“Millions of peaches, peaches for me”

Peaches are everywhere at the moment, gorgeous, sweet peaches and I couldn’t ignore them when I was planning the menu for last weekend’s Underground. Saturday night’s five course dinner ended with this peach and almond tart and I’m sharing it because it’s a simple enough make-ahead dessert that looks quite impressive.

And also because a recent guest to Shelley-belly’s Underground asked me to (and you know how I love requests).

When I started playing with the peaches and trying to decide what to make I thought I’d try a play on an apple tart fine because I love the appearance of the fruit fanned out over the pastry.Then I thought I’d do a sort of Bakewell tart (usually made with cherries) because I wanted to incorporate almonds into the dessert.

I knew I didn’t want to do a large tart that would require slicing, I wanted little, individual tarts that look pretty on the plate. So this, a combination of the two, was the result. It’s really easy, needs a bit of prep but doesn’t really require much more than patience.

You’ll need:

  • Frangipane
  • Fresh peach puree
  • Puff pastry
  • Peaches
  • Icing sugar
  • Soft butter
  • Lightly toasted flaked almonds*

Frangipane

  • 100g blanched almonds (ground)
  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk beaten together
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • About half teaspoon almond essence

In an electric mixer (or with a wooden spoon if you the have the muscle for it) cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. With the beaters running gradually add the egg and almond essence. Turn the mixer down to low speed and gently mix in the ground almonds and flour. This will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Peach puree

A couple of peaches go a long way so tread lightly otherwise you just end up with a big bowl of peach puree sitting in your fridge and nothing to do with it but make Bellinis… okay, I just heard it. Make a lot, there’s nothing wrong with a peach Bellini made with fresh peach puree (couple of tablespoons of peach puree, top with chilled Prosecco, enjoy).

If you have any peaches that feel like they may be a little too soft to slice neatly for the top, use those for the puree. Rinse a couple of peaches, remove the stones but don’t bother removing the skin, blitz the flesh in a blender until smooth. Taste for sweetness – my peaches were really sweet and didn’t need any additional sugar but all fruit is different. If your peaches are not as sweet or if you prefer the puree a bit sweeter add some caster sugar, a little at a time. Push the puree through a fine sieve to remove bits of skin. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days but oxidizes quickly so cover with cling film (with the film pressed right down onto the surface of the puree) as soon as you’ve made it.

Puff Pastry

If you have three days and the stomach for it, make your own (but you’ll have to find a recipe elsewhere), otherwise just use a good quality store-bought puff pastry.

A 500g package of puff pastry will give you four or five eight to ten tarts (depending on how big you make them).

Roll out the pastry and cut the pastry circles**. They should be no more than a couple of millimeters thick and each tart will need two pastry circles, one slightly smaller than the other. The larger one should be about the size of a regular side plate.

Peaches

Again, a few peaches go a long way so don’t slice too many. Thinly slice enough fresh peaches to fan out over the top of your tarts.

Okay, once you’ve done all that you’re ready to start building your desserts.

First, smear a good, thick layer of frangipane onto one of the smaller pastry circles – and I do mean a good, thick layer, don’t be stingy, it’s not attractive.

Then place the small circle, frangipane-side down, onto the centre of one of the larger pastry circles. Wet your finger with a bit of warm water and run it over the edge of the pastry circle to seal it then fold  (crimp, pleat, whatever) the edges of the large pastry circle over the small circle.

Next, gently smear about a table spoon of peach puree over the top of the pastry, avoiding the edges.

Fan the peach slices out over the top of the puree, don’t leave any gaps.

Dust with icing sugar.

Using a pastry brush, brush the whole thing with soft butter.

These can be made a day before so stop here and refrigerate the pastries if you’re serving later. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to serve remove from the fridge to allow the pastries to warm to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200 c/ 400 f, sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top of the pastries and bake for around 20 minutes. The peach puree gets insanely hot so make sure you let the pastries stand for a few minutes before serving.

For Saturday’s dinner I served the tarts with a warm, almond scented homemade custard and the one in the photos is served with double cream – ice cold jersey cream, whipped cream, clotted cream, ice cream… just about anything creamy will work as an accompaniment.

*The almonds will toast in the oven but I like to toast them a little before hand, I love the extra crunch it gives to the finished dish.

** After rolling out the pastry let it stand for a minute or two before cutting as it may shrink a little.

I’d love your feedback if you decide to give this recipe a try. Enjoy.

The date for the next dinner at Shelley-belly’s Underground will be confirmed later this week and details will be posted on the Underground page. In the meantime, if you’d like more information you can email shelleybellyunderground@yahoo.com.

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It’s cauliflower, but not as we know it – seared cauliflower “steaks” with almond and sultana butter

Cauliflower cheese, you say? Bored, bored, bored*! I know it’s an old favorite and on a chilly Sunday afternoon with a roast dinner, maybe it has a place.

