Laberinto

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day,
and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going,
but you never do it.
You just use the future to escape the present.

—John Green, Looking for Alaska

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I think about the labyrinth of the present, of my mind in its current state, constantly. Impossible to escape, despite all attempts to invent oneself out of now and into another time. I do it all the time.
I look backwards, wistfully, elevating everything into bliss and wiping away traces of messy, imperfect reality.
The best days are always behind me.
I look forward, greedily, skimming over the years until I land on a future fantasia, where the disordered threads of my life have converged and become a disciplined ensemble.
The tidiest days are always ahead of me.

Living in the moment is something I often declare as a goal. It is an intention I have set, deliberately, at the outset of most inflection points during my time on Earth. I tell myself I will:

Spend more time with myself as I am right at this instant, and learn to feel comfortable in that state, one of constant evolution, yes, but also one of acceptance. Embrace all my past and future selves, real or invented or embellished, as they fold up into an origami soul.

Spend more time with real, live people. Friends, family, lovers. Admire them more for all their flaws. Hold their hands, feel their skin, covet their smiles and tears, kiss faces and foreheads, and look at them. Really look: even the harshest stare is softened into a misty gaze when directed at those about whom you truly care. Waste more time with them. Let pointless moments collect like droplets, with the full knowledge that the heart and mind can never overflow with happy, vague, little memories like these.

Most importantly, spend less time in raptured jealousy on the internet, poring over curated existences. This is the most difficult aspect of appreciating the moment, because it’s what sucks me out of the present most often. To divorce myself from technology, even for a few hours a day, is nearly unfeasible. Anything less than ultimate determination, and I find myself scrolling, absorbed but not absorbing. And without this final aspect, the first two fail with certainty.

I will, I will, I will. I promise. I try. I fail. Repeat.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

All this begets a larger question:
How do you determine your self worth? How do you self-actualize and self-conceptualize in a super-saturated, 4K world, sodden with content and people and their highlight reels?
Is it such a wonder that so many struggle with it?

You hear it over and over again, that connecting with people is different now, in our online world. We simultaneously feel present in thousands of people’s lives, and can share intimate details of our own, from the comfort of our bedroom, but spend little time—if that—physically with others.
When we do, we are all nose-to-screen.
Pantone has it wrong. The color zeitgeist of this entire generation won’t change year to year, and it isn’t Ultra Violet or Radiant Orchid. It’s a pulsating, pale blue, the glowing whisper of an LCD.
It already has a Pantone-like name: Liquid Crystal, weakly illuminating—and connecting—the entire world.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

If finding yourself among the superabundance of the internet is difficult, sourcing inspiration that allows you to be individually creative without being iterative can feel nigh impossible.
What hasn’t been created before? Where is your voice? And what is your signature?

Is it worth it to expend so much energy fighting algorithms? Competing to carve out your niche while millions do the same is invariably exhausting, but laughably easy to obsess over.
Most of us accept likes, clicks, comments as engagement. We chase it. Is there a better way for us creators to measure how much we make people feel? Is that not what we’re supposed to care about when we create?
I have to actively remind myself that it doesn’t matter whether people like my art or not. But I have the advantage of separation; this blog is an outlet, not an occupation. I am lucky. I sympathize with and admire those who have to learn how to exploit social media algorithms, or avoid their cold, ruthless chopping blocks.

Today, I am inspired by Serena Garcia Dalla Venezia, a Chilean artist who creates beautiful sculptures composed of tiny, undulating balls of fabric. Her work is mesmerizing, organic, and utterly unique.
One of the most popular cake artists on Instagram, Tortik Annushka, creates some cakes inspired by Serena that just blow my mind.
The mythical algorithm delivered this inspiration to me, and I couldn’t help but accept it and try to recreate it in my own kitchen, derivative or not.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So I’m sharing, today, this cake. It has my signature, but isn’t my invention.
It isn’t perfect, but I won’t let comparison, that thief of joy, in for even a minute.
Anyways, she’s not too special in flavor or make, in all honesty. A sturdy, trustworthy cake, with a time-tested frosting.
But gussy this simple almond and lemon cake, with a light crumb and subtle flavor, enrobed in a lemon Italian meringue buttercream, with pearls of marzipan covered in gold leaf, and suddenly it is not only striking, but a piece of art.

I hope we can all continue to be inspired, rather than overwhelmed, by the digital world. There’s so much out there to explore—more than ever before—as long as we’re careful not to lose ourselves.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Lemon and Almond Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
60 grams (1/2 cup) flour
25 grams (1/4 cup) almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
60 grams (1/4 cup) yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk (save the white for the frosting)
40 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) neutral-flavored oil

for the frosting:
2 egg whites
200 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
15 grams (1 tablespoon) lemon or lime juice
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
1/4 teaspoon salt
212 grams (1/2 cup, 2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces

to decorate:
marzipan
gel food coloring
gold leaf

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease two 6-inch rounds.
Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together.
Rub the lemon zest and sugar in a bowl with your fingers until it becomes fragrant; add to the flour mixture. Add the yogurt, eggs, and oil, and mix together.
Bake for 22-27 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch and is golden.

Make the frosting: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, citrus juice, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To assemble the cake, stack layers with 1/3-1/2 cup frosting between them.
Use about 1 cup of frosting to crumb coat and level out the cake; freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Finish the cake with the remaining frosting as desired, leveling out as best you can.

To decorate: divide marzipan into a few pieces.
Knead each piece with a varying amount of food coloring.
To achieve greys and purply-blues, I used white food coloring (titanium dioxide), black food coloring, and a little bit of purple.
Roll into different sized balls.
Cover some with gold leaf, using a brush or your fingers (careful not to breathe too hard!).
Smush the marzipan together into a cohesive shape, a tiny bit taller than your cake (measure it!).
You can use a little bit of water to make sure that the sculpture is stuck together.
Place it on the cake, then use any extra balls you have to decorate the top of the cake and add embellishments around the main part of the sculpture.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Sixième

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Always you have been told that work is a curse
and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of Earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you
when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth
loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be
intimate with life’s inmost secret.

—Khalil Gibran

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy sixth birthday, La Pêche Fraîche!
I can’t believe that these past years have flown by so quickly.
Six seems impossibly long. I swear I was celebrating two years just a moment ago, in my house’s common room in our dorm.

But I can’t deny it: it’s 2018, and the first time I hit publish was May 30th, 2012.
2012! I was an angsty 16-year old junior in high school, still taking AP Chemistry. I don’t think I even had my full driver’s license yet.
Now I’m an angsty 22-year old. Looking back on now in 6 years, I’m sure I’ll think I didn’t even have a properly-sized apartment yet.

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

In six years, will I still be running this space?
I suspect so, but expect nothing. Life takes on so many bizarre shapes, which I know well enough even as young as I am. What is certainly undeniable is that being a blogger, an internet writer, has become folded into my sense of self. Inextricably.

