It’s that wonderful time of year when there is an abundance of fresh fruit available so why not make the most of it?! Peaches are a favorite of mine, not only because of their great taste but they have such versatility in their uses. Just for something different today, I want to take the peach idea in a whole different direction. These beautiful, old fashioned pastries were very popular in the 1980’s. They are known for their unique look that resembles a fresh peach with a flavor that is delicately sweet and buttery. Traditionally served at Italian wedding showers, Pesche (or peach), are now served at any celebration and may be found throughout many countries in Europe.
Peach cookies are two cookie domes, carved on the inside and paired together to hold a dollop of custard. Once assembled, they are dipped in Alchermes, a crimson colored liqueur infused with a blend of anise flowers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, jasmine, mace, nutmeg, orange peel, sugar and vanilla. These ingredients are stepped in alcohol, which is then flavored with rose water. Alchermes gives these pastries a vibrant pink hue and a unique, light alcohol flavor that combines custard and cookie beautifully. To further enhance the peach resemblance, they are rolled in a sanding sugar.
Alchermes is a very ancient liqueur of Arabic origin. It’s main feature is an unmistakable scarlet color, which was originally acquired by adding ‘kermes’, a scale insect that eat oak trees. Modern alchermes liqueurs no longer use the kermes insect. Alchermes was created in the Frati’ Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy.
These peach cookies are an impressive dessert, perfect for special summer occasions. You can use any filling you choose such as a pastry cream, lemon curd, limoncello or just plain nutella spread. Since it is almost impossible to find the alchermes liqueur in Canada, I’ve listed a few substitutes that can be used instead.
Peach Cookies or Pesche
In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients; stir in reserved crumbs. Spoon into center holes of cookies & press together to form a peach.
In a shallow bowl, combine lemon & peach gelatin powder. Place package of strawberry gelatin in another bowl. Place sugar in a third bowl.
Working with one cookie at a time, spritz cookie with a bit of water. Dip in lemon mixture, then in strawberry gelatin & then in sugar. Spritz with additional water & add more gelatin as needed to create desired 'peach blush' effect. Place on a wire rack to dry for an hour. Attach mint leaves to top of each cookie with additional preserves. Store in refrigerator.
- Alchermes can be substituted for a peach liqueur or Chambord raspberry liqueur. For my peach cookies, I kept it simple & used a combination of jello powders to replicate the traditional idea.
I remember the first time I heard of sour cream being used in making a rhubarb pie. I could hardly imagine it but once I tried it there was no going back! If you look through some of the older recipe books, there are at least eight or nine different pies made using sour cream. These nostalgic desserts certainly take you back to a simpler time.
Basically this is your classic rhubarb pie except with a sweet/sour cream, custard filling. The sour cream is not assertive; its presence simply provides a rich, creamy background for the rhubarb.
I’m not sure why, but I never get tired of cooking (or eating) rhubarb. Every season, I can’t wait until its ready to use. Last year, Brion and I found another spot for three new plants to grow in our yard, so hopefully they do well. I realize its not for everyone but it is certainly versatile in its uses.
For this rhubarb crostada, I’m using an spiced-oat streusal topping which almost mimics a baked fruit crumble taste. Serving this dessert chilled brings it to its full potential. Of course, when you add a scoop of ice cream!
Sour Cream Rhubarb Crostada
Cornmeal Pastry (OR use purchased refrigerated pastry if you wish)
In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using your fingertips, cut in the butter until mixture resembles BOTH coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over dough, 1 Tbsp at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. After you have added all the liquid mixture, dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed. Do NOT over work pastry. Press dough into a disk shape; wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate until ready to use.
In a bowl, combine all topping ingredients with fingertips until crumbly; set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, Mix 1 cup sugar, 3 Tbsp flour, 1 tsp cardamom & orange zest. Stir in slightly beaten eggs & sour cream, add rhubarb; toss gently.
Remove pastry from fridge. Preheat oven to 375 F. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll out pastry into a 12-inch circle. Place pastry in a 9-inch pie pan, leaving parchment paper underneath it. Pour filling into crostada; gently fold the 1/2-inch of pastry remaining above pie pan rim over edge of crostada. Sprinkle spiced-oat topping over filling. Brush pastry edge with egg wash.
Bake 50-60 minutes until edge is puffed, filling is slightly jiggly & topping is golden. Cover loosely with foil if topping begins to brown too much. Cool at least 3 hours before serving. Slice & serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.
Spring is definitely in the air, so bring on those fresh spring flavors. One that comes to my mind is lemon — zesty and full of some spring ‘zing’. My first thought is to pair lemon with some wild blueberries. I realize we are a long way from blueberry harvest time but the good news is that WILD blueberries are as good frozen as they are fresh. None of the nutritional values or antioxidant goodness is lost by freezing.
Canada is the world’s largest producer of ‘low-bush’ blueberries, which is another name for the wild blueberries native to eastern North America. They grow best on treeless land or on land that has been burned over. Growers do not plant them but instead manage wild stands that spread naturally by means of underground runners. The berries are often not uniform in appearance since managed fields can have several distinct runner systems.
The wild blueberries have a sweeter, tangier more intense flavor than their cultivated cousins. Harvest time comes in late August to early September, generally only lasting a few weeks.
This simple little dessert lets us get into the summer blueberry ‘season’ a little earlier and still has all the flavor.
Wild Blueberry Lemon Drops
In a large bowl, combine butter & powdered sugar; cream well then stir in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients, gradually add to creamed mixture; blend well. Line the muffin pan size of your choice with paper cups. Divide dough into balls, placing one into each cup. With your fingers, press dough evenly up sides & on bottom of paper cups. Refrigerate until filling & streusal are made.
In a small dish, combine streusal ingredients until mixture forms coarse crumbs.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Gently rinse & dry blueberries. In a small bowl, combine all other filling ingredients & whisk together until smooth. FOLD in blueberries. Divide filling evenly between pastry shells. Top with streusal & a spoon full of lemon curd. Bake about 25 minutes, (filling will rise slightly when set). Remove from oven. If you prefer, add a bit more lemon curd. Once tarts are cool, remove from pan. The paper cups will come off easily, leaving a pretty little corrugated design.