Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A peach of a creme brulee

Every month, when I host a wine tasting in my home, I like to send my guests off with something sweet.  It's a nice way to extend the convivial atmosphere that's developed over the course of the afternoon and it encourages guests to linger for a while longer.

Although I post an announcement of the wines and food pairings we'll be enjoying during the tasting, I will rarely post the dessert.  That's because I like it to be a surprise, and I like to see what inspires me, sometimes just shortly before the tasting starts.

For our June tasting, what inspired me was the fragrance of peaches as I walked by a huge display in the produce section of my local HEB.  That sweet, almost nostalgic fragrance reminded me of spring and of peach cobbler, peach pie, peach and raspberry crisp, peach melba--all of the delectable desserts I've made with peaches in the past.

But I didn't want something tried and true.  I wanted something inspired.  So when I got home, I sat down at my computer and typed "peach desserts" into my Google search box.  Scanning down the list of titles, one in particular caught my attention: Peach Creme Brulee.  The original recipe called for grilling peach halves, then topping with sweetened sour cream and brown sugar before caramelizing and serving.  That seemed like something that could work for my wine tasting dessert course because I could make and serve it in individual portions, even doing much of the prep ahead of time.

But the recipe itself seemed a little dull.  So I did what I normally do: I "Vindalooized" it.  Instead of grilling peach halves, I sliced them and macerated them in a little lemon juice (to retain their color) and a generous splash of Domaine de Canton.  You've heard me wax eloquent about this liqueur before--it is truly heavenly not only to sip on its own or in cocktails but to add to fruit desserts.  And although grilling the peach halves would have added a dimension of flavor, it was not the dimension I was seeking.  A couple of hours' soaking in premium ginger liqueur was what I wanted.

Now, about the sour cream originally suggested in the recipe: boring.  I had a container of mascarpone in the fridge and had made some creme fraiche earlier in the week.  Combining those two things, adding some vanilla bean paste and some finely chopped crystallized ginger would bring the "custard" to life.  Then, instead of plain brown sugar, I would crumble some muscovado sugar over the creamy topping because, to me at least, muscovado sugar is the best brown sugar in the world.

Crystallized ginger

Image from Dean and Deluca online catalog.

Muscovado can be light or dark; I used light since the dark variety tends to have a much stronger molasses flavor.

Because I wanted the creme "custard" to retain its structure and not be too runny, I planned to spoon it cold from the fridge onto the room temperature peaches.  Then, after putting the muscovado sugar on the top, instead of broiling as the original recipe instructed, I planned to use this handy little gadget:

If you don't have one of these nifty little things, maybe you should get one.  I find it indispensable for so many tasks, from caramelizing citrus peel for cocktails to charring cherry tomatoes indoors.  If you have plans to eat a lot of creme brulee--traditional and otherwise--in the future, this is the tool for you.

This dessert puts peaches and creme brulee over the top.  It has a lot of good things going for it besides how great it tastes: it's easy, it's partially do-ahead with some last minute details and it's impressive and pretty at the table.  And can you imagine it with Fredericksburg peaches?  Yeah, I can.

Peach Brulee

This is not your hum-drum creme brulee and canned peaches. In the words of one of my guests, "It's amaaaaaazing."  Inspired by an original recipe provided via Linda Larsen of Busy Cooks.

4 medium fresh, ripe peaches
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1/2 cup mascarpone, at room temperature
1/2 cup creme fraiche (you can substitute sour cream if you wish)
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste (you can substitute vanilla extract if you wish)
1 Tbs. finely chopped crystallized ginger
muscovado sugar, for caramelizing (you can substitute dark brown sugar if you wish)
fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Special equipment: ramekins or creme brulee dishes; kitchen torch, such as a Roburn Micro Torch

1.)  Bring a medium-size pot of water to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Place peaches in hot water for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
2.)  When peaches are cool to the touch, remove skins, then slice peaches into a medium-size bowl.
3.)  Drizzle lemon juice over peaches and toss gently with a spoon to coat.
4.)  Add ginger liqueur to bowl and mix gently.  Cover bowl and set aside, storing in refrigerator if you plan to assemble dessert later.
5.)  Combine softened mascarpone and creme fraiche in a small bowl with a fork or whisk.
6.)  Add sugar, vanilla bean paste and crystallized ginger to mascarpone mixture and blend well.  Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for about 30 minutes to stiffen mixture.
7.)  To assemble: divide sliced peaches and their juices evenly among four ramekins or creme brulee dishes.  Place mascarpone mixture on top of peaches, dividing evenly among the four dishes.
8.)  Sprinkle muscovado sugar generously over the mascarpone mixture.
9.)  With a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar in each dish briefly.  Garnish with fresh mint leaves, if desired.  Serves four.

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