L’Impératrice

“Men’s strengths go hand in hand with their weaknesses.
That is why there is no such thing as an invincible warrior, and why heroes die.”

― Shan Sa, Empress

November is here!

It’s cold, blustery, and the leaves and time have changed. Fall is set in deep.
That means Thanksgiving draws nigh. My favorite time to be busy cooking. I have prepared my menu and absolutely cannot wait to go home and be in a real kitchen with a real, fancy Wolf oven and a fridge that can actually maintain temperature. (Side eye @ my New York fridge. Sigh.)

Time has been flying with things being busy at work, and I haven’t gotten around to posting as much as I’ve wanted to. But! I have a few really great recipes I want to share before Thanksgiving, and I’ll also be doing a round-up of recipes from LPF and also other blogs in case you need some inspo!

Today, I’m sharing the world’s most perfect sour cream pound cake, studded with fuschia pink empress plums, tart and sweet and jammy, and rich, bitter dark chocolate and served warm with a scoop of creamy vanilla bean ice cream.
This is my new go-to recipe for pound cake. (!!!!)
It produces a cake with a tight, dense crumb that is remarkably moist without being heavy. The sour cream adds complexity and the cake isn’t overly sweet. It lends itself brilliantly to adaptations and different mix-ins.
Although plums + chocolate were nothing short of incredible, I’ll be adapting this same base recipe for Thanksgiving but with a caramel apple flavor. (~heart eyes~)
The possibilities are endless: chocolate, lemon, blood orange, etc. Tuck this recipe away in your back pocket for the next time you need a truly great pound cake!

Plum and Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake

adapted from Stella Parks, via Serious Eats
makes 1 loaf cake

ingredients:
250 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
142 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons, 10 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
215 grams (7.5 ounces, 1 2/3 cup fluffed and spooned) flour
140 grams (5 ounces, 2/3 cup) sour cream
4 finely chopped prune plums
1/3-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon flour

directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a loaf pan.
Place sugar, butter, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high speed for 4 full minutes, until light and fluffy with no graininess left.
Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each one to ensure they are incorporated fully.
Add in the flour in four portions and the sour cream in three; begin with the flour and alternate mixing the dry and wet.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix on low for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Toss the chopped plums and chocolate chips with a tablespoon of flour, then gently fold into the batter.
Spread batter into prepared pan; bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out mostly clean and the inside registers 200 degrees F.

 

XXII

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”

—Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Yesterday, my parents sent me the dreamiest bouquet of pale peach roses, white hydrangeas, and black and white anemones.
Last night, my instagram bio ticked from 21 to 22.
(I don’t have a Facebook anymore, so no messages will be received from acquaintances collected through the years. I’m, like, so off the grid. *rolls eyes*)
Tonight, I will drink and be merry with some of the best people I have ever and will ever know.
Today, though, I am taking time to reflect and relax into my new age by myself.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche FraîcheBanana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My atoms in their current arrangement have made the long trip around the sun twenty two times.
In this time, my body has grown, my mind has expanded, my hormones have been tamed (…kind of?); I have shed skin cells and old clothes and loves alike. I have been fortunate to see many corners of the world and optimistic enough to dream of other, unknown parts.
I have pushed and pulled and trudged my way through years of schooling and through an altogether too short stint at my alma mater. In the best of times, I have excelled and succeeded; in the worst of times, I have simply kept on moving.
Four years ago, on the cusp of 18, I left my childhood home and my parents for the first time; in many ways, I felt and was alone. The birthdays following were distinctly part of my college years.
So although 22 is a relatively unremarkable birthday, this one means a lot to me. It is my first birthday after college and striking out into the world. It is the bookend to the collection that began at 18.
Today, in a new city and in a different sense, I feel and am alone.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Is it sad or freeing to be alone on your birthday?
It is coldly realistic or melancholic to realize that we all age on our own?

