If I could be a fruit, I would like to cast my vote to be a peach. There may be a lot of us peaches jostling in the fruit bowl. There is a reason this blog’s logo is a peach – it’s a little cheeky (the peach emoji connotations have a lot to answer for). In Toulouse, my world has become peach-shaped, the summer memories soft and fuzzy and a little dimpled around the edge. So, I will make the statement: Desserts need more peaches. That needs to be an international declaration – where you can, find room for the peaches. Everyone would be so much happier. Last week I did just that and made a cheat’s peach mille feuille.
I appreciate there’s been a fruity orgy here over the last couple of weeks and, I’m sorry to say that while the summer sun shines, variety will be lacking. Once we’re into the depths of September, we’ll be back to apples and pears and that’s it for six long months, so right now, I propose we all jump into a great vat of summer fruit.
When I suggested peach mille feuille to Gaylord, he looked a little confused. To him, a French native, mille feuille is what many other cuisines know as a cream or custard slice – crisp pastry layered with thick crème patissiere, and possibly decorated with some feathered icing or fresh raspberries. Sliced fresh peaches on a mille feuille is unusual. Could this possibly be a reason why it’s advantageous for people of other cultures to experiment with cuisines? Is it only people of foreign blood who can spot an opportunity that natives would never even contemplate? I say all this, but if anyone dares to experiment with fish and chips/bangers and mash/treacle tart, then I’m having words.
In this case, I’m not trying to be radical with my recipe. I’m not instigating British-meets-French fusion over some puff pastry. I just have a chronic obsession with peaches right now, and have had since I moved to Toulouse. Today, I bought one at the market which was as big as my two fists held together (in the shape we all used to say is the size of our brains. So this peach was basically as big as my brain). It was a white peach so the flesh was creamy sweet and flecked with pink, and I carved it into juicy slices for convenient snacking as I worked. I barely worked, mainly just savoured my peach.
Everyone loves peaches here. My friend Meredith made a peach crumble the other week and took it along to an evening picnic. Technically it was out of place amongst all the crisps and hummus and grapes and other snacks, but it was by far the most delicious thing on that picnic blanket. Meredith, like me, simply couldn’t resist Toulouse’s peaches.
Here, there are so many white peaches and yellow peaches that they sell them discounted by the tray at the supermarket. Then last week Gaylord found blood peaches and my world tilted off its axis.
I’d never had blood peaches before last week. White and yellow peaches are what they say on the packet, offering peachy tonal variations of their named colour, and blood peaches, well thankfully there’s no blood involved, no, they are pink.
I gasped when I sliced one open. Inside, they could be a tie-dye t-shirt with their marbled tones of red, pink and white. Blood peaches are the cool kids of the peach gang. They’re there in their tie-dye t-shirts and they know that their alternative sour tang make them stand out from the crowd and trigger mouths to water just thinking about them. I developed such a blood peach craving writing this that I had to go to Lidl, but all they had were nectarines which I ate very grudgingly.
And I’m still thinking about those blood peaches. Those little suckers on their skateboards wearing beanie hats know what they’re doing.
So, that’s my relationship with peaches these days. ‘Healthy’ is debatable as they do count to one of my five a day, but the obsession could be breaching worrying territory.
So, what about about the other components of this ‘unusual’ French dessert, a fresh peach mille feuille?
Peach Mille Feuille: a presentation of pastry
It’s fair to say the main component of a mille feuille is the pastry. It’s the structural integrity, the landings and lobbies of each floor of your mille feuille apartment block. Therefore this pastry needs to be sturdy and strong without requiring the necessary concrete to prevent squashed tenants. There’s just one minor issue.
Mille feuille is layered with puff pastry. I may write a food blog, I may make a lot of food, and I may eat a lot, but that doesn’t mean I am a capable pastry maker. My pastry has vastly improved since culinary school – in fact it was culinary school that put the fear of pastry-god in me, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a cookery confidence boost. At Leiths School of Food and Wine, their goal is to terrify you with the weight of your pastry making responsibilities. There are worse consequences at stake than a poor grade, you could make bad pastry. The culprit of bad pastry? Liquid.
Too much liquid and your precious pastry goes to pieces and I, like any cook with an anxiety problem, would drip in my water, drop by hesitant drop. As soon as all the sandy flour could adhere into a ball, I would barrel the water out of the way, believing it would harm the innocent pastry by just being in the vicinity. And, of course, all my resulting pastry was too dry to use, let alone eat.
So, pastry and I weren’t friends for a long time. Since cookery school, I’ve made plenty of pastry because I had to, it became my actual job at restaurants where I made quiche or custard tarts, but in those settings, away from the judgemental eyes of some of my culinary school teachers, I broke all the rules and used bread mixers, soft squidgy butter, you name it. And, of course, plenty of liquid.
Even so, pastry still has its clutches over me and instead of even considering making my own puff, even though I have definitely said before that I would never buy ready-made pastry again, it turns out I’m a massive hypocrite because here we are – a cheat’s peach mille feuille with ready-made store-bought puff pastry. Real mille feuille it probably isn’t, but easy mille feuille it most certainly is.
So, the two main ingredients are in order. Let’s get to it:
What is mille feuille?
In French, ‘mille feuille’ means ‘a thousand leaves’ which is gloriously poetic, and I might actually accomplish those many layers with my shop-bought pastry rather than making any dry, moisture-sucking cardboard slices.
Mille feuille is possibly the most iconic French dessert – although there are too many desserts to count – as those recognisable two or three layers of flaky pastry, topped with nice robust coatings of crème patissiere and glossy fondant icing are the pastry case staples in every patisserie display.
