Do you ever inexplicably know the name of something but actually know nothing about it? You’re not sure where you first heard it or really what it is, but you know the name. Yeah, this happens to me on the regular and most recently it happened with a dish called Peach Melba. While researching poached peaches, which is a totally normal pastime, I came across a recipe called “Peach Melba”. Well, the name tickled my brain enough that I had to look it up and low and behold it was a simple dish with an illustrious history – my favorite. I was so taken with my Google odyssey that today’s Raspberry Ricotta Ice Cream Pie with Anise Poached Peaches is very much inspired by Peach Melba. So without further ado let’s tear into the history of the dish and, of course, this ice cream pie.
For those of you who don’t know what Peach Melba is, don’t feel bad, I once was like you…like, five days ago. Peach Melba is a dessert made up of poached peaches, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream. It was created in 1892 or 1893 by a French chef named Auguste Escoffier. This is where things got interesting for me. You know, when you first learn about a person and you start to see their name everywhere? Yeah, that’s what happened with this dude.
I’m sure it’s been disclosed elsewhere on this blog that I am a podcast nut. And one of my very favorite podcasts it Gastropod. It’s nerdy in all the right ways and if you are too, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Start with the sourdough episode and make peace with the fact that you now have a new obsession. Anyway, the other day I was listening to the episode they did on cookbooks. I was so taken by the subject of the popularization of food and food preparation, that my bf referred me an episode of another podcast called The Stuff You Missed in History Class about the first “celebrity chef” Marie-Antoine Carême and whose name should come up but Auguste Escoffier.
Apparently, Auguste Escoffier was a prolific culinary writer who expanded and standardized the French method of cooking haute cuisine that Marie-Antoine Carême pioneered. Escoffier was the preeminent chef of the early 20th century and was referred to as “the king of chefs and chef of kings.” He standardized the five mother sauces and if that’s not a big deal I don’t know what is. He also invented Peach Melba, which, in case you’ve lost the plot, is the reason we’re talking about him. I realize we took the long-winded route, but hey, at least you got some podcast recommendations out of it.
I can’t really explain why I was so taken by the story behind Peach Melba but I was and continue to be. The dish was created for the Savoy Hotel in London in honor of the Austrailian soprano Nellie Melba. Melba was in town performing Wagner at Covent Garden and it seems it was a pretty big deal. The dish was originally served in an ice sculpture of a swan…Just let that sink in for a moment. When was the last time you did something that warranted an ice swan?
I think the thing I like about the dish is it feels like a snapshot. A very specific window into a time I will never know and, let’s face it, a level of society I will never know. There’s also something simultaneously immortal and ephemeral about Peach Melba. I doubt most people know the Austrailian soprano Nellie Melba, but at one time she was a big enough deal for a hotel to name a dessert after her. And while she has since faded from our pop-cultural memory, her name lives on because it’s attached to a dessert. I don’t really have an awe-inspiring take away from all this, I just think it’s kind of nifty.
Anyway, that’s Peach Melba, but let’s talk about this Raspberry Ricotta Ice Cream Pie with Anise Poached Peaches. Well, I’m sure the peach, raspberry and ice cream aspects make a lot of sense to you; they are Peach Melba classics. But the ricotta and the pie? Well, that’s new.
Honestly, I added the ricotta to the ice cream because I didn’t want to give you a recipe for straight vanilla because, hey, I already did that. I also wanted the ice cream to take on a sort of cheesecake-quality in terms of richness. And trust me when I say the ricotta’s subtle umami really elevates the creamy vanilla classic.
You may have noticed that this Raspberry Ricotta Ice Cream Pie is without raspberry sauce. While I realize raspberry sauce is a key feature of Peach Melba, I thought fresh raspberries would be more appropriate during this time of year. It is raspberry season after all. Plus, fresh raspberries have a pleasant tart quality. And that tartness is the reason they’re my favorite berry. I mean, I don’t like to play favorites, particularly when it comes to berries, but I have to live my truth.
The pie aspect of this Raspberry Ricotta Ice Cream Pie came into play because I was fresh out of swan ice sculptures and a cookie-crumb crust seemed to be as good a vessel as any. The crust also allowed me to introduce another Italian ingredient to compliment the ricotta: ladyfingers. And you know what’s crazy? When I picked up a box of the cookies I realized I’d only ever used them in tiramisu. I need to make a Charlotte or something stat, that is just unacceptable. They are a good cookie and they deserved to be used for more than espresso sponges. Although, they are really good at that.
That’s the skinny on this Raspberry Ricotta Ice Cream Pie. It takes a little forethought and a little work, but all-in-all it’s a dessert that’s well worth effort. So, dive in and carve yourself a slice of history. Ugh! I’m sorry.
Raspberry-Ricotta Ice Cream Pie with Anise Poached Peaches
Ladyfinger Almond Crust
- 1 150g, 5.3oz package of ladyfingers
- 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
Raspberry-Ricotta Ice Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Zest of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 egg yolks beaten
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta
- 1 pint fresh raspberries washed
Anise Poached Peaches
- 2 white flesh peaches
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 sticks cinnamon
- 3 star anise pods
For the crust
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place the ladyfingers in a large food processor and blitz into crumbs. Pour the crumbs in a large bowl and add the remaining dry ingredients. Whisk to combine.
- Pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture resembles wet sand.
- Press the crust evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan and up the sides. Bake for 10-15 minutes and let cool completely.
For the Ice Cream
- While the crust is cooling, make the ice cream.
- Pour the heavy cream in a small saucepan and place it over medium heat. Add the sugar, salt and lemon zest and stir until the sugar dissolves. Once steam begins to form on the surface of the cream, remove the pan from the heat.
- Pour 2-3 ladles-full of the hot cream mixture over the egg yolks and whisk immediately to temper the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the cream and whisk to combine.
- Strain the custard into a bowl set inside an ice bath. Whisk the custard until luke warm, about 10 minutes. Set the custard aside.
- Place the ricotta and honey in a food processor and blitz until very smooth. Whisk the ricotta mixture into the chilled custard mixture. Pour the ice cream into an ice cream maker and process for 30 minutes or until the ice cream resembles soft serve.
- In the last five minutes of processing the ice cream, drop fresh raspberries into the ice cream maker one at a time.
- Scoop the ice cream out of the maker and pour it into the Ladyfinger Almond Crust. Smooth out the surface using an offset spatula. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer. Let freeze for 3 hours or overnight.
For the Peaches
- Pour the wine, water and sugar into a saucepan. Add the cinnamon sticks and anise pods and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes.
- Cut an X into the bottom of each peach and add them to the pot of simmering poaching liquid. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the peaches are tender. Transfer the peaches to the freezer and let chill for 15 minutes. Peel the peaches and slice thin. Set aside.
- Take the pie out of the freezer and remove the ring from the springform pan. Decorate the surface of the pie with peach slices, fresh raspberries, and fresh sprigs of mint.
- Either serve immediately or place the pie in the freezer until ready to serve.