To the Gold Mine

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.”

―Jalaluddin Rumi

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I am trying to luxuriate in my last few weeks here at the University of Chicago; I get extremely choked up when I think about graduating. I have often struggled with feeling too deeply and getting lost in my emotions. I hate goodbyes more than anything.

My dad used to commute to Dartmouth to teach at the business school; he had to leave home at 5 in the morning to make his flight on Monday mornings. I would often wake up when he was leaving and pad downstairs, crying, behind him. I never wanted him to leave.

It’s similar now, only I am padding around campus, feeling lost and lonely. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the jumble of emotions that come with goodbye. I’m nostalgic, introspective, frightened, excited, dragging my feet while trying to lean in, etc., etc.
I am clinging to anything, right now, just like I used to cling to my dad.
(Truth: I still cling to him. I will always be his remora, can’t change that. I can feel my mom and dad shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at that, and that makes me smile.)

What a strange, out-of-body experience growing up is turning out to be. I wonder at how quickly time passes. It brings me to tears, frequently, and shakes me to my core. I am a confident, stubborn, perseverant person, but I am oft reduced to a puddle of quivering jelly when I realize that I can never get back what’s gone.
Not only the boundless energy and carefree schedule of a child, not only people and pets, but also emotions, like the sheer, unbridled joy I used to feel when the seasons were changing—each one felt brand new and just as exciting, with no jaded cynic inside me to put a damper on those feelings, yet.
How many wistful words have been written by those who come face to face with time’s fleet feet? I rarely feel that it would be of much use to anyone for me to write my own, infinitesimal terror out on this page.
But here is where I repeatedly find myself, cursor blinking, as these thoughts storm in my mind.

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Other things (other than self-indulgent moping, that is) with which I’ve been occupying myself:

Nati got a Nintendo Switch! And Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to go along with it. Oh my goodness, y’all, it is the most gorgeous game. I could watch him play for hours. It is 100% absorbing. So fun!

I (finally) read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A quick read, but chilling, and a classic. Maybe I’ll watch the Hulu series now, who knows.

Speaking of T.V., Nati finally watched Game of Thrones with me (this is now my 5th? 6th? time watching the show); he enjoyed it, although is not as obsessed as I am. Then again, is anyone? It just made me even more excited for season 7! I can hardly wait!

Catch me in UChicago’s newspaper, The Maroon, in a style feature (whaaat). Big thanks to MJ Chen, Chris D’Angelo, and Christian Hill for making me seem like a cohesive human being. It takes a village, people. But seriously, they were a dream to work with and I’m so flattered and grateful! So go check it out, heh.

Also, I’ve been baking more dairy-free treats lately. But more on that soon!

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This matcha and black sesame cake had been on my to-make list/I’ve been dreaming of the combination of these flavors for a while now.

The cake itself is a close-textured, moist butter cake, sweet and rich with grassy, bright notes from the matcha. The cake is brushed with a honey syrup to keep it moist, then topped with black sesame Italian meringue buttercream, which is silky soft and nutty in a delightfully unexpected way; it was almost like a peanut-butter frosting, with a little more depth and bitterness from the sesame. I finished the cake up with some gold leaf, which is, like, the biggest pain in the ass to work with, and is most certainly not necessary to make this cake a showstopper.
Seriously, all you have to do is breathe and the stuff goes everywhere. Next time any of you see me pinning or liking photos of gold leaf, knock me upside the head. I always get suckered in.

It’s actually quite a simple cake, but the decoration + the surprisingly beautiful and vibrant interior make it gorgeous.

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The matcha for this cake was kindly sent to me from Happy Matcha, which is a small Australian start up selling organic matcha powder.
The tea is a lovely green and finely milled; it maintained its bright, strong flavor even when baked, which was what I was hoping for. I think it’s a bonus that it’s organic; honestly, when buying this type of powdered tea (and face masks, for that matter), I like to be able to completely trust it to be safe and from a good distributor.
If you haven’t tried good matcha before (i.e. not Starbucks, which is mixed with sugar, I think), I do recommend Happy Matcha. At this point, they only ship within Australia (but they do it in a carbon-neutral fashion, which is dooope), but we can all hope for worldwide shipping in the future!

As for the black sesame paste, I used this paste. Note that it isn’t black sesame tahini, which is made with raw sesame seeds and has a different flavor profile.

