I am not even going to try being humble here. Not today.
Because this dessert is the kind of thing where you want to shout from the rooftops that you have stumbled upon something of greatness. It has a sort of ethereal beauty that seems to radiate from within. And the taste... Oh lord, imagine a luscious, ripe summer peach, but softer... and sweeter... and warm. Ladies and gentlemen, this dessert was phenomenal.
Unfortunately, I can't take credit for the inception of this dessert; that belongs exclusively to Jean-Georges or Mark Bittman, whichever one of their masterminds dreamt up this simple stunner of a dessert. Personally, I have been daydreaming about this dessert ever since earlier this year when I checked out Jean-Geoges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef from my local library. You see, this book doesn't have photos for every recipe listed, but it does have insets with large glossy images of a few select dishes that occupy the upper echelons of Jean-Georges repertoire. And this dessert was one of them. Immediately when I saw that bright, shiny peach posting like a magazine model, I knew that I had to make this.
Since then, I kid you not, I have been counting down the months until peaches were in season so I could make this. I know, I know... I could have made it anytime, and just gone to the grocery store and picked up everything I needed. But since this seemed like the type of recipe where having in-season, high quality ingredients (like perfectly sun-ripened peaches and apricots) would make a big difference, I waited patiently. Or maybe not so patiently, but I still waited.
And finally, the time to get ripe peaches from the farmers market finally arrived! I actually have been going to a new-to-me farmers market down in Little Italy, and it is really fantastic. From one of the local growers, I picked up both organic peaches and apricots and I hurried home to prepare my beauties.
The recipe is actually shockingly simple, and could probably be adapted to a variety of stone fruits. In a nutshell, you blanch the peaches, peel off the skin, cover them with an apricot/sugar/vanilla puree, and stick them into the oven to "glaze." They come out of the oven steaming, soft, and glossy, and perfectly presentation-worthy if you are planning to serve dinner guests or friends.
In his cookbook, Jean-Georges recommends serving the Lacquered Peaches with his Gingered Ice Cream. I am sure that would be delicious, but I decided to get creative and whip up my own Honey Sage Ice Cream to serve with this dessert (Read about it, and find the recipe here). I thought that honey would be a perfect match for peaches, and the delicate, herbaceous hint of sage would really take it over the top. And... (drumroll please) I was right! These flavors are like a match made in heaven and softness of the ice cream and peach go so well together. If done properly, your spoon just slides through the peach with ever-so-little resistance as you scoop down to enjoy a bite with the cold Honey Sage Ice Cream. Mmm... Just thinking about it now is making me giddy. I can't sing the praises enough of this elegant dessert, so for now I will stop and leave you drooling over peachy-cream goodness.
Actually I will say one more thing. Hurry up and make this before peaches go out of season!
Lacquered Peach, with Honey Sage Ice Cream
Lacquered Peach adapted from Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman
Recipe for Honey Sage Ice Cream here
This dessert is a show-stopper, and absolutely elegant for a dinner party or a special occasion with loved ones. The techniques are not difficult, and although I didn't try it myself, you should be able to prepare the skinned peaches and the apricot glaze at least a day before and keep them both covered. Then, when you want to finish preparing them, bring everything to room temperature and simply finish by mixing the glaze with the caramelized sugar, pour it over the peaches, and bake them. It will look effortless and impressive. I would HIGHLY recommend the Honey Sage Ice Cream with these peaches, but if you don't have the desire or time to make it another variety would work well too.
6 apricots, pitted (can substitute 6-8 dried apricots that have been reconstituted in warm water)
1 vanilla bean, split
1 cup sugar, divided
4 large peaches, preferably a little old, as this makes the skin come off easier
Juice of 1 lemon
Honey Sage Ice Cream (recipe here) or Vanilla Ice Cream for serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and set aside a rimmed baking sheet.
In a small saucepan, combine the pitted apricots, cut side down, 2 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, and the vanilla bean. Bring to a boil and continue to heat for about 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally and turning over apricots, until they are tender. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, bring some water to boil in a large pot, and set aside a large bowl with ice water. Take the peaches, and use a sharp knife to make a small X on the bottom of each one, just through the skin. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, lower one peach into the boiling water; after about 1 minute, remove the peach and transfer it to the bowl with ice water, and repeat for remaining peaches. When peaches are cool to the touch, remove them from the ice water and use the small X in the skin to carefully peel all the skin off. Set the peaches aside.
To make the glaze, first put all the apricots into a blender with a few spoonfuls of their poaching liquid and blend until very smooth. Next, put the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar into a small saucepan, turn heat to high, and have the apricot mixture ready next to the stove. As the sugar begins to just caramelize and turn brown (stir it a little to get even browning), add the apricot mixture to the sugar and stir to mix well. BE CAREFUL, because the sugar will spatter a little. Add the lemon juice to the glaze, and mix again.
Place the peaches on the rimmed baking sheet, and spoon all the glaze evenly over them. Bake them for 10 minutes and then take them out to check. If there is still some liquid glaze on the baking sheet, spoon it over the peaches again and place them back in the oven for 5 more minutes. Just be careful so that your glaze on the baking sheet does not get too hot and burn. Remove the peaches from the oven and serve in dessert dishes or bowls with a scoop of ice cream. I made Honey Sage Ice Cream to serve with mine and it was fabulous. Jean-Georges recommends Ginger Ice Cream, and I am sure it would be equally good with traditional Vanilla Ice Cream.