When desserts make your heart sing – SBS

A luscious dessert made well can certainly make your heart sing, taste buds dance and body sway to the decadent symphony playing in your mind.

It’s no wonder then that some of the world’s most delightful desserts intentionally play an entertaining note, through a history of song and musical icons from bygone eras.

Here are some of our favourite desserts created with a tasty melody in mind.

Peach Melba

This dessert made of peaches, raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream was invented by famed French chef, Auguste Escoffier in the 1890s to delight its Aussie namesake: Australian operatic soprano, Nellie Melba.

As the story goes, Nellie often ate at Escoffier’s restaurants while performing in Covent Garden. The opera singer sent the chef tickets to her performance in the Wagner opera Lohengrin, which featured a beautiful boat in the shape of a swan.

The chef then took inspiration from the opera when cooking for a dinner party hosted by the Duke of Orléans at the Savoy Hotel. It was here that the chef presented Nellie with ‘pecheau cygne’ or ‘peach with a swan’ in recognition of the opera. The dish served peaches over vanilla ice cream, presented in a silver dish perched atop a swan carved from ice.

Some years later, when Escoffier co-opened the Ritz Carlton in London, he modified the dish by adding a sweetened raspberry purée on top. The dish was renamed Pêche Melba or Peach Melba, which it is still known as today.

Poire Belle Hélène

It turns out that Escoffier was a busy chef with an ear for opera and a taste for sweet fruit. He didn’t just pursue his operatic love through the creation of Peach Melba but many other desserts with musical themes.

Take for example Poire belle Hélène, which translates to ‘beautiful Helen’.

It’s a dessert contrasting hot pears poached in sugar syrup, drizzled with a hot chocolate sauce, with the coolness of vanilla ice cream.

The dish was invented around 1864 by Escoffier to honour the operetta La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach. The piece presents a satirical spin on Greek mythology. In the operetta, Helen of Troy elopes with Paris, an act that triggers the Trojan War. 

Turns out the operetta was so popular at the time that many chefs named dishes after it, including Escoffier with his pear-based dessert.

Musician’s tart

This sweet treat hails from Catalonia Spain, from a time when musicians roamed the countryside offering entertainment.  

One story behind the dessert explains how, in the olden days, musicians were usually the first to leave a table after a performance. The travelling musicians would take dried fruits and nuts from the table and put them in their pockets to eat later.

Other culinary tales reveal that Catalan musicians were given dried fruits and nuts, accompanied by a glass of wine, in exchange for a musical performance. Although by today’s standards, a handful of nuts don’t come close to minimum wage, back then it was a custom. The tradition has since been updated, turning the pay of dried fruit, nuts and wine into an actual tart.

The tart is aptly called ‘musician’s tart’. It has a rich caramel topping, sweet crust, a filling of dates and almonds, and a taste that only a musical rendition can buy.

Opera cake

Opera cake is an elaborate, rectangular, French pastry that’s made of three layers of Joconde almond flavoured sponge, soaked in coffee syrup (or Grand Marnier), topped with French buttercream and a chocolate glaze.

The gateau was created by the famous pastry chef Louis Clichy, who premiered the dessert, finished with his name written across the top, at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. This gateau became the signature of Clichy’s shop.

However, accounts reveal that in 1955, the revered French pastry chef, Cyriaque Gavillon, re-popularised the opera cake while he was working at Dalloyau (one of the oldest bakeries in France).

The dessert was called L’Opéra, in honour of the Paris Opera house. Others say it was called opera cake because the cake’s many layers were reminiscent of an opera’s many acts.


While Australia and New Zealand argue over who invented the beloved dessert, Pavlova, there is one pav truth that everyone agrees upon, who the dish was named after.

Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926, provided the inspiration for the meringue-based creation.

According to New Zealand legend, a chef at a Wellington hotel invented the dessert in the ballerina’s honour in the 1920s. The design of the circular block of crisp, baked meringue was based on the image of her tutu.

However, Australians refute this story, believing that the Pavlova was invented at a hotel in Perth. The dish was then named Pavlova when a diner commented how the dessert was as “light as Pavlova”.

So who knows who really invented or named the dish? As long as the contrast of crisp meringue and soft cream makes you dance on the inside, that’s all that counts. 

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