I don’t consider La Pêche Fraîche to be my alter ego, or a nickname, or anything like that. In fact, I don’t think of the title often—it is mildly disconcerting to ponder about.
LPF is, at once, of me and defining to me. I am the creator, but the implications of the final product are more than I think the pieces that I put in. What I mean is that when I think of this blog, I think of it as an independent piece of the world, when in reality it is simply a promulgation of my private self.
It does not—it cannot—exist apart from me. But somehow, in the ether, it does. Would that make it harder to put down and walk away from, or easier? I don’t know.
It is impossible to say whether La Pêche Fraîche, the fresh peach, is me, or if I am it.
It can be as difficult to pick up a mirror and look with clarity at yourself as to break your gaze and put it down. Narcissus, indeed.

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This beauty of a cake is a triumph of coconut and chocolate.
The vegan coconut cake is wonderfully chewy, with a texture that is dense and moreish.
Coconut oil provides the luxurious mouthfeel, and coconut milk keeps the whole cake extremely moist.
It is soft in the center, with a light, springy crumb.
Between the layers, a softly salted coconut and chocolate ganache is thickly spread for a rich, deep contrast to the sweet and silky coconut buttercream.
Delicate, naturally dyed (freeze-dried raspberries and matcha!) flowers are laid on the cake, alongside little seed pearl sprinkles.

The whole effect is super girly and kawaii, and would be perfect for a tea-party, or a celebration of any kind.  I love the hand-painted effect of the flowers, although I think I need more practice with the technique to really get it down pat.

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Five years / simple chocolate cake
Four years / eclectic chocolate cake
Three years / vanilla almond cake
Two years / malted milk birthday cake
One year / yikes

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Thanks for your support, dear readers. It means the world to me.
Everything here is for you.

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 5 or 6 layer x 6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
480 grams (2 cups) canned coconut milk
200 grams (1 cup) coconut oil, liquid
30 grams (2 tablespoons) vinegar

for the chocolate ganache:
150 grams (5 1/2 ounces) dark dairy-free chocolate
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) full fat coconut milk, well shaken/stirred

for the buttercream:
170 grams (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
625 grams (5 cups) powdered sugar, or as needed
45-75 grams (3-5 tablespoons) coconut milk, or as needed
crushed freeze-dried raspberries, matcha powder, and sprinkles, to decorate

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together, and make a well in the center.
Stir in coconut milk, coconut oil, and vinegar until the batter is smooth.
Fold the shredded coconut into the batter and pour into prepared pans.
Bake until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs, or about 20-25 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
When cakes are cool, split in half (one of my layers split incorrectly, so I only had 5 layers in this cake).
Make the ganache: heat chocolate gently in the microwave in 15 second bursts until 1/2 melted.
Add in the coconut oil and heat until the chocolate is 2/3 melted.
Set aside; heat the coconut milk and salt until warmed, about 20 seconds.
Whisk the chocolate vigorously while adding in the coconut milk; whisk until glossy and fully melted.
Set aside until cooled to room temperature.
Whip the cooled ganache until it is fluffy and lightened in color, about 1 minute.
Spread in between the layers of cake and place in fridge to set while you make the buttercream.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place butter, coconut oil, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until very light colored and doubled in volume.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in 4 cups of the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating on high speed after each addition.
Add in 2 tablespoons of coconut milk and beat on high speed to incorporate.
Scrape the bowl and taste the frosting; if it is too thin, add the next cup of powdered sugar; if it is too thick, add another tablespoon of milk at a time.
If it is too buttery, add the extra cup of powdered sugar plus 2 tablespoons milk and beat on high speed for another minute.
Split out 2 small portions of frosting (one about 3 tablespoons and one about 2 tablespoons) add the crushed freeze-dried raspberries (to the larger portion) and matcha (to the smaller portion), if desired, and beat to combine.
Frost cake, being sure to have a fridge nearby for when the frosting gets soft (the coconut oil doesn’t hold up well in high temperatures).
To make the flowers, use the edge of a palette knife or a small teaspoon to smear one petal/leaf at time.
Decorate with pearl sprinkles and fresh flowers!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Full of May

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting | La Pêche Fraîche

I FOUND you and I lost you,
All on a gleaming day.
The day was filled with sunshine,
And the land was full of May.
A golden bird was singing
Its melody divine,
I found you and I loved you,
And all the world was mine.
I found you and I lost you,
All on a golden day,
But when I dream of you, dear,
It is always brimming May.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting | La Pêche Fraîche

LONG TIME NO TALK.
I never expect to be gone as long as I am… I do find that sometimes it’s hard to sit down and write, as much as I want to. Gone are the days of free-flowing writing. They have been gone for a good, long while, actually.
I used to write poetry, jotting down notes every time a line or two came to me. Now, it all feels forced and terribly childish. I can’t bear to let myself alone with a thesaurus, for fear of everything reading like a middle schooler’s first essay.
In fact, the more I try to write, the more likely that the words won’t come, an inverse relationship that leaves me staring at a blinking cursor between pictures of cake.
Still, might as well give it my best shot.

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting | La Pêche Fraîche

May is quite the mixed month in my life.
Every year, a new, complicated layer seems to be spread over the top. It is hopeless to try to keep up with all of the different dates, but the whole month is permeated with emotions from each event.

May is (one of) my brother’s birthday month.
It is the month when a close family friend passed from here to the infinite.
It was my last class as a college student.
It was an anniversary, and now it isn’t.
It brims with spring and the promise of warmth.
It marks another year of this blog.

This is the first May in all my 22 years that does not demarcate a major change in scenery and activity for me. That is to say, I will keep working, I will stay in the same apartment, etc., etc., just in shorter skirts and fewer jackets.
There are no internships nor summer vacation for adults. I won’t be graduating or going to camp or home for an extended stay.
It is curious to feel static and still sense summer swelling.

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting | La Pêche Fraîche

Anyways. Abrupt change to cake because there’s nothing that really connects it to ~musings of May~.
This cake. I mean, dang. Couldn’t you just faceplant into those swoops and swirls of Nutella buttercream (because I could)?

It’s a banana snack cake, super moist with the addition of sour cream. The edges are slightly crisp from the high fat content, and the center is comfortingly squidgey and dense.
A great pile of Nutella buttercream, fluffy and heavily salted to cut the sweetness, is spread on top, without overmuch worry about it being perfectly smooth.
A pinch (or two) of sprinkles, and you have a happy snacking cake, easy to make, transport, and eat.

