La peche melba

Categories: History of food

A classic English dish from Auguste Escoffier

“Peche melba in effect reigns supreme in the most sumptuous of feasts”—so purported its inventor, French chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier, who created the dish in 1893 while working at The Savoy Hotel, London alongside famous hotelier Cesar Ritz. And we’re inclined to agree. A cool combination of vanilla ice cream, sweetly soft peaches and tangy raspberry coulis, la peche melba—or peach melba, to us common folk—is as beautifully simplistic as desserts come.

Credited with bringing haute cuisine to Britain, Escoffier named several of his dishes after members of high society. Which brings us to Nellie Melba. Born Helen Porter Mitchell, Dame Nellie Melba—nicknamed after the city from whence she came, Melbourne—was an internationally recognised opera singer and the Victorian equivalent of a celebrity.

The two met while Nellie was performing in Covent Garden. During her stay at the Savoy, Escoffier invented this dish for her (among others—think melba toast) and by using her name was able to sprinkle some stardust on top of the fruit.

The original creation was served in a silver bowl, the peaches came in an ice sculpture of a swan and the whole thing was covered in spun sugar. Escoffier later revised the recipe while working at the Carlton hotel, getting rid of the swan and adding a drizzle of raspberry puree.

La peche melba
“Choose 6 tender and perfectly ripe peaches. The montreuil peach, for example, is perfect for this dessert. Blanch the peaches for 2 seconds in boiling water, remove them immediately with a slotted spoon, and place them in iced water for a few seconds. Peel them and place them on a plate, sprinkle them with a little sugar, and refrigerate them.

Prepare a litre of very creamy vanilla ice cream and a puree of 250 grams of very fresh ripe raspberries crushed through a fine sieve and mixed with 150 grams of powdered sugar. Refrigerate.

To serve: Fill a silver timbale with the vanilla ice cream. Delicately place the peaches on top of the ice cream and cover with the raspberry puree. Optionally, during the almond season, one can add a few slivers of fresh almonds on top, but never use dried almonds.”

The dish has been interpreted in many ways since. For Borough Market demonstration chef Rebecca Lyne-Pirkis, that means getting out the barbecue. “A classic peach melba is a thing of beauty. It lures you in with its glistening segments of juicy peach, soft vanilla ice cream and sharp yet sweet raspberry coulis. How can one improve on such a classic? Easy. Get your barbecue involved,” Beca enthuses.

Easy and fast
“It’s a great, easy and fast dessert to have after a barbecue. The coals will have died down a little and will be at the perfect temperature to cook the peaches.”

Allow one peach per person. Cut in half and remove the stone. Brush with a small amount of unflavoured oil and place on the barbecue cut side down for around three to five minutes, then do the same for the other side. Once charred and soft, place the peaches on a small plate, two halves per person, and sprinkle over some demerara sugar and a slug of rum, if you fancy it.

Spoon on some creme fraiche and finish with fresh raspberries to bejewel your finished plate. If you don't have a barbecue on the go, use a griddle pan.