We live our lives with ourselves. It is as simple and as difficult as that. Though none of us will ever stop changing, we have but one body and mind to live in and put up with.
It’s easy to wistfully romanticize our past lives and selves; it is also easy to make grand resolutions about our future.
I hope that everyone has the opportunity to fall in love with who they are in the present, which is a far harder endeavor, in my experience.
I hope that you have the chance, whether this year or in many years to come, to spend a birthday by yourself and not feel lonely.
I hope this especially for myself.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche FraîcheBanana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My twenty-second birthday cake is not a simple one. It’s not an afternoon affair, not something to whip up casually sans plan.
No one should be surprised by this, least of all readers of this blog who have seen my other involved creations. I have a flair for the dramatic and a birthday is an excuse to indulge both my creative urges and tastebuds.
This is all to say, I know that this recipe is more than a little ridiculous. A lot of effort went into making this cake just right. It is worthy of a celebration.
Make it for a loved one; make it for yourself. And prepare to impress.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake starts with a super moist banana cake—it is the least banana bread-y banana cake I have made, which I consider an achievement. There is a time and place for a lovely, dense banana bread. This cake is not that.
The layers have a swipe of silky, slightly bitter coffee pastry cream, flecked with espresso and enriched with egg yolks and butter.
Hidden inside the cake are two layers of dacquoise; a crisp almond and meringue confection that softens and turns into a whisper of caramel and almond married with the coffee cream. It is the reason that this cake is better on the second day. The crunch is fabulous, yes, but the dacquoise becomes an ethereally light filling when it softens—just like meringue does in a pavlova or Eton mess.
The whole affair is finished with a cloud of rich, chocolaty Italian meringue frosting, my favorite way to ice a cake. I love that with each bite, you get a varying amount of chocolate. It makes eating a piece that much more interesting.

This cake is a labor of love, and its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The flavor combination is very unique—but it works so well. In fact, I like it so much that I am planning on dreaming up new ways to use banana, almond, coffee, and chocolate (to me, that sounds like a hella good muffin).

Note also that this can be made ahead of time; the pastry cream up to 3 days in advance, and the dacquoise up to 2 days. You could make the cake ahead and freeze it as well. It’s manageable. I mean, sort of.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Birthdays, previously (and no, I don’t know what happened to 17 and 19…):

21
20
18

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Banana Cake with Almond Dacquoise, Coffee Pastry Cream, and Chocolate Meringue Buttercream
makes 1 3×6 inch layer cake
pastry cream adapted from the Kitchn

for the almond dacquoise:
4 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
65 grams (2/3 cup) almond meal or flour
40 grams (scant 1/4 cup) sugar
big pinch salt

for the coffee pastry cream:
1 tablespoon espresso powder
360 grams (1 1/2 cups) milk
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
hefty pinch salt
4 egg yolks
30 grams (1/4 cup) flour
15 grams (2 tablespoons) butter

for the banana cake:
150 grams (2/3 cup, 10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) butter, softened
170 grams (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ripe bananas
120 grams (1/2 cup) milk
200 grams (1 2/3 cup) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

for the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
pinch salt, to taste
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
25 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) water
340 grams (1 1/2 cups, 24 tablespoons, 3 sticks) butter
170 grams (1 cup) dark chocolate chips or chunks, melted and cooled slightly
20 grams (1/4 cup) cocoa powder, as needed

directions:
First, make the dacquoise, up to 2 days in advance.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and trace 3 6-inch circles on a piece of parchment lining a baking sheet.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and begin to whip.
Once foamy, add in the first (150 grams, 3/4 cup) portion one spoonful at a time, and whip on high speed until the meringue is glossy and fluffy and stiff peaks have formed.
Whisk together the almond meal, remaining portion sugar, and salt, and gently fold into the meringue.
Pipe onto the circles you traced, and bake for 65-85 minutes, until the dacquoise is dry and slightly golden colored.
Remove from oven and let cool completely; you can store the baked dacquoise for up to 2 days in a moisture-free, air-tight container.
You will only need 2 dacquoise layers for the cake; the third is insurance in case of cracking (one of mine did, when I dropped it); you can trim them if they spread a little with a sharp knife so that they fit in the cake.
Make the coffee pastry cream: place espresso powder (or you could use whole beans, if you don’t like the grains) and milk over medium heat.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and flour together.
Once the milk is just shy of boiling—it should be at a simmer—carefully pour in 1/3 of it into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
Place the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the remainder of the coffee-milk, whisking all the while.
Heat over medium heat while whisking constantly, until thickened.
You should be able to coat a spoon and draw a line with your finger that does not fill in with cream.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.
Strain through a sieve, then blend on high speed with an immersion blender or in a regular blender (wait until it is cooled, though!) for about 20 seconds—don’t go too long with the blender, just enough to get it smooth.
Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream and allow to cool completely.
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Place butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high speed for 4 full minutes.
Meanwhile, mash the bananas with the milk in one bowl and stir the flour and baking powder together.
Scrape the sides of the stand mixer and add in 1/3 of the flour mixture.
While you stir the flour mixture in, add in half of the banana mixture.
Add another third of the flour mixture, adding the remainder of the banana mixture and the remainder of the flour mixture one after the other while stirring on low speed.
Increase the speed to medium for 30 seconds, to ensure that the batter is homogenous.
Portion out into prepared pans and bake for 18-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and allowing to cool completely.
Make the Italian meringue buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot over medium heat, fitted with a candy thermometer.
Begin to whisk egg whites while syrup heats up.
Once syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at semi-stiff peaks.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while beating at high speed.
Whip until the meringue is glossy and cooled to body temp.
Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, beating until the frosting comes together into a glossy, fluffy, light mixture.
Portion into 4 separate portions—one portion should be slightly smaller than the other three.
Place one of the larger three portions back into the bowl of the stand mixer; while whipping on high, add about 3/4 of the melted and cooled chocolate and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
Whip until chocolate is fully incorporated.
Into another of the three larger portions of frosting, add about 3/4 of the remaining chocolate (so about 3/16 of the original portion) and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder; stir vigorously to combine.
Into the remaining of the three larger portions, stir in the remaining chocolate and 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder.
Into the smallest portion, stir in 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder.
At this point, tint any of the 4 portions as you see fit with a few extra teaspoons of cocoa powder.
To assemble the cake, place a dollop of pastry cream on a cake stand and place 1 of the banana layers on top.
Spread 1/8-1/4 cup of the pastry cream onto the banana cake; place one of the almond dacquoise layers on top and spread with another 1/8 cup pastry cream.
Top with a second banana cake, more pastry cream, the second dacquoise layer, more pastry cream, and the final banana cake layer.
Use a small amount of the three larger portions of frosting (the darkest three) to lightly crumb coat the cake—you don’t need a thick crumb coat here.
Using 4 pastry bags filled with each of the colors, pipe an ombre effect with desired piping tip (I used a single tip and 4 couplers).

