Desserts are my passion and my favorite part of any meal. On more than one occasion, I have planned the menu for a dinner party by choosing the dessert first and then deciding what other dishes would be served.
I love to make sweet confections any time of the year, but the summer months, when a bounty of fresh, locally grown fruit is in its prime, are the best for dessert aficionados like me.
This past week, peaches have been the object of my affection. I bought bags of ripe yellow peaches and baked a pan of peeled slices topped with butter and sugar. To go with the warm baked peaches, I prepared creme anglaise, a simple French custard sauce made by cooking egg yolks and sugar with warm milk and/or cream.
Typically, creme anglaise is flavored with vanilla, but I seasoned mine with star anise and was delighted with the delicious flavor that this spice added to the sauce.
Warm Baked Peaches With Anise-Scented Creme Anglaise
4 whole star anise (see note)
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 pounds ripe (but not soft) yellow peaches
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons extra if needed
6 mint sprigs, for garnish
To prepare sauce, crush star anise coarsely using spice grinder, blender or mortar and pestle. Or place anise in heavy plastic food bag and roll over with rolling pin to crush. Measure 1 heaping teaspoon (save any extra for another use) and place in heavy medium saucepan along with cream and milk.
Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, then remove and let stand 20 minutes so that anise flavor infuses liquids. Strain mixture and discard star anise.
In another heavy medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until blended. Whisk in strained cream mixture. Place pan over low heat and, whisking constantly, cook until mixture thickens and coats back of spoon thickly, 2 to 3 minutes or longer.
Remove from heat. Cool, then cover and refrigerate until chilled. (Creme anglaise can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated until needed.)
To prepare peaches, bring large pot of water to boil. Add 4 to 5 peaches at a time and boil only 20 to 30 seconds to loosen skins, then remove with slotted spoon. Repeat with remaining peaches.
Using sharp paring knife, gently peel skins from peaches. Halve peaches, lengthwise, then cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. Discard pits.
Butter medium baking dish with some butter and spread peaches evenly in pan. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar and dot with remaining butter.
Bake at 350 degrees until peaches are hot and bubbling and quite tender but not mushy, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove. Taste warm peaches. If not sweet enough, sprinkle with some additional sugar.
To serve, spoon warm peaches into 6 shallow bowls or onto 6 dessert plates. Ladle generous amount of chilled creme anglaise over each serving. Garnish each with mint sprig. Pass extra sauce separately.
Note: Star anise is a dark brown, star-shaped pod that contains a small pea-sized seed in each of its 8 segments. It comes from China and has a flavor that is a little more bitter than traditional anise seed. This spice is available in Asian markets and in some supermarkets.