Sunday, August 21, 2005

Too Many Recipes, Too Few Peaches

My father, who knows I adore peaches, had brought back a large crate of the sumptuous specimens known as Shui Mi Tao (loosely translated, honey peaches) for me from his last business trip to Shanghai. These fabulous white-fleshed numbers, a specialty from Wuxi province, more than live up to their namesake. Biting into one that's perfectly ripe and heavy with juice, you understand why the peach is thought of as the fruit of immortality in Chinese mythology. An entire crate of perfectly ripe peaches, however, waits for no man. It deserves, no demands, to be eaten pronto. Which is exactly what I did, except even I couldn't eat them fast enough. Hence this dessert-making frenzy - a week's worth of peach-based sweets to ensure no peach languishes in ripeness and goes to waste. Typically, turning to my cookbooks for inspiration ensured that a major bout of dithering indecision ensued - too many fantastic recipes, and it turns out, too few peaches. These here are the recipes that made the final, albeit painful, cut.

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.

Jam Crostata with Slow Roasted Peach in Orange Caramel Sauce

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.

Peach & Blueberry Crisp

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.

Peach & Pinenut Upside-Down Baby Cakes

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.

Peach Melba

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! You've really out done yourself this time. 6 magnificent desserts. Guess the hardest part would be to choose which to have first.

12:37 am, August 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, Amazing! Your presentation and photos of the Jam Crostata and Peach Melba are awe-inspiring. BTW, Baking with Julia is one of my favorite books also.

1:46 am, August 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoowee... everything looks amazingly good! hope u can share some of the recipes the next time? esp the babycakes... i love miniature cakes too! which was ur fav peach recipe out of the lot? yum yum!

2:46 am, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

As usual, visiting your post is lip-smackingly delicious.

The pictures are awesome and your descriptions equally delightful.

3:56 am, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Cathy said...

Wow - everything looks amazing! Beautifully prepared, plated and photographed - just spectacular!

4:29 am, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

Good Lord! Okay, it's time for you to open a pastry shop so all of us can taste these magnificent treats. And I do hope you're saving hi-res scans of these shots so when some publisher swoops downand offers you a cookbook you won't have to remake and reshoot all these goodies.

9:14 am, August 21, 2005  
Blogger tanvi said...

goodness me! i never imagined that the peach could be included in such a variety of desserts. though i love them on their own, i wouldnt say no to one of your creations ;-)

12:13 pm, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi chubbycat, fortunately i didn't have to make that choice as the desserts were made over the course of a week ;)

hi soycap, thanks for visiting and your kind words

hi chefdoc, thanks! everytime i flip through baking with julia i come across something i want to make...

hi spots, thanks for dropping by. i must say i enjoyed making the peach melba me shallow but i'm a sucker for 'pretty' desserts

hi ruth, thanks :)

hi cathy, thanks for visiting; much appreciate your feedback

hi chubbyhubby, chez brando welcomes you anytime ;)

hi tanvi, i love peaches on their own too. and until this recent windfall, never had the opportunity to explore using peaches as an ingredient...i must say it was good fun

3:27 pm, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

What a great display! Good job!

10:30 pm, August 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Everything looks so beautiful and sounds so delicious! I miss fresh peaches terribly! Where I live it is near impossible to find them.

Love the Peach & Pinenut Upside-Down Baby Cakes! Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is something of a constant in my house (have posted about it too). I also make the "baby" version. I find this multiplies the amount of "crisp and chewy, sweet cake edge" per serving :-)

You have a wonderful and inspiring blog!

12:22 am, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Ana said...

J, I cannot get over the artistry of your pictures. They are all so tempting I want to try them all. Pity you don't add the recipes!

2:56 am, August 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear J,
wonderful dishes and presentation, as always! You d e f i n i t e l y love to cook and bake, no question about that ;)

4:45 am, August 22, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

If you take CH's suggestion, you'll have to open a shop that ships internationally. You've got too many fans around the globe to deny their clamouring tummies! Such an impressive job - truly, a great study in the versatility of a favourite ingredient, and of your own creativity. It is like opening a cookbook/dictionary and perusing the options under 'delectable dishes'.

6:53 am, August 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joycelyn - such wonderful creations! I can tell how much you love peaches... Have you ever tried Japanese white ones? They are dawn good, but thing is, they are ridiculously expensive and you can't afford normally... Baking with Julia sounds good, should I consider getting one ? ;)

4:47 pm, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Babe_KL said...

i'm PEACHED!!! cant wait for your book to be published hehehe

4:54 pm, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Hi J - truly spectacular photos and culinary creations indeed!!! Again:) I like the way you take an ingredient (be it tea or peaches) and then try out loads of possible options!
I'd go for Jam Crostata and Peach Melba first, and then hope to have enough room in my stomach to slowly nibble on the rest as well..

