When Life Gives You Rotten Nectarines

Pistachio and almond crumble, poached apples, buttermilk sponge cake and spiced mascarpone cream

I walked into Whole Foods on Monday and I saw a beautiful display of white peaches, nectarines and plums of different kinds that really caught my son’s eye. He loves peaches so he immediately wanted me to get him one. I looked at the label and they were “conventional” from Chile. Here we go again with the Chilean fruit. He kept insisting and pointing at the peaches, so to make peace, I put four in a bag and walked away.

While I was driving home, I was thinking what to make with them since I always think about how I can turn anything and everything into a sweet treat. Suddenly I had a flash back to May of 2003 when I did a food tasting as part of my job interview. I had to make two plated desserts and a birthday cake in 3 hours. One of the desserts had to be fruit and the other chocolate. I made a beautiful chocolate pot de creme and a layered nectarine and mascarpone crumble. So while I was driving home I thought, “why not tweak that dessert you made five years ago?”. That was my plan.

We ate lunch, I put my son down for his nap and planned on starting to make the different components for the dessert. I had some crumble in the freezer and I used some of the leftover cake that I baked for the Daring Bakers challenge. That’s how I function. I bake and freeze, bake and freeze.

So I baked the pistachio crumble, cut the cake, whipped the mascarpone cream and when I went to cut the nectarines… Well, you guessed it… they were rotten! Brown, grainy and sandy nectarines. I knew it! It happens every time I try to break the seasonality rules. I deserve the punishment.

So I looked in my fruit basket, saw that I had some golden delicious apples and decided to use them instead. My executive pastry chef and friend Sebastien Thieffine won best plated dessert title at the 2004 Bread and Pastry Championship with a lovely apple and almond dessert. His dessert had a hazelnut streusel bottom, poached apples, citrus pain de genes, champagne sabayon, creme brulee and green apple ice cream. It was magnificent to say the least. I really loved his technique to poach the apples so I decided to go ahead and use it here.

Poached Apples

100 grams sugar

200 grams water

1/2 lemon juice

1 Tbs calvados

2 Granny Smith apples, medium dice

Make a syrup with the sugar and the water by bringing them to a boil. Remove from heat and let it cool in the saucepan. In the meantime, peel and cut the apples into medium size pieces. Mix them with the lemon juice so they do not oxidize. When the syrup is cool, add the calvados and the apples to the saucepan. Cover the pot entirely with plastic wrap. Wrap another piece of plastic lightly around the pan. We are trying to create a vacuum.

Place the pan on the stove over medium to high heat. The plastic will start to rise forming a balloon. We want this. Keep it on the heat until it looks like the plastic it’s going to pop. Remove from heat and the plastic will immediately start to shrink down forming a vacuum inside the pan.

I don’t really know what the science is behind this. The tight plastic creates almost like a pressure cooker and cooks the apples rapidly so they don’t lose their color, they just become a little translucent. It’s brilliant! But it’s very important that the plastic is very tight around the pan otherwise, the steam will scape.

Another way of doing this is to place the apples with the syrup in a plastic bag and vacuum seal it, or sous-vide it. Then place the bag in boiling water for a couple of minutes until the apples are soft and shock it in ice water to stop the cooking process. This works but not everyone has a vacuum sealer at home.

Store the apples in the syrup in the refrigerator until ready to use. When we are ready to plate the dessert, then drain them on top of a paper towel to eliminate excess moisture.

Pistachio Crumble

100 grams unsalted butter

100 grams sugar

100 grams flour

125 grams pistachios, chopped

pinch of salt

Cream all ingredients together in an electric mixer. It will be crumbly. Place on a cookie sheet or in an air tight container and refrigerate over night. I normally make a large batch and freeze it and then I bake what I need.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes until it is golden brown. When cool, break into small pieces.

Spiced Mascarpone Cream

60 grams organic heavy cream

60 grams mascarpone cheese

15 grams sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of mace

Whip all ingredients together to semi stiff peak, just like whipped cream.

Buttermilk Cake

adapted from Dorie Greenspan

2 1/4 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)

4 large egg whites

1 ½ cups sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.

Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.

