Peschine – Boozy Pastry Peaches

It all began when my mother gave me an Italian pastry recipe book which contained this childhood classic (well, mine at least). These are small shortcrust biscuits sandwiched together with pastry cream, then rolled in a dark red liqueur and granulated sugar. The result is a peach-looking like biscuit, very boozy and finger lickin’ good. I remember going to the pastry shop as a kid and asking my mother to buy me one of these, only to devour it in a few seconds. Not that I showed any alcoholic obsessions from an early age (the alcohol content is minimal if compared to other desserts), but more because of the deep red colour and the intense flavour these biscuits have. Just divine.

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According to tradition, these should be made using two liqueurs. First, Maraschino, a Dalmatian liqueur obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries, is added to the dough. As I didn’t have it, I used Cognac instead. These little beauties are then rolled in Alchermes, an Italian alcoholic concoction prepared with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla. Alchermes is renowned for its deep scarlet red colour, obtained with the addition of Kermes, a parasitic insect. When it came out the liqueur was prepared with insects, sales dropped and people refused to use it. As a result, modern preparations prefer vegetable colourings instead. I bought mine in Italy, but you should be able to buy it online or in specialist shops.¬†Also, the filling can traditionally be either pastry cream or its chocolate version. I stipulated in favour of the second one, mostly because that’s the way I have always had them.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp Cognac
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of one lemon

Ingredients (for the filling and decoration)

  • about 450g pastry cream and/or chocolate pastry cream
  • about 200ml Alchermes
  • 200g granulated sugar

Method

  1. Line two (or three) baking trays with baking parchment. Do not turn the oven on now as the pastry needs to chill.
  2. Using a freestanding mixer (or your hands), cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix that in.
  3. Mix the flour with the raising agents, then sift those in and work them into the mixture, ensuring not to overwork it. Add the liqueur and the lemon zest, then work those in too. Gather the dough into a ball.
  4. Dust your working surface with a good amount of flour, then place your dough in the middle and use a floured rolling pin to roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin. Use a 4cm round cutter to cut shapes, then roll each one into a ball and place on the prepared baking tray. Keep on re-rolling your pastry trimmings to make as many nugget-sized pastry balls as possible. Also ensure you have an even number as you will need to sandwich them. Transfer each baking tray to the fridge to firm up before baking. You will need approximately 20-30 minutes.
  5. Towards the end of the baking time, pre-heat your oven to 180C, then bake each biscuit batch for 15 minutes. Do not overbake to give them a deep golden colour as they will be too hard afterwards. Remove each batch from the fridge and leave on a wire rack to cool down and firm up.
  6. Once cooled, use a knife to slightly carve the peach halves. This will ensure more cream can be used to fill them and keep the two halves together.
  7. When you are ready to assemble, place the granulated sugar in a shallow bowl, the liqueur in another and have the pastry cream at hand with a teaspoon. In an assembly line sort of way, fill the two halves with some pastry cream, then join them on the flat side to make them stick. Dunk them briefly in the Alchermes (you don’t want them to become too soggy), then roll them in the granulated sugar. Transfer them to an empty plate and, should you feel particularly artistic, decorate each one with a small mint leaf.

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3 Liqueur Cupcakes

These were the lucky outcome of a small experiment in the kitchen. It all started when I set off to make the Espresso & Brandy cupcakes from here. I soon realized, however, that I did not want to have to make some coffee just to use 1 tablespoon (especially as I have a 6 cup caffettiera). Instead of using coffee, I thought, why not use a coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua? Unfortunately (or luckily?), my liqueur cabinet is always adequately stocked. Not that I sneak downstairs when my partner is fast asleep and drink in the solitude of the night, but I do keep a good assortment of booze for baking and cooking. You would be amazed at how many uses a bottle of brandy can lend itself to. Anyway, I decided to slightly change the frosting recipe too, thinking 5 tablespoons of liqueur would have made it exceedingly runny. Therefore, I decided to match the flavour of the cupcake by adding some Kahlua, followed by some Brandy (the only one in the original recipe) and, weirdly enough, some Malibu (a coconut flavoured liqueur). The result was a deep success, with my partner (who doesn’t like sweet things) even declaring the icing reminded him of ice-cream. Yippee!

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Ingredients (for the cupcakes)

  • 185g unsalted butter, softened
  • 185g golden caster sugar
  • 185g self-raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g full-fat cream cheese
  • 400g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua
  • 1 tbsp Brandy
  • 1 tbsp Malibu
  • cocoa powder, optional

Method

  1. First of all, line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases and pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, then slowly add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Incorporate the flour and the salt, then pour in the liqueur and beat well until very smooth and pale.
  4. Divide the batter between the paper cases (I used an icre-cream scoop), then bake for 35 minutes, until the sponges spring back when lightly pressed.
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
  6. In the meantime, prepare the icing. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter with the cream cheese, then slowly add the icing sugar and use a rubber spatula to mix that in with the butter and cheese mixture.
  7. Using the paddle attachment, beat the icing on high speed until very light and fluffy, then gradually add the liqueurs, mixing well after each addition.
  8. Transfer to a piping bag with a star nozzle attached and, once the cupcakes are cooled, pipe big swirls on the top surface, trying not to break the flow and to pipe moving from the outsides to the insides. Dust with some cocoa powder if you want to.

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