7:45 pm, August 23, 2005  
Blogger Steffles said...

truly peachy and what adventure it must have been for you (and us) discovering so many ways one can use peaches! my favourite would have been the peach and blackberry shortcakes (hmm would be nice to be able to try it too).

8:51 pm, August 23, 2005  
Blogger eat stuff said...

How did you know that homemade peach jam with hunks (or perfect wedges in your case ;) ) is my f a v o u r i t e? I am drooling here Oh my!

8:04 am, August 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that looks so magnificently peachy! i found the peach melba endearingly cute, by the way. ^_^ oh, and i can't wait to try my hand at making the peachy babycakes.

2:50 pm, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi J,
Im so very very impressed. Not only by the creativity but the energy that keeps you creating! The pictures are all stunning and the recipes are mouthwatering.. the peach melba has my name on it I think :)

4:48 pm, August 25, 2005  
Blogger boo_licious said...

*swoon* over those fantastic pictures of peaches. I love mini cakes and pineapple upside down cake is my fav. So when's the bakery opening? I'll definitely fly down to sample the food.

6:37 pm, August 25, 2005  
Blogger Reid said...

Hi J,

Thank you once again for sharing your wonderfully delicious creations with us. The photography is first rate. I just wonder how you find the time for it all. I can just imagine that perfection such as this take so much patience and care.

Well done!

7:17 pm, August 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, you are surely one domestic goddess. I think you should open your own mail-order business, so some other people could benefit from your endless talents. I'll take one of everything, please! ;)

By the way, I've tagged you for the new meme on childhood food memories making the rounds - I hope you'll participate! Here's the link to my post:

8:02 pm, August 25, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

The incredible superchef J strikes again! Each of the pics are droolicious but my fav is the peach and blackberry shortcakes - absolutely out of this world!

10:37 pm, August 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an unbelievable spread! As always, everything looks superb and you photos are amazing. I especially like the Peach Melba. What a lovely gift from your father, I am craving some ripe stone fruit at this very moment.

1:00 am, August 26, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi ag,'re just the sweetest ;)

hi joe, thanks for visiting and your kind words.

hi joey, thanks :) i couldn't agree more - baby size definitely maximises the chewy edge to cake crumb ratio...

hi ana, sorry...i have been awfully tardy about posting recipes...let me know which you're keen on and i'll email them to you...

hi amy, i love vanilla with fruit too...glad you like the sounds of the jam...

hi nicky, thanks; nothing makes me happier :)

hi tara, you're awfully kind...this coming from one whose site is the veritable definition of droolworthy!

hi keiko, i adore shimizu white peaches...but like you say, they are a very rare treat with an exorbitant pricetag to match...baking with julia is great - i have a feeling you'll like it ;)

hi babekl :)

hi pille, let's put it down to obsessive-compulsive behaviour ;) somehow, i always manage to have room for dessert no matter how much i've eaten prior...

hi steffles, i was initially torn between scones and shortcakes, but am glad i chose the latter, and glad you like them too

hi clare, i have a strange feeling jam making may well become another of my many fixations...

hi midge, thanks for your kind words...i must say making the peach melba was almost as fun as eating it ;)

hi michele, thanks...ever since your lovely post on peaches, everytime i see one, i think of you!

hi boo, thanks! :)

hi reid, thanks...did i ever mention when i can't sleep, i bake? ;)

hi melissa, you're very kind...coming from a bona fide goddess herself, i blush! think have been tagged several times for this - would love to play along...but slacker that i am...

hi eatzycath, thanks :) i adore shortcakes - something about them reminds me of playing "tea time" as a little girl

hi skrat, thanks for dropping by; much appreciate your kind comments.

hi gemma, thanks...i am very lucky in many regards, not least of which is that my dad loves to eat as much as i do ;)

5:17 am, August 26, 2005  
Blogger artkiddo said...

hello! wow! your blog is really impressive! i've only discovered it recently and i find it absolutely stunning!!! good job!

u seem such a food connoisseur ... i was wondering if you could help me with a question i have... do you know where to get potted herbs in singapore that we can plant at home in a hdb flat? my dream is to set up a herb garden at home.

if anyone knows where to get these potted herbs (like basil, rosemary, thyme, etc), please let me know!!! thanks!

10:49 am, August 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi- Iam cathy and I saw your white peach saffron jam by christine ferber and I like it very much. I need the recipe in a school project soon but I can't find the book in the bookstore so maybe you can please post the recipe of the jams on the internet soon. thank you very very much.

5:55 pm, October 05, 2005  

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