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Mêlé

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.”

Joan Didion

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

New York, New York.
The city that never sleeps: a proud acclamation even while most of its inhabitants are miserably dead tired.
Overgrown concrete jungle, deliciously bloated with opportunity, built of contradictions and false starts and dreams achieved.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I live-work-eat-sleep-breathe-watch New York.
As I settle in deeper, scenes swirl around me—little pieces of other people—dull and unremarkable, yet somehow thought-provoking.
There are soft, overripened edges amongst the city’s constitution.
I catch glimpses of them everywhere, curious (or nosy) as I am.

The subway is a microcosm of New York; ridership spans all walks of life. We all know this: we’ve seen the pictures of Meryl Streep, riding the train home after a failed audition (Meryl! Streep!); we have seen the dancers for whom riding the train is the audition.
A crowded subway full of diverse people is a great equalizer.
None of us can make it go faster and none of us can make it any less unpleasant.
Neither the man in the pressed suit and tie, nor the harried mother and her invariably crying baby, nor the bored looking model, and so on and so forth.
So I bide my time and I observe. Might as well.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There is something disappointing and vaguely optimistic about the young, fashionable professional fishing a cigarette out from her bag while drinking a green juice at 9AM.
Something repellent and electrifying about the heady smell of freshly ground coffee, paint thinner, and body odor on the A train late on Sunday night.
Something disturbing and cutesy about the girl with an expensive-looking black and white calfskin bag that exactly coordinates with the pattern of her little pomeranian’s fur.
Something comforting and unsettling, no matter how bold you’re feeling, about accidentally meeting the same stranger’s gaze more than once, or, agonizingly, more than twice, as both your eyes dart around the car, tracing similar paths (ending at a woman and her bike, atop the handlebars of which perches a man’s bulky gym bag and, more precarious still, another woman’s very large Amazon Prime box).

I wonder what contradictions people see and feel when they look at me.
Is that terribly narcissistic or just some permutation of theory of mind?

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I am aware that there are, in theory, seven universal emotions.
I am convinced that body language and etiquette on an extremely crowded subway in the summer is equally well understood.

We all try desperately not to touch each other, (particularly when one enters with a stroller, or suitcase, or child in tow) carefully shifting bags, shuffling feet, and averting eyes.
Every overheated, uncomfortable body moves in unison as the subway shudders and accelerates or grinds to a halt, waving together like so many ungainly stalks of grass.
We attempt to keep polite social space between us.
When one stumbles, bumping all their neighbors while grasping with sweaty hand for the pole, mumbling apologies and righting themselves, smoothing wrinkles and reinserting headphones, we imperceptibly nod with tightly pressed lips hinting at a familiar camaraderie. We’ve been there. 
Though we are all trying to willfully ignore everyone else, we are embarrassed for the person, just for a moment.
But by the time the doors open and hot, sticky air pours into the car, we have long forgotten and returned to our bubbles lit with a ubiquitous, faint blue glow.
Newcomers load in, and we make room and begin the sweaty shuffle anew without ever even looking up.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Alright, now for an important soapbox-y aside.