However, on a balmy evening in Miami, with a 24 oz, grass-fed, naturally-raised beef porterhouse sizzling on the grill we have no business with the often overcooked cauli. Its sometimes floury sauce and its fat-oozing cheese do not belong on our dinner plates. With a bit of special treatment though, the humble, pale cauliflower can come into its own.

Some years ago Ian Leckie, head chef at Sam’s Brasserie did something very similar with roast cauliflower as an accompaniment to sea bass and last year I had an appetizer at a Miami local that was similar to what I’m going to show you here. So it’s not a totally new idea, but hopefully it is new to you.

Feeds four as an appetizer or more as a side dish

  • 1 whole head of cauliflower, washed
  • 1 small handful of raisins or sultanas, soaked in a little warm water for about 1/2 an hour and then drained (I like the colour-match of the sultanas in this dish so that’s what I used but remember they are sweeter than raisins).
  • 1 small handful of whole, blanched almonds. If you’ve had almonds sitting in your pantry for months, please taste them before using them. Nuts go rancid, especially in warm store cupboards.
  • 175g unsalted butter, fridge cold and cubed (you can use salted, just allow for it when you season later)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel tops (I don’t like dill so never use it and happened to have a fennel bulb in the fridge from which I was able to scavenge the delicate, fragrant fronds)
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper (you can, of course, use black but I don’t like the black specks in my beautiful, shiny yellow sauce)

Cubed butter

Wine reduction

  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 thick slices of onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 or 4 black peppercorns
  • pinch of salt

Wine reduction: you need this for your butter emulsion. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce until you have about two table spoons of liquid. Remove or strain out all the bits, reserve the liquid and set aside until you need it.

Almonds: toast in a preheated oven at 180 c for ten minutes, more or less. Keep a close eye on them, you want them brown but not burnt. Let them cool and then crack using a pestle and mortar or chop them up with a sharp knife – not too finely though.

Cauliflower: While the almonds are toasting you can prepare the cauliflower. Cut a little off the base of the cauliflower to give it a flat side that you can stand it on. Using the longest knife you’ve got, slice the cauliflower into “steaks” – I like them about 1.5 to 2 cm thick but whatever suits you is fine. Remember though that if the slices are too thin the florets may break off.

In a shallow pan, bring enough salted water to the boil to cover the cauliflower slices  – it’s hard to find a pan that will hold four slices of cauliflower so do this in batches, it only takes a few minutes. Blanch each slice just long enough to ensure you no longer have raw cauliflower. You still want it quite firm. Drain and set aside. Tip the water out of your pan, give it a wipe down, toss in one or two of your cubes of butter and return the pan to the heat.

BlancheBlanche

Once the butter has melted and started to foam, swirl it around the pan to cover the base, return the cauliflower to the pan, reduce heat to medium and sauté each side until you have a good caramelization over the cauliflower.

SautéSauté

Butter sauce: While the cauliflower is browning in the sauté pan you can prepare the butter emulsion. Emulsions can be a bit precious and tend to split if not treated with love so go slowly, use very very cold butter and keep whisking.

Put your reserved wine reduction into a small saucepan and place over a high heat. It will only take a few seconds for the reduction to heat up and when it has, reduce the stove temp and start adding your butter, one cube at a time, whisking all the time. Don’t add more butter until the cube in the pan has completely melted. You may need to remove the pan from the heat from time to time, you don’t want this to boil.

Adding butter

Keep a jug of boiling water nearby and if you see your emulsion starting to split, add a few drops (and I do mean a few drops – like a teaspoon full) of boiling water and keep whisking, it will come together again. Once all your butter is incorporated, stir in your fennel fronds or dill and remove from the heat.

Thicker

Fennel fronds

Add the roughly chopped almonds and the drained sultanas to the butter sauce and season with salt and white pepper. Put the cauliflower slices on a serving plate/plates and spoon over the sauce.

Notes: 

Cauliflower “steaks”  – great for presentation but can be finicky to prepare and is not really necessary. The same awesome flavor is achieved by simply breaking the cauliflower into florets, blanching them and sautéing them.

Butter emulsion – regardless of the quantity of sauce you are making, you will not need more than two tablespoons of the wine reduction. If you prefer not to use wine, the same effect can be achieved (with obvious flavor differences) by using a wine vinegar reduction or simply using water.

This type of butter sauce is a good one to have in your repertoire – it does not contain egg, is quick to prepare, can be flavored with just about any herb and can be used on any number of dishes – grilled/steamed/poached fish, as a dipper for asparagus, as a garnish on other veggies.   

* Apologies to any cauliflower cheese I may have offended with my cries of boredom, it is in fact, still one of my favorites.