Comfort and Joy

Almond and Orange Spice Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“For it is in giving that we receive.”

Prayer of Saint Francis

Almond and Orange Spice Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Merry Christmas Eve and a very happy first night of Hanukkah!
I have not yet wrapped my gifts nor done all the productive things I needed to do, but OH WELL that is just about how I expect 2016 to come to a close.

All my brothers are in town (though we are all staying apart since none of the four apartments where various fractions of us permanently live in NYC are big enough to fit the whole family), and tonight we’re heading to Brooklyn for Christmas Eve dinner at my grandma’s.
Last night, we all went bowling/drinking/for dinner at Brooklyn Bowl, which was fun. Although I was very salty at how bad at bowling I am, especially after a margarita. Ugh.

Almond and Orange Spice Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Tomorrow, we will exchange a few small gifts, eat some french toast (I kind of want to try making french toast with panettone. Is that frowned upon?!), and probably see a movie.

The past few years, I’ve made cinnamon rolls for Christmas day, but that’s not happening in our current kitchen. I’ve seen them all over Instagram this year though, and I think it’s a sweet tradition. Do you make anything traditional for breakfast? I try to keep it low-key and no-fuss since my family likes to just chill together.

Almond and Orange Spice Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This layer cake recipe is one of my new go-tos.  It’s more unique than just another vanilla or chocolate cake, and it doesn’t fall prey to the gingerbread trope, either.

It’s an almond and orange spice cake, and it’s really soft and moist from the almond meal.  It’s fragrant with spices and orange zest without being overpowering.  Between the layers, there is alternating apricot jam and orange marmalade, which are just a match made in heaven.  Sweet and fruity, with a hint of bitterness that complements the orange zest in the cake.  The icing is a simple cream cheese frosting with a tiny touch of maple syrup to round out the tanginess.

I decorated my cake with a mound of fruits painted with luster dust and bourbon because I am now officially way too obsessed with this technique. Someone stop me.

It would be just as yum with a few rosemary “trees” or a simple piped border and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Almond and Orange Spice Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

More Christmas cakes!

Last year’s cute Red Velvet Woodland cake.
Also last year: Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake
The year before: the insane and super fun Souche de Noël.

Almond and Orange Spice Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Almond and Orange Spice Cake
makes 1 4×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
zest of 1 orange
2 eggs
1 cup (120 grams) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (32 grams) almond flour or finely ground almonds
1/2 cup (120 grams) milk

for the frosting:
12 tablespoons (175 grams) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces (112 grams) cream cheese
12 ounces (330 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon (5 mL) maple syrup
3-4 tablespoons (45-60 mL) milk or cream

to assemble:
1/4 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate arils, kumquats
luster dust, if desired

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Place butter, sugar, spices, and zest into a bowl and cream on high speed for 3 full minutes, or until light and fluffy.
Add in the eggs and beat for another 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and almond flour and stir gently until half mixed in.
Add the milk and beat until the batter is homogeneous, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Portion out the batter into prepared pans and bake for 14-16 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely; meanwhile, make the frosting.
Beat butter and cream cheese on high speed for 3 minutes, or until doubled in volume and very pale in color.
Add in roughly half of the powdered sugar, the salt, the maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon of milk.
Beat on high speed until the frosting is very fluffy, about 3 more minutes.
Add in the rest of the powdered sugar to taste, along with 2-3 more tablespoons of milk, if needed to make the frosting more spreadable, and whip on high speed until fully incorporated.
The frosting should be spreadable but not loose; add more milk or powdered sugar to thin or thicken as needed.
To assemble, cut each of the layers in half.
Pipe a border of cream cheese frosting around the first layer, then spread 2 tablespoons of apricot jam in the center.
Spread frosting on top of the layer to cover the jam.
Add the second layer and repeat, except use orange marmalade instead of apricot jam.
Repeat with the third layer, using apricot jam again.
Top with the fourth layer and add a thin crumb coat of frosting on the outside of the cake.
Refrigerate the cake for at least 15 minutes to set the crumb coat.
Spread frosting thick on the top layer but thin on the sides to create a semi-naked finish.
Top with fruits dusted with luster dust or other decorations as desired.

Lumi

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

Hospital gowns never fit like they should
We yelled at the nurse, didn’t do any good
More morphine, the last words you moaned
At last I was sure
That you weren’t far away from home

—The Lumineers, Long Way From Home

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

Ho! A blogger returns!

And I come with spring tidings, because it finally seems like we have changed seasons for good.

