Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

With tender poached peaches, bright raspberry sauce, and a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, it’s hard to go wrong with peach Melba. It’s the fancy-feeling dessert I make for dinner parties during the summer, when all I want is something cool, refreshing, and relatively low-effort. Though there’s a little cooking involved—you’ll have to poach peaches and make a quick raspberry sauce—most of it can be prepared ahead of time, making it the ideal dessert to serve a crowd. 

Named after the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba, the dish was created by the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier in the 1890s when he was working at the Savoy Hotel in London. Melba was in town to perform in the opera Lohengrin and invited Escoffier to attend a show. According to Larousse Gastronomique, Escoffier—inspired by the swan in the opera—carved a swan out of ice and used it as a vessel for serving Melba a dessert of poached peaches and vanilla ice cream topped with spun sugar. It wasn’t until 1900, when Escoffier was the head chef at the Carlton Restaurant in London, that he introduced the addition of raspberry sauce to the dessert. 

There have been many interpretations of the dessert since; perhaps the most famous is Ferran Adrìa’s deconstructed spin on the dish, which he served as the very last course before closing his restaurant el Bulli for good in 2011. My version of the dessert doesn’t involve quite as many components as Adrìa’s—you’ll find no modernist cooking techniques here. Like Escoffier, I keep it relatively simple with peaches poached in a vanilla syrup and serve the fruit with raspberry sauce and good vanilla ice cream.

Because the ingredients are so simple, I’d advise getting your hands on the best peaches and vanilla ice cream possible. You could make the sauce with fresh raspberries, but since frozen berries are almost always packaged at the peak of seasonal ripeness, I find they’re more consistently delicious.

As for the poaching syrup, vanilla paste is my compromise of convenience between using extract and a whole vanilla bean, as it contains seeds from a vanilla pod and is slightly more potent than extract, but not quite as expensive as vanilla beans. But if you have a stash of vanilla beans lying around, this is the moment to pull one out—especially if you plan on preparing the peaches in advance and letting them sit in the poaching liquid overnight, as the vanilla bean will continue to steep and infuse the syrup with flavor as it sits.

You’ll notice there’s no salt in the recipe—that’s not a mistake. While I’m a big advocate of seasoning desserts, the peaches and raspberries bring so much on their own that any additional salt really isn’t needed. Just as I wouldn’t feel the need to salt a perfectly ripe fresh peach, I’ve decided to omit the salt here entirely. This, however, all comes down to personal preference, and you’re more than welcome to garnish your peach Melba with some flaky salt if desired.

There’s not much you can do to improve a sweet, ripe peach eaten at the peak of summer, but a light poach in a syrup of honey, lemon juice, and vanilla imparts the fruit with a bright, floral note that’s undeniably elegant. Served with vanilla ice cream and a raspberry sauce that’s just tart and sweet enough, peach Melba is the dessert you’ll want to make all summer long.

For the Raspberry Sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine raspberries, water, sugar, and lemon juice over medium heat. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, raspberries are broken down, and sauce is slightly thickened. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain sauce into a medium bowl; discard solids and set sauce aside.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Peaches: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring water, sugar, honey, lemon juice, and vanilla paste to a boil over high heat. In a large bowl, set up an ice bath by filling it halfway with cold water and ice. Set aside.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using a sharp paring knife, score a small X at the base of each peach; set aside. Lower peaches into boiling syrup with slotted spoon, reduce heat to a simmer, and poach peaches, turning halfway through, until flesh is tender when pierced with a knife, about 6 minutes, Using a slotted spoon, transfer peaches to the ice bath and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Reserve poaching liquid. (See make-ahead and storage.)

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Working with 1 peach at a time, start at scored X on the base of peach and, using a paring knife, peel back and remove loosened skin from peach. Discard skins and repeat with remaining peaches. Cut each peach in half through stem and remove pit. Slice peeled peach halves into thirds. (See notes.)

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To serve, place a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream in a bowl and top with peach slices and raspberry sauce.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


Vanilla extract or a full vanilla bean, split, may be substituted for vanilla paste.

If your peach isn’t a freestone peach, its pit may not release easily. If you can’t remove the pit easily, cut off the cheeks of the peach, flush to the pit, and the remaining sides, and slice them as best as you can.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The raspberry sauce can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.

The peaches can be poached up to 3 days in advance. Once cooled, the cooked peach halves can be refrigerated with their poaching liquid in an airtight container. The poaching liquid can be reused to poach more peaches, used in a cocktail, or stirred into sparkling water to make a non-alcoholic beverage.

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