Divide the batter into 3 6-inch pans and bake at 350 degrees. To check if they are done, insert a toothpick in the center of the cake and if it comes out clean, it is done.

Let the cake cool and with a cookie cutter the same size as your ring mold, cut cake circles. Then cut these circles horizontally into three.

Assemble the Dessert

Place a metal ring on top of the dessert plate. Press the crumble into the bottom of the metal ring. We want an even, thin layer. Spoon the drained apples on top and apply some pressure on top with a small spoon. Keep even layers. Lift up the metal ring carefully so we have the crumble and the apples on the plate in a circle.

Place a disk of buttermilk cake on top. Dust powdered sugar on top and finish with some mascarpone cream. As decoration, I rolled a dried vanilla been in granulated sugar.

The nectarines that ended up in the garbage

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34 Responses to “When Life Gives You Rotten Nectarines”

  1. Andreea says:

    this sounds SO good! sorry to hear about the necatrines.

  2. C.L. says:

    Oh my dear Aran,
    If you are going to continue with these posts, you will need to be here for me when I pass out from the swooning. Your pictres are so pretty and the recipes are so creative and enticing! Please come play with me!


  3. Veron says:

    All I can say is wow! Your pictures look wonderful and I love the mascarpone cream. You even managed to make the nectarines look good. Thanks for the tip on the apples. I nearly bought a thermal circulator after attending a seminar by Harold McGee but I thought what am I going to sous-vide? I noticed thought that most upscale restaurants have them like Michel Richard….and even Thomas Keller I heard is coming out with a book on sous vide. Anyway I’ve babbled long enough. ;)

  4. I just hate it when I’m overcome with longing for stone fruits, then by them against my better judgment and suffer the consequences! Unfortunately, stone fruits are NEVER in season here, so if I want good ones, then I have to head south of the NL.
    That’s a great tip for freezing crumble, I would never have imagined that you could do that. Thanks for sharing!

  5. nadia says:

    could I move in?


  6. What a wonderful recipe and great techniques! I really wish I make as many fun desserts as you do a week! I really need to try harder!

  7. Mobula says:

    Fantástico, Aran!!!!1 Como todo lo que haces. Se ve que es un postre sencillo y muy vistoso si tienes invitados en casa. Lo que no me queda claro es si horneas el crumble y despues lo congelas o si primero lo congelas sin hornear y después va sacando lo que te hace falta.



  8. Aran says:

    Andreaa- I was upset with myself for buying something that is out of season and it comes from so far away. My fault!

    Carrie- Anytime you come down to FL give me a ring and we will play in the kitchen. It’ll be my pleasure!

    Veron- I didn’t know about TK’s book. I will have to get it for sure!!!

    Mevrouw- The best thing is to make a bunch of streusel or crumble and put it in the freezer and then you bake as much as you need at a time.

    Melody- I bake when my son sleeps but I understand that when you work all day baking, it’s hard to bake for a blog right?

    Ana- lo que se hace es congelarlo antes de cocerlo. Se hace la masa, se congela y se va sacando segun se necesita. Yo hago eso con casi todas las masas de pastas, etc.

  9. Oh…LOVELY! Love the beautiful pictures. It looks delicious.

  10. Ali (cane) says:

    ¡Dios! que penita tengo….no entido nada…¿pq no habré estudiado ingles? snif, snif. Aunque creo que tu me entenderás a la perfección.
    No se como he llegado hasta aquí, pinchando en los blogs, y me he quedado muertaaaaaaaaaaaa,que fotos! que recetas..si las entendiese…

    voy a quedarme un ratito más a cotillear.
    Besitos y felicidades por este blog maravilloso.

  11. Veron says:

    aran I don’t think it is out yet. When I was at bouchon bakery last year, the manager at the bakery told me that all French Laundry uses now is sous vide and TK was writing a book on it.

  12. giz says:

    You have incredible patience – I’m sure I would have turfed them. Not only do you have patience, you created yet another masterpiece.

  13. Aran I will be in Florida in October, am thinking I’d rather come cook with you than see the Disney parks and shop!!!!

    This looks fantabulous as always, you’re such an inspiration!

