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Peach Desserts

Getting the Best Peaches for Pies and Other Grand Peach Desserts
By Dorothy Sibole

Peaches are my favorite fruit, so much so that I was nicknamed Peaches when I was a kid. Every day, fresh or canned, I would have peaches with my lunch. One of my earliest memories is of visiting a peach orchard in Maryland. The smell of the fresh peaches, the juice running down my chin, the warm flesh which is sweet and succulent, and a taste you do not soon forget.

I recently went to Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country for a day trip to shop and eat. I love the German influences on the foods there like the strudels, sausages and potato salads. That town has great atmosphere; the people are very friendly and helpful. I always look forward to any trip there and, thankfully, there are many reasons to visit.

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Some things are a must with me, and using local products from the area I live in is one. Peaches are only part of the reason why Fredericksburg is so well known. The wines that are produced there are another. These wines are diverse, flavorful and (I hate to use this word) cheap. In this instance, cheap does not mean bad. It means that, on a mass scale, people have not discovered the great wines made here in Texas and, thus, the retailers have not upped the prices on them. Unquestionably, one of the highlights of a Texas Hill Country winery tour is the tasting room.

In tasting rooms, you can sample any of the wines and decide right there which ones you want to purchase before you leave. You can also get more in-depth knowledge of the wines themselves. Texas has a great group of wineries that are still one of the best-kept secrets around. Many wineries also offer suggestions for ideally pairing their wines with different kinds of food.

Tips for Perfect Peaches

  • When choosing peaches, pick those that are fragrant, unblemished and not too hard.
  • Because fresh peaches are highly perishable, don't buy more than you plan to use within a few days. Even when unripe, they spoil easily.
  • Peaches that are greenish colored were probably picked too early and should be avoided. Sweetness does not increase after picking, so ripe-picked fruit is always the tastiest.
  • Peaches will peel more easily if blanched for one minute in boiling water, then plunged into cold water for a minute to stop the effect of the heat.
  • Peaches discolor quickly when exposed to the air, so they should be sprinkled with lemon or lime juice if not eaten or cooked immediately.

How to Make a Peach Pie

Perhaps you'll want to make a pie with your fresh peaches, and when it comes to making a great pie, there are some basic steps you should know.

First, make your own crust. It is not hard, and you most likely have all the ingredients on hand already. You should also keep the ingredients cool or cold, even the flour. After you mix the ingredients together to form the crust, let the dough rest at least 30 minutes before you roll it out. Dough for crusts should not need to be mixed too much -- just enough to incorporate the ingredients together evenly, no more. You can also substitute butter for shortening for a more flavorful crust or use half shortening and half butter for a flakier crust. I add a teaspoon of vinegar for flavor, myself.

What makes a piecrust good and flaky is mixing the dough just enough to coat the fat with flour, not blend them together, as you would with cookie dough. This is much easier to do if the fat is very cold. When adding liquid (water, egg, or even a little vinegar), you don't want it to mix in so much as collect all the flour-coated fat particles together and make them stick to one another. That's why less is better than more, and cold is better than warm. Cold and quick are the watchwords with piecrust.

When you have the crust prepared, you can wrap it well in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to six months. This is a great way to save time. When you make one crust, make several to freeze and use them for emergencies. You can pull them out of the freezer and fill and bake.

There are so many types of fillings -- custard, cheese, fruit or cream. You can take any fruit and make a pie. The main ingredient - peaches, for instance -- can be very simple, but the filling can be made more complex by the addition of nuts or dried fruits. I keep on hand canned apple pie filling, and by adding to it walnuts and raisins, I can transform a rather plain apple pie into something more exotic. I love to add frozen blueberries to my peach filling, along with some pecans. Just a couple of blueberries are needed. They really complement peaches.

Peach Pie Essentials

  • Gather your ingredients together so you'll have everything ready
  • Keep the ingredients cool or cold
  • Mix them briefly until just incorporated
  • Let the dough rest before rolling it out
  • Let the dough rest in the pan after rolling out>
The piecrust you make yourself will be the perfect companion to those luscious peaches.

I have been in the mood for custard of some sort and wanted to use the lovely local peaches in it, so I came up with this bread pudding. It can be altered by using whatever fruit you fancy, maybe berries, apples, pears or grapes.

A compote is basically a thickened sauce, and can be used in many ways. Just like sauces, compotes are a great way to layer complementary flavors in a dish.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Peach Compote

The Compote (Preserves):
  • 1 pound of sliced peaches, fresh or frozen
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
Put all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Boil slowly until reduced to the point of being thick and gooey, about 1 to 2 hours.

Put in a bowl and let cool in refrigerator overnight. You can do this with strawberries, raspberries or blueberries, but be careful with the blueberries as they tend to scorch.

Yields about 2 cups of preserves, which is great as a topping, sandwich filling or on pancakes.

The "Bread" (Crouton Rounds):

A half loaf of good bread, like a baguette, cut into six circles by using the top of the custard cup like a cookie cutter. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan and saut the rounds in the butter till golden. Let cool.

The Custard:

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk, tepid
  • 2-½ ounces finely chopped white chocolate
  • Garnish: Whipped cream, White chocolate shavings
In a bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. In a small saucepan, warm the milk and add the white chocolate whisking till smooth and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar-and-egg mixture, mixing well.

To Assemble:

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Set four 6-ounce custard cups in a large shallow baking dish. Put a dollop (about 2 tablespoons) of the compote/preserves in the bottom of each cup. Cover the preserves in each cup with one of the croutons, and pour the custard filling over the croutons, dividing it equally among the cups.

Put the baking dish containing the six cups in the oven and fill two-thirds up the sides of the custard cups with warm water. Bake until the custard is nearly set and jiggles slightly when moved gently or until a cake tester gently inserted about one-half inch from the edge of the cups comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Remove the cups from the water and let cool to room temperature on a rack. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Garnish each with a dollop or rosette of whipped cream or white chocolate shavings if desired.

Fresh or canned, baked or mixed into a drink, peaches are one of the most versatile fruits. There just isn't much you can't do with them. So watch your local produce stands, farmers markets or even supermarkets for the best in local peaches, and you'll be glad you did.

Dorothy Sibole is a pastry chef living in Austin, Texas. If you have questions about this article or the recipes, contact us at moc.gnikoocsaxet@nibrof_solkim.
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