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Black Sesame and Matcha Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake, or 1 2×8-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the matcha cake:
225 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter
400 grams (2 cups) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk (or milk with 2 teaspoons vinegar)
360 grams (3 cups) flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons matcha powder

for the salted and black sesame Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
45 grams (45 mL, 3 tablespoons) water
336 grams (1 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons roasted black sesame paste

to assemble:
25 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons honey
20 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) water
gold leaf, if desired

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch cake pans; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until light in color and fluffy.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat on high for 2 more minutes; scrape the bowl.
Add in the eggs and egg yolks and beat on high for a full 3 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk or curdled milk.
Add the flour, baking powder, and matcha powder and beat until combined, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Portion out evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the honey syrup: place sugar, honey and water in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, or until the sugar is just dissolved.
Meanwhile, make the 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.
Divide buttercream into two portions (about 60-40), leaving the larger portion in the bowl of the stand mixer.
Add in the black sesame paste to the larger portion and whip on high until completely homogeneous.
To decorate, first level the cakes and cut off the brown cooked portions; brush with the honey syrup.
Pipe a border of white buttercream around the edge of the cakes, then fill with the black sesame buttercream.
Frost the bottom (plain) half first, keeping an approximate line in the middle of the cake, then stick in the fridge until completely hardened.
Frost the top half with the black sesame buttercream, being careful not to go too much over the white buttercream edge.
Cover the edge with gold leaf and decorate the top with piping as desired!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!

La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes I see la vie en rose
When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose

—Louis Armstrong, La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My hope for today is that it serves as a reminder for all of us to be more open and loving every day, to everyone. I love the badass, irrepressible origins of V-day, but I don’t really buy into the modernized and commercialized part of it (ha, get it?!).
Hug and kiss your loved ones extra today, if you can, but also remember tomorrow how nice it can be when a stranger flashes a smile at you, or pays a coffee forward, etc. etc.
Now that I contemplate that, is it too late to add to my 2017 resolutions?!

I never turn down an opportunity to bake something whimsical and fun, however, so here we are with pink everywhere for the last three posts and I regret nothing. Pink is awesome.

As an aside: microbes are also f*&#ing awesome. Check out this adorable (OK, maybe only adorable to me) piece in the NYT about the microbiome, perfect for Valentine’s Day. I maintain my stance that it is one of the last great frontiers left to us as the human race.

Also, shoutout to my wonderful roommate Alexa, whose adorable pink polaroid camera is featured in these photos. How cute, right?!

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For this cake, I really wanted to play on the Swedish Princesstårta, or princess cake, which consists of a sponge, whipped cream, (sometimes) pastry cream, jam, and marzipan.
I made mini ones two years ago (gag, how is that possible), as you might have spied on my Instagram just a few weeks ago.

I bought this cookie cutter a while back, which purports to be the “easiest rose” in the world. I started dreaming of making roses out of marzipan, which I love with a burning, fiery passion, because I am somewhat turned off by fondant and gum paste.
So I hunkered down with a half-pound of marzipan last Friday and got to work; you will need a roller set and a foam board to properly create the roses. I also got through an entire movie and two hour-long shows before I was completely satisfied. I’m sure it could be done in less time—there is a slight learning curve, however! If you want to make your own roses, I suggest two things.
First, google “FMM easiest rose cutter how-to” or something along those lines in order to find a video that you can watch and learn from!
Second, if you want perfect, lifelike roses, do NOT use marzipan—use half fondant, half gum paste, or some other similar mix, because this will allow you to get thinner, non-ragged petals. Marzipan requires a slightly thicker petal, which obviously looks less true to life. You also may want to pick up some powdered colors, to dust on the edges of the petals—this makes it look very realistic.
All in all, my experience with the easiest rose cutter in the world was very positive, and I will be experimenting more with a sturdier mix of medium to make more realistic roses in the future!

If you do decide to use marzipan, rest assured that no matter how the roses look, they will be delicious: an advantage of marzipan is that it maintains its delightful chew even if prepared ahead, and it actually tastes good, unlike gum paste.

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The base of the cake is a simple milky white cake. It’s not too eggy, which is my main problem with many sponge cakes. It has a soft, fine crumb and doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.
An almond simple syrup is amply brushed over the cake, in order to retain moisture: another problem I have with many traditional white/yellow/sponge cakes is that they tend towards dryness.
Over that, I spread a thin layer of all-fruit apricot preserves—I use an all-fruit, no-sugar version because 1) it’s what I always have on hand and 2) there is a lot of sugar going on in this cake, so it provides a nice, slightly tart contrast.
The frosting is an incredibly fluffy salted mascarpone buttercream, which is creamy just like the traditional whipped cream and which provides another type of contrast to the sweetness. I really wanted a big ruffly cake, so I laid an extremely thin crumb coat down and then piped big shells with a star tip to create a thick layer of frosting without overloading the cake itself. (Pro tip: fill in any small spots with a mini star tip and leftover frosting. The cake is very busy, so no one will notice any little patchwork you do.)
Finally, the chewy, sweet, and fragrant marzipan roses adorn the cake as the perfect accompaniment.

This cake takes all the classic flavors present in princess cake and updates the components. I’m thoroughly pleased with the results. It makes a stunning centerpiece to any celebration. I think this would be SO cute for a tea party or Galentine’s day or any princess’s party.

