Peaches ’n’ Cream
Whipped Ricotta and Pecan Sandies
Makes 10 servings
1,000 grams water
200 grams granulated sugar
20 grams ascorbic acid
5 freestone yellow peaches
240 grams whole butter, at room temperature
63 grams confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
5 grams kosher salt
284 grams all-purpose flour
100 grams raw pecans, chopped
15 grams granulated sugar
15 grams water
300 grams whole-milk ricotta
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 lemon
200 grams mascarpone cheese
100 grams crème fraîche
3 sheets silver leaf gelatin
50 grams lemon juice
Fresh basil buds
Combi oven (optional)
The Napa Valley has some of the most amazing peaches you will ever taste, and at The French Laundry we are lucky enough to get the best of the bunch, all picked at perfect ripeness. But when they’re in the full flow of the summer season, they drop off the trees in such abundance that we can’t possibly serve them all. So we do what farms and households have been doing for hundreds of years: we put them up—preserve them. The process actually intensifies the flavor of the peaches and gives us the syrup they’re preserved in as a fabulous by-product to include with their preparation. We usually can about 15 quarts of peaches in the summer; then we serve them around Christmastime, a special summer treat near the winter holidays. (Use perfectly ripe peaches with no bruises for canning. Firmer varieties work best; if they’re too soft, they can lose their shape.)
The syrup is seasoned with lemon and sugar, thickened with gelatin, and brought just to the setting point to create a thick, shiny glaze over the cold peaches. We finish the peach with basil buds from the garden (Genovese basil produces a white flower, Thai basil and lime basil produce a beautiful pink flower, and opal basil has a purple flower). We serve it with something creamy, here our housemade ricotta with mascarpone and crème fraîche, seasoned with vanilla and citrus. And for crunch, pecan sandies seem to be everyone’s favorite.
For the Canned Peaches
Stir together the water and sugar in a 2-quart (2-liter) saucepot (this is a 20% sugar solution). Heat just enough to dissolve the sugar without reducing the liquid and keep warm while you blanch the peaches.
Prepare an ice-water bath and have it close to the cooktop. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Dissolve the ascorbic acid in 4,000 grams (4 quarts/4 liters) water in a 6-quart (6-liter) container and set aside.
Score the skin (not the flesh) of the bottom of the peach with a small 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) X. Drop 2 of the peaches into the boiling water and blanch for 30 to 40 seconds (see Note). Using a long-handled slotted spoon, immediately transfer the peaches to the ice-water bath to prevent further cooking. Using a paring knife, gently peel the peaches and set them on a tray. Repeat to blanch and peel the remaining peaches.
Cut the peaches vertically in half; separate the halves and remove the pits. Check the inside of the peaches to ensure they are good quality, with no mold or bugs. Drop the peaches into the ascorbic acid solution to prevent oxidation while you sterilize the jar.
If you have a combi oven, sterilize a clean 1-quart (1-liter) mason jar at 100°C (212°F) for 10 minutes. Otherwise, place a wire rack at the bottom of a large pot, fill the pot with enough water to submerge the jar, and bring the water to a boil. Place the jar on the rack in the pot, making sure it is submerged, and boil for 10 minutes. During the last minute, add a slotted spoon to sterilize it as well.
Meanwhile, bring the sugar solution to a gentle simmer. Remove the peaches from the ascorbic acid solution and place them in the sugar solution. Gently simmer for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Using clean tongs, transfer the jar to a clean kitchen towel.
Keeping the jar free from any foreign contamination at this point is crucial; you want to keep a clean, sterile environment within the jar. Tilt the jar and, using the sanitized slotted spoon, gently scoop one peach half at a time from the sugar solution and lower it into the jar, rounded-side down, until all the peach halves are in the jar. Return the sugar solution to a boil, then pour it into the jar, covering the peaches and leaving 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of headspace at the top of the jar. Gently tap the jar on the counter to remove any air bubbles trapped by the peaches.
Place the lid on the jar and tighten it to fingertip-tight (just until you feel resistance) to allow air to escape during the canning process. If you have a combi oven, process the jar at 100°C (212°F) for 20 minutes. Otherwise, check the pot you used to sterilize the jar; if there is not enough water to keep the jar submerged, add additional water. Bring the water to a boil. Stand the canning jar on the rack in the pot, making sure it is submerged, and boil for 20 minutes.
Remove the jar, tighten the lid all the way, and stand the jar upside down on the counter. Let cool to room temperature. Turn the jar right-side up, clean the outside of the jar, check the lid for a proper seal, and label it with the date. Press the center of the lid; if it pops, the jar is not properly sealed. Remove the cap, reseal it, then steam or process in boiling water as before.
Properly sealed, the peaches will keep without refrigeration in an area not exposed to light for up to 6 months. The ideal temperature for long-term storage is 40° to 70°F (4.5° to 21°C). After the jar has been opened, the peaches will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Always use a clean utensil, never your fingers, to remove peaches from the jar.
For the Pecan Sandies
Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line a sheet pan with a nonstick silicone baking mat.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Beginning on low speed and gradually increasing to medium, cream the mixture until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and pecans and mix on low speed until just combined, being careful not to crush the pecans. Transfer the dough to a work surface and press it with the heel of your hand as necessary to bring it together.
Place the pecan dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll it out to ¼ inch (6 millimeters) thick, doing your best to keep a rectangular shape. From time to time, lift the top sheet of parchment and, using a dough cutter, push the edges to straighten them. (Keeping the dough a uniform rectangle will give a higher yield when cutting the cookies.) Slide the parchment onto a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours, or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost before baking.)
Cut the cookie dough into 2 by ½-inch (5 by 1.25-centimeter) batons. Using a small offset spatula, transfer them to the lined sheet pan, leaving 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) between them. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, put some confectioners’ sugar in a small fine-mesh sieve. Remove the cookies from the oven and, while they are still hot, immediately dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar. Let cool.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
For the Whipped Ricotta
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepot just enough to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let the simple syrup cool completely.
In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk, whisk together the ricotta, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest until well combined. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth. Add the crème fraîche and whisk until smooth. Finally, whisk in the simple syrup. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
For the Peach-Scented Jelly
Submerge the gelatin in a bowl of ice water to bloom (soften) for about 5 minutes.
Set a cooling rack over a half sheet pan. Open the jar of peaches and pour 250 grams of the syrup into a small saucepot. Arrange the peach halves cut-side up on the rack and refrigerate while you make the jelly.
Add the lemon juice to the syrup in the saucepot and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Remove the softened gelatin from the ice water and squeeze out any excess water. Add the gelatin to the hot syrup and whisk to dissolve. Strain the syrup through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and nestle the bowl in an ice-water bath to cool, stirring from time to time. Watch closely; as the syrup cools, it will begin to set, and you need to catch it right at the setting point, when it has thickened and begun to gel but still has fluidity. When the syrup reaches this point, remove the peaches from the fridge and spoon the syrup over them in a thick layer. Refrigerate to set the jelly completely, at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
Remove the peaches from the refrigerator. Crush the basil buds lightly between your fingers to release their scent and flavor and sprinkle them over the peaches. Finish each peach with a little Maldon salt.
Place a large spoonful of the whipped ricotta in each serving bowl or on serving plates. Gently rest a peach half on top, cut-side up. Serve with a stack of pecan sandies on a plate alongside.
Blanching peaches loosens their skins, making them easier to peel. The heat helps to separate the skin from the peach so the peels slip off.
Excerpted from The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photography by Deborah Jones.
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French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)