Stand Up

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

WE CAN BE but partially acquainted even with events which actually influence our course through life, and our final destiny.
There are innumerable other events, if such they may be called, which come close upon us, yet pass away without actual results, or even betraying their near approach, by the reflection of any light or shadow across our minds.
Could we know all the vicissitudes of our fortunes, life would be too full of hope and fear, exultation or disappointment,
to afford us a single hour of true serenity.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, David Swan

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

LPF isn’t a whole digital diary.
I don’t come here to grouse about my own personal failures and hardships often.
This is not to say that these words are misleading or untrue or that this space is not filled with intimate parts of my thoughts.
(Or that I don’t whine about things…)

But who likes to describe their own missteps, shortcomings, their own defeats, to the black void of the internet?
How often do I share “flop” recipes or tell you about a royal Fuck Up in my relationship?
It is difficult to allow yourself to be seen as a loser to your readers, even for an instant.
This is Social Media 101 in 2016: share what’s picture perfect and keep the little bits of your soul that have shriveled in disappointment off the screen, for God’s sake.

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

And in reality, I practice this careful shielding of the things that make me cry in my daily routines, too.
You wouldn’t have known Friday that I had been at the library until 3:30am the night before; that I had been informed of my falling short in a big way that morning.
No. I washed my face with cold water and put on my sturdiest pair of corduroys with which to pull myself up by the pant loops (as my boots have no straps).
I went back to the library and started what had been a very long, endurance-heavy process again.

It’s hard to talk about failures.
I don’t like to talk about them with anyone.  The worst is being probed in your sensitive spot by caring friends who couldn’t possibly know better because you haven’t told them!
When it is fresh, I allow myself the comfort of vagueness, giving myself room to breathe and recenter.

Really, you don’t have to know the details of someone’s stumbles to at least understand their willingness to try again; the number of times someone falls down only matters in the face of how many times they stood up.

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

 But OK.  Rant over.  Now let’s talk about something that was a smashing success.
Namely, these cupcakes.

What do you do when you have a craving for banana cake but you have no old, brown, wizened bananas on hand?
We all know green around the edges or even perfectly blemish free bananas are more starchy than sweet and don’t make the best banana baked goods.

These cupcakes have the answer: roast the living heck out of peeled, bland bananas and they will make the fruitiest, sweetest dessert of your dreams.

Roasting is minimal effort: 30 minutes, tops.
The now flavorful bananas are mashed and then combined into a moist buttermilk batter that bakes up into dense, sweet and fruity little cakes.
Topped with a generous swirl of salted chocolate frosting, these cupcakes make for the perfect four bites of chocolate plus banana!

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

P.S. #Banana, previously.

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 18 cupcakes
cake portion adapted from Epicurious

ingredients:
for the roasted banana cupcakes:
3 bananas, peeled
150 grams (1 1/4 cup) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
113 grams (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 egg yolk
120 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk or sour cream

for the chocolate buttercream:
175 grams (1 cup chopped or chips) bittersweet chocolate
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
500-625 grams (4-5 cups) powdered sugar, as needed
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) cream, as needed

directions:
Make the cakes: preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Place the peeled bananas on the sheet and roast for 30 minutes, until slightly brown around the edges and very fragrant.
Remove from oven; mash and let cool.
Turn the oven to 350 degrees F and line 20 muffin cups with liners.
Beat butter on high speed until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the salt, sugar and vanilla; beat for 3 more minutes.
Once again scrape the bowl and add the egg and yolk; beat for a full 5 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk or sour cream until half incorporated; add the mashed bananas and stir a few times.
Stir the flour and leavenings together; then add into the mixture slowly as you stir together.
Once the dry ingredients have been mostly incorporated, beat on high speed for 30 seconds to structure the batter.
Portion into the 20 prepared cups (you will use 2 of the cupcakes to decorate the others).
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a tester comes out just clean.
Allow to cool.
Make the frosting: place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 4 minutes.
Add the cocoa powder and beat for 30 seconds.
Add in the chocolate in a slow stream while beating on high.
Scrape the bowl and add the 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt; while mixing on medium speed, add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time.
Taste and adjust the salt as you like.
If the frosting is too thick, add in up to 4 tablespoons of cream while whipping on high.
If it is too thin, add up to another cup of powdered sugar to thicken.
Decorate cupcakes as desired; if you want, you can cut up 2 of the cupcakes roughly to make little pieces to stick on top.

Oh Deer

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Calvin: This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery?
If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it?
And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?

Hobbes: I dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?

Calvin: Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.

—Bill Watterson

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Merry Christmas Eve!

I hope you all had a wonderful Festivus and Christmas Eve Eve, and are now prepared for Christmas itself.

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

We have not even a single lick of snow around my hometown; it’s been 60s and sunny and utterly autumnal, despite the fact that it’s the end of December.

So today, instead of a winter wonderland cake, I’m sharing a woodland wonderland cake.
Seems legit.
(It’s actually just an excuse to use my adorable new Schleich deer figurines.)

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is a dressed-up red velvet.

It’s a foolproof recipe, with a touch of cocoa and a generous amount of buttermilk; the batter remains moist with a tight crumb and the distinctive “red” velvet flavor.

The frosting is white chocolate cream cheese, my new go-to when it comes to a tangy frosting.
Adding a good measure of melted white chocolate to your standard cream cheese frosting gives extra body and allows the frosting to set better when chilled—it doesn’t run and become a drippy mess.
The white chocolate is subtle—the frosting remains tangy and creamy and rich, just thicker and more luscious on the tongue.

The cake is decorated with all sorts of “woodland” goodies: blackberries, kumquats, and sugared cranberries, little bundles of cinnamon and rosemary, pinecones, and that stinkin’ adorable mama deer and her fawn.
A dusting of powdered sugar finishes the cake off nicely.

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Normally, I wouldn’t put anything inedible on top of a cake, but I really was vibing on the woodland aesthetic.
This cake comes together very quickly, and can be decorated in any number of ways.

Whatever you’re baking for the holiday, I hope it comes out wonderfully and that you get the chance to share it with loved ones—that’s what I’ll be doing with my treats.
I’ll be back after the holiday.

Merry Christmas!

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For one last and final time for the year, a quick Christmas post rundown (with treats easy and fast and long and arduous, too).