Sending love to all of you! xx

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Valentine’s Day, previously:

2017:
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

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Princess Layer Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 eggs
35 grams (1/3 cup) milk powder
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the frosting:
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, soft
400 grams (3 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 cup) mascarpone, room temperature
60 to 80 grams (1/4 to 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature

100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
drop almond extract
80 grams (1/3 cup) water
apricot or raspberry or strawberry preserves
8 ounces marzipan, tinted and rolled as desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Make the cake: cream butter, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy; add in each of the eggs and beat on high until doubled in volume.
Add in the milk powder and buttermilk and stir until batter is homogeneous; it will thin out.
Add in the flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
Portion out into prepared pans and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: cream butter on high speed for 5 full minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar and stir slowly until combined; it will be very thick.
Add in the salt and mascarpone cheese and beat until homogenous.
Add in the heavy cream 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed in between each addition, until frosting is thin enough to be pipeable but thick enough to hold a peak,
Make the syrup: place sugar and water in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds, or until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in the almond extract and set aside.
Trim the cake as needed to level it; brush each side with ample sugar syrup.
Layer the cake, placing plenty of syrup on each layer; spread 2 tablespoons of apricot preserves on top of each layer, then 1/4 cup of frosting on top of the preserves.
After adding the final layer, add a very thin crumb coat of frosting all over the cake and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Using the rest of the frosting, pipe ruffles or flowers as desired.
Decorate with marzipan shapes!

Honey In the Sun

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

A half full moon in Mexico City I think of you
And when I saw the Southern Cross I wished you had too
I wish my heart was as cold as the morning dew
But it’s as warm as saxophones and honey in the sun for you

—Camera Obscura

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I met Nati when we were both eighteen years old. We have seen three of his birthdays come and go (and two of mine).
Though we are still quite tender and young, our relationship has grown into something far hardier than the sweet spring shoot that it first was.

I mean, I’ve now spent 10% of my life fascinated by this boy (less the 2% spent frustrated by him). Side by side in the library, across dinner tables, passenger and driver in the car. Nearly inseparable.

That’s the beautiful thing about being in college and being in a relationship. We have all this time to spend together—no separate jobs or many demands outside the library. (Although we do average an obscene number of hours in the library every day.)
Of course, we are fortunate to have the same major and thus many of the same classes, but N and I have grown to be symbiotic beyond just doing problem sets together. It is easy—and comforting—to be together. We support one another and can always be there for each other.

No two relationships are the same, of course, which is why giving relationship advice and identifying with others can be tricky. What works for us is completely different than for our friends.

But what works, works.
And so, Sunday, we had dinner at Momotaro (probably our favorite restaurant) to celebrate today: our 2 year anniversary!

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So happy happy to my beloved. You make me melt like a helpless scoop of ice cream in the sweatiest parts of July.

I was inspired to make this by a super cute cake I saw on Pinterest (of course) a while back.
I assembled it as best I remembered, snapped my photos, and then spent some time sleuthing to find the person who created such an adorable cake.

I found the site, delighted and impressed by the stunning photography all over again, and then was terribly dismayed to find out (via an indignant comment section) that the blogger had actually completely and silently ripped the exact design (not even changing the FONT like I did) from an artist, with nary a mention or link back.

Honestly, as someone who has been the victim of this type of irritating internet inspiration theft, I was seriously bummed. It’s a terrible feeling, especially when the thief’s site is more visible and famous than your own (ahem, Studio DIY. Passive aggressive stink eye your way).
I mean, how much does it take to provide a link back to your original inspiration for your readers? If you didn’t outright steal their photos (which is a whole other issue), it costs you nothing. You used their beautiful content as inspiration for your own. It detracts not a single iota from your work!
It’s healthy and good to want to recreate someone else’s great content from time to time—just give them original credit or make your own damn stuff. So. With that rant out of the way…

This is the link to the original artist, Shanna Murray. I would just post this link to avoid sending more traffic to someone’s stolen goods, but I drew heavy inspiration from 79 Ideas’ cake version/photos of Shanna’s work, so it’s only fair. I simply recommend you click on Shanna’s site instead of 79 Ideas because we vote with our clicks, people.

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make for the inside of the cake, so I drew inspiration from N figured out what description would embarrass him the most and ran with it.

See, he’s naturally tall, dark, and handsome (lucky me!), so I wanted a very dark chocolate frosting to match.
He has the *best* caramel skin, so I toyed with the idea of a caramel or peanut butter cake, but upon opening my pantry and finding myself face to face with a big bottle of honey, I realized that a cinnamon honey cake would be perfect.

I added candied ginger as my contribution, because I tend to be spicy and toothsome while he runs as suave as ganache.
See? He’s totally embarrassed right now.

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Anyways, this cake is fabulously grown-up.
It wouldn’t be my first choice for kiddos or those who love sugary sweets because it’s the opposite of that.
It’s complex and subtle and very, very rich.

