Hand me a bowl of ripe peaches and point me toward the spice cabinet, and in an hour or two, I’ll bake you a terrific peach dessert—something that feels traditional but has a hint of the unexpected about it. I do this by adding certain spices (as well as nuts or other ingredients) to old-fashioned peach desserts like cobblers and cakes. This little trick has given new life to my old repertoire of peach desserts.
The desserts here are a few examples of this flavor-pairing technique. I’ve given my favorite little peach cake the warmth of a vanilla bean, and my peach cobbler becomes ever so slightly more sophisticated with a subtle, spicy note of freshly ground star anise. Peach galette gets a zingy lift with fresh ginger. And with a nod to the classic peach melba, I’ve created a peach phyllo sundae with notes of honey, pistachio, and lime.
Here are a few more ideas worth trying on your own: Add a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper to biscuits for peach shortcakes; try maple syrup in a peach smoothie; drizzle a dark rum glaze over homemade peach ice cream; or layer toasted chopped pecans in a parfait made with fresh peaches and sweetened mascarpone. See the sidebar below for a list of other ingredients that complement peach desserts.
Don’t forget that peaches marry well with other fruits in season at the same time. Other stone fruits like plums, apricots, and nectarines are wonderful partners in peach cobblers or galettes. Dried fruits like tart cherries or dried apricots also make a nice accent to a peach pie or compote. And of course peaches and berries are a foolproof combination.
Keep the peach as the star. There’s just one caveat when you use this approach, and that’s to be discreet with your complementary flavorings. The goal is to enhance the fruit’s flavor, not overwhelm it.
And it should go without saying that you should always start with the sweetest, ripest, juiciest peaches you can find. No amount of flavor doctoring can compensate for inferior peaches. You’ll notice that I don’t bother peeling the peaches in the recipes here. That's because those paper-thin skins never bother me, especially as they soften with cooking, and I love the blush of color they contribute to desserts.
Peachy flavor pairings
Consider the ingredients on this list as a starting point for your own peach combinations. Remember to use stronger spices and flavors more judiciously so as not to overwhelm the flavor of the peaches.
* brown sugar
* citrus (orange, lemon, or lime) juice or zest
* dried apricots
* dried cherries
* fruity red wine
* ginger, both fresh and ground
* maple syrup
* nuts like pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and almonds
* star anise
* toasted coconut flakes
* vanilla (extract or bean)
Five more things to do with peaches
• Simmer peach halves in a light, fruity red wine with a bit of sugar and ground cloves until tender. Serve chilled on their own or with crisp lemon cookies.
• Dice peaches and use them as the lead ingredient in a fruit salsa—and don’t forget the jalapeños. Grilled fish or chicken will pair beautifully with the sweetness and the heat.
• Sauté peach chunks in butter, brown sugar, and a dash of cinnamon until the edges are browned. Spoon over buttermilk waffles or oatmeal.
• Purée unpeeled peaches with superfine sugar, grated lemon zest, and a dash of lemon-flavored liqueur. Serve the purée ice cold in small soup bowls and garnish with a few diced peaches and thinly sliced mint leaves.
• Scoop out some of the flesh from halved, pitted peaches, leaving about 1/2 inch of a shell. Freeze the shells and use the flesh to make a sorbet. Spoon the sorbet back into each shell and freeze. Serve with a light, sweet sparkling wine like Moscato.