This year: eggnog sugar cookies
chocolate peppermint cloud cake
chocolate peppermint shortbread, 5-spice snickerdoodles, Russian teacakes, and cinnamon cereal marshmallow treats
festive marshmallow ropes

1 year ago: honey spice and dark chocolate roll-out cookies
chocolate, sour cherry, and coconut cookies, grapefruit butter cookies, and dark chocolate pecan snowcaps.
peppermint and chocolate cupcakes
souche de Noël (eggnog layer cake with ganache)

2 years ago: pepparkakor
candy cane and chocolate macarons,
Nutella and various fruity jam Linzer cookies,
maple, nutmeg, and rye roll-out cookies
gingerbread layer cake

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair.
People will insist on giving me books.”

—J.K. Rowling

Red Velvet Woodland Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Red Velvet Woodland Cake
makes 1 3-layer 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
30 grams cocoa powder
333 grams (1 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup) sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons red gel food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
240 grams (1 3/4 cups) flour
240 mL (1 cup) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

for the frosting:
175 grams (12 tablespoons) butter, soft
225 grams (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
115 grams (4 ounces) white chocolate, melted and cooled
450 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar

for decorating:
mini (sanitary) pine cones
kumquats
cinnamon stick bundle
mini animal figurines
sugared cranberries
berries
rosemary bundles

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Beat butter until soft and light, about 3 minutes if already softened.
Add in the cocoa powder, salt, and sugar and beat for 3 full minutes; the mixture should be glossy and very fluffy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the eggs, food coloring, and vanilla extract.
Beat for 5 full minutes; the mixture should have tripled in size.
Scrape the bowl and dump the flour on top of the butter.
Place the baking soda over the flour.
Mix the buttermilk and vinegar together.
Start mixing the flour into the batter at a very low speed; simultaneously, start drizzling in the buttermilk.
Once all is incorporated, beat on high speed for 20 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Portion out the batter equally into your 3 pans and bake for 20-22 minutes, until springy to the touch and a tester comes out nearly clean.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the frosting: place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for 5 full minutes at medium speed.
Add the cream cheese and salt and beat for 2 more minutes; add the melted and cooled white chocolate and beat at high speed until  combined.
Sift in the powdered sugar and stir until combined, then beat at high speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Stack and crumb coat the cakes, then refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes (leave the frosting at room temperature).
Finish icing the cake.
To decorate, tie the rosemary bundles and cinnamon bundle together with some string.
Arrange the rosemary and figurines first, then add the cinnamon and fill in with berries, kumquats, and cranberries.
Dust with powdered sugar to finish.

Elegant Disorder

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The second law of thermodynamics… states that the amount of disorder in the universe will always increase.
“If we see alien science someday, they will have the equivalent equation,” Tufte said.
“That’s real elegance.”
(Tom Stoppard, in his play “Arcadia,” summarized this law as
You cannot stir things apart.”)

—Patrick House, “What is Elegance in Science?” from the New Yorker

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“That kind of self-respect is a discipline,
a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.
It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag.
As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that,
but the psychological effect alone is incalculable:
it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag.
There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves;
imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal,
in a cold shower.”

—Joan Didion

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Balance, ever sought—ever fickle.

It seems—often in autumn—that I bite off a hunk that is, for the most part, far too tough to chew.
I gnaw my way through, tired, weak, cranky, and overwhelmed, drawn forward really only by the inevitability of Thanksgiving, of winter break;
by the measly promise of three full days outside of the library.

The majority of November has escaped me (and this blog)—and it’s long overdue that I stop back in to share some treats.

(It’s been three weeks of radio silence—cruel and longer than usual to be sure!)

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chicago has already had our first snow storm (the past two days have been quite the wintry mix), and UChicago’s fall quarter is only 2 weeks from done.
Which means autumn is well on its way out.
And no pies to show for it…!

Honestly, I’m not even sure where the time has gone, which is woefully typical of this quarter.
Last autumn, I went for about a month without a post because of school stress and Pinterest-related issues.

With the holidays approaching (I’ve already written my yearly Thanksgiving Manifesto, which usually rounds out at about 10 pages of recipes, lists, schedules, etc.), rest assure that I’ll be around far more often.

Gift-worthy cookies and cakes are on the way, from a sorry and guilty resident blogger.

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For now, this is a birthday cake!

This cake was from mid-October, AKA Alexa’s birthday.
It appeared in the kitchen at a busy time, when there were other treats and people were busy.

As a result, it sat for an entire day, perfectly cased in smooth frosting and drippy caramel, before being sliced into.

I swear, you guys, this cake got better on the second and third days.  It was miraculous.
I made the cakes and caramel a week before, and froze/refrigerated them.

The cakes retained an incredible amount of moisture, and thawed into lusciously dense, tightly-crumbed specimens.

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The layers are comprised of dense almond cake, buttery and subtly almond-esque.
The frosting is white chocolate and vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream, which crusts ever-so-slightly, creating a soft and creamy inside with a sugary, crunchy coat.
Lashings of salted caramel are poured over the top and allowed to drip all the way down (only to be swiped away by greedy fingers!), and covered with a dusting of gold luster dust and glitter stars and a few of my tallest candles.

Seriously, can you see those vanilla bean flecks?!
Swoon.

The flavor combination here—almond, white chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and cream cheese—is rich but far more interesting than a vanilla on vanilla cake.

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I get asked fairly often what the trick to drippy caramel cakes is.
My most foolproof caramel drip is the result of completely cool caramel.
It’s best to make your caramel a full day ahead and leave it covered on your counter overnight.
This way, you ensure that it’s really at room temperature—it takes a long time, and it’s easy to try to cut corners.
But even slightly warm caramel will not give you the same result.
And if you are super worried about overly melty caramel, just decrease the cream by 1 or 2 tablespoons.

Happily, like I said, the cake and caramel here can be made up to a week ahead and frozen/refrigerated, respectively.
The frosting takes 15 minutes to whip together and once frosted, the cake is good to go for up to two days.
So you can assemble the cake the day before and stay cool as a cucumber, no matter what your party day looks like!

That’s what I call a celebration cake!