I titled this post “mêlé”—mixed—for the decoration of this cake, and I started composing it long before nightmares unfolded in Charlottesville and Barcelona and Cambrils and Alcanar.
Let me be clear as day: there is no room for mixed reactions to these events.
There is no excuse for mixed reactions to these attacks. Our president’s inability to condemn hatred and bigotry, his choice of wavering and mixed reactions, is astounding, even at this point when we thought he could sink no lower.
You cannot morally equivocate hate-filled terrorist groups with non-terrorist ones.
Murder and violence, while both reprehensible, are not equivalent.
I will not make space for Nazi-sympathizers or ISIS-sympathizers in my life or on my web page. It is a disappointment every day of my damn life that America put an incompetent white-supremacist-apologist in the White House.
By the way, if you think there is a difference between a White Christian group that wants annihilation of all others and a Muslim group that wants the same—that the former can have good people as its members and the latter cannot—your racism is showing.
(And for the record, I don’t think either has good people: there are no “good” Nazis. There are no good terrorists, period.)

My heart breaks. Over and over, into a million pieces, even as my resolve strengthens.
I am begging the universe to manifest a peaceful world.
In the meantime, be nice to everyone. Condemn hate, loudly, and often.
Count the days to 2018. Count the days to 2020.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Miguel-Anxo Murado wrote a mournful piece called “When Terror Came to Barcelona” in the NYT and quoted George Orwell:

“If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Here’s a cake best shared with friends, a cake that is good to the earth and kind to all living beings.
Especially kind to the living beings who get a taste…!
No animal products whatsoever, and they’re not missed in the least.

I’ve been baking quite a bit of vegan deliciousness up in my kitchen, because I don’t eat dairy and eggs day-to-day and therefore often don’t have them on hand. AKA I am lazy.
But hey, my laziness is forcing me to be innovative, so it is a good lazy. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Uh huh.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This vegan coconut cake is wonderfully moreish, with a texture that is dense and rich and studded with lots of shredded coconut.
Coconut oil provides the luxurious mouthfeel, and coconut milk keeps the whole cake extremely moist.
It is soft in the center, with a light, springy crumb. By baking it in a tart pan, I was able to get more slightly crisped edges, which are addictive and a perfect place for the glaze to well up!

The glaze is super simple: just coconut milk with a pinch of salt and powdered sugar, poured over the cake and allowed to drip down the edges. It doesn’t set rock-hard, but rather like a very soft royal icing, with a nice shine.

The showstopper aspect of this cake are the fresh fruits, most of which I got at the Union Square Greenmarket. I love supporting local farmers! And everything is so fresh at farmer’s markets.
Amazing summer fruit is so abundant right now—it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.
Here I used juicy red currants, the sweetest blueberries I have ever tasted, dark red cherries and strawberries, glossy blackberries, and a few fat smyrna figs for good measure.
The whole thing is topped with anise hyssop flowers, which provides a whisper of licorice and herb flavor to the cake.
You could easily sub a little thyme or lemon thyme, or even a tiny bit of rosemary or lemon zest. Anything that provides a contrast to the fruits without taking center stage!

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vegan Coconut Cake
makes 1 9-inch cake

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

for the glaze:
22 mL (1.5 tablespoons) coconut milk
pinch salt
115 grams (1 cup) confectioner’s sugar

to assemble:
fresh fruits
anise hyssop (or other herb of choice)
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a 9-inch tart pan or cake pan.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together, and make a well in the center.
Stir in coconut milk, coconut oil, and vinegar until the batter is smooth.
Fold the shredded coconut into the batter and pour into prepared pan.
Bake until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs, or about 20-25 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
When cooled, make the glaze: whisk coconut milk, salt, and confectioner’s sugar together and pour over the cake.
Allow to set for 5 minutes before piling on the fruits and sprinkling on the herbs.
Serve with a glass of non-dairy milk!

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Blooming

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“You aren’t a flower, you’re every blossom in the wood blooming at once.
You are a tidal wave. You’re a stampede.
You are overwhelming.”

― Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Words are not my strong suit right now.
I have been absent—there have been reasons, and there have been reasons.
Good and bad, both escape me before I can write them down here.

I want to keep this space a little bit sacred, for my own sanity.
It will all come out, eventually, although I am avoiding bottling up the months of June and July too tightly inside myself.
Again: for my sanity.
I have chosen to journal them in another place, rather than here, so don’t worry: I’m letting my mind run loose a little.
So, so. I am back!

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

And. Do you know what else is back?
Game of Thrones.
You can catch me lurking in the ASOIAF reddit, or watching endless Youtube analyses, furiously texting theories with my BFF Sam or my brother, winding down endless Wiki pages—just generally with my head in the Westerosi clouds.

A girl is very happy.