This is a good one to keep in your back pocket, folks.
Banana and Nutella are both total crowd pleasers, and for good reason.
(And now I am thinking about banana and Nutella crepes…)

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting | La Pêche Fraîche

Nutella, previously:
The Ultimate Chocolate Cake
Raspberry White Chocolate and Nutella Éclairs
Assorted Cupcakes I and
Assorted Cupcakes II
Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream
Linzer Cookies

Banana, previously:
Maple Banana Cake
Banana Cake with Almond Dacquoise, Coffee Pastry Cream, and Chocolate Meringue Buttercream (AKA this girl’s 22nd birthday cake)
Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes
Classic Banana Cake with Speculoos Glaze
Tropical Coconut Banana Cake
Vegan Banana Muffins

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting | La Pêche Fraîche

Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting
cake portion adapted from Food52/ButterYum
makes 1 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
130 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) sour cream
1 egg
30 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (about 3 small or 2 large) overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
120 grams (1 cup) flour

for the frosting:
113 grams (8 tablespoons, 1/2 cup) butter, softened
75 grams (1/2 cup) Nutella
30 grams (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
350 grams (2.5 cups) powdered sugar, as needed
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) half-and-half or milk, as needed
sprinkles, if desired

directions:

Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour an 8″x8″ or 9×9″ pan liberally.
Cream butter, sugar, salt, and egg together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the sour cream and mashed bananas until about halfway incorporated.
Add the flour and baking soda and stir well to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl.
Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
To make the frosting: whip butter on high speed for 3 minutes, or until very fluffy and light.
Add in Nutella and salt and whip for another 2 minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, stirring slowly and increasing speed after each addition.
Add in the milk or half-and-half 1 tablespoon at a time; whip frosting between additions until the spreadability and consistency of the frosting are to your liking (this can vary enormously depending on the humidity and heat of your kitchen).
Spread frosting thickly over cooled cake, and top with sprinkles as desired.
SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

La Noix de Muscade

“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.
We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.
Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction—one last midnight—brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

—Rust Cole, True Detective

I suppose spring isn’t the right time to be referencing Rust Cole’s doom and gloom, but forgive for today my moody melodrama.
It comes alongside an excellent cookie recipe, so I daresay it’s worth it.
And besides, it doesn’t really feel like the season has changed yet. Winds are still whipping, snow is still falling upstate and in Chicago, blooms are still only mere suggestions of buds, and the sun’s warmth is not yet fully baked.
I, um, think we might need a reiteration of our stage directions here.

Exeunt March, in the manner of a lamb.
Exe! Unt!

On the first day of spring, a nor’easter hit NYC. It was m i s erable.
The day after, a finger of spring light, so faint that it might have been mistaken for an indoor flood lamp slipped out in the early morning and later opened up into a jubilant and blinding day.
I had to go to the NYU hospital for volunteer orientation; it’s a fair hike from my office and requires a long-ish subway ride.
As I have mentioned here before, I do my best people watching when on the subway, particularly when I’m a bit moody and would like to be out walking in the sun rather than hurtling away in damp underground tunnels.

My favorite scene of the day was of two elderly deaf ladies, seated across from one another on the uptown 6, silently gabbing at the speed of light. They paused only when Spring St. shoppers shuffled through their path, craning their necks around skinny teenage-d legs and crisply creased shopping bags to recommence their discussion as quickly as possible.
I also took note of and rolled my eyes at the baseless optimism of the two men who stepped, one in a sweatshirt and other in a proper-looking ivy cap, lockstep onto the subway as they loudly answered phone calls. Both expressed only the mildest annoyance when their signals inevitably dropped. Resigned, they pocketed their iPhones, and the rest of the car sighed in relief.

Today’s day started with a dripping, grey smear of a morning, with a forecast that threatened rain. I was up and out of my apartment earlier than usual—sneakers hitting the pavement at 6:05AM.
It was cold and the sun hadn’t yet bothered to rise, so I hustled towards the gym with my fingers jammed into jacket pockets and shoulders hunched over to ward off the chill.

There are only two people in all of New York City who are fully aware of my comings and goings, of the early trudges to the gym and the exhausted late night slogs home from the office (and, in all honestly, the occasional stumble home on boozy nights).
I have never spoken a word to either.
They are the men who run the coffee/pastry and halal carts on my corner, daily bookends so constant that I’m sure many of my neighbors think they can’t possibly move shop every day.
But I have seen the coffee cart open and the halal cart close.

This morning, through admittedly bleary eyes, I saw someone on the pavement laying out cardboard underneath the bright lights of the coffee cart. I thought, at first, that it was one of the two (friendly) homeless men who frequent the corner, but as I neared, I realized it was the man who runs the cart.
He took careful pains to straighten out the cardboard just-so, and smoothed the corners with the flat of his hand a final time before standing, then bowing and kneeling. He was praying.

I was struck by this intimate moment of humanity; prayers directed towards Mecca on a raft of cardboard in the middle of the dirty, slick sidewalk of 14th St. on a drizzling, cold April morning.

In a jaded way, I have been asking myself lately how much of my observation of others is not exposition, but self-centered projection.
How many of these brief moments of presumed humanness are really nothing worth a second glance—just my nosiness taking over?
I wonder if I only take note and mark them as special in order to feel a rush of omniscience, a weak inflation of my ego. How aware and poignant and poetic am I.
Are we not all just people leading our daily lives? And isn’t my daily life bland and beige from the inside?
By attempting to extract meaning from my examination of perfect strangers, I am selfishly wondering who around me is doing the same to the figment of myself that exists within their view.

Mostly, I think, because it is so hard to accept the routine boringness of everyday life; this has become increasingly true in the age of social media, where highlight reels are curated over days and months, so you can post a perfect throwback of a cake while sitting in your desk chair drinking your fifth black cherry seltzer.
It’s not dishonesty, exactly. It’s something else entirely, and the purpose is not only to impress our followers, but to fool ourselves.
And so I make up backstories in my head and curate my instagram. Hmm.

This cookie recipe is a bit of a throwback, itself.
I developed it for the Feed Feed/Bob’s Red Mill winter cookie giveaway way back in December, which was an altogether excellent time.
(Some cookies that were memorable: Patti’s always intricate decorated sugar cookies, which came in the shape of twee penguins with neck-scarves, ice-skates, and earmuffs; Rachel’s milk masala shortbread cookies; Erin’s vanilla sandwich cookies with vanilla bean marshmallow; Sarah’s pan-banging chocolate chip cookies (!!!), and others. Also, someone made soft gingerbread cookies with a cracklingly tart lemon glaze, and the memory of the cookies apparently has outlasted my good manners/memory of their creator. Oops.)

These little gems have a base of fragrant nutmeg shortbread, which is buttery and rich but not so short that it crumbles before you can get it to your mouth; it provides a sturdy enough base for transport or gifting.
Lashed to the butter cookie with a drop of good dark chocolate are ultra light, melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues. These are so crunchy and crisp and delicate; they really reminded me why meringue is one of my top three favorite desserts.
A dusting of powdered sugar gives them an (un)seasonally appropriate finish (ha, ha, ha, yes this everlasting winter is very funny) and provides nice color contrast to the shades of beige underneath.

These are really a special little cookie, elegant and understated, but with a flavor profile that will pleasantly surprise you, even in its subtlety. Oh, and the French word for nutmeg was too poetic not to provide you a translation of the full title:
Des sablés à la noix de muscade avec des meringues au sirop d’érable. Le sigh.