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

White Chocolate Almond and Caramel Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Sky High

ingredients:
for the almond cake:
140 grams (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, soft
170 grams (6 ounces) almond paste, crumbled
270 grams (1 1/3 cups) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 egg whites
180 grams (3/4 cup) milk
270 grams (2 1/4 cups) flour
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

for the white chocolate vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) butter, softened
225 grams (8 ounces) cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
scrapings of 1 vanilla bean
460 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream, or as needed
4 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

for the salted caramel:
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

to assemble:
gold luster dust, optional
edible gold stars, optional

directions:
Make the salted caramel up to a week in advance: place sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook until the temperature reaches 245 degrees F.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in butter and heavy cream.
Keep whisking until the caramel comes together fully.
Pour into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap touching the surface and refrigerate until use.
Make the almond cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans well.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 2 minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add in crumbled almond paste, sugar, and salt.
Beat on high for 5 full minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the vanilla extract, egg whites, and milk.
Mix on low speed until halfway combined; the batter may look curdled at this point.
Add in the flour and baking powder on top of the battler and mix on low until homogeneous.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed for 15 seconds to ensure even mixing.
Portion the batter out evenly into the 3 prepared pans and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
To make the frosting, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on high for 4 minutes.
Add in the cream cheese, vanilla bean, and salt and whip for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, making sure all is incorporated before adding more.
Add heavy cream as needed; once all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, drizzle in the cooled white chocolate while whipping on high.
To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake stand.  Frost with 1/3 cup frosting, then drizzle some salted caramel over top.
Add the next layer and repeat.
Crumb coat very well, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before finishing the frosting.
Smooth the icing with a hot knife.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before drizzling the cooled caramel around the edges.
Top with gold luster dust, edible gold stars, and candles.

Spooky Spooky

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There’s a ghost in my lungs and it sighs in my sleep,
Wraps itself around my chest as it softly weeps.
Then it walks, then it walks with my legs
To fall, to fall, to fall at your feet.

There but for the grace of God go I
And when you kiss me, I am happy enough to die.

Ghosts, Florence and the Machine

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy almost-Halloweenie, my little ghouls, goblins, vampires, zombies, sexy cats, and everyone else in between!

It is the witching week.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Also, today is technically National Pumpkin Day, so this cake is perfectly timed.  Accidentally or not.  Whatever.
I am soooo seasonally aware.
Get on the autumnal train, people, or you will be LATE.

My advice is to do so with cake, not cinnamon-apple-scented Yankee Candles, but hey—à chacun son goût!
Grab your infinity scarves!
And tiny, tiny gourds!
And plaid, plaid, plaid.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So. 10/26: National Pumpkin Day.  Wauuuww.
As if we weren’t pumpkin obsessed enough already…!

But, to be fair, pumpkin spice lattes are, like, the ultimate representation of Fall, so National Pumpkin Day must be kind of, like, a big deal.

To be even fairer, though, there are so many amazing things about autumn that have nothing to do with a certain orange squash.  Keep your pants on, butternut, I’m not talking about you.
(Quick aside: I’m definitely making butternut squash mac and cheese for the third year in a row for Thanksgiving. So dang good.  Praise be to Jessica.)

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Here, I’ve collected a boatload of sweet foody links, pumpkin or no, that strike me as particularly autumnal.

Speaking of pumpkin round-ups, Cake over Steak hosted an enormous pumpkin party.
So many amazing savory and sweet recipes!
No, seriously: so many.

Some of my favorites from the punkin’ party include:
Courtney from F2B made an amazing orange pumpkin brûlée pie—I had never thought of that combination before, but golly it sounds good now that I have…

HEY what’s up helloooo—Alana turned all my pumpkin cheesecake dreams into a fluffy, cloud-like Japanese ones, and then added caramel and pecans.

Cindy and I had the same thought process with the whole pumpkin + chocolate situation.  All those buttery crumbs make me reconsider my preference for layer cakes over coffee cake.

Speaking of chocolate and pumpkin, the hot cocoa glaze on Tieghan’s baked buttermilk pumpkin donuts is mesmerizing.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple syrup/maple flavored goods are my favorite fall/winter flavor, by far.
Laura’s quinoa porridge with maple roasted pears is such a glorious way to start the day.  Maybe at some point I’ll get my life together and be able to have a composed breakfast.

Alanna takes the best photos, my Lord.
And these maple chestnut pudding chômeurs are incredible.
Listen, the Québécois know autumn, and know winter, and they definitely know maple.  I trust their choice to have such a delectable, classic dessert.
(Fun fact/knowledge drop that Alanna included: chômeur/chômeuse means unemployed individual in French.  These puddings were said to bring comfort to these Québécois during the Great Depression.)

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Finally, chocolate and cakes are always welcome:
Megan’s wreaths would be so cute during the holidays, and they’re legitimately the prettiest brioche I have ever laid eyes upon.  Brava!

Michelle’s naked chocolate and hibiscus cake is so pretty.
Naturally pink frosting is particularly appropriate for breast cancer awareness month!

Yossy’s is the most attractive carrot cake ever.
Those process shots always impress and inspire me, since I never photograph them.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I told you that was going to be a lot of links.

But now, I’m going to bring it back around to my little contribution to Halloween/National Pumpkin Day.
This isn’t quite as scary as my heart cake was, but I think the poor unfortunate souls trapped in the salted ganache are adorable and just the right amount of spooky.
You may want to make the tops of your ghosts a little more rounded or folded over.  My piping bag may or may not have been uncooperative, leading to some not unkind, worried probes into what exactly these little white ~hoods~ were supposed to be.
Well. IMHO they are clearly ghosts.  So let that conversation be terminated, thank you and goodnight.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Little crunchy meringue ghosts haunt this cake.
They sit atop a wash of salted dark chocolate ganache that drips down the sides of a moist, heavily spiced pumpkin cake frosted with fluffy, 3-ingredient chocolate buttercream and filled with spicy sweet pumpkin butter.

Each bite balances rich and salted chocolate with spicy pumpkin—it’s a more complex twist on the traditional cream cheese/pumpkin combination, and it keeps the cake from being cloying.
This cake is incredible with or without the crunch of the meringues, so don’t stress if you don’t feel like drawing faces on fifty thousand little cookies.
You can totally leave out the pumpkin butter if you can’t find any—just add a little extra frosting between the layers!

This would be such a cute centerpiece for a Halloween celebration!  It’s definitely an attention grabber.
It somehow tastes even better on the second day, so you can make it ahead (just leave the meringues off until before serving)—
this is the perfect spooky party cake!

