Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mystique of the Peach Melba and Melba Toast




The Mystique of the Peach Melba and Melba Toast

By Carol Craftman
The Spirit News
November 11, 2076


The Peach Melba (French: pêche Melba, pronounced [pɛʃ mɛl.ba]) is a dessert of peaches and raspberry sauce with vanilla ice cream. The dish was invented in 1892 or 1893 by the French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel, London, to honour the Australian soprano Nellie Melba.

In 1892, Nellie Melba was performing in Wagner's opera Lohengrin at Covent Garden. The Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party to celebrate her triumph. For the occasion, Escoffier created a new dessert, and to display it, he used an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera. The swan carried peaches which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream and which were topped with spun sugar. In 1900 Escoffier created a new version of the dessert. For the occasion of the opening of the Carlton Hotel, where he was head chef, Escoffier omitted the ice swan and topped the peaches with raspberry purée.

Other versions of this dessert use pears, apricots, or strawberries instead of peaches and/or use raspberry sauce or melted red currant jelly instead of raspberry purée. In tribute to Escoffier an elaborate deconstruction of the Peach Melba was served as the last dish at elBulli prior to its closure in 2012.



Melba toast is a dry, crisp and thinly sliced toast, often served with soup and salad or topped with either melted cheese or pâté. It is named after Dame Nellie Melba, the stage name of Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell. Its name is thought to date from 1897, when the singer was very ill and it became a staple of her diet. The toast was created for her by chef and fan Auguste Escoffier, who also created the Peach Melba dessert for her. The hotel proprietor César Ritz supposedly named it in a conversation with Escoffier.

Melba toast is made by lightly toasting slices of bread under a grill, on both sides. The resulting toast is then sliced laterally. The thin slices are then returned to the grill with the untoasted sides towards the heat source, resulting in toast half the normal thickness. Thus, it can be described as a twice-baked food.

Melba toast is also available commercially, and was at one time given to infants who were teething as a hard food substance on which to chew. In France, it is referred to as croûtes en dentele. In 1925, the Mayo Brothers prescribed the "Eighteen Day Reducing Diet" to Ethel Barrymore. It included Melba toast, which made the toast very popular at the time.