Note that this cake baked into smaller tins would be a marvelous recreation of Sansa’s favorite lemon tea cakes, without a doubt. If you need something to bring to your next watch party and you want to impress, this is just the treat.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Speaking of watching, you should read this article about Buzzfeed’s Tasty if you are at all interested in the future of the online food community and/or have ever watched one of their ubiquitous videos (I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have probably seen at least one). It is a fascinating look inside the company.
I can personally while away full hours just scrolling through their videos…

As far as other news and articles go, read them as you see fit. I could link to a million more NYTimes articles that I have pored over or rolled my eyes while reading in recent days.
Empower and equip yourself with knowledge, if I may so kindly suggest. Never let anything that you would not have considered normal a few years ago pass by undetected amidst the chaos of our world.

I personally read the news constantly.
In truth, the news is literally the only thing of which I have become an increased consumer lately.
In all other aspects of my life, I am trying to focus on what is, rather than what if.
That is to say, not many shiny new purchases to show off. Just more knowledge in my noggin’.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Oh! Also speaking of watching, I have finished the Handmaid’s Tale.
I felt satisfied having completed it.
I don’t really know how much I want another season—I know some people are chomping at the bit for one, but although I did enjoy the show fully and sincerely, I feel lukewarm about seeing the series continue.

I met a colleague of mine whose name is Hannah (and as some of you may know, my middle name is Hannah) and she was joking that we pretty much have all the biblical names in the office.
I said that we just needed Rachel’s handmaid, and neither of us could remember her name despite having both watched the damn show.
The day I finally remembered to look it up—Bilhah—and tell her, the show was nominated for an Emmy.
What a funny coincidence.
The Emmy nom leads me to believe there will be more seasons; our society does tend to milk until dry, it seems.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

In food-related news, I have been sticking almost exclusively to a dairy-free + largely egg-free diet (except for Halo Top, cause oh my GOD that stuff is good and I am irrevocably hooked) since I discovered that dairy might not sit well with my skin. I cut it out last summer, but it has become much easier and practical now that I am a Real Adult and cooking 98% of my meals.
I do miss cheese, like, a lot. I’ll be honest.

I’ve been meal prepping my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for the work week, and it feels great.
The shopping on Sundays is not the most fun, but getting it all out of the way and not worrying about planning or lugging groceries daily through New York makes it worth it.
I eat the same things happily every day. I am the most staid creature of habit.
As long as I get my favorite foods in (cruciferous vegetables, preferably kale, usually twice a day and strawberries, often frozen and slightly thawed so that they’re like sorbet), I am content.
Since I added seafood into my (as I mentioned above) essentially vegan diet, I’ve found protein to be a lot easier to come by. I still stick to my vegan staples of seitan and tofu, though. I love bouncy, chewy foods, so those come more naturally to me than they may to others.
By the way, did you know that some people consider mussels and oysters to be vegan? We all have to make our own choices, of course, and I am less concerned with perfect labels than I once was. But it is an interesting ethical question to ponder.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is a luxurious experiment in dairy- and gluten-free baking.
My last post was also dairy-free: these little strawberry orange shortcakes.
Although neither is vegan (both contain eggs), don’t worry, because I have a vegan cake coming very soon. Watch this space!

Today’s cake is a citrus and almond affair, dense and plush and delightfully tangy.
It is lightly spritzed with lemon syrup, moistening it and bringing it one step closer to a melt-in-your-mouth pudding. The top is finished with powdered sugar, chopped pistachios, sweet juicy blackberries, and candied lemons.

This cake is bursting with flavor and texture, and is made with the most simple ingredients—you can garnish it a lot more minimally if you desire. Overall, it is much greater than the sum of its parts.
It is light without being wishy-washy, and it is a great choice if you need to serve people with varying food allergies. The only fat in the recipe comes from the almonds and egg yolks—no oil!
And no one will miss the dairy or gluten… My taste testers didn’t even blink or pause between inhaling bites when I told them.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I think this would be fabulous with orange zest, topped with a little dark chocolate ganache and whipped (coconut) cream; or served warm with raspberry sorbet or pistachio ice cream.
Add some fresh rosemary to the batter and serve it with vanilla crème anglaise and a drizzle of good olive oil and a pinch of flaky sea salt, if you want to get really fancy.

That does sound good… I rather wish I was in a lovely garden enjoying a slice right now. Hmm.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I’ve known a great number of clever men. I’ve outlived them all.
You know how?
I ignored them.