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Meringue Ghosts
makes 1 3x6inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Cooking Classy

ingredients:
for the cake:
55 grams (1/4 cup, 2 ounces) butter, soft
50 grams (1/4 cup) neutral oil
135 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
220 grams (7 1/2 ounces, 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) pumpkin purée
30 grams (2 tablespoons) milk
195 grams (1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the whipped ganache frosting:
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 cup, 2 sticks) butter
180 grams (6 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional
small pinch salt

for the ganache drip:
45 grams (1.5 ounce) dark chocolate, chopped
45-60 grams (3 tablespoons-1/4 cup) heavy cream
small pinch salt

for the meringue ghosts:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional
pinch salt
black food writing pen

to assemble:
pumpkin butter, if desired

directions:
Make the meringue ghosts, up to 2 days before: preheat oven to 200 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Prepare a piping bag with a round tip.
Place egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt into a small pot over medium heat, and start the egg whites to whipping.
When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, the sugar syrup should be at 245 degrees F.
Remove from heat and carefully pour into whipping egg whites.
Allow to whip until somewhat cooled, about 4 minutes, then fill the pastry bag and pipe out little ghost shapes.
Bake for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and allow to dry in the oven overnight.
When dry, use a black food color pen to draw on little ghost faces!
Now, make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Place butter and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer with both sugars and the salt.
Beat on high speed for 4 minutes, until very light and fluffy and not gritty.
Add in the eggs, vanilla, and spices, and beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and stir in pumpkin purée and milk.
When almost homogeneous, add in the flour and baking soda and baking powder all at once.
Stir for another minute or so until fully homogeneous.
Portion out into the prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the whipped ganache: place butter, chocolate, corn syrup, and salt into a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second bursts until 2/3 of the way melted.
Whisk vigorously until smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Whip at high speed for 3-4 minutes until very fluffy and light in color.
Frost cake right away by spreading a tablespoon or two of pumpkin butter on a layer, then adding a 1/4 cup of frosting, then repeating until all layers are used up.
Frost with a generous layer of fluffy ganache, then refrigerate while you make the ganache drip.
To make the liquid ganache, place chocolate and salt in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until 2/3 of the way melted.
Microwave the heavy cream until lukewarm, about 30 seconds, then whisk vigorously into the chocolate until the ganache is smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes until somewhat thickened.
Meanwhile, to get the mottled look that I’ve gone for, use a hot offset spatula to smooth and slightly melt the chilled frosting, then carefully pour the still-warm ganache over the edge of the chilled cake.
Refrigerate until the drip is set, then place the ghosts on top!

Back At It

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

“The world owes you nothing.
It was here first.”

—Mark Twain

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

Whoa. Back-to-school definitely just happened.

I’m done with my first week of classes, and just about to start on my second.
9 days now of being a 3rd year/junior.  Weeeeiiirddd.

They aren’t joking when they say that your college years fly by, are they?  Yesterday, I turned to Nati and reminded him that we’ve been dating since we were freshmen, and he literally did a double take.

First year feels like just yesterday.
Major events jump out through the haze of the past, but I wonder as to where the blurry boring milieu floated off.
I contemplate the “junk” DNA that fills up the gaps between the punctuation often.
The genes are indelible, irrevocable memories that I revisit as I please, but the everyday substance escapes me—the stuff that made up the hours and minutes between heartbreak and joy and the return of exam results (which generally falls somewhere between those two former emotions).

This, of course, is well known—that the mundane is forgotten and the local maxima and minima become more exciting and depressing, respectively, as the x-axis of life extends, great stalactites and stalagmites rising out of the mist of the (not-so) tidy records of the mind.
What is arresting is that I am now old enough for the forgotten stretches to comprise years.
That I might think of the majority of the 700 or so odd days between the ages of 18 and 19 with a warm, familiar sense of blurry disorientation, the way you might feel when you see that Actor Whose Name You Cannot Ever Recall but whom you quite like in an unexpected role—say, buying dishwasher detergent in the supermarket.

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

And here is where the little chime sound rings or the channel changes or whatever you want to envision for a 180 degree turn and the scene changes completely.
No sure why I associate that with a chime sound.  #Pavlov
No witty ending for the musings up above, mostly because I tried my hardest to eke one out but what little humor I possess has begun to recede—the world’s lowest volume tide—as UChicago and its infamous work load begin to ramp back up and my All Important Busyness butts its way back into center stage.

All Important Busyness, I should note, is extraordinarily familiar and disconcertingly, instantaneously nauseous, like slipping into a  comfy lambskin slipper in which a passing kitty has deposited a wet hair ball.
This has never happened to me.
Not because my cats are above this sort of behavior, but because I don’t own lambskin slippers.

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

So onto the 180:
In my current boring day to day life, which I wish I could skip past and forget about, I am sick with a nasty little rhinovirus that has invaded my head and made me deaf in my left ear in doing so (God, I hate colds).
My poor little puppy N is also sick, since I forced him to take care of me while I was still contagious.
What a girlfriend…!

I’m taking Financial Accounting at the business school, which is boring and 3 hours long but a necessary evil.
(I’m sitting in class right now shhhh.)

I’m in a neuroscience class and developmental biology and physics, all of which are OK but not stellar and all come back-to-back-to-back on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Brutal schedule.  However, I have Fridays off, so that assuages my suffering slightly.
But only slightly.
(Busybusybusybusy.)

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

This weekend is Recruitment for sororities here on the UChi campus, and it’s going to be quite a process.
I’m very excited to be on the other side of it this year (last year I was joining as a new member!), and even more excited to meet the baby kites who will be joining Thetaaaaaa.
That being said, probably don’t expect to hear from me until next Monday when I have F.A. again.
(I’m only sort of kidding…)

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

These here pastries are a grown-up, sugared-up Frenchified version of the (schoolyard and beyond) favorite combo:
peanut butter and jelly.

Start with a magical, eggy base of pâte à choux that puffs up into glorious golden globes of chewy pastry.
Bake them with a brown sugar craquelin topping, crunchy and sugary and pretty, to add some extra flavor.
Fill with peanut butter cream, nutty and rich and the perfect balance of salty-sweet.
Add a dollop of strawberry jam and a few fresh strawberries, plus a light dusting of powdered sugar, and you have the ultimate peanut butter sandwich in pastry form.

A cream puff in sandwich clothing.

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

These are so light and fluffy, with a good bite from the craquelin tops.  I can pop them one after the other.

Choux batter is super easy to make, just follow the directions for baking carefully (really let them dry in a low oven to prevent de-puffing!) and I think you will find yourself with a successful, puffy batch of choux!