Nutmeg Shortbread with Maple Meringues
makes 50-60 1.5″ cookies

ingredients:
for the cookies:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour

for the meringues:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
60 grams (3 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar (can sub up to 50 grams (1/4 cup) maple sugar)

for assembly:
30 grams (1 ounce) dark chocolate, melted
Powdered sugar, as needed for dusting

directions:
Make the shortbread: beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add the salt, sugar, and nutmeg and beat on high speed for another 3 minutes; mixture should be lightened in color and not grainy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl again and add the flour; fold a few times and then stir on low speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn out the dough and knead into a ball; refrigerate for 15 minutes (and up to 2 days).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut out 1.5 inch rounds and place on prepared pans.
Re-roll dough until all has been used up (I filled 3 baking sheets and baked them 1 sheet at a time).
Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake straight from the freezer for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the meringues: Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, and sugar in a small pot and place over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the egg whites, carefully watching the syrup.
The syrup needs to reach 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) when the egg whites are at soft peaks; adjust speed of your stand mixer or heat under the pot accordingly.
Carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running, avoiding the whisk so that hot syrup does not splash.
Whip on high speed for 3-5 minutes, or until the meringue is fluffy, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a jumbo French tip and pipe small dollops on the prepared pans.
If you’re struggling with the parchment paper flying up and sticking to the meringue, just place small smears of meringue on the baking sheet at the corners as “glue” and stick the parchment down.
Once you have piped out your meringues, place them in the oven.
Bake at 275 for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 degrees and dry for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and lift up off the parchment cleanly.
This can take much longer than 2 hours—it depends on the humidity in your home.
If need be, you can leave the meringues in the oven overnight (I left mine for a full 18 hours…!) at 200 degrees.
To assemble, use a small smear of dark chocolate to affix the meringue onto the shortbread and dust with a little powdered sugar for a snowy finish.

Moyamoya

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Light-winged Smoke! Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight;
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou, my incense, upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

—Henry David Thoreau

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy pi day, party people! Here are 1000 pieces places of pi, to celebrate:

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640
62862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284
81117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233
786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606
31558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194
15116094330572703657595919530921861173819326117931051185480744623799627495673518857
527248912279381830119491298336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798609437
027705392171762931767523846748184676694051320005681271452635608277857713427577896
091736371787214684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235420199561121290219
60864034418159813629774771309960518707211349999998372978049951059731732816
096318595024459455346908302642522308253344685035261931188171010003137838752
8865875332083814206171776691473035982534904287554687311595628638823537875937
519577818577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989…

And yes, this is being posted at 1:59 GMT. It’s the little things that make me happy, ok?

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pi day is pretty much as close to a universally celebrated holiday in the food blogosphere as you can get.
This is especially true given that pies are currently in vogue on Instagram.

I often marvel at the virality of Instagram trends, and food trends in general.
They burst in very quickly—due to the low barrier of entry: read a recipe, get some ingredients, voilà—and then slowly trickle down, normalizing after some time.
We’ve had cupcakes. Macarons. Funfetti. Marzipan. Salted chocolate chunk shortbread. Pan-banging cookies. Intricately decorated pies. Fruit roses. Drip cakes. Unicorn cakes. Ice cream (à la Katherine Sabbath) cakes.

I don’t particularly dislike trendy foods. In my opinion, they are distinct from fashion trends, because it is very rare that they ever go completely “out of style.” Good, delicious food is always welcome.
I happily read recipes for cupcakes and drip cakes, use marzipan and sprinkles liberally, and regularly ask myself why I don’t have a stash of Alison’s or Sarah’s cookies in my freezer for, um, emergencies.
I, however, don’t frankly want to buy a Chanel fanny pack to fit in in 2018. They may have come back from their heyday in the 80s, but in between now and then, they were considered ugly.
TBH, they just are ugly. Even when they’re trending and “considered” fashionable. Can we just, like, cut it with the freaking fanny packs? Topshop is literally calling them bumbags. Nordstrom calls them bag belts. SERENITY NOW!
I am sorry if you own a Chanel/Gucci fanny pack. Mostly because you own an overpriced wallet-belt, but secondarily because I may be offending you.
Clearly, I had to get that off my chest. Were we talking about pie?

Anyways, even when I’m on the tail end of a food trend and everyone and their mother has already done the damn thing before me, I still find myself inspired by the plethora of pictures that I see on ig.
I’ve been meaning to bake more pies, and pi day is as good of an excuse as any.

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I want to share some amazing pie recipes, new and old, that have been said inspo for me:

Chocolate pies like WHOA:
Katie’s chocolate chess pie. That! Chocolate! Whipped! Cream! Cloud!
Cindy’s chocolate mudslide pie. I need all my pies to be spiked with Irish cream and Kahlua from now on, nnnkay?
Ashlae’s vegan chocolate mousse pie. Chocolate mousse, peanut butter whip, pretzel crust… Ooooof.

Uniquely flavored/hella creative pies:
Michelle’s purple sweet potato pie. Level up your sweet potato pie game, friends. And, can we talk about the color….?! Wig snatched.
Amy’s blueberry, peach, and basil pie. Turns out the queen of cakes makes ridiculously aesthetic pies, too (but of course she does!).
Naomi’s lemon meringue pie pops. These are SO twee and fun. I think I could eat 7 of them.
Linda’s apple pie with a purple blueberry crust. This pie spawned a whole new generation of insta-worthy pies, with gorgeous naturally colored and flavored crusts. The forefront of pie-nnovation!
Also, any mention of pie trends necessitates a mention of Lauren of the instagram Loko Kitchen, whose meteoric rise is owed solely to her crazy beautiful, ridiculously perfect pies. Respect.

Apple pies that have me feeling like November can’t come soon enough:
Erin’s apple and blackberry pie. You guys, this chick makes the most incredible pies. The level of detail is beyond what I can even dream of and I can truly get lost in her mesmerizing designs. The best part? Her crust is still flaky flaky flaky AF.
Courtney’s caramel apple pie v3.0. I would like to faceplant into that caramel puddle, please and thank you.
Deb’s apple pie cookies. No recipe from SK ever really goes wrong, does it? This one is no exception. These have a crust to filling ratio that I can get behind. I’ve made ’em multiple times, and I can’t wait until apple season is back and I can make them again.

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m beyond excited to share today’s recipe. It honestly rivals all the pies I’ve ever made.
It is an adaptation of a very popular recipe from the NYC pie shop, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

This is a brown butter smoked salted honey pie. YAH. I know.

The pie starts with a sturdy all-butter pie crust, shatteringly crispy and layered.
To make the filling, butter is browned until nutty and freckled; liberal amounts of smoked salt, vanilla bean seeds, and clover honey are added while it’s warm, so they melt into a glossy, flecked puddle.
The smoked alderwood salt weaves its way into the pie with sexy subtlety, adding saltiness and a kiss of je ne sais quoi that plays altogether too nicely with the vanilla bean and honey.
Eggs and a pinch of white cornmeal provide body, apple cider vinegar balance, and an unctuous stream of heavy cream is stirred in for smoothness.

The mixture is strained into the chilled shell and baked until it puffs into a golden dome, then delicate decorations slicked with cream are laid on top and baked until the pie is deep brown and barely jiggly.
It’s finished with a haphazard scattering of jagged salt flakes that up the saltiness in every other bite and provide the occasional unexpected soft crunch.

The most difficult part of this whole baking endeavor is waiting for the pie to chill completely. This is key to setting the custard properly, but the smell of the pie is so intoxicating that it’s tempting to cut into it right away. Trust me, the wait is worth it.