The honey cake is crumbly yet moist, and the cinnamon shines through. The honey plays the important role of tempering the sweetness—less sugar is needed, and the flavor of the honey is less one-note.
Spicy candied ginger provides a thoughtfully chewy and bright bite between the cake layers.
The ganache is made ultra-smooth by using dark, bittersweet chocolate plus butter and cream, with a generous scoop of Nutella to round it out.

Overall, this is one of the more elegant layer cakes I’ve made. It is a special celebration cake, whether for a birthday or an anniversary or a graduation (*shudder*).

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Finally, I’ve never shared a picture of the two of us, but now is as good a time as ever:

Dark Chocolate Honey Cake
cake portion adapted from Love, Cake
makes 1 3×8 inch cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
115 grams (1/3 cup) honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
300 grams (2 1/2 cups) AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
250 grams (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
3 large eggs
180 grams (3/4 cup) buttermilk

for the ganache:
225 grams (2 sticks) butter
75 grams (1/3 cup) heavy cream
300 grams (11 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
100 grams (5 tablespoons) nutella
pinch salt

to finish:
handful candied ginger, chopped finely
1 tablespoon butter, soft
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream, as needed
pinch salt

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour 3 8-inch round pans.
Place honey in a pot over medium heat for about 45 seconds, until it becomes fluid and runny.
Stir in the baking soda and stir with a spatula for another 45 seconds, until the mixture is very pale golden and foamy.
Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 2 minutes.
Add in the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the eggs; beat for another 2 minutes before adding the honey mixture while stirring.
Add the buttermilk and stir once, until half combined.
Add the flour on top, along with the baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
Stir until everything is combined and batter is smooth, about 45 seconds.
Portion the batter out evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the ganache: place chopped chocolate in a large bowl.
Microwave in 10 second bursts until chocolate is 1/2 melted.
Stir and set aside; heat butter and cream for 30 seconds in the microwave, until melted and quite warm but not scalding hot.
Pour cream mixture over the half melted chocolate and allow to sit for 30 seconds.
Stir until cream is incorporated; add the Nutella and microwave for 10-30 more seconds, stirring well between microwaving, until the mixture is completely melted and is glossy and smooth.
Allow to cool to room temperature; place in fridge for 20 minutes until solid but still soft enough to be scoopable.
Whip or beat vigorously with a spoon or mixer until the frosting is fluffy and spreadable.
To decorate the cake, place one layer on cake stand. Spread 1/3 up of the ganache over the layer, then sprinkle half of the chopped ginger on top.
Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third layer and frost the outside of the cake with the remaining ganache.
Refrigerate while you make the white pipeable icing.
To make the white icing, beat butter with powdered sugar and a pinch of salt until mixture is smooth.
Add in the cream 1 teaspoon at a time until the icing is thin enough to be pipeable.
Decorate chilled cake as desired; serve at room temperature (take cake out of the fridge 1-2 hours before serving).

Gateaux À Gogo

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

Did you think I was a city big enough for a weekend getaway?
I am the town surrounding it, the one you’ve never heard of but always pass through
There are no neon lights here, no skyscrapers or statues
but there is thunder, for I make bridges tremble
I am not street meat, I am homemade jam thick enough to cut the sweetest thing your lips will touch
I am not police sirens, I am the crackle in a fireplace
I’d burn you and you wouldnt take your eyes off me
I am not a hotel room, I am home
I am not the whiskey you want. I’m the water you need
Don’t come here with expectations and try to make a vacation out of me.

Rumi

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

Hello friends!

Since we last connected, I escaped Chicago to warm, sunny California for the best spring break ever with my parents.

We first went to LA and stayed in Venice Beach for a few days—right on the ocean.  It was beautiful, and the food we had was generally spectacular.
It’s much easier to find fresh produce and food when you live in California, where essentially everything grows!

We managed to go to Gjelina twice, once for brunch and the other for our last dinner in Cali.  It is (mostly) as amazing as everyone says it is.  I had 1 (one) disappointing squash blossom scramble that had too much mint for my taste, but that being said, my parents liked it.
The goat and cow labneh on toast with jam, olive oil, and sea salt was an absolute knockout of a dish: creamy, fatty, crunchy, salty, sweet, fruity etc. etc.
The lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote are another must.
My favorite from dinner was the charcoal gemelli, which was outstanding and incredibly well balanced despite being quite rich.

We also went to the Rose Café and tried boba from a few different places.  Even the mediocre places were leagues above any Hyde Park slushie impostors.
(On that note, my wonderful boyfriend just bought me some dried boba and stainless steel straws so that I can make my own at home… Dangerous!)

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

We had a rented grey Mustang convertible, which we drove to the Coachella Valley.  We stayed in Palm Springs, at the Saguaro, which is a fabulously retro motel-turned-hotel painted in all neon hues.
Our favorite breakfast place was definitely Cheeky’s, which seemingly always has a very long queue, but is totally worth it.  The crispy buttermilk waffle tasted just like an ice cream cone and the cheddar scones were more like biscuits, with buttery, flaky layers that easily soaked up runny egg yolks.