Happy eating, friends. xx

PB&J Choux au Craquelin | La Pêche Fraîche @rachelhsally

PB&J Choux au Craquelin
makes 30 small-medium pastries
choux recipe adapted from Joe Pastry

ingredients:
for the pâte à choux:
60 grams (2 ounces) butter
120 grams (1/2 cup) water or low-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
70 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) flour
2 large eggs

for the craquelin:
60 grams (2 ounces) butter, soft
70 grams (1/3 cup) brown sugar
70 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) flour

for the peanut butter cream:
90 grams (6 ounces) butter, soft
150 grams (1/2 cup) smooth peanut butter
175 grams (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon half and half or milk, if needed

to assemble:
strawberry preserves
fresh strawberries
powdered sugar

directions:
Make the craquelin: cream butter and sugar together until a smooth paste forms.
Stir in the flour until dough comes together.
Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness between 2 sheets of parchment or wax paper.
Cut out circles in approximately the size you want your choux puffs to be.
Freeze on baking sheets lined with parchment.
Meanwhile, make the pâte à choux: preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Place butter, milk, salt, and sugar in a pot over medium heat.
When the mixture reaches a boil, whisk in the flour and allow to cook until thick and a film forms on the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes more.
Remove from heat and beat in each egg with a wooden spoon, stirring vigorously to incorporate the first before adding another.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe small domes onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Press down any peaks with a wet finger and place a frozen round of craquelin on top of each of the puffs.
Immediately bake for 12 minutes at 425, then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 20 minutes more, or until completely golden brown and crisp.
Turn off oven and prop open with a wooden spoon; allow to cool completely in the oven before removing to avoid collapse!
Meanwhile, make the peanut butter cream: beat butter and peanut butter on high speed for 3 minutes, or until extremely light and fluffy.
Sift in the powdered sugar and salt and beat to combine; there should be no lumps.
If the cream is too thick, add in half and half or milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the cream is pipeable and fluffy.
To assemble, cut open the choux and fill with a tablespoon of peanut butter cream.
Add 1/2 a teaspoon of strawberry preserves, if desired, and finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Almond Joyous

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?”

—From Sonnet 8, Shakespeare

Almond Joy Cake 070_01

And thus did the Month of Birthdays begin.
Within a 1 month period, my father, my mother, one of my brothers, my halmoni, my best friend, and I had our birthdays.

Let them eat cake, indeed.

(As you may well recall, however, my grandmother does not have a birthday anymore, or at least “refuses” to acknowledge her date of birth as a day of celebration…)

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So much love goes into birthday cakes.
I spend weeks pestering everyone in my family about what kind of cake they want…
My dad knew immediately.  My ma, not so much.
(But she figured it out, don’t worry—and it’s coming soon…)

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There have been many, many birthday cakes on this blog.

My dad’s amazing, complicated modern black forest cake from last year.
(yes, I have a Cool Dad who likes pink. In fact, he’s wearing a pink oxford shirt as I write this.)
One of my favorite layer cakes ever!

Alexa’s salted caramel popcorn cake, from way back when.
One of the most popular recipes on this blog.
This was made before piling popcorn on cakes was in vogue, for the record…

Hana’s adorable funfetti and sprinkle cake, tiny and travel sized and absolutely lacquered in sprinkles…

Betsy’s mocha and Nutella cake, and The Ultimate chocolate layer cake it spawned.
Both perfect for b-days.

This blog’s birthday cakes!
This year’s, pink ombre and almond vanilla ice-cream sundae cake.  It was heavenly and so happy to look at!
Pink and malted and sprinkled, 2 years ago.

My birthday pavlova, from my 18th birthday.
This fueled my rabid love of meringue cakes…
There was no going back after the first bite!

My birthday pavlova, unbelievably tall and opulent, from this year’s big 2-0, because duh.

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

How twee are the little flags on this cake?!

I made them from skewers and a few varieties of gold washi tape that I picked up at A.C. Moore.
I love that they’re all a little different, and they were so easy to make!  They took the place of candles because I couldn’t find my tall white candles that are my favorites.

One thing that I will note is that washi tape sometimes doesn’t stick all that well, and it’s necessary to keep pressing it together before placing the flags on the cake.
Maybe it was just the brands I used…?

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The recipe for this big old cake is a bit long.
But it’s a multi-step process, and it’s totally doable.
You can make the coconut and chocolate layers up to 3 days (or a week or so if frozen) before, just wrap them well in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge or freezer.
The coconut filling can be made 2 days before and stored in the fridge as well.
It’s best to make the buttercream the day of the assembly, but the cake itself can be assembled and refrigerated 12 hours to a day before.
Moral of the story: long recipe, but unintimidating process, I promise.

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is an amazing combination of flavors.
It all balances and works out to taste exactly like an Almond Joy candy bar, but in cake form.

My go-to rich, dense, moist chocolate cake is sandwiched with super rich coconut cake, made with a handful of shredded coconut  to give a nubby, moreish texture.
Between each layer is a thin round of sweet almond paste, just sweet enough to avoid being cloying and with the right amount of chew.
On top of the almond paste is a thick custard, thickened with coconut chips and slivered almonds—it’s an eggier, creamier version of the filling in an Almond Joy.
Finally, the frosting is a shiny, glossy, cloud-like chocolate Italian meringue buttercream, swirled into fluffy circles, adding just the right amount of butter and chocolate to round out the coconut flavors inside.
A chocolate ganache would be equally sinful, now that I think about it…

Each bite is a mélange of textures and a perfect balance of the trio of flavors: coconut, almond, and chocolate.
It’s not too sweet, though it’s very rich, and it will serve a crowd with ease.

