Peach Melba is a great classic of French cuisine. Sort of ice cream sundae, actually the quintescence of summer with beautiful fruits and ice cream; sharpness of rasberries sauce balanced with delicate peaches and the sweetness of vanilla ice cream. And those bright colors! This dessert is sometime topped with almonds or whipped cream but not in the original recipe. The most important here is the flavour of peaches.
The story behind Peach Melba
Peach Melba was invented by a famous cook for a famous lady called Melba. At the end of the 19th century, an Australian soprano opera singer, Melba, had a great success. Melba is actually the nickname for Melbourne, her Australian hometown. Her real name was Hélène “Nellie” Porter Mitchell (1861-1931) but everybody called her Melba, or Dame Nellie Melba.
She was considered as the most remarkable voice in the world, with a christal voice of 3 octaves range. She became famous performing Rigoletto in Brussels in 1887. Over time , Melba gained great popularity and became a diva, singing operas such as Traviata, the Barber of Seville, Bohemia, Carmen, Othello, Aida .. in principal opera houses in Europe and the United States (Opéra Garnier in Paris, Metropolitan in New York, Scalla of Milan, Oper of Berlin, Covent Garden in London…).
And London our story take place. Melba use to stay at the Savoy Hotel, just next to Covent Garden,whe always ate at Auguste Escoffier’s restaurant, which was known as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings”. Internationally reknown, Auguste Escoffier updated French traditionnal cooking (and popularized this in sevral books) and invented organization methods in restaurant kitchens. I’ll have to write an article on him.
One day Dame Nellie Melba, willing to thank Auguste Escoffier for his brilliant dishes, invited him to her performance of Richard Wagner opera Lohengrin. Amazed by the performance, Auguste Escoffier thanked her his way, by creating a special dessert for the private dinner Melba gave the following day, that is June 16, 1894.
A silver dish was perched atop a sawn carved from ice (to remind the swan boat in Lohengrin) filled with a simple yet delicate dessert: vanilla ice cream, white peaches cooked in vanilla syrup and a raspberry puree, The legend says that when Melba asked Auguste Escoffier the name of the dessert, he replied, “With your permission, it will be called Melba.”
This dessert is actually an adaptation of an older dish of Auguste Escoffier, the “Alexandra peaches” dedicated to the Princess of Wales (peaches then were served with a strawberry sauce and decorated with rose petals).
Peach Merla are often served topped with whipped cream and toasted flaked almonds. No sliced almonds, whipped cream (or even jam instead of raspberry purée!) in the original recipe. But you may add some if you like. Some recipes add icing sugar and lemon in the raspberry puree. I don’t think it’s necessary, but I don’t like too sweet desserts anyway.