This pie is quite similar in texture to a crack pie, or a chess pie, or a vinegar pie (if you’ve never had any of these, think of a pecan pie without any pecans).

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

People really, really liked this pie.
Luca said, and I quote, “[this] puts the YUM in daYUM.”
Naomi said it was the best pie eating experience of her life, and she’s had my peach pie and I even made her a crack pie for her birthday in December! She actually preferred this to crack pie, and so did I.
Here’s why: I think that the pairing of a sweet filling with a traditional pie crust is better than the oat cookie crust of crack pie, which is a lot of sugar, to the point that it gets a bit cloying. Additionally, the oat cookie crust tends to be more stodgy, especially when chilled. This crust stays crisp and thin, even after the cooling period.
(Another tester described the all butter crust as “unreal.” Four & Twenty know their ish, y’all.)

I also prefer this recipe to standard chess pies: the honey adds a more complex flavor than straight up sugar does. The addition of smoked salt and vanilla beans rounds out the complexity. (Do note that you could easily swap the smoked salt for non-smoked varietals and still have an outstanding pie.)
I also like the addition of a couple tablespoons of cornmeal: it is utterly indiscernible, except that the filling has more body that a simple custard. I’m interested in subbing oats or toasted breadcrumbs for the cornmeal.

In fact, I am quite sure I will be returning to this base recipe to test out other flavors, textures, etc. It is an excellent pie.
I fully understand why it has been so popular.
Here’s to [brown butter smoked] salted honey pie being a lasting trend!

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pi day, previously:
2017: vegan campfire pie
2016: brûléed citrus and lime pie

Pie, previously:
2017: perfect peach pie
2016: pumpkin meringue tart
2015: apple, pear, butterscotch, and cheddar pie
2015: fig, rosemary, and lemon tart
2014: coconut buttermilk chess pie
2014: peach slab pie
2014: American pie
2013: Pumpkin spice brown butter chocolate pecan pie

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

P.S. Because I vowed to share this silliness every year on this day:

Cosine, secant, tangent, sine,
Three point one four one five nine,
Square root, cube root, BTU,
Sequence, series, limits too.
Themistocles, Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared, H2SO4.
Who for? What for? Who we gonna yell for?
Go, Maroons.
Logarithm, biorhythm, entropy, kinetics,
MPC, GNP, bioenergetics!
Maximize and integrate, titrate and equilibrate—
Go, Maroons.

—Very Unofficial UChicago football cheer
(And apparently also shared among other famously nerdy schools? Who knows where this even came from?)

P.P.S. For the curious, moyamoya means puff of smoke in Japanese.
It’s also a rare cerebrovascular disorder. And, uh, on that note, here’s a pie recipe?

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Brown Butter Smoked Salted Honey Pie
makes 1 9-inch pie
adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

ingredients:
for the pie crust:
150 grams (1 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
120 grams (1/2 cup) cold water
30 grams (2 tablespoons) apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice cubes

for the filling:
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons white cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon smoked salt
seeds from 2 vanilla beans
(3/4 cup) honey
3 large eggs, at room temperature
120 grams (1/2 cup) heavy cream, plus an extra tablespoon for decorating
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1-2 teaspoons soft sea salt flakes (for finishing)

directions:
Make the crust: whisk flour, salt, and sugar together.
Add water, vinegar, and ice cubes into a bowl together.
Cut and mix the butter into the flour mixture until the largest piece is pea-sized.
Sprinkle on the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time so that you can gather the dough into a cohesive mass. (I used ~4 tablespoons, but this is highly variable! Use your hands and eyes to judge this.)
Divide dough into two unequal disks: one that is ~3/4 of the dough and one that is a little less than 1/4 and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the large disk into a 10 1/2 inch round and drape over the pie plate, crimping the edges, then refrigerate.
Roll the other disk out and cut out shapes as desired; freeze the shapes while you make the filling and preheat the oven.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
To make the filling: brown butter in a large saucepan until it is darkened and nutty-smelling.
Pour over granulated sugar.
Whisk in cornmeal, smoked salt, vanilla beans, and honey (mixture may not homogenize at this point due to the large amount of fat).
Whisk in eggs one at a time, making sure that they fully incorporate before adding the next.
Whisk in the heavy cream and apple cider vinegar.
Strain the mixture through a sieve directly into the pie crust.
Place pie on a baking sheet and place in oven.
When the filling has partially set (still wobbly and jiggly in the center, but not runny at all), about 35 minutes, brush the extra tablespoon of cream over your frozen decorative shapes.
Remove pie from the oven, and arrange shapes (carefully!) how you desire.
Return pie to the oven on the top rack to encourage browning of the decorations and bake for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the center is barely jiggly and the pie has puffed on the edges and the decorations are browned.
Allow to cool completely, then ideally chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (The texture will be better if allowed to chill down, but serving from room temperature is also good! Don’t sweat it too much.)

Deconstruct

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I will teach my daughter
not to wear her skin like
a drunken apology.
I will tell her
‘Make a home out of your body,
live in yourself,
do not let people turn you into a regret,
do not justify yourself.
If you are a disaster,
it is not forever.
If you are a disaster, you are
the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.
Do not deconstruct from the inside out,
you belong here,
you belong here,
not because you are lovely,
but because you are more than that.’

—Azra T., Your hands are threads, your body is a canvas

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

March! Le Mars! Spring! Semi-warmer weather! Sunrises before 7am!
March is always fun for me as a food blogger: with pi day and St. Patty’s day and spring fruits starting to roll in, there’s lots of fodder for creativity.

It’s Lent right now and I’ve been trying to come up with a treat to send to my best friend, who gave up wheat and chocolate, which is also a good prompt for creativity: dreaming up ways to feed a friend with dietary restrictions.
I welcome it, because it’s a challenge that pushes me outside of my comfort zone, and also because I think everyone deserves to be able to eat delicious food.

I have given up purchased drinks: no boba, no tea, etc., even though I no longer consider myself a Catholic.
(Or maybe I’m just a bad Catholic. Honestly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: when asked what he would be giving up for Lent, my dad said “Lent.”)
I was mostly interested in how it would affect my spending habits; I have discovered that I didn’t make as many purchases at Starbucks and the like as I perhaps thought, so maybe I should have challenged myself more.
Still, it’s a good way to inform my budgeting, which I have been attempting to adhere to strictly since moving to the city that never-sleeps-but-still-pays-ridiculous-sums-for-the-apartment-that-barely-fits-its-never-used-bed. It’s all too easy to watch your money fly into the gaping maw of the expensive abyss that is New York City.
Please do not ask me how much I have spent on Ubers/Lyfts/expensive-ass groceries from WF because it’s the only grocery store near me. Le sigh. I miss u everyday, Wegman’s.

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This concept of giving things up for a period of time has been increasingly in vogue in the food world: Whole30s abound, juice cleanses proliferate, and soup/broth cleanses have appeared, as well.

As someone who has been plant-based for essentially half of my life, I’m no stranger to needing accommodations.
I have done a juice/smoothie “fast” once before, and my lovely mumma once signed me up for a soup subscription so that I would have nutritious food to eat when I was too busy with school to cook (AKA always). Neither felt like a lifestyle choice, though.

