When everything's peachy

Straight from the tree, blended into ice cream or in a tart, this is the season to indulge.

peach ice cream 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
peach ice cream 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My favorite way to eat peaches is "Adam and Eve style," straight from our tree. My second favorite way is to serve sliced, perfectly ripe ones from our local farmers' market. Still, whenever I'm blessed with a bounty of peaches, I do enjoy experimenting with them in the kitchen. Naturally, I was delighted when Mimi Brodeur, a friend from my cooking-school days in Paris, sent me her latest book, The Peach Cookbook. She made creative use of the fruit in all parts of the meal, from appetizers to salads to soups to main courses. Most of all, I am enticed by Brodeur's peachy sweets, which range from perfect-for-kids blueberry-peach frozen smoothie pops to refreshing beverages like sparkling peach lemonade, and peachy white wine sangria to sumptuous sweet creations like creamy peach mousse in almond sugar cookie cups and peach schnappy creme brulee. White peaches are often sweeter than yellow ones. When choosing peaches at the market, if they are ripe, be sure they are not too soft. Mimi notes that "the flesh should give slightly when pressed lightly with the fingers. Be careful not to press too hard, as these fruits bruise easily and you can create little fingertip dents... Look for peaches that have an intense, sweet smell and creamy yellow or pale golden skin, especially close to the stem. There should be no sign of green, brown, wrinkles, or bruises." Ripen peaches on the kitchen counter without allowing them to touch each other. If they are still hard, do not refrigerate them. Once they are ripe, you can keep them for a few days in the refrigerator. It's best to cut peaches close to serving time so they won't discolor. When using peaches in desserts, chefs often dip them briefly in boiling water to remove their skins, as in the recipe for Fresh Peach Ice Cream below. In recipes you can use nectarines, a fuzzless variety of peach, interchangeably with peaches. Nectarines do not need to be peeled. FRESH PEACH ICE CREAM I prefer cool peach desserts, for which the fruit is heated very little or not at all. Juicy, fragrant, ripe peaches are needed to give this ice cream its refreshing taste. The peaches are not cooked, but are simply peeled and pureed with a little peach brandy and combined with a vanilla custard. Serve the ice cream garnished with fresh sliced peaches. Makes about 8 cups 4 1 or 2 vanilla beans, split 4 2 cups milk 4 2 cups heavy cream 4 8 large egg yolks 4 1 cup sugar 4 1.1 kg. ripe peaches 4 5 Tbsp. peach-flavored brandy Put vanilla beans in heavy, large saucepan and add milk and cream. Bring mixture to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 30 minutes. Reheat to a boil. Remove from heat. Whisk egg yolks lightly in a large bowl. Add sugar and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping bottom of pan constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture thickens slightly and reaches 74ºC to 77ºC on an instant-read thermometer; begin checking after 7 minutes. (To check without thermometer, remove pan from heat, dip a metal spoon in sauce and draw your finger across back of spoon - your finger should leave a clear trail in mixture that clings to spoon.) If necessary, cook another 1⁄2 minute and check again. Do not overcook mixture or it will curdle. Pour immediately into a bowl and stir about 1⁄2 minute to cool. Cool mixture completely, stirring occasionally. Put peaches in a saucepan of enough boiling water to cover them and heat for 30 seconds. Transfer peaches to a bowl of cold water and peel them with aid of a paring knife. Cut peaches in pieces, discarding pits. Puree peaches with peach brandy in food processor; puree in batches if necessary. Immediately stir into ice cream mixture. Remove vanilla beans. Pour into ice cream machine and process according to manufacturer's directions until frozen. Meanwhile, chill a bowl in freezer. Transfer ice cream quickly to chilled bowl, cover tightly and keep in freezer until ready to serve. (Can be kept 1 week in freezer.) Soften slightly before serving. PEACHY ICE CREAM TART WITH PECAN CRUST Like in a classic European peach tart, this one is topped with the sliced fruit and a shiny jam glaze. But here the resemblance ends. The filling in this original tart is fresh peach ice cream instead of the traditional pastry cream, and the base is an easy nut crust rather than pastry. Makes 6 to 8 servings 4 11⁄4 cups pecan halves (about 125 gr.) 4 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar 4 Small pinch of salt 4 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, very soft 4 3 cups peach ice cream (see recipe above) or vanilla ice cream 4 2 peaches 4 3 Tbsp. peach or apricot preserves 4 1 tsp. lemon juice 4 1 tsp. sugar 4 1 tsp. water 4 Small sprig of fresh mint (optional) To make pecan crust: Preheat oven to 200ºC. Using on/off motion of food processor, process pecans with powdered sugar and salt until finely chopped but small pieces remain; do not grind to a powder. Transfer to a bowl. Using a fork, lightly stir in butter until mixture is well blended. Lightly butter 20-cm. pie pan. Press mixture in thin, even layer on base and sides of pan, using fork. Bake until light brown, about 6 minutes. Cool completely. Freeze 10 minutes. Soften ice cream in refrigerator until spreadable. Spoon into pie pan, mounding ice cream slightly toward center and spreading it as smooth as possible. Work quickly so ice cream doesn't melt. Freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Cover if not serving immediately. (Tart can be prepared up to 1 week ahead.) Just before serving, peel peaches if desired (see paragraph 3 of peach ice cream recipe above). Cut peaches in thin wedges. Arrange them on ice cream, radiating out from center in pinwheel design. To make glaze: Heat preserves, lemon juice, sugar and water over low heat, stirring often, until preserves melt. Strain mixture. Brush over peach wedges. Decorate with small sprig of mint in center. Serve immediately.n Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and in Hebrew, Sefer Hakinuhim, published by R. Sirkis.