We had date shakes at Great Shakes, because I was dying to try a date shake (the California desert has lots of date farms). Talk about dangerous—each shake comes with a mini cake donut on the straw, and the store front is filled with retro candies for just a few quarters each.

We headed back to LA the day before our departure.
I got to have lunch with lovely Courtney from Fork to Belly at Mendocino Farms, which has dooope sandwiches.
She’s in Iceland right now! I feel like Iceland is so photogenic, with all I’ve seen from Linda and Betty and Ashlae. I’m looking forward to seeing her photos, for sure.
Anyways, she’s the first blog friend I’ve met in person, and it was so fun! In a weird sense, it’s a novel way of interacting with people whom I already respect and in whom I take interest and, often, laugh along with weekly as I read their writing.

Definitely a great part of the trip.

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

Also during this trip, I found out that my Shamrock Shake Cake was chosen as a finalist in @feedfeed ‘s Bob’s Red Mill best home baker contest!
I didn’t end up winning, sadly, but I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me, and, of course, all of you who support me here by reading my blog!

Amazingly, the picture I shared on Instagram of these cupcakes to encourage my followers to vote for that contest garnered 735+ likes… Like, whoa.
Not that Insta is the best—really, it’s actually among the worst—metric of happiness, but that’s never happened to me before, so I was pretty excited.

I guess people still like cupcakes, even though they’ve been out of vogue for some time now.

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

The cupcakes shown are a sampling of the 200 I made for my sorority’s annual fundraiser for our sister charity, CASA (just like I did last year).
Lord, having done it once before did not make it that much easier this year—except that I had the foresight to buy an extra cupcake tin so I could make 24 at once.

Other tips if you ever want or agree to make an obscene number of cupcakes or baked goods for an event:

First of all, numbers are everything. Type or write out everything you need to make in recipe form, exactly how you’re going to make it (i.e. some of my recipes were for 12 cupcakes, I doubled them and wrote down the doubled recipe for 24).
Next, multiply each recipe by however many times you need to make it (I had to make 3×24 vanilla cupcakes) to calculate how much of each ingredient you’ll need for that particular flavor/recipe.
Doing this for all your recipes gives you the exact amount of flour/butter/sugar etc. you’ll need in total, so you can purchase just the right amount—not too much and not too little!
For example: I needed 64 ounces of buttermilk/sour cream/yogurt for the cupcakes, so I purchased a 64 ounce container of plain yogurt.  I scraped it to the last gram on my last batch of cupcakes. So satisfying!

Secondly, plan ahead. When are you going to make everything? What can be made ahead? When does butter need to come out of the fridge to soften?
When things are made, where will I store them prior to the event or while other components are prepared?
How will I transport all these goodies?
I rely on my trusty plastic cupcake containers: they have very high domes, so no frosting ever gets mussed up in travel.  They also seal very tightly, so cakes don’t dry out if made ahead.
They also are washable, so you don’t have to dispose of them after one use.  Instead, you can use them over and over (they come in handy when gifting cupcakes!).
When they have reached the end of their lifecycle, you can recycle them.  Perfect.

Third, make like a Top Chef and do your mise en place. Take out the flour, sugar, vanilla, salt, baking powder and soda before you start making your recipe.
If you’re using a scale, keep it out and turned on. Don’t bother putting away any of your ingredients until you’re done cooking for the day—fumbling in cabinets wastes time.

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

The flavors I chose to make were as follows:

vanilla sprinkle,
vanilla chocolate,
thin mint,
triple chocolate,
red velvet,
banana cream cheese,
lemon, and
caramel.

(Not pictured: lemon and caramel.)

I’m sharing the vanilla chocolate recipe today, because it’s my own perfected version (I’ve made a lot of vanilla cupcakes in my short time here on Earth) and I felt as though these came out the best out of all.  I’m picky, though.

Recipes/references for some of the other flavors will follow.
The caramel cupcakes were the vanilla base with a vanilla frosting that had half of this caramel recipe mixed in, and more drizzled over top.
I used this recipe for red velvet cupcakes (doubled).
I used this recipe, which is perfect, for the chocolate cupcakes.
These banana cupcakes are wonderfully moist and save well, to boot—so they’re my recipe of choice.

The mint frosting was similar to this cake.
The cream cheese frosting I used on the red velvet, banana, and lemon cupcakes was similar to this cake or this one.

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

So I made these cupcakes for the pre-event, which leads up to the actual Mr. University talent show that we host; it’s meant to heat up interest and donations the week before.

Nati kindly drove me, chattering and sweating and shaking with nerves—the cupcakes carefully laid out in the trunk of the car—to the event, where I unloaded box after box with mounting relief.  Not a single smashed cake or a single errant swipe of frosting.