I wonder how sustainable any of it is: how much of “giving something up” is good for the long-term?
I personally think that by framing it as giving something up, one is more likely to feel frustrated by it.
My friend, N, (who did a juice fast recently) and I were talking about this last week. I forget who coined the exact phrase, but we called what she was doing a juice feast. A simple addition, but it sounds heaps less ascetic and much more healthy. She ended up really enjoying her juice feast!
I never feel or felt restricted when I gave up meat and fish, nor when I gave up milk. Increasingly, I have been eliminating dairy and eggs and leather, as well. I mostly only use dairy and eggs when I bake. Instead of feeling limited, I have found that I have gained a sense of purpose and satisfaction in my diet and lifestyle. I don’t mean to sound preachy, of course.
But when you think of what you gain, it’s a lot easier to make a lifestyle choice. You’d be surprised!
If you’re curious, you could try doing Meatless March! Or Meatless Mondays!

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

More and more, I’ve seen people who give up bananas (not for health reasons/allergies, but because of the sugar).
At the gym the other morning, I heard a très millenial conversation, in which one participant declared that he was only allowed one serving of domestic fruit a day, hence only having 4 strawberries in his smoothie. His friend immediately asked, what about international fruit? He said, sagely, those are too high in sugar, so I don’t eat any: I haven’t had a banana in 7 months.
I had to hold in my laughter. It just seemed like the silliest distinction. I’m all for healthier eating and limiting sugar, because Lord knows we get enough of it, but to use political borders to define your allowed fruits?!

I for one, am never permanently giving up bananas. Ever.
Banana cake is one of the best desserts ever, in my opinion, and you would be hard-pressed to find flavors that don’t go brilliantly with it!

This naked cake has a base of moist buttermilk banana cake, adapted from the dependable Milk Bar cookbook. Honestly, I think you could even add another half a banana in to punch up the flavor, although it is lovely and soft as is. (Too many bananas, and I fear you begin to slide into banana bread territory.)
The frosting is maple Italian meringue buttercream, and it’s all I want to eat for the rest of my life. I want every waffle or pancake I ever lay eyes on to be served with this, in lieu of butter and maple syrup. It is a fluffy cloud of heaven.
A smattering of pecans finishes the cake in a fittingly rustic manner.

Anyways, my friends, love yourselves. Eat a slice of banana cake once in a while. Everything in moderation.
And stop vilifying perfectly good fruits, damn it!


Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Banana cakes, previously:
My 22nd birthday cake, an over the top affair with banana cake, almond dacquoise, coffee pastry cream, and chocolate Italian meringue buttercream
Roasted banana and salted chocolate cupcakes
Classic banana cake with speculoos glaze

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple Banana Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar

ingredients:
for the banana cake:
85 grams (6 tablespoons) butter
200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 egg
110 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk
25 grams (2 tablespoons) oil
225 grams ripe (brown) bananas, roughly two
225 grams (1 1/3 cups) AP flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

for the maple Italian meringue buttercream:
2 egg whites
40 grams (2 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 grams (16 tablespoons, 1 cup) butter

to assemble:
chopped pecans

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Beat butter and sugar for 5 full minutes: mixture should be very light and fluffy and not gritty.
Add egg and beat for another 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the buttermilk and oil and stir until just starting to combine.
Mash the bananas very well and add to the mixture, again stirring a few times.
Add the flour on top of the batter, with baking powder, baking soda, and salt on top of the flour.
Stirring slowly at first, then increasing speed, mix batter until fully combined.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again for 20 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Portion the batter evenly into the three prepared pans.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs and the tops spring back when pressed.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the maple Italian meringue buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, sugar, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Begin whisking the egg whites.
Keep an eye on the syrup and egg whites; when the syrup reaches 240 degrees F, the egg whites should be at soft to barely-stiff peaks.
Pour the syrup into the egg whites while whipping on high speed (careful to pour down the side of the bowl to avoid hitting the whisk).
Whip on high speed until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and is glossy and shiny, about 6 minutes.
Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time while whipping on high speed.
Whip until the buttercream is fluffy and smooth, about 5 more minutes.
Fit a piping bag with a jumbo French star tip and fill with the buttercream.
Pipe a little frosting on the base of a cake stand, then place the first layer on top.
Pipe a layer of buttercream onto the layer, then top with a second and repeat with the third.
Pipe concentric circles on the third layer, then top with chopped pecans.

Temptation

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

With strawberries we filled a tray,
And then we drove away, away
Along the links beside the sea,
Where wind and wave were light and free,
And August felt as fresh as May.
And where the springy turf was gay
With thyme and balm and many a spray
Of wild roses, you tempted me
With strawberries!
A shadowy sail, silent and grey,
Stole like a ghost across the bay;
But none could hear me ask my fee,
And none could know what came to be.
Can sweethearts all their thirst allay
With strawberries?

—William Ernest Henley

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Do all my posts start with a remark about how quickly time passes? Am I getting so predictable and old that it’s the only source of small talk I have to share with you all?
…But, whoa, February is halfway gone already?!
I was just remarking to my dad how February is the shortest month by far, seeing as it not only has 28 days, but it also comes directly on the heels of the incontrovertibly longest month.
Grey, dreary January.
Here in New York City, however, February has been greyer by far than January.
Rainy, gloomy days that keep me snuggled up in bed. Not that I mind.
In fact, re-emphasizing rest and self-care has led me to inadvertently stay dry for most of January and February thus far. I do like going out for drinks or enjoying a bottle of wine over dinner with my friends, but it’s always an eye opener to spend weekend mornings not feeling hungover. While I’m not consciously staying away from alcohol, it’s something on which I am going to try keep a close eye.
I’ve been tracking a bunch of different habits on a homemade bullet journal, and I find it very interesting to look back and see the shape of my days. I just finished the first side yesterday, and I’m very excited to turn the page over and start on a fresh sheet.
If you’ve never tried using a bullet journal, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s an awesome way to keep track of your life, especially for people who like to stay organized. There’s a sense of a completed to-do list at the end of each day, when you get to X off boxes all along a column. Very satisfying, indeed.

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I absolutely adore Valentine’s Day. Every year, I get very excited to make special baked goods.
Many people say that your first Valentine’s Day out of a relationship is torturously difficult, but it’s not so for me. Single or no, the idea of a day set aside to remind us all to celebrate love and hold our dear ones tighter is something I cherish.

Somehow, these last two years I have managed to do something insane with marzipan.
Last year’s cake, which I just ‘grammed, took me hours and hours to complete.
I tend to get these fanciful ideas in my head, especially ones involving marzipan and gold leaf, and they completely wipe out my better judgment and time-worn experience that would hit the brakes when it comes to delicate little projects like this. Remember when I asked you to keep me away from gold leaf?
Yeah, well… In addition to today’s mini cakes, I have a cake with marzipan AND gold leaf coming your way soon. Évidemment, je n’aie jamais compris la leçon.
I never fail to get suckered in.

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

These happy little cakelets are just the cutest, aren’t they?!