—Lady Olenna Tyrell, S7 E2

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Citrus Almond Cake
makes 1 8-inch cake
ingredients:
for the citrus almond cake:
4 eggs
zest of 2 limes
zest of 2 lemons
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar, divided in two
150 grams (1 1/2 cups) almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

for the candied lemons:
1 lemon
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
240 grams (1 cup) water

to assemble:
2 tablespoons lemon syrup, reserved
powdered sugar, as desired
blackberries
chopped pistachios
edible flowers, as desired

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour (with GF flour) an 8-inch pan.
Separate the eggs; whisk the yolks with half the sugar and the citrus zests until lightened in color.
Add the other portion of sugar to the egg whites and whisk until soft peaks form.
Add the almond flour, baking powder, lemon juice, and salt to the yolk mixture and stir until homogeneous.
Gently fold in the egg whites, then pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the center springs back.
Allow the cake to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the candied lemons: slice the lemon into very thin slices.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, then blanch the lemon slices.
Empty the pot of water; add the sugar and cup of water and stir over low heat just until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the blanched lemon slices and allow to simmer until the rind is translucent, about 45 minutes.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the syrup.
Lay onto parchment paper and allow to cool.
To assemble, brush the cake with the reserved syrup.
Roll the blackberries in a little bit of powdered sugar, and dust the cake with powdered sugar.
Decorate the cake with chopped pistachios, candied lemons, blackberries, and edible flowers, if desired.
Serve at room temperature with tea.

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Laplace

Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

If an intelligence, at a given instant, knew all the forces that animate nature and the position of each constituent being;
if, moreover, this intelligence were sufficiently great to submit these data to analysis, it could embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the smallest atoms:
to this intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.

—Pierre-Simon Laplace

Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I took a class this past quarter called History of Statistics.
It was taught by a professor who knew my grandfather well. Additionally, in an amazing twist of small-world fate, his father taught MY father in a class called History of Economics, when my dad was getting his PhD at UChicago. It was an excellent class to cap off my stat minor, and I recommend it to anyone who can get in off the competitive waitlist.

At the beginning of the quarter, we had a question on a homework that stumped (I think) everyone in the class. The question that was posed was: what was the dessert that Pierre-Simon Laplace invented?
Don’t even try to google it, guys. Been there, done that. It is thoroughly un-googleable.

The answer: in 1826 there was a landmark two volume book about gastronomy published by Brillat-Savarin (as in the Savarin cake). In it, a dessert was attributed to Laplace.
Strawberries sprinkled with orange juice.
Literally, that’s the whole of it.

Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Anyways, the other day I found myself with a bunch of spring strawberries and some aging oranges that needed to be used or eaten. I thought back to Laplace’s dessert, and how I could modify it and make it… more, um, interesting.

These dairy free strawberry shortcakes are what I came up with, because I’ve been eating dairy free a lot lately and want to challenge myself to bake dairy free as well.
The cake itself is a dairy free pound cake, made with vegan butter, cashew yogurt (I like Forager), and a hint of orange zest; it is moist and dense and bakes up perfectly golden.
I brushed the cut cakes with an orange simple syrup to infuse them with stronger flavor.
The strawberries are treated as Laplace would have demanded: sprinkled with the juice of an orange (and a little hit of sugar), but then I roasted them in the oven to bring out a toasty, caramelized flavor that is absolutely divine.
The cakes are layered with the roasted strawberries, topped with lightly sweetened coconut cream, confectioner’s sugar, and more orange zest.

Overall, they’re not too sweet and preserve a true strawberry and orange flavor; they store very well as the syrup helps retain their moisture. The serving size is just right for one person, although I know for a fact that some of my testers ate two…
They would be perfect for any summer event, from a BBQ to a tea party.

Note that you can substitute dairy items and still have very happy results: butter for the vegan butter, sour cream or full-fat yogurt for the cashew yogurt, and whipped cream or ice cream for the coconut cream.

Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy summer, friends! Here’s to strawberry season.

Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes
makes 6 large, 12 small shortcakes

ingredients:
for the cakes:
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) vegan/dairy free butter, softened (can substitute regular butter)
250 grams (1 1/4 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
120 grams (1/2 cup) cashew yogurt (can substitute sour cream or yogurt)
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
zest of 1/2 an orange

for the strawberries:
15-20 large strawberries, sliced thinly (about 2-3 cups)
juice of 1 large orange
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

to assemble:
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
15 grams (1 tablespoon) orange juice
50 grams (4 tablespoons) sugar
zest of 1/2 an orange
coconut cream (see here for a tutorial) (can substitute whipped cream or ice cream)
zest of 1/2 an orange
confectioner’s sugar

directions:
Make the cakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 6 extra-large muffin tins, or 12 regular sized muffin tins.
Whip vegan butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat for another full 2 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the eggs; beat for another 3-4 minutes until fluffy and not gritty.
Stir in the cashew yogurt.
Add the flour, baking soda, and orange zest.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (small cakes will likely need shorter baking, check them around 15 minutes).
Allow to cool completely before cutting in half.
To make the strawberries, lay the slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with the orange juice and sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until softened, juicy, and fragrant.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the orange syrup: stir water, sugar, orange juice, and orange zest together and bring to a boil.
To assemble, brush the cut halves of the cakes with the orange syrup.
Sandwich a few strawberries with the cakes.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar, orange zest, and serve with coconut cream or ice cream on the side.