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy birthday Daddy!
Sorry it took so long to post your cake…

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche
Almond Joy Cake
Makes 1 4-layer 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the chocolate cake:
220 grams (1 cup plus 2 teaspoons) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
120 grams (1 cup) flour
45 grams (1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon) cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant coffee
80 grams (1/3 cup) boiling water
60 grams (1/4 cup) coconut oil
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 tablespoon vanilla
105 grams (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) full-fat coconut milk
15 grams (1 tablespoon) apple cider vinegar

for the coconut cake:
120 grams (1 cup) flour
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
60 grams (2 ounces) butter, soft
30 grams (1 ounce) coconut oil
175 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) coconut milk, full-fat
85 grams (3 ounces, 3 large) egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut

for the coconut almond filling:
2 egg yolks
130 grams (2/3 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
160 grams (2/3 cup) half-and-half or single cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
55 grams (4 tablespoons) butter
1 1/2 cups coconut chips (or unsweetened flaked)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

for the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream:
4 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
450 grams (2 cups) butter, soft but cool, chopped
350 grams (12 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

to assemble:
225 grams (8 ounces) almond paste

directions:
Make the chocolate cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch round pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place sugar, salt, baking soda and powder, flour, cocoa powder, and instant coffee in a bowl.
Whisk the dry ingredients; make a well in the center and add the coconut oil into the well.
Pour the boiling water over the coconut oil to melt it fully; stir until approximately halfway incorporated.
At this point, add in the egg and egg white, vanilla, coconut milk, and apple cider vinegar.
Beat well until fully incorporated; batter will be thin.
Evenly portion batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20-24 minutes, until the tops of the cakes spring back when touched and a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Next, make the coconut cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk flour, cornstarch, and baking powder together; set aside.
Place butter and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat on high for 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the salt and sugar; beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the coconut milk, egg whites, and vanilla.
Mix until approximately half combined, then slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixer running.
Beat on high for 30 seconds to fully incorporate the ingredients, then portion out into prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the tops are golden brown and springy.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Meanwhile, make the filling: whisk egg yolks, sugar, and salt together.
Whisk half and half and cornstarch together and place over medium heat.
When the half and half comes to a simmer, add the butter and allow to melt; pour over the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
Return the mixture to the pot and heat over low heat until thickened.
Stir in the coconut chips and slivered almonds and allow to cool completely.
Make the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream: melt chocolate in short bursts in the microwave until 2/3 melted; stir until completely melted and set aside to cool slightly.
Place egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place water, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small pot over medium heat; begin to whisk the egg whites.
When the sugar syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at stiff peaks.
With the mixer still running, carefully drizzle the hot syrup into the egg whites; whip until cooled.
When the meringue has reached room temperature, begin beating in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time.
Once all the butter has been beaten in, whip on high speed for 5 minutes until the buttercream is fluffy and shiny.
3 minutes in, start to drizzle in the cooled chocolate until it has all been incorporated.
Scrape the sides of the bowl when the buttercream is fluffy, then whip on high for 30 more seconds to ensure it is homogeneous.
To assemble the cake, divide the almond paste into 3 equal portions and roll out to 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut 6-inch circles out of each of the portions of almond paste.
Stack the first cake layer onto a cake stand; top with a round of almond paste and a third of the coconut filling; pipe an edge of buttercream around the layer and top with the second.
Repeat until all 4 layers have been used; use 1 1/2 cups of buttercream to crumb coat the cake.
Chill for at least 20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
Decorate cake as desired with the remaining frosting.
Serve with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

Stardust

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“If you came to me with a face I have not seen, with a name I have never heard, I would still know you.
Even if centuries separated us, I would still feel you.
Somewhere between the sand and the stardust, through every collapse and creation,
there is a pulse that echoes of you and I.

When we leave this world, we give up all our possessions and our memories.
Love is the only thing we take with us.
It is the only thing we carry from one life to the next.”

—Lang Leav

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My parents have been married for 29 years today,
and they have been best friends for even longer than that.

They have given me everything I have and taught me (most) everything I know.
Everything practical, at least.
Importantly, my parents have both taught me patience and forgiveness and understanding—each in their own unique way.
It takes patience to cultivate a relationship with someone that can last as long as theirs has.
(There has to be a Modern Love column about this…)

I can’t help but marvel at how much longer they have known each other than I have known them (or they, me).
How much better they must know one another than I know them, and in such a different light.

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

29 years, 4 kids, 3 (4?) cities, 2 dogs, 2 cats, x gray hairs

I feel as though a year is this significant passing of time—I feel like my own relationship has grown and matured and deepened in color in just a handful of months…
I cannot fathom 29 years.  It is a testament.
It is humbling and a reminder that good things are worth working and waiting for.
I am so incredibly proud to be the product of my parent’s marriage.
I am so incredibly grateful for my parents love and dedication, to one another and to their family.
No one said it was easy, but I think they’ve done a damn good job.  Not that I’m biased or anything.

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This drippy, caramel-drenched cake was a true delight to make, decorate, and eat.
I’m posting it very late (I made this in… April?) because it’s a goody and it needed something special to be shared with.

And yes, while my parents can’t try this cake, even if I had made it yesterday, this way, they know I’m thinking of them while they get to spend their day relatively unbothered by their pesky daughter—I’ll let them have this special day mostly to themselves, I guess.
(Read: was I texting my dad at 2:30 AM last night?  Maybe…  Was he super thrilled?  Uhhhh. No. Did he respond? You betcha. Fewer annoying texts today, I promise. Love you Daddy!)

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The sum of this simple cake is much greater than the parts.
Just three components—all basic ingredients that you probably have in your pantry at this very moment—and a cake worthy of any celebration is born.

The base is my go-to, perfect vanilla cake, with a soft, dense crumb, wonderfully buttery, eggy, and sweet.
It’s paired with fluffy, tangy cream cheese frosting, sweet and uncomplicated and classic.
The whole thing is completely Pollack’ed with lashings of dark amber caramel hit with a generous dose of sea salt.
The cake is topped off with almond sanding sugar and gold luster dust, for a sparkly, starry finish.

I love cream cheese + caramel, because I find the sweetness and tanginess of the cream cheese is tempered by the complexity of the caramel.
A bite of this cake is soft and creamy and unfussily delicious.
You can’t go wrong with this much salted caramel.
You just can’t.

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy anniversary, guys.
You’re my favorite humans—I love you!

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Cream Cheese and Salted Caramel Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
113 grams (1 stick) butter, soft
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

for the caramel:
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

for the frosting:
170 grams (6 ounces) cream cheese, soft
220 grams (1 cup) butter, soft
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
360 grams (3 cups) powdered sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) half and half, as needed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to decorate:
almond sugar
gold luster dust

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch round baking pans 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.
To make the caramel, heat the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt together over medium heat, whisking at the beginning just until they dissolve.
Stop stirring and allow to caramelize into an amber color (about 5 minutes), then remove from heat and quickly whisk in butter and cream, being careful of the splattering.
Whisk until completely smooth, then allow to cool before using.
To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese on high speed with the salt for 4 minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar and stir on medium speed while adding in the half and half and vanilla slowly (half and half as needed).
Beat on high speed until very fluffy and light, about 5 minutes.
To assemble the cake, stack layers with a thick coat of cream cheese, drizzling each with caramel as you go.
Decorate the top as is, dusting with gold luster dust and sprinkling with sanding sugar, if desired.