Two weeks ago we were still getting intermittent snow storms, a cruel reminder that March doesn’t always go out like a lamb.  This year, she left as an unchanged lioness.
Today, the lake is turquoise like the Caribbean, the sky is cloudless and baby blue, and the weather is a balmy 65 degrees.
The tiniest yellow daffodils nod their heads along the path to our library, and even the rhododendron saplings have fuchsia buds delicately emerging.  April pulled through in a big way.

P.S. Lumi really is a fun word.
In Finnish and Estonian, it means snow. But in Romanian, it means worlds. In Latin, it means lights.
And in Yoruba, it means hit me.  Cool.
Thank you Google Translate.

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

In other April news, have you heard the Lumineers’ new album, Cleopatra?
Some real gems on it. I recommend Ophelia, Cleopatra, and Long Way From Home. I just love their band!

More importantly, Game of Thrones is coming back in 7 short days. I am freaking out, to put it mildly. The show has now managed to overtake the books’ timeline, so some of what happens this season will be material even I have never seen.
~*fangirling~*~**~*

Less awesome news: I fucking got shingles this week.
If you are thinking, what the fuck?! you’re not 70 years old yet, then we share very similar sentiments, my friend.
Not only do I rarely get very sick, which I attribute to growing up in Ithaca and putting lots of dirt in my mouth, but I am 20—20!!!—and yet I got shingles, AKA a super painful, non-contagious reawakening of the varicella (AKA chickenpox) virus in your dorsal root ganglion (nerve roots) that emerges as an excruciating and somewhat debilitating rash (that can be very dangerous, even deadly, for immunocompromised individuals).
Luckily for me, work just started picking up (hi, UChicago) so this is totally the ideal time to feel simultaneously and relentlessly exhausted, itchy, and in pain.
But seriously, Universe. WHY.

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

I haven’t been feeling exactly bright and alive lately, but I’m trying to get in the kitchen as often as I can.
This, primarily, is because I haven’t been baking as much as I really like to, and because I have no clue as to how much I’m going to be able to do over the summer.

I’m also feeling the call to the kitchen because of my cravings for humongous, fresh salads, which require some time and patient chopping. Trying to dive into as many spring vegetables as I possibly can and saying Bye Felicia to winter squash and citrus.
Like, I love you. But it’s past time for you to go.

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

Today, I’m sharing a pretty little tart that has virtually no bake time and minimal effort required.
It’s totally adaptable—use whatever bounty of fruit you can get your hands on.
This could be made (and deliciously, I might add) with poached rhubarb or sliced plums or apricots.
Lemon and cream cheese never fail as a delicious backdrop.
Strawberries are cheap and abundant right now, as spring has long been arrived in more verdant parts of the globe (looking at you, California).
This tart would be fabulous with just strawberries.

You can check out another riff on lemon+strawberry (plus one of my most favorite poems that I’ve written) from eons ago two summers ago, here.

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

The base of this tart is my beloved pâte sucrée. It’s like a buttery shortbread cookie, but not quite as sweet, and it holds its shape perfectly when frozen and weighted with some dry beans (my ceramic pie weights live at home).
The filling is smooth and rich—lots of lemon zest and juice is thrown in with cream cheese and powdered sugar. Equally delicious would be a substitution of mascarpone for the cream cheese. Nom.
On top, a bounty of berries, juicy and colorful, brushed with a little apricot jam for extra shine and dusted with a shower of powdered sugar, if you should so desire.

Perfectly low-key, full of fresh fruit and flavor, this tart is a perfect way to officially ring in spring!

*Please don’t let this post jinx our beautiful weather, please don’t let this post jinx our beautiful weather…*

Cream Cheese Berry Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

Cream Cheese Berry Tart
makes 1 13×4 inch tart

ingredients:
for the crust:
112 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, soft
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
120 grams (1 cup) flour, plus 2 tablespoons if needed
1 egg yolk

for the filling:
120 grams (4 ounces) cream cheese, soft but still chilled
zest of 1 whole lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon heavy cream
200 grams (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar, sifted

to assemble:
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup blackberries
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon apricot jam
powdered sugar, as desired

directions:
Make the crust: place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high until doubled in size, about 4 minutes.
Add in the sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat on high for another 3 minutes.
Stir in the flour and egg yolk slowly until a cohesive dough forms.
Press into the tart pan with your fingers and prick with a fork.
Freeze for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cover tart shell with foil and weight with pie weights or dry beans.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and fully set.
Allow to cool fully.
Meanwhile, make the cream cheese filling: beat cream cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and heavy cream on high for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add in the powdered sugar and stir slowly until incorporated; increase speed to high and beat for another minute.
Filling should be thick.
Spread into the cooled shell.
Decorate with berries, then brush hot jam over the berries with a pastry brush.
Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

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.