  14. Eileen says:

    It is such a treat to look at your site every day. Both the pastry and the photos are so beautiful. You are setting the bar very high for the rest of us.


  15. Peabody says:

    Yes, it is bad to fight mother nature…she will bite you in the ass sometimes. :)
    But I think I prefer the apples to be honest! Yum!

  16. RecipeGirl says:

    Oh how disappointing that they were rotten! There’s nothing better than a juicy ripe nectarine (in the right season!)

    The dessert you whipped up truly does look fabulous though!

  17. Luckily, I enjoy many a fruit from Chile! But my fruits don’t seem to turn into this in my kitchen. Lovely dessert as always!

  18. Belle says:

    Don’t be too upset about the nectarines – it happens in season too. I bought a beautiful-looking basket of white nectarines the other day, at the end of (our) summer but they were sandy and revolting. Too bad I don’t have your know-how to turn bad into good.

  19. Tartelette says:

    Eheh…I just got back from a sous-vide orientated restaurant! I love the whole look of this dessert but the mascarpone quenelle makes me happy happy :)

  20. mimi says:

    i needed some berries, and i’m dying waiting for them at the market. i saw some in the supermarket, of course, from chile. really wanted them, but said no, i don’t need berries that have flown all the way from chile, i just need to wait until they’re trucked from jersey. i then mindlessly bought some “organic” frozen berries, thinking they were from california. opened them tonight and i see on the back of bag … packaged in chile!! ah, lesson to be learned. stop trying to be tricky and just wait to buy the berries at the farmer’s market! ;)

    but really beautiful dessert. love the stacked assembly. if i feel lucky, may try some of that style on my own!

  21. Kelly-Jane says:

    Sorry to hear about the nectarines, it’s a pest when this happens! but you turned it round really well, and made a beautiful dessert :)

  22. Cakespy says:

    Aran, once again you’ve amazed me with your precision and skill, but also with your creativity and the fact that you always serve up not only good desserts, but also bring back that child-like amazement– “Whoa! Dessert!”. But grown up. This looks delicious. :-)

  23. How incredibly exquisite this dessert is. I love the various textures and the apples bring such a lusciousness to the whole. The taste must be totally ethereal. Really stunning, Aran!

  24. The apples look lovely- though I don’t quite understand the wrapping the pan in plastic wrap part. I’m guessing you don’t want plastic on the stove.

    Setting rings and cake ribbon are awesome. I cannot believe the ridiculous prices they charge for those things here…I have an adjustable metal ring, and then some 3inch pieces of PVC pipe that I just line before using. A few flan rings too.

  25. Bea says:

    Yes oddly enough, I find nectarines particularly tricky when purchased out of season, just like apricots. Good substitution choice! Lovely result.

  26. Gorgeous as usual.

    I will have to try the vacuum wrap thing! Sounds very promising,

    Thanks for sharing,


  27. Cakelaw says:

    This dessert looks exquisite – you didn’t need the nectarines.

  28. Lore says:

    I would’ve acted just like your son did since I’m pretty fond of nectarines. That’s an interesting crumble, easy to remember and if I can freeze it even better!

  29. Pilar says:

    Pues a mi me pasa como a Ali, apenas entiendo las recetas, pero las fotos son sensacionales. Podrías hacer un blog en paralelo en castellano, o poner las recetas en los dos idiomas como La Casita verde y otros blogs. Venga animate, me encantaría poder comprender perfectamente tus recetas.
    Un abrazo

  30. linda says:

    So pretty and so delicious too! Love the way it looks.

  31. Suzana says:

    Oh that was quite a disappointment! But you’ve created a lovely dessert despite that. Apples do just fine for me. :-)

  32. B says:

    Apples or nectarines, always delicious desserts! It’s good to know which fruits you can combine or exchange if you don’t have the “right” fruit in hand. I guess it takes a lot of experience to know and be able to foresee which combinations work and which ones don’t. Very pedagogic!

  33. The whole presentation looks so good!

  34. Roberto N. says:

    this sponge recipe just saved my life. Thanks a lot. Your desserts look so delicious, thet make me want to visit Florida.

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