The event itself was hilariously fun, as always, and was more successful than ever: two years ago, Theta raised 40K for CASA of Cook County.  Last year, 46K.
This year, we raised an astonishing 65,000 dollars in two and a half short, frenzied weeks.
We are so grateful for everyone who donated.  More importantly, though, the kids whom this will benefit will be grateful, and more will have the chance to have an advocate in the court system, as they search for a forever home.
Everyone needs a measure of stability and warmth and love in their lives, especially in chaotic, lonely times like moving through the foster system. CASA provides this. And I’m proud to have been part of an event that supported such a fantastic organization.
Brava!

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

This post has been lengthy, so I’ll leave you with the recipe.
These cupcakes are moist from the yogurt, bake up without any domes or uneven surfaces, are a one-bowl affair, and are just plain dependable.  It’s hard to beat a good yellow cupcake with sweet and a little salty chocolate frosting.
The frosting has a generous amount of dark chocolate and cocoa powder in it; you can add up to 1/2 a cup of Nutella to it if you want to amp up the flavor even further.

These are simple but well-loved.
The recipe is tried and true—I hope you like and use it as much as I have!

P.S. The sprinkles are, IMHO, a necessity.

Cupcakes Galore! | La Pêche Fraîche

Perfect Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
300 grams (2 1/2 cups) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
225 grams (1 cup) vegetable oil
227 grams (1 cup) plain yogurt or buttermilk

for the frosting:
560 grams (2 1/2 sticks, 10 ounces) butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
112 grams (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
400 grams (3 cups) powdered sugar
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) half-and-half or milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

directions:
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake papers.
Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and vegetable oil together.
Add in the yogurt and whisk to combine.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt on top and carefully stir until homogeneous.
Portion out in 1/3 cup scoops into the papers and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place the butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high for 3 full minutes.
Add in the cocoa powder and beat for another minute, until no lumps remain.
With the mixer beating on high, stream in the melted and cooled chocolate; when incorporated, start slowly adding in the powdered sugar (turn down the mixer if the sugar is flying out).
Add the vanilla extract when the sugar is incorporated.
If the frosting is too thick, add in the half-and-half one tablespoon at a time until it is the appropriate thickness.
Frost cupcakes as desired (add sprinkles)!

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.

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.

CASA x Theta!

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

 The mission of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, together with its state and local members, is to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy so that every abused or neglected child can be safe, establish permanence and have the opportunity to thrive.

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Why on earth, you might ask, would a single girl, in the middle of midterm season, undertake the making of 200 cupcakes for a seemingly random Thursday night event?

I’ll tell you: because I love my sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta.
It’s the sisterhood that I never had growing up as the only girl in my family.  It’s the best friends I could have ever asked for, and the most steady, supportive sounding board I could have imagined.

I’ll tell you why else: because I love our philanthropy, CASA.
Having grown up in such a steady, loving family, I cannot fathom what it’s like to experience truly being alone; to not have a rock to cling to in hard times; to have to fend for yourself before you’re all grown up.

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Court Appointed Special Advocates provides mentors and advocates for at-risk, underprivileged children in the court system.

Volunteers become a child’s anchor as they are thrown into the milieu of the foster system.
CASA helps kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to thrive and flourish with an adult’s love and guidance.
If you’re curious, read more about CASA and the work they’re doing for underprivileged children here.

Seriously, guys—how important and special is that?

Theta’s goal this year is to raise $25,000 for CASA of Cooke County.  The pre-event tonight is a fun way to raise awareness and garner attention to our fantastic philanthropy.

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Making cupcakes, logically, is one of the best ways I could think of to help with tonight’s pre-event.
200 cupcakes doesn’t seem like so many when you’re doing it to raise money for a good cause.

The flavors pictured here are:
vanilla sprinkle
chocolate nutella
salted caramel
red velvet

I donated 2 cakes to the raffle prizes, so tonight, two people will win the cakes of their dreams!

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

If you’re interested in donating (even 1 dollar makes a huge difference, but don’t feel pressured), the link is here:
Donate to Theta x CASA!

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I used this recipe for chocolate cupcakes and this recipe for nutella buttercream.
This recipe for red velvet cupcakes (I winged the cream cheese frosting).
And finally, this recipe for the vanilla and funfetti cupcakes.
Caramel from here.

xx

Red, Red

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day!

Here is another cake to add to your to-make-for-loved-ones list.
Other cakes I can think of for V-day:

this most recent chocolate covered strawberry delight
this red-berry strewn cake, accompanied by my favorite poem
these pink and red cakelets, fluffy and elegant
or, for a chocolate fix,
these sexy, whole-wheat (didn’t think those could go together? Think again.) brownies with glossy ganache
or, for a French dessert fix,
these petites Madeleines, soaked in tart lemon syrup, sticky and dense and delectable.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Things that have moved me lately (laugh, cry, feel, and love, love love):

How to fall in love with anyone.
/How to fall out of love with anyone. (lol)

This beautiful, heartwrenching photo story about a couple who both have cancer.  Beautiful.