It is also the dessert with the most difficult name to pronounce. Even now, having grown a backbone when it comes to speaking in French with an English accent, I still get odd looks when I say ‘feuille’ – I suppose I say ‘foy’, like Claire Foy, when it should be ‘fuhy’. If that doesn’t help explain pronunciation issues, I’m not surprised because ‘fuhy’ looks like a messy collection of letters that shouldn’t be combined – basically don’t pronounce the lls and you should be ok (says the person who can barely be understood).
We bought a box of patisserie one wonderfully greedy day, and a mille feuille was nestled in there. I’d never given them much time before that moment – the puff pastry seemed too dry and crumbly to be the wanton dessert I always craved. That mille feuille though, offt, I was seduced. The pastry melted on my tongue, and it was all brimming with so much creamy crème patissiere, I didn’t need to chew.
So, yes, within 5 minutes – what am I saying, it took around 30 second to eat it – I’d become an ardent mille feuille fan. And so here I am today, making my own cheat’s peach mille feuille.
Peach Mille Feuille
When it comes to cooking, I love to create shortcuts, cut the queue, find the easiest route possible because I am quite lazy. Ok, lazy is probably the wrong word – what is the word for ‘finding the easiest way to make dessert look like it took hours but it in fact took a few minutes of stirring’? Not sure if the English language has a word for that.
The most challenging part of this peach mille feuille is the crème patissiere, and even that isn’t difficult because there is cornflour involved and that can save lives. Or at least, your life when your custard starts boiling and you’re now stirring what could have become scrambled eggs, but no the cornflour saved the day!
Crème patissiere is a thick custard made of eggs, sugar, and milk, and also cornflour and/or flour.
Warm the milk until it starts steaming then slowly add it to your bowl of eggs and sugar and cornflour as you whisk. This is the best way to temper the eggs – you bring them up to temperature gently because eggs and heat are not friends, eggs like to set and scramble when heat is in town. Add all the milk, pour it all back into the saucepan, then set it over medium heat and stir until it begins to bubble and thicken. That cornflour reacts to the heat before the egg, so your crème patissiere is as smooth as silk and can be plopped in a bowl and chilled until cold.
Peach mille feuille would not be complete without the required peaches and pastry, so an army of pastry soldiers were cut out of my puff pastry sheet. Last time, I raved about the pastry being shaped into a ready-made circle for me – now, that wasn’t so helpful. I managed to make 8 pastry rectangles with a bit sticking and tacking pieces onto each other here and there. They were then sprinkled with demerara sugar and slid in to the oven to bake for 15 minutes until very lightly golden, sparkly and crisp.
Once all elements were cooled, and my beautiful blood peaches were sliced, it was time to get stacking. Just like piling up Jenga blocks or maybe a house of cards, the peach mille feuilles came together, some peaches slipping and sliding around unhelpfully.
I have blackberries coming out of ears these days, for the first time in my life might I add, as I have a blackberry bush growing in my jungle of a garden. Is this karma for all my bad luck at blackberry picking in days of yore? So, blackberries were piled in there, contrasting those pretty pink peaches like moody goths.
Sprinkled all over with icing sugar, these peach mille feuille had a quick photo shoot and then were devoured. The fresh peaches were so juicy and needed next to no sweetening, the blackberries were spicy and both fruits contrasted the crème patissiere which covered everything in a blanket of creamy sweetness.
A cheat’s peach mille feuille isn’t complete without its knight in shining armour, the component that made it all possible – the ready-made puff pastry. And like any good hero, the pastry supported those peaches and that creamy crème patisserie and carried them off on its steed. Best of all, as we should hope for all our own personal heroes, the pastry never once felt soggy. Perfectly crisp, even the following day when Gaylord and I wolfed down the last mille feuille left.
With these four perfect ingredients combined together to make such a delectable French dessert, a peach mille feuille doesn’t seem too controversial now.
Peach Mille Feuille
- 250 ml milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 50 g sugar
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 280 g puff pastry ready-made or homemade if you have the energy
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar
- 2 peaches blood peaches or otherwise
- 4 tbsp blackberries feel free to crush some into a rough coulis
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- Start by making the crème patissiere. Pour the milk into a saucepan and place over medium heat to warm until steaming. As it heats, combine the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a large mixing bowl. When the milk is steaming, slowly pour it into the egg mixture as you whisk it all to combine. Keep it moving so the milk doesn't cook the eggs too quickly. With all the milk combined into the egg mixture, pour it all back into the saucepan and add the vanilla.
- Place the saucepan back over medium heat, and using a spatula, gently stir as it heats and starts to boil, around 5 minutes. It will thicken quickly so keep it moving to prevent lumps. Boil for further minute as you stir, then pour it all into a bowl and cover with baking paper or cling film to prevent a skin from forming. Place the bowl in the fridge until cold.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C/430°F. Unroll the puff pastry and cut out 8 rectangles of around 7x12cm. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and prick them a couple of times with a fork. Sprinkle with demerara sugar. Once the oven is hot, slide the tray inside and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Set aside to cool completely.
- Slice your peaches into wedges. Once the pastry is cold, it is time to make the mille feuille – if the pastry rectangles have risen a little when cooked, gently press down on them to flatten the tops. Pipe or spoon a blob of creme patissiere down the centre of a pastry rectangle and top it with peach wedges and ½ tbsp blackberries (or as many as you can fit). Sprinkle with icing sugar. Repeat with another pastry rectangle then place it on top as carefully as you can! Tahdahhh!! Peach mille feuille ready to be destroyed.