Prato is definitely the best place to be for a sweet breakfast or snack. The city boasts a high concentration of top pastry shops and bakeries. Among the sweet specialties that you'll find in the city centre and surrounding area are Pesche di Prato (Peaches from Prato): rounded brioches soaked in alkermes liqueur and paired with custard, then covered with sugar, resembling the shape and skin of natural peaches.
It's said they were first made at the end of March in 1861 during a huge dinner party in Prato’s Piazza del Duomo celebrating Italian unification. The dessert was the crowning glory of the whole meal, though. The chef served confectionery peaches and they were such a roaring success that Pratese confectioners began making them immediately and they have been around ever since.
Since I knew that the recipe isn’t very difficult (though you do need lots of time and patience), I travelled to Prato to met Paolo Sacchetti: one of the best Tuscan and Italian Pastry chefs. He has his famous pastry shop behind Piazza del Duomo, where you can stop for a coffee and sweet merenda. Here is his recipe.
Milk 350 g
6 egg yolks
Salt, a pinch
Vanilla pod 1/2
Combine the milk, cream, the pulp of a vanilla pod and the lemon zest. Put it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, sift the flour with half of the sugar and the salt and put everything in a pot.
Heat the milk (with the cream, vanilla and lemon zest) and gradually add the remaining sugar.
When the milk is hot, start adding 100 g of this mixture to the pot containing the flour, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolks and beat with a whisk until the mixture is smooth.
When the remaining milk is boiling, filter it from the lemon zest and add it to the mixture.
Put this mixture on the stove and use a whisk to make it creamy.
Cool it in a cold bain-marie and stir frequently to prevent crustiness on the surface.
1 kg plain flour
Yeast 35 g
Acacia honey 40 g
Brewer’s yeast 20 g
A pinch of salt
Knead 45 g of flour, 2 eggs, 60 g of sugar, all the yeast, 60 g of butter and the water
Let rise until the volume is tripled (about 90 minutes)Mix the remaining ingredients and the vanilla pod pulp.
Add it to the first section of risen dough. Knead until elastic.
Let everything rise again for about 90 minutes.
Weigh 100 g of the dough and make a loaf with both hands. Slice it into 8 pieces, 15 g each.
Turn the dough pieces into small balls. Put them on a greased baking sheet.
After 10 minutes, flatten them one by one with your hands.
Let them rise for 4 -5 hours and cook for 6-7 minutes at 220 ° C.
Water 80 ml
In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar, bring it to a boil, turn it off and set the mixture aside for a few minutes.
Add the 60 g of Alkermes and mix
Assembling the peaches
With a knife, lightly pierce the flat surface of the brioche, then soak them in the warm syrup.
Using a pastry bag, fill the brioche holes with cream.
Pair them, and roll in sugar.
To finish, decorate your peaches with a slice of candied orange.