft spot for old school standbys like Prawn Cocktail, Quiche Lorraine, Chicken Kiev, Black Forest Gateau and such like, unceremoniously slung out like a dirty dishrag by the vagaries of food fashion into naff purgatory. Made with good ingredients and prepared with love, there's no reason why they need only be relevant today as an ironic exercise in retro chic. Hence, when I saw Patrick O'Connell's elegant take on Peach Melba in his book, Refined American Cuisine, I knew I had to make it. Culinary lore has it that Auguste Escoffier created this in honour of Dame Nellie Melba. The Inn at Little Washington's diva-worthy rendition has the peach half and a disc of almond-scented cake sandwich a layer of vanilla and buttermilk ice cream, served with a drizzle of raspberry coulis and a sprinkle of toasted almonds.