Troisième

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life.
He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead.
Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and, above all, become passionate about it.
Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either.
White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

—Roald Dahl

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

One more trip around the sun has served to ripen cette petite pêche, giving it a deeper, sweeter significance with each passing month and each published post.

One more trip around the sun has seen me splashing liters of digital ink across this page with endless photos and words that are too often few and far between.
Has seen me splashing tears and buttermilk on counters and in posts alike.

Another year has made me ever so much more grateful for everyone who populates this web page.
Has reminded me, with every post and every pin, how proud and devoted I am to LPF.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

A blink is all it took for three years to pass me by.

I was in high school just yesterday—I swear—concentrating all my effort into thinking of a name that was just right for the wildly successful blog (*eye roll*, high schoolers) that I meant to start just as soon as, well… I thought of a name.
And yet somehow this year, old high school friends scattered across the country world will graduate from university.

And it was just yesterday that I made my first successful meringue buttercream, and my first (and only) batch of perfect macarons, and tasted the heaven that is pavlova.

Amazing how quickly time passes.
Every event that reminds me of a year passing—an anniversary, a blogiversary, a birthday, a tearful memory—pushes me back into perspective, squarely on my bottom.
And so here I sit, in wondrous rapture, as the pages of the calendar flip by comically quickly, as if blown by the breath of Father Time himself.
Awesome and deeply unsettling, isn’t it?

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I have stumbled and stubbed toes, sliced fingers and scrubbed dishes; I have burned wrists and knuckles and cookies countless, have made nine thousand messes and used an entire herd of cows’ butter; I have dropped cakes and dropped things on cakes, have cried and sworn and studied and laughed on the kitchen floor.

I have planned meticulously and tasted liberally and danced in sheer delight; I have spat out failures and hoarded successes.

I have moved and survived, have mourned and celebrated, have resisted and adapted, have failed and succeeded.
I have given in and given up.
I have poured my heart and soul and dozens of cups of cream into La Pêche Fraîche.

I have closed my eyes and stuck the pan in the oven and then, terrified, let go.”

—Deuxième, May 29 2014

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite gems from this past year.

This matcha cake, with early (too early) berries.
This lemon, black pepper, and strawberry tårta.
The ultimate chocolate-chocolate cake.
This crumbly, buttery vanilla bean and pine nut shortbread.
My daddy’s birthday cake: modern black forest (+macs!).
Speaking of macs, chocolate+summer fruit macarons.
Starred and striped red velvet roll-out cookies for the fourth.
Whole wheat peppermint mocha brownies.  For my Starbucks lovers out there.
Dark chocolate and honey spice “gingerbread” men!
Fat, fluffy Lofthouse clone cookies.
Elegant, chocolate dipped vanilla bean shortbread.

My two absolute favorites:

This nutso “souche de Noël,” with eggnog layer cake, chocolate ganache, marzipan holly, and adorably realistic meringue mushrooms.  An insane cake that took lots of dedication—but the end result was well worth it.

This red-fruited Victoria sponge, with drippy goat cheese and sour cream filling.  Another version of this, with fluffier filling, is on my to-make list this summer.  There are honestly few better ways to use a plethora of ripe, fresh fruit.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

And of course, here’s the link to last year’s blogiversary cake.
(And the year before, I suppose.)

This adorable cake is worthy of a celebration in and of itself.
I knew this year had to include pink and sprinkles, in the same vein as last year.
I wanted candles, but couldn’t find any red “3” candles for a reasonable price (weird?) and I left my special tall candles (carefully saved from last year’s cake) back home in NY for God knows what reason.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

And so, with a little planning and a lot of preparation, I made a cake with sprinkles, and a tinge of pink, and it was the happiest little thing I think has ever come out of my oven.

I knew I wanted to use the marzipan that I found beneath the coconut in my pantry (oops); I knew I wanted maraschino cherries, which compliment almond so well.
I knew that I didn’t want any almond extract, because even the slightest heavy hand makes that stuff unbearable.

The sprinkly 3 that I fashioned out of white chocolate and a scavenged lolly stick was too large for my dainty cake.
I stuck it on for kicks at the end of shooting, but I didn’t like how it looked—too clunky, in my humble opinion.
(That’s okay… after all, it was just white chocolate and sprinkles, and tasted juuuust fine in little nibbles.)

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

What resulted was the fluffiest vanilla almond cake, flavored with a touch of almond milk and vanilla extract, kept soft and supple with a little cornstarch, with a baking time that, despite using only egg whites, kept the crumb moist.

I covered it in my favorite glossy, shiny Italian meringue buttercream, which is by far my favorite frosting.
It’s like a buttery cloud, ever so slightly sweet-and-salty, that compliments the fluffy cake perfectly.
Too heavy of a frosting would have weighed each bite down; I wanted a cake that would melt in your mouth and leave a whisper of sugar, vanilla, and almond behind.
I tinted a tiny amount of frosting with cherry juice and a drop of red gel coloring, leaving it a perfectly pale pink.  I used this around the bottom of the cake for a teeny-tiny amount of ombré.

The layers of the cake were each fitted with a perfect circle of chewy, sweet marzipan, which added the exact amount of almond flavor that I was hoping for, and kept the texture of each bite interesting.

Finally, a few lashings of milk chocolate ganache, creamy and decadent and, importantly, not overwhelmingly chocolaty, crowned the edges of the cake.

A handful of sprinkles, and 8 perfect maraschino cherries finished off the cake.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I think it looks rather like an ice cream sundae—cheery and happy—how can this cake not make you smile?

It was delicious, and the people with whom I shared it loved it (phew).

This is exactly the cake I wanted to create for this special 3-year blogiversary.
I want this blog to make people smile; I want to share yummy, beautiful things.

Who knows how long this blog will continue?
I hope for many years to come, but I don’t know.
We can only take each day and make the most of it.
I, personally, will have my cake and eat it, too, for as long as I possibly can.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Thank you, friends, for supporting La Pêche Fraîche.
Every click, every visit—I appreciate you.
This blog would be nothing without you.
This blog is for you.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.”

