Lemon verbena bavarois with peaches and biscuit crust
Some years it seems that as quickly as summer arrives, it is gone again. The promise of long warm nights has suddenly been replaced by the reality of autumn creeping in, a cold night here and a cool wind there. Then it’s hard to remember the warm nights at all. As one season ends and another begins, the scents of summer fade until, in nine months’ time, we welcome the hot season back.
Of all the smells of summer, nothing is sweeter or sexier than a freshly plucked peach. Those lucky enough to have a peach tree understand the exquisite joy of plucking a perfectly ripe white peach, warmed by the afternoon sun, and holding it against your cheek. The soft skin, the almost overpowering perfume and the sweetness of the juice as you bite into the flesh. As this season has come to a close, I’ve been lucky enough to reap the rewards of someone else’s bountiful tree. All the fruit has been picked and is laid out on my table to ripen naturally, turned and checked each day, so they can be eaten at their absolute best.
Another delight of the summer months is our lemon verbena bush. Placed strategically near a pump that is accessed daily, it releases its unmistakeable aroma as we brush past. Lemon verbena tea is a summer favourite, both iced and hot. But, here, it is used to infuse the milk that forms the base of the custard of the bavarois. I sense that bavarois has fallen out of favour, replaced by its less-complex Italian cousin, panna cotta. If that is the case, it seems a terrible shame. There is a complexity yet lightness of texture in a bavarois that a panna cotta just can’t match. And being custard based, the bavarois has the capacity to take on many flavours. If you have no lemon verbena, use a little vanilla, or infuse the milk with some lemon peel. Even some lemon thyme would be delicious.
The biscuit is a little curious. It seems every time I make it, it turns out differently. The culprit seems to be the quality of the walnuts and how finely they have been ground. Don’t blitz them until the oil starts to release, as this seems to result in a sloppy dough. But given that you crumble the biscuits over the finished dish, it doesn’t really matter if they don’t turn out perfectly.
So here’s a little ode to summer as we creep into autumn. I can only hope others are as lucky as I am and have access to the joys of a late summer peach, straight from the tree.
- 375ml milk
- 6 sprigs lemon verbena
- 110g sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 leaves gelatine
- 500ml thickened cream
- Bring the milk to scalding point with the lemon verbena. Allow to infuse for at least half an hour.
- Beat the sugar and yolks together until they turn pale yellow. Soak the gelatine in cold water until soft.
- Pour the milk onto the egg mix, return to a clean saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat and add the gelatine leaves that have been well squeezed out. Strain into a large clean mixing bowl, cool, stirring occasionally to cool evenly. This process can be sped up by cooling over a bowl of iced water.
- When cool, whip the cream to soft peaks and fold into the custard mix. Pour into eight small soufflé dishes or metal timbale or jelly moulds. Refrigerate overnight.
Lemon verbena biscuits (for crumb)
- 140g buckwheat flour
- 100g ground walnuts
- 100g desiccated coconut
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar
- pinch of bicarbonate of soda
- pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh verbena leaves
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 125g unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp golden syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 8 peaches
- castor sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan forced). Line two baking trays with baking paper.
- In a large bowl whisk together the buckwheat flour, ground walnuts, coconut, coconut sugar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, lemon verbena and lemon zest and set aside.
- In a small pot, melt the butter, golden syrup and vanilla then pour it over the dry mix. Mix everything well together and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
- Form small balls of the mixture and place onto the lined baking tray. Flatten gently with the back of a fork or the palm of your hand. Depending on the size, you should have about 24 biscuits.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool on a rack.
- Cut the peaches in half and remove the stone. Cut each half into about four pieces, place in a bowl and scatter with a little castor sugar. Repeat until all the peaches are processed.
- Toss a little in the sugar. Unmould each bavarois onto serving plates, mound some peach slices around and crumble over some biscuit.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 1, 2019 as "Peachy keen".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.