These terrible valentines.  #6.

This adorable duo.  The tiniest kitten and his best doggie friend.  True love and friendship.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Food I’ve been drooling over lately:

Ohhhh, these scrambled eggs. These are love on a plate and if I woke up to these with fresh squeezed orange juice and hot, toasted, crispy baguette I would be the happiest girl alive (too bad N doesn’t read my blog, this is a gimme).

While I maintain that pie is always love, this pie is extra.
Salty/sweet/floral depending on your honey.
From Four and Twenty Blackbirds, so you know it’s good.
(+added bonus of pie tips!)

Churros. You can never go wrong with churros.
Sam, won’t you come live with me please?!

This is the most lovely heart shaped bundt cake in the world; and I am the world’s biggest sucker for lemon glaze.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is a 1950s dream.
Red velvet, creamy white frosting, dark chocolate malt balls.
It’s the kind of cake you would see in a diner or, if Kerri Russell ever made cakes, one that she would whip up.

Red velvet, in all its dyed and bright glory, is worth the few teaspoons of red No.5 that you will ingest.
Beet cakes will never be red velvet.
I love you, I love beets, and I’m sorry, but they won’t be.
When I want a traditional cake, I want it made right.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

So that’s what we’re doing here.
Making it the right way.

The red velvet cake is adapted from Magnolia (you know it’s going to be good!), and is lusciously moist, with a fine crumb and a distinctive, slightly cocoa-y, buttermilk tangy flavor.
The frosting is a fluffy cloud of cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream, not overly sweet and firm enough to pipe, with a balance of the buttery flavor of a traditional European buttercream and the very necessary and traditional American cream cheese frosting, without which red velvet would not be the same.
The cake is dolled up with lashings of dark chocolate ganache and dark chocolate malt balls, toasty and sweet, and a shower of powdered sugar to finish.

Each thick slice is a little piece of cake heaven, with the traditional flavors of red velvet, made better with extra butter and a touch of chocolate (totally necessary for Lover’s day, right!?).

It really is red velvet in all its glory!

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

A few notes about this recipe:
You could top this cake with sprinkles or truffles or really nothing at all, the frosting alone is a statement.

If you’re not 100% absolutely confident in meringue buttercreams, do not make this one.  It is tricky.  Start with a non-cream cheese meringue buttercream first (like this beautiful pink one), or make a cream cheese frosting like Rosie’s or a cooked milk frosting like Pioneer Woman’s.

ACV or white vinegar will work in the recipe.
Make sure to chill your cake before pouring hot ganache over it.
Set a timer for beating your eggs/butter (I usually underestimate the time it takes to fully cream butter and sugar).

Red food coloring: I use Americolor.  I know it incorporates seamlessly and it gives me great color with a small amount.
That being said, you could use liquid (you’ll need more, maybe ~2 tablespoons) or Wilton (I’ve had plenty of success with their red food coloring, but it comes in small tubs so I’ve a huge bottle of Americolor now).
Cocoa: don’t use extra dark cocoa, as it might tint your cake darker than you’d like.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“The sexiest thing in the world is being really smart.
And thoughtful.
And being generous.
Everything else is crap.”

—Ashton Kutcher

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Dolled-Up Red Velvet Cake
makes 1 6-inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Baking in Pyjamas

ingredients:
for the red velvet 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 cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
125 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sugar
pinch salt
3 tablespoons water
2 sticks of butter, soft but still cool and cubed
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 block) cream cheese
225 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar, sifted

for the ganache:
140 grams (10 tablespoons) butter
60 grams (1/4 cup) half-and-half
pinch salt
200 grams dark chocolate, chopped finely

to assemble:
malt balls
powdered sugar

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 buttercream 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.
Meanwhile, make the cream cheese meringue buttercream: whip cream cheese until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Scrape into another bowl and set aside (leave at room temp!).
Place the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place the sugar, water, and salt into a small pot over medium heat.
Begin to whip the whites as you heat the sugar syrup; once it reaches 240 degrees F, your whites should be nearly stiff peaks.
At 242-245 degrees F, slowly and carefully drizzle the sugar syrup into the whipping egg whites.
Beat until nearly body temp; add in the slightly soft butter 1 cube at a time.
Continue to whip (even if it looks curdled!) until the buttercream comes together and makes a whapping sound against the bowl.
Scrape the whipped cream cheese into the buttercream and add in 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar.
Slowly mix the icing, increasing once it is nearly homogeneous.
Don’t beat too much.
Place in fridge for 5 minutes if needed to slightly firm up.
To frost the cake, do a crumb coat then freeze.
Apply the rest of the frosting, then freeze again.
Use a knife dipped in hot water and then dried off to smooth the icing perfectly, then chill until you drizzle the ganache.
To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.
Heat the butter and half and half until boiling, then pour over the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, whip with a whisk until the ganache is glossy and shiny.
Pour over the edges of the cake.
Pipe little stars on the edge of a cake, then top with a malt ball and a shower of powdered sugar.

