When I was a kid I never looked forward to peach season...I never even noted its occurrence. The only peaches I had ever tasted were the ones sold at grocery stores. They were almost always devoid of flavor and dry...or worse, mealy (Is there anything worse than a mealy piece of fruit?). Like much of the produce that filled the produce aisles in the grocery stores of my childhood, there was nothing about them to love or desire.
I don't remember when I learned that peaches grew in abundance in my home state, but I will never forget the summer we discovered the ripe, just-picked Missouri peaches being sold at the farmers' market. They were juicy beyond belief, sweet and loaded with flavor. Now every summer I wait with great anticipation for the arrival of the early crop.
We are very lucky in that the Missouri peach season is long and abundant. Some years we are able to enjoy local peaches into September. For a small household of two we go through an astonishing number of peaches each week. I eat one almost every day for breakfast...and I am always tucking them into cakes, muffins, tarts, crisps, salads, compotes and homemade jam. It would not feel like summer if there weren't a bowl of peaches sitting on our kitchen counter.
This year while trying to come up with a seasonal dessert to create a sweet ending for a July class, I thought of peach ice cream. After making it, I think I have found a new favorite peach dessert. Intensely peach-y and creamy...as a friend said, "the essence of peaches and cream"....it is the perfect summer treat and an excellent means of showcasing the best of the local crop.
To obtain that intense peach flavor, I combined the peaches with a small amount of sugar and some lemon
and cooked them down to concentrate their flavor—somewhat like making jam (but with a lot less sugar). Cooking the peaches before adding them to the custard base is a bit of an unusual step. I have only come across two peach ice cream recipes that use cooked peaches...one by Dorie Greenspan and another from Gourmet. Most recipes simply use peeled and puréed fresh peaches. The reason for this is there is a premium placed on "fresh" peach flavor. But since fresh fruit is loaded with water, when the fresh peach purée is further diluted with custard the peach flavor of the ice cream is a bit faint. I can't say for sure, but I suspect that the high water content of the purée would also tend to produce a slightly icier final texture.
I made two different test batches of peach ice cream. One used a custard base made with all cream and the other used a base made of half cream and half milk. The one made with all cream was an over-the-top, rich and creamy, ice cream experience. But after a few bites, it was just a bit too rich...even for me. Also, it seemed to be more about cream than peaches—the extra fat softened the peach flavor. The one I made with half milk was still very creamy, but it was also refreshing. And best of all the peach flavor was front and center...a true celebration of the peach.
If you like ice cream...and you like peaches...I think you will love this ice cream. And even if you don't live in a peach producing state, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding juicy, tree-ripened peaches that were grown somewhere not too far from where you live. In recent years, grocery stores have begun to respond to the demand for foods that are more regionally sourced. I discovered that a grocery store near my home began carrying the tree-ripened local crop a few summers ago. And it was during my last visit that I noticed a huge display of peaches, conspicuously separate from the California peaches, with a sign that proclaimed "Missouri peaches have arrived!" I guess a lot of people have begun to look forward to peach season....
Peach Ice Cream
1 1/3 lb. ripe peaches (4 medium), peeled, pitted and sliced (see note)
2 t. lemon juice
1/3 c. sugar
1 c. cold heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
6 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
a pinch of salt
1/4 c. honey (3 oz.)—gently warmed, if not pourable
1/8 t. almond extract
Prepare the peaches: Place the peaches, lemon juice and 1/3 c. sugar in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Place the pan over medium to medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
When the peaches begin to soften (after about 5 minutes), mash with a potato masher
and continue to simmer briskly, stirring regularly, until you have a thick peach compote (about 20 to 25 minutes total cooking time). Any large pieces of peach that remain should be very soft. Stir more often as the compote thickens to keep it from sticking and scorching. If you would like a smoother purée, transfer the compote to a food processor and process to the desired texture. You should have 1 3/4 to 2 cups peach compote. Chill.
Prepare the custard: Place the cup of cold cream in a medium-sized bowl and place in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
Place the milk in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. While the milk mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the 1/4 c. of sugar and the salt until thick. When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in about 1/2 c. of the hot milk mixture. Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to thicken and a path forms when you draw your finger across the custard-coated back side of the spoon—an instant-read thermometer will read about 175°. Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream. Stir in the honey and the almond extract. Refrigerate (or place in an ice bath) until cold, stirring occasionally. Cover until ready to use.
Prepare the ice cream: Combine the cold custard and the peach compote.
Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for an hour or two before serving. Makes one quart peach ice cream.
Note: To peel the peaches, cut a small slash on the bottom (the "blossom end") of each peach. Place the peaches in a heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over the peaches and let them sit for 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to a towel and let them sit until they are cool enough to handle (a minute or two). Using a paring knife and your thumb, grab the peel at the slit and pull. The peel should come away easily in three of four pieces.