Abóbora

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”

—Julia Child

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Thanksgiving!

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Today, I’m crazy busy cooking and baking a feast for my family… I’ve been cooking since I got home on Tuesday night and I won’t stop until dinner tonight!

But nevertheless, I wanted to share this cake with you, since it is so easy and quick and could be a perfect last-minute addition to any holiday table.

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For any of you who might be curious, the menu I’ve created for today is as follows (and yes, I execute all of these dishes, with great help from my sous chefs Mom, Dad, and Grandma!):

Gougères
Kale and raisin salad
Butternut squash macaroni and cheese
Roasted za’atar root vegetables with dijon aioli
Cauliflower mascarpone mashed potatoes
Mushroom, rosemary, lemon, and chicken sausage dressing
Cranberry-maple sauce
Tarragon and thyme butter roasted turkey
White wine giblet gravy
Seared maple brussels sprouts
Butternut squash snack cake with brown sugar fudge frosting
Maple cream shortbread tart
Butterscotch, poached pear, and apple pie in a cheddar crust

My “manifesto” AKA all of the written out recipes and schedules was a whopping 12 pages long this year.
We don’t play around with Thanksgiving in this household.

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m going to attempt to perhaps photograph some of the desserts, but no promises.  Things can get hectic!

The cake I’m sharing today is seriously, seriously, the best pumpkin cake I have ever tasted.

Even better, it only requires one bowl, comes together in a flash, and keeps like a dream.
It was inspired by a jar of pumpkin butter that Hana brought me from the apple orchard/pumpkin patch where she spent a brisk autumn morning.
She really is the best big ever!

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This pumpkin cake is dairy-free (and I used lactose-free cream cheese for the frosting), but you’d never know it.

Super moist and spicy, thanks to a double hit of pumpkin: both pumpkin butter and pumpkin purée go into the batter, along with a hit of brown sugar and a mélange of spices.
The frosting is creamy, drippy, and thick—slathered on generously.
I used Green Valley lactose free cream cheese to keep it Nati-friendly—it’s seriously amazing!
You cannot tell the difference in taste or texture whatsoever.

This cake batter comes together in 10 minutes, and then you can sneak it in the oven next to the turkey—a loaf pan is quite svelt, even in a crammed oven.

It would make a fantastic last addition to any menu!
And once again: happy Thanksgiving, all!

Double Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Double Pumpkin Cake 
makes 1 9×5 inch loaf cake
cake portion adapted from Sweet Phi

ingredients:
for the cake:
180 grams ( 1 1/2 cups) flour
55 grams (1/2 cup packed) brown sugar
55 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
pinch cloves
pinch nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
270 grams (1 cup) pumpkin purée
430 grams (1 1/2 cups) pumpkin butter
28 grams (2 tablespoons) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese (I used lactose free)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
480 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, as needed (I used cashew)

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a loaf pan.
Whisk together flour, sugars, spices, and salt.
Make a well in the center and crack in the eggs; add the pumpkin purée, pumpkin butter, oil, and vanilla to the well also.
Carefully stir the batter together until a rough and mostly homogeneous batter results.
Scrape into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs and the top is springy and golden.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
To make the cream cheese frosting, whip cream cheese on high speed util creamy and no lumps remain, about 3 minutes.
Add in the salt and powdered sugar and stir until completely incorporated; if mixture is too thick to spread, add the milk until it is of spreadable consistency.
Frost as desired.
Serve at room temperature.

Elegant Disorder

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

—Joan Didion

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Balance, ever sought—ever fickle.

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

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

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

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For now, this is a birthday cake!

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

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

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

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

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

That’s what I call a celebration cake!

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is Real

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

“What is REAL?”
asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly,
except to people who don’t understand.”

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche FraîcheFig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

Since Life first unexpectedly sprung from unassuming, antediluvian and micellar murk on a planet wholly unrecognizable to us, so too did Death.
Organisms, animals—man and beast and plant alike—enter this realm and pass into the next.
And by the time sentience came into vogue, grief had entered the mix as well.

The unfairness of loss draws out our most innate and intimate emotions, primal keening and crying accompanied by
external, physical pain.  It hurts.

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche FraîcheFig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

To my best friend, my honey bee, keeper of my secrets and sharer of my memories—

Know that everything you feel is Real.
Love, regret, anger, and sadness all roll together to become the acutely painful sensation of