Holiday Kitsch

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m lying on the moon
My dear, I’ll be there soon
It’s a quiet, starry place
Times were swallowed up
In space we’re here a million miles away

There’s things I wish I knew
There’s no thing I’d keep from you
It’s a dark and shiny place
But with you my dear
I’m safe and we’re a million miles away

The Moon Song, Karen O

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s grey and dreary here.
Us folks from the Fingerlakes (and upstate NY in general) are used to harsh winters.  We don’t get the same kind of wind as Chicago or the volume of snow as Montana, but we do get the grey.

We pride ourselves on braving the cold, sucking it up, etc. etc.
(I’m serious: just the other day, I was told I had gone soft because I was wearing a big down parka and it was only, oh, say, 25 degrees.  Indignant, I cited that it was the only coat I brought home and that I need such a warm one because I live in a place where it gets to negative 50 Fahrenheit with windchill.  This remark was met with narrowed eyes and puffed, unimpressed nonchalance.)

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I suppose grey and dreary necessitates naps and snuggles and warm blankets+hot cocoa and plenty of good books and movies, but so does white and fresh, and I am positively certain that I would prefer a few feet of snow over this lingering, dripping rain.

Taking photos in this cursed weather is quite the bear.
In summer, the problem with Ithaca was the green.
All my photos were tinged with the reflections of so many thousands of bright young leaves, impossible to easily wipe out, without inadvertently creating purple food.
Now, in the winter, the problem is the darkness.  Low shutter speeds are prone to shake (guess who didn’t bring her tripod with her…), and noise is an eternal annoyance.

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Despite this, when I made these little tree-topped cupcakes, I was determined to get the (clichéd) powdered sugar shot.
So, I splayed out on the ground (unfortunately for me, I live in a 2-cat, 1-dog household and was wearing black leggings), with my camera perched on no fewer than 7 big books.

Now, I have another of these clichés to add to my resume.
Previously: here and here and here.
But, I will say, I have yet to get a coveted syrup-pouring shot.
I’m staying patient, friends: it will happen.

Definitely worth the hair-covered lulus.

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I saw a picture of cupcakes topped with tiny little trees on Instagram forever ago and they have been on my to-make list ever since.

I only had big tree cookie cutters, which were sure to overwhelm the cupcakes.  Luckily for me, I found the teeny-tiniest little tree cutter which is totally twee.

(Twee trees? Hmm?)

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

These little cuppycakes are made of the moistest chocolate buttermilk cake ever.  They’re springy yet rich, with a good chocolate bite that’s sweet with a thin edge of salt.

They’re topped with whorls of luscious, silky, peppermint Italian meringue buttercream.  The cool, clear peppermint pairs well with the buttery frosting, and a pinch of salt prevents it from being cloying.

The final touch is a little chocolate cookie, delightfully crispy and crunchy, with a little sprinkle of powdered sugar snow.

Perfect little wintermint cupcakes!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I love the idea of topping cupcakes with little cookies, now.  So many possibilities and combinations!

For that matter, you could top these cupcakes with cookies made of honey spice dough, or regular sugar cookie dough, or any other type of roll-out cookie that you so desire (maybe up the chocolate-peppermint ante with a drop of peppermint extract in chocolate dough?).

If you don’t like peppermint, replace it with a drop of vanilla and you have utterly classic chocolate and vanilla cupcakes—equally delicious and versatile!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

If I can manage, there may be a yule log up here, eking in on Christmas Day itself.
If not, have a happy, safe holiday, and I’ll see you on the other side!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Peppermint IMBC
cupcake portion adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
makes 7 cupcakes

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
1/4 cup (20 grams) dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (48 grams) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
scant 1/4 cup (40 mL) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 cup (60 mL) buttermilk

for the peppermint IMBC:
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (110 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
1 cup (225 grams) butter, cut into chunks, softened but cool
1 drop peppermint extract

directions:
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 7 cupcake wells with liners.
Whisk together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugars.
Whisk the oil, egg, vanilla extract, and buttermilk together, then pour into the dry ingredients until the batter is homogeneous.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions into each of the tins.
Bake cupcakes for 15-18 minutes, until springy and a tester comes out nearly clean.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely.
Make the peppermint IMBC: place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place sugar, water, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Start to whisk the egg whites.
By the time the egg whites are at stiff peaks, the syrup should be at 240-245 degrees F.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while whisking at high speed.
Beat until meringue is cooled, then whip in butter one small chunk at a time.
Beat until the frosting has come together; it should take about 3 minutes at high speed; it should be fluffy and shiny.
Frost the cupcakes as desired; top with chocolate cookies and powdered sugar!