Cinquième

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package.
I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances.
To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”

—Joan Didion, UC Riverside commencement address, 1975

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy birthday, La Pêche Fraîche!

This blog is five (count them, five) years old. I don’t quite know how, but it has survived through my last years of high school and all the way through college.
I will take LPF with me out into the real world now, I suppose. Daunting, but comforting, in some ways, to always find a steady refuge in my own creative space.
Blogging has been occasionally sporadic, but always a constant presence in my mind and being.
I don’t know what shape it will take in the future, but I hope it will retain its shape and I will retain my drive, inspiration, and desire.

The blogiversary run-down:
Four years.
Three years.
Two years.
One year (oof).

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

I didn’t predict or envision my fifth blogiversary coming the day before my last final as a student of the University of Chicago; by tomorrow at 10:20am, I will be irreversibly set on the path of becoming an alumnae.

I have to spend all day today studying—but I also want to fit in the new Sherlock episode, because duh!
This quarter went by so quickly; it’s strange to think that I’ve been taking this class for ten weeks. I already had my last class ever. Craziness.

The five years of writing this blog—half a decade!—have also gone by quickly. I started writing this blog when I was 16. I had recently gotten my driver’s license. Now, I’m 21 and about to graduate university and move to NYC.
Lots of milestones have been celebrated on this blog.

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

I want to share some places, people, and things that help me retain my inspiration for baking/photographing/learning/creating.

Nicole Franzen is a photographer I follow on ig; she’s in Míkonos right now and has been in Italy and every time she posts, I am filled with longing and wanderlust.

Courtney’s cookie study. Because I deeply respect this is the kind of dedication to the improvement of the finest thing humanity has arguably ever produced (chocolate chip cookies, duh).

Siddhartha Mukherjee (author of Emperor of All Maladies), wrote a fascinating piece on epigenetics in the New Yorker last year that I only recently discovered. Worth the read if you’re at all scientifically or medically inclined or interested.

“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” Toni Morrison doles out wisdom from her father in her most recent piece for the New Yorker (if you’re going to read the above piece, might as well give this one a peek too—it’s short).

This vanilla rhubarb pound cake from the Herriott Grace blog (Nikole Herriott adapted a Tartine recipe) is the single most beautiful rhubarb cake I have ever seen. Seriously.

Deb’s strawberry graham icebox cake has me dreaming of summery treats, and plotting what other types of thin, many layered cakes I can create, because they sound amazing.

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

This is a celebration cake, make no mistake, but it is very simple and not intimidating at all. It is 100% doable in an afternoon, or as a last-minute offering the night before a birthday.

The cake itself is my perfected chocolate cake recipe. It bakes up flat (no leveling needed), moist, and not-too-sweet. It’s not overly fudgy—it has a relatively delicate crumb, and it saves like a dream.
It’s covered in a classic American buttercream tinted the palest pink and given an extra dose of salt to balance the buttery sweetness.
A generous drizzle of white chocolate and a smattering of marshmallows and sprinkles gives it the happiest of vibes.
I topped it off with candles, but a cake topper or some extra piping would also look great!

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

― Angela DuckworthGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

Fifth Blogiversary (Simple Chocolate Cake)

ingredients:
for the cake:
330 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cornstarch
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
65 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) extra dark cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso
120 grams (1/2 cup) boiling water
85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) vegetable/canola oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
160 grams (2/3 cup) buttermilk OR 145 grams (2/3 cup less 1 tablespoon) milk plus 15 grams (1 tablespoon) apple cider vinegar

for the frosting:
225 grams (1 cup, 2 sticks) butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
460 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
45-90 grams (3-6 tablespoons) cream, as needed
1 drop pink food coloring

to assemble:
lucky charms, if desired
sprinkles
60 grams (2 ounces) white chocolate, chopped
60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
white food coloring, if desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 6×2 inch pans.
Place sugar in a large bowl, followed by salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cornstarch; whisk together briefly.
Add the flour on top of the mixture, then the cocoa powder, then the instant espresso on top of that.
Slowly stream the boiling water over the cocoa powder; once it’s all added, whisk vigorously while you add in the oil.
Add in both of the eggs and the vanilla extract, then stream in the buttermilk while whisking.
Scrape the bowl to ensure homogeneity, then portion evenly into the three pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, beat the softened butter for 3 minutes, until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume.
Add in the salt and sugar and mix on low speed until combined; add cream slowly (spoonful by spoonful, mixing after each one) if the frosting is too thick.
Tint to your desired color; here, I used only the tiniest drop to create an extremely pale pink frosting.
To decorate the cake, place one layer on a cake stand and top with 1/2 cup frosting.
Repeat until all 3 layers are stacked.
Crumb coat the cake and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Top with the remaining frosting and smooth with a large, warmed spatula.
Once smooth, place in the fridge to chill.
Melt the white chocolate and cream very gently in the microwave (about 45 seconds to 1 minute on medium power); pour or pipe over the edges of the chilled cake.
Finish the cake with lucky charms marshmallows (crush a few for powder), sprinkles, and candles, if desired.