These are strawberry cake truffles.
They’re made of balsamic vinegar and olive oil chocolate cake, velvety and damp, with the faintest savory notes threaded through it.
Sweet strawberry buttercream is folded into the cake crumbs, and they are shaped into little naked strawberries.
Tinted marzipan, chewy and toothsome, blankets the truffles. It is accented with little dots of royal icing that harden to a hint of crunchiness, just like what you would expect from tiny strawberry seeds.

The overall effect is unbelievably kawaii, and these are sure to charm anyone you give them to. If you have Serious Chocolate Lovers in your life, you could even dip them in melted chocolate to make chocolate dipped “strawberries.”
(You know, if this recipe isn’t extra enough for you already. Ha!)

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Lots of love, darlings! I hope you all have a happy, contented Valentine’s Day.
xo

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Valentine’s Day, previously:

2017:
Fluffy, ruffled princess layer cake with a cascade of marzipan roses
Thick, soft M&M cookies
Mocha cupcakes topped with fluffy swirls of vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream

2016:
Ginger, Malted Vanilla, and Hibiscus layer cake
Baby pink XO salty sugar cookies
Raspberry white chocolate and Nutella éclairs
Brown butter and vanilla bean teacakes

2015:
Fluffy, buttery copycat Lofthouse cookies
Chocolate covered strawberry cake with goat cheese frosting
Dolled-up red velvet cake
Mini pink princesstårta

2014:
Pink grapefruit possets with Ritz crunch and pistachios
Dark and white chocolate French mendiants
Strawberry pocky cake
Salty dark chocolate tarts

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes
makes 36 mini cakes

ingredients:
for the balsamic olive oil chocolate cake:
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
60 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
114 grams (1/2 cup) olive oil
360 grams (1 1/2 cups) hot coffee
15 grams (1 tablespoon) balsamic vinegar

for the strawberry buttercream:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
227 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) milk or cream, or as needed
170 grams (1/2 cup) strawberry jam

to assemble:
336 grams (12 ounces) marzipan
food coloring, as desired
royal icing (meringue powder + water), as desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Place flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together briefly.
Slowly stream the hot water or coffee into the dry ingredients; once it’s mostly incorporated, whisk vigorously while you add in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Scrape the bowl to ensure homogeneity, then portion evenly into the two pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Allow to cool completely before continuing.
Once cool, cut off any crusty edges and crumble the cakes into fine crumbs.
Set aside.
Make the frosting: whip butter with powdered sugar and salt until light and fluffy; add in the milk while whipping so that the mixture is thick but spreadable.
Fold in the jam until combined; it may curdle (that’s okay!) due to the amount of jam.
It’s all just for binding, anyways, so it won’t matter.
Add the frosting into the cake crumbles and stir until the mixture is a cohesive ball.
Scoop out teaspoon – 2 teaspoon measures and roll into conical strawberry shapes.
Refrigerate until hardened, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, tint the marzipan; here, I used Americolor and Wilton colors in red, black, and green, and added a touch of cocoa powder to the leaves to temper down the brightness.
Once the cakes are hardened, roll out a knob of red marzipan to 1/8 of an inch thickness.
Wrap the marzipan around the cake gently, pinching off excess at the seams and gently smoothing with your fingers.
Place the cake seam side down and return to the fridge.
Repeat with all the red marzipan; once that is all finished, roll out the green marzipan to 3/16 inch thickness.
Using fondant flower cutters, cut out the top leaves for the berries.
Affix to the top of the berries, using a tiny amount of water if needed.
Decorate the berries with a toothpick and white royal icing to create little dots as seeds.
Serve at room temperature the day they are made (marzipan will get a bit soggy if left in the fridge too long).

Magical Thoughts

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

We are not idealized wild things.
We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away,
failed by our very complication,
so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves.
As we were.
As we are no longer.
As we will one day not be at all.

—Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Bienvenue, 2018. You came so quickly, and so slowly, all at once.

2017 was tumult, through and through.
In my mind, this past year really started in November 2016, which seems impossibly far away, though I remember Election Night with a clarity that haunts me.
Before our current President, I really tried hard to keep politics off the blog. Now, I find biting my tongue or deleting paragraphs overwhelmingly difficult.
The America I believe in and was raised in is not a idealistic utopia free from problems and conflict, but it is a place that strives towards truth and equality and justice for all.
I believed America could and would be a leader in the fight against climate change; in the fight against Nazism and terrorism; in the fight against racism and sexism and hunger and poverty. And yet how quickly it feels that the government has slid backwards in time to settle in embarrassingly ignoble positions.
Trumpian America is not an America that believe in; it’s not one where I want to live. I am ashamed and frustrated.
My faith, however, endures. I pray we all have the strength to keep speaking up and acting against racism, sexism, and lies. I pray that we carry every lie, every injustice, every slight, and every hurt with us to the voting booths in 2018. I’m tired of racist, sexist, self-protecting old men, guys. Really, really tired of it.
This weekend was the anniversary of the (very small) inauguration and the (very large and powerful) Women’s March.
Let’s not forget it. Or actually, let’s not let The Man forget it.

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Lots of other things changed in 2017, often coming in rapid, nauseous bursts.
In January, I took my MCAT and aced it. Shortly afterwards, in February, cracks began to form in my love life: deep, unfamiliar tremors that terrified me.
In April, my brother and my sister in law got married in Portugal. The weekend was undeniably one of the best of my life and certainly of 2017. My heart fills to bursting thinking about it even now.
Come June, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from my beloved alma mater, the University of Chicago. It was utterly surreal; it came and went so quickly, as did my entire college experience, I now realize.
The day after, my then-boyfriend left me, ending a three and a half year chapter. That same day, I moved across the country, leaving Chicago behind. Leaving a lot more than just the city behind.
Then, in all truth, the rest of the year sloshed by in waves of sadness and progress. I spent many hours at work. I spent many hours at the gym. I spent many hours relearning how to be myself. How to be alone and functional and whole.
I haven’t written about this much here on the blog because although this is—in theory—an online diary, it is—in practice—more a place of pretty pictures and delicious food. But 2017 is closed. It’s done. The ink has dried, and time enough has passed.

The end of a happy relationship is a very special kind of torment.
The absence of a constant companion is a confusing and complicated mix of grief and mourning.
Their absence is not nothing, per se, but rather an emptiness too uncomfortable to probe at the raw beginnings. Like when you lost a tooth and the resulting hole was tender and seemingly vast and tasted faintly of metallic, bitter blood.

I made the mistake of thinking my relationship was a chrysalis. From the inside, to me, it was radiant and comfortable and safe. When it broke wide open, I was left less as a fully formed being, ready for flight, and more of a fragile, wet, sad little thing.
I made the mistake of being young and foolish and believing wholeheartedly in the future, which is really not a mistake at all.

After the break up, I gave myself time markers, milestones I expected myself to achieve. They more or less came and went and I felt more or less the same, mostly because healing happens gradually, not all at once.
I don’t think I’m strictly happier now, but life isn’t a competition with previous selves for perfection. Life is love, and loss, and growth, organic and slow and complicated and messy.
I regret nothing. I am grateful.
I am, and that’s enough.