—Maya Angelou

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vanilla Almond Cake
makes 1 4 layer 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
240 grams (2 cups) flour
30 grams (1/4 cup) cornstarch
350 grams (1 3/4 cups) sugar
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
175 grams (6 ounces) butter, soft and cut into pieces
240 mL (1 cup) almond milk
170 grams (6 ounces, 6 large) egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the frosting:
200 grams (7 ounces, 7 large) egg whites
200 grams (2 cups) sugar
75 mL (5 tablespoons) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
565 grams (20 ounces, 5 sticks) butter, cubed and softened

to assemble:
200 grams (7 ounces) marzipan
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) milk chocolate, chopped finely
45 mL (3 tablespoons) heavy cream
drop of red food coloring, if desired
sprinkles, if desired
jar of maraschino cherries, if desired

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 4 6-inch round pans.
Mix flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add in the softened, cubed butter one piece at a time at a low speed until the mixture looks like sand and the butter is fully incorporated.
Whisk the almond milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract together, then slowly pour into the batter with the mixer running.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Portion batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the cakes are golden and the tops spring back to the touch.
Cool completely on a rack.
To make the frosting, place sugar and water and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Simultaneously, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin whipping them on medium speed.
When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees F, the egg whites should be nearly at stiff peaks.
Carefully pour the sugar syrup into the whipping egg whites.
Continue whipping at high speed until the meringue has cooled to body temperature and is glossy and shiny.
Beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time, until it has all been incorporated into the buttercream.
Whip on high until the buttercream is fluffy, soft, and shiny, about 7 minutes.
To assemble the cake: roll out the marzipan to 1/8 of an inch thickness and cut 3 6-inch round circles out.
Layer a cake round, a 1/3 cup of buttercream, and 1 marzipan circle; repeat twice more, until you place the top layer on.
Crumb coat the cake and place in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove 2/3 cup of the buttercream and add a drop of red food coloring and 2 tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice; stir well to combine.
Remove the cake from the fridge and finish frosting the top and 3/4 of the sides with plain buttercream, leaving the bottom 1/4 with just a crumb coat (reserve the rest of the plain buttercream)
Place the cake in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the ganache: place chopped chocolate and cream in a small bowl and microwave on medium power for 30 seconds-1 minute until the chocolate is 2/3 melted.
Whisk vigorously until the ganache has come together and is shiny and smooth.
Set aside to cool slightly.
Take the cake out of the fridge and add the cherry buttercream to the bottom 1/4, spreading it up to create a slight ombre effect.
Apply sprinkles to the bottom of the cake, as desired.
Refrigerate for 5 more minutes.
Carefully pour a little of the chocolate ganache around the rim to create drips.
Refrigerate for 5 more minutes.
Fill a piping bag with the reserved plain buttercream and pipe small swirls on top of the cake; place a maraschino cherry on top of each swirl.

Raw

Cookie Dough Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This life will hit you, hard.
In the face.
Wait for you to get back up
just so it can kick you in the stomach.
But getting the wind knocked out of you
is the only way to remind your lungs
how much they like the taste of air.

If I should have a daughter, Sarah Kay

Cookie Dough Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

May is busy, busy for so many reasons.
It’s always an overwhelming month.
Lord knows, I have a lot to get done in May this year (even more so than past years).
Although, if I’m being honest, I can’t very well expect June or July to be any less busy.
Maybe September?  When I turn 2-0 and am one year closer to adulthood and will therefore automatically have my shit together and ship sailing smooth with no cares or worries, just success and an easy life, right?
Maybe September will be less busy.

A girl can dream.

Cookie Dough Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My father astutely pointed out the other day that I need a personal assistant.  He’s probably right.

I need someone to take my dry cleaning in (it’s more than a month old, now) and take my recycling out and vacuum my rug and do my laundry and go grocery shopping for me.
To pick up some advil and an extra blanket and inserts for my heels.  To buy flowers for my desk and water my tiny cacti.
To roast some sweet potatoes for dinner and figure out why the water filter tastes so… funny.
A real glamour job.  Any takers?

Cookie Dough Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Anyways, today I have an adorable little cake.
This post has been a long time coming, but I haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and write it.
(Although I could write out all the chemical mechanisms of cellular metabolism…)

Cookie dough ice cream was always my favorite as a kid—I loved the little chewy pieces, and it had just the right amount of chocolate.
I wanted to take some of those flavors—creamy vanilla, a touch of chocolate, and addictive cookie dough—and put them in a cake.

This cake is 3 layers of soft, fluffy yellow cake studded with mini chocolate chips.  It’s filled with rich vanilla American buttercream with pockets of safe-to-eat salty-sweet cookie dough scattered throughout, filled with brown sugar and more mini chocolate chips.
The top is finished off with little cookie dough truffles, which are dangerously poppable.

Cookie Dough Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake has just the right balance—not too much frosting, not too much cookie dough, a hint of salt to even out the sugar.
The cake base is incredibly moist and sturdy and will stay that way for a few days.
The buttercream crusts ever so slightly, giving it a very birthday-cakesque texture.
The cookie dough… well, it’s raw cookie dough, people.  It’s addictive and totally amazing.
Ok, that’s all for now: I’ll leave you with the recipes!

P.S. The pop-up that I hosted last week made $340 for the ASPCA!  Yay for puppies! Yay for cake!

Cookie Dough Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake
makes 1 3×6 inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
113 grams (1 stick) butter, soft
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

for the cookie dough:
113 grams (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
105 grams (1/2 cup) light brown sugar, packed
45 grams (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
30 grams (1/4 cup) powdered sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3- 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

for the frosting:
220 grams (1 cup) butter, soft
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
360 grams (3 cups) powdered sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch round baking pans 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 and scatter the mini chocolate chips all over.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the cookie dough: beat butter with salt on high for 3 minutes to ensure no lumps.
Add in the brown sugar and beat for 5 full minutes until very fluffy and light colored.
Scrape the bowl and add in the flour and powdered sugar; as you stir, add the vanilla and cream.
Once the mixture comes together, beat for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Set aside half of the dough for the inside of the cake, then make the rest into little round balls.
To make the frosting, beat the butter on high speed with the salt for 4 minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar and slowly stir while adding in the half and half and vanilla.
Beat on high speed until very fluffy and light, about 5 minutes.
To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of frosting over each layer of cake, and crumble the reserved cookie dough all over (make sure to be generous!).
Smooth the top of the cake and frost as desired, then top with the little cookie dough truffles.
Serve in generous wedges with milk!