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Peach Melba Napoleon

Posted by osakaben41 on August 2, 2009

peach melba napoleon

It’s hot and sticky in Boston these day.  So much so that the project I had picked this week had to be abandoned.  I wanted to do something with Chocolate and Caramel, but the humidity was working against me during the early attempts.  Better to acknowledge reality, and go for something cold instead.

caramel fail

Caramel hazelnut fail.

We’re coming up on peach season now, with all the fond memories of the traditional Johnson family peach pie that involves.  A quick search for inspiration lead to the idea of reinterpreting a Peach Melba, traditionally poached peaches served with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce, sometimes with toasted nuts as a garnish.

It was first created towards the end of the 19th century by Auguste Escoffier for the Opera diva Nellie Melba.  Famous for her temperment as much as for her singing, she felt that the three words “I am Melba” were sufficient to explain her every whim.  Reportedly the tenor John McCormack, on the night of his London debut, attempted to take a bow with her on stage, when she pushed him back forcefully, saying, “In this house, no one takes a bow with Melba.”

According to rumor she loved ice cream but rarely ate it, believing it would affect her vocal cords. Here therefore the ice cream is only one element of the dish, which overall would not be cold enough to cause harm.  Then again, according to her less affectionate fans, the desert was to consist of a banana served between two peach halves all covered in a cream sauce, referencing her reported preferrence for fellating the stage hands before each show so as to soften those same vocal cords.  Now you have two myths to chose from.  Isn’t Wikipedia fun?


So that’s where we started: three flavors, a temperature range, and a myth.  Now the whole point of these projects it to have an excuse to try something new, to expand the repetoir, and vanilla ice cream just didn’t do it for me.  So let’s assume the vanilla element is suppose to serve as a creamy base, providing a background in color and taste for the star of the show, the peach.  Furthermore, if she didn’t like eating cold things, perhaps a vanilla bean pana cotta makes more sense.  Chilled, creamy, easy to shape into an interesting presentation, panna cotta it is.  (I’m sitting on some dried lavender that I’d love to use, but just don’t see it working here.) 

Texture-wise if we’re looking at a naturally mushy poached peach served with a creamy custard, we need something crunchy in there for balance.  My last attempt at a thin batter (see Milanos) resulted in uneven, irregular cookies.  Rather than the previous attempted delicate tuile, I needed something sturdier, something closer to a dentelle, which brought me to Charlie Trotter’s Desserts.  He does some amazing things, and his picture of a chocolate custard between two lace cookies looked too good to pass up, like a sophisticated ice cream sandwhich.  For all the high-falutin’ ingredients, his Hazelnut/honey cookie recipe was surprisingly easy, both to make and to work with.  I’m going to have to come back to this one as a standard.


 So now how to bring the raspberry into play?  At first I was going to just do a simple sauce, but again, where’s the fun in that.  Maybe the whole thing wasn’t cold enough yet.  Maybe the Rasberry could be the cold element, with the vanilla as insulation between it and the warm peaches.  So now we’re talking about a stacked Napoleon idea, with warm sliced peaches underneath a hazelnut cookie, with a vanilla panna cotta round, second cookie, raspberry semifreddo, and a third cookie to top.  I don’t know how often semifreddo, or frozen desserts of any kind, are paired with a chilled custard, but it was worth a try.  The whole thing had to be assembled right before serving to avoid melting, or getting soggy cookies, but if nothing else, it looked cool.

Lastly, with the peach juices, and the melting raspberry, I opted not to go with a cream sauce finish.  My vocal chords are just fine without thank you.

Overall, it worked out well, though the semifreddo melted very quickly (I said Boston was hot didn’t I?), and the amount of panna cotta was a bit too much.  What was to be a creamy neutral backdrop ended up more of a hazy heavy cream cloud.  The cookies worked out great though it was tough to crack through the whole stack, so we had to eat the layers one at a time.  The melting raspberry flavor sunk nicely onto the custard though as intended, so we’ll call that a minor victory.


There was some left over semifreddo that was served to the kids.  Of course our daughter decided to salt hers and then wouldn’t touch it (would you?).  If I had to change one thing though, it would have to be our dog taking a dump right next to the dinner table just as we dug in.  Thanks Walter, for all you do.

So one way or another, the next challenge has to end up somehow ‘lighter’ than this one.  I’m dying to try something from my latest favorite cookbook, but so far can’t find anybody to even fake an interest in a balsamic ice cream with a goat cheese bavarian and candied walnut cake.


One Response to “Peach Melba Napoleon”

  1. […] of three pieces on the plate, but I should have remembered not to mix custard with ice cream again.  There were too runny flavors, and my cookie was too stiff to soak any of it […]

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