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Now, 2018 as a mix ungrammatical musings, so far:
An elderly man crying in the subway.
The mailman at 31st and 2nd stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to scratch off a lottery ticket.
Christmas trees, left piled up on the sidewalk, fragrant of pine two weeks ago and now just fragrant of dog pee. Some New Yorkers throw out their lights and ornaments with the tree. Baby with the bathwater.
Looking uptown on 7th avenue in the wee hours of the morning is to be transported straight into a cyberpunk world.
The woman hawking TimeOut magazines in Union Square who looked and sounded just like Kristin Wiig as the tiny-handed Maharelle sister on SNL (Is that unkind? I didn’t say these musings were profound).
7AM sunrises streaking through Manhattan’s grid.
Family.

This raw cake is a wonder, and the perfect compliment to the raw emotional spluttering in this post.
It’s raw, refined sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
Blood oranges and cranberries provide a tart contrast, while maple syrup provides earthy sweetness. It’s an easy but stunning dessert, and piling it high with pistachios and dried blood oranges and stevia sweetened chocolate makes it even better.
It’s the perfect light start to a new year, and it fits in many resolute new lifestyles.
If you haven’t tried raw cheesecakes yet, I really recommend it. They are absolutely delicious, and so easy to make!

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Back soon, with lots of butter and refined sugar. Duh.

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Raw Blood Orange and Cranberry Cheesecake
makes 1 6-inch cheesecake

ingredients:
for the crust:
150 – 200 grams (1.5 heaping cups) whole almonds
12 dates (or as needed)
big pinch sea salt

for the filling:
500 grams cashews, soaked overnight
big pinch sea salt
100 grams (7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) coconut oil
400 grams (1 2/3 cup) full-fat coconut milk
100 – 160 grams (1/3 – 1/2 cup) maple syrup
juice of 2 blood oranges
300 grams (3 cups) cranberries

for the decorations:
1 blood orange
1 tablespoon maple sugar
chopped pistachios
sugar-free chocolate, if desired

directions:
Dehydrate/dry the blood orange for decoration: slice orange extremely thinly and place on a parchment lined baking rack, placed on top of a baking sheet (to allow air flow).
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F (or prepare dehydrator, if you want a truly raw product).
Sprinkle orange slices with maple sugar and bake until crisp and dry, about 1 hour.
Make the crust: pulse almonds with dates and salt until the mixture forms clumps and can be rolled into a cohesive mass.
Press 2/3 of the crust mixture into the bottom of a 6-inch springform pan; use the remaining 1/3 to roll into energy balls/cubes/pyramids for decoration and snacking.
Place pan in fridge while you prepare the filling.
Place all ingredients for the filling except the blood oranges and cranberries in a large blender; start with the smaller amount of maple syrup.
Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy with no lumps remaining, about 5-10 minutes.
Take out half of the filling.
Save approximately 2-3 tablespoons of the white filling and place into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip; pour the remaining amount over the chilled, prepared crust and place in freezer.
Meanwhile, blend the blood orange juice and half of the cranberries into the remaining half of filling; taste and add more maple syrup as necessary.
Adjust the color by blending in more cranberries, being sure to taste and add syrup as you need to balance their tartness.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip with the pink filling; place in fridge.
Once the white filling has completely set, pour the pink filling over.
Using the piping bag filled with the white filling, pipe lines over the top of the pink filling.
Use a knife or toothpick to drag the white filling, creating a combed pattern.
Freeze until fully set.
Decorate with piped stars and swirls of the pink filling; arrange dried oranges, sugar-free chocolate, and pistachios over top as desired.

Promenade en Traîneau

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I just like to smile.
Smiling’s my favorite!”

—Buddy the Elf

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Hello everyone!

I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season; I’ve spent a few extremely restful days with my family (except one of my older brothers, who had to stay back home), and I’m feeling very grateful for each and every one of them.
Christmastime holds many of my most cherished and vivid memories from childhood, and as I grow older and more sentimental, I realize increasingly why: not because of the material goods or the delicious food, but because it’s a time of gratitude and giving back and cozy, hygge nights with your loved ones watching Elf or playing fibbage.

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This Christmas tree cake continues my tradition of making a big Christmas cake for my family that we all end up way too full to even make a dent in. Having started the day with morning buns, banana bread, and having challah and scalloped potatoes for dinner last night… and going to see Star Wars and eating popcorn and candy this afternoon… we are all very satiated, to say the least.

Still, it’s always a fun creation and I enjoy making something whimsical that isn’t cookies (so. many. cookies.) that I can share.

Three years ago, I made the souche de Noël.
Two years ago, a woodland wonderland cake.
Last year, a golden spice cake.

And this year, I made a different kind of tree! An actual Christmas tree!
It’s made of dense, moist butter cake with eggnog cream filling (the secret ingredient is hard boiled egg yolks! Weird, right?) with brown sugar and chocolate Italian meringue buttercream and marzipan ornaments and presents.
It’s over the top and takes a bit of effort, but it is certainly a showstopper and centerpiece, and I am going to enjoy a thin sliver tonight.

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

P.S. For those of you wondering, promenade en traîneau means sleigh ride.

Christmas Tree Cake
makes 1 large, 4 tiered cake

ingredients:
for the yellow cake:
225 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the eggnog filling:
2 hard boiled egg yolks
113 grams (1 stick) butter, softened
380 grams (3 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream or half and half, as needed

for the brown sugar and chocolate frosting:
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) brown sugar
225 grams (2 sticks) butter
75 grams (2 2/3 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
75 grams (1/3 cup) heavy cream

to assemble:
(225 grams) 8 ounces marzipan

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch round baking pans, 2 cupcake wells, and 2 mini cupcake wells, and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter on high speed for 3 minutes, until completely fluffy and no lumps remain.
Add the salt and sugar and beat for 5 full minutes; the mixture should be very light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and the egg yolks and beat for another 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the buttermilk and vanilla extract; gently stir with a spoon until about half is incorporated.
Add in the flour and baking powder and stir until incorporated; beat for 30 seconds on high to ensure homogeneity.
Spread the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the filling:
Cream butter until soft and fluffy.
Press the egg yolks through a fine sieve into the butter and cream on high until fully incorporated.
Add the powdered sugar, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and whip until fluffy and thick.
Add cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the eggnog buttercream is spreadable.
Meanwhile, make the brown sugar and chocolate buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Heat heavy cream to just barely boiling, then pour over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes, or until mostly melted.
Whisk together until glossy and smooth and allow to cool slightly.
Whip the buttercream on high and stream in the ganache.
Add green food coloring as needed to get a dark green color.
Layer the tiers largest to smallest (you will have an extra cupcake and mini cupcake for snacks) and fill with eggnog buttercream; use a serrated knife to sculpt it into a cone shape.
Place the cake in the fridge and allow to harden.
Frost the outside with a thin layer of green, then use large and small french star tips to pipe needles.
Tint the marzipan with food coloring and dust with luster dust, if desired.
Shape marzipan into small ornaments and presents and a large star for the top of the tree.
Place them around the tree and use a lollipop stick or skewer to attach the star.