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!

Flopsy

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

The little Flopsy Bunnies slept delightfully in the warm sun.
From the lawn beyond the garden came the distant clacketty sound of the mowing machine.
The blue-bottles buzzed about the wall, and a little old mouse picked over the rubbish among the jam pots.

—Beatrix Potter, The Flopsy Bunnies

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

It is irrevocably spring here in Chicago, finally.
It’s lovely and warm and sunny, and the cold grey drizzles and wind have, for the most part, stopped their daily doldrums. Of course, the 48 hours in which I am posting this have been very stormy. Typical.
We’re planning on doing a little gardening in Psi U’s front lawn this week—nothing sounds better to me than being out in the sunshiny weather.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

This past weekend, we jetted off to Portugal for my brother’s wedding. It was indescribably amazing (though the traveling itself was a nightmare—a story too long and too full of annoyances to recount). We flew into Lisbon and spent Saturday on Mariana’s family’s ranch (Herdade do Amendoiera) in Arraiolos. The wedding was beautiful, and I cried a lot. You couldn’t have asked for better weather or a lovelier location. Really. We were so lucky.

Sunday, Nati and I explored Lisbon on our own. Oh my gosh! There was so much we left unseen, and what we did see was fascinating. The city is beautiful, and has so many historical sites to see. We had a fabulous dinner at the Time Out market in Baixa, which was like a beefed up Eataly or like Chelsea Market (lots of restaurants and market stands). I cannot recommend it enough—the prices were good, the food was delicious, and the available variety was breathtaking.

Monday, we flew home—48 short hours in European paradise. I can’t wait to go back.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

How cute are these little carrot cake petit fours?
I shared them on Instagram the day before Easter and people went crazy for them! I was all intent on getting the recipe up in time for Easter, but here we are, friends.
I think these are perfect for any spring occasion, though. I personally love carrot cake so I wouldn’t complain to see these bite-sized pieces at any time of year.

They’re moist, two-bite wonders, slightly sweet and chewy from the carrot and topped with a generous swirl of tangy cream cheese whipped cream. The best part, in my opinion, are the little marzipan and lime zest carrots on top—they add a nutty sweetness and a tiny citrus-y kick that really perks up the cake.
Too often, carrot cake is dense and heavy—by miniaturizing it, you avoid some of this, and by using a non-traditional cream cheese frosting (no butter, light on the sugar), you lighten the dessert up even further.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

To bake these, I actually used an oven-safe ice cube mold. You could use a mini brownie pan or just bake them in a square 8×8 pan and cut them into shapes.

The marzipan carrots are easier than you think—just have a little patience and add the food coloring extremely slowly! I use Wilton and Americolor. For the lime zest leaves, I actually just zested a lime onto a plate and used tweezers to drop it onto the cake. That way, I had a little more control. You could also just sprinkle it on or make leaves out of marzipan.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

Carrot Cake Bites
makes 12 petit-fours or 1 8×8 cake

ingredients:
60 grams (2 ounces, 1/4 cup) butter
50 grams (1/4 cup) packed brown sugar
50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 egg
30 grams (2 tablespoons) neutral oil
75 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 medium sized carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)

for the frosting:
120 grams (120 mL, 1/2 cup) heavy cream
140 grams (5 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
90 grams (3/4 cup) powdered sugar

to assemble:
30-60 grams (1-2 ounces) marzipan
orange food coloring
1 lime

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour your baking dish.
Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and egg together on high speed until doubled in volume and lightened in color.
Add in the oil and mix on low speed until homogeneous.
Add in the flour, baking powder and soda, spices, and salt and mix until batter just starts to come together.
Stir in the carrots and portion out into baking dish.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the baking dish—a cake tester should come out clean.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, shape the marzipan carrots and zest the lime.
To make the frosting, whip the cream cheese and powdered sugar together until fully mixed; whip the cream separately and then slowly mix the two together, being careful not to knock all the air out of the cream.
Frost the petit fours however you desire, and top with a marzipan carrot and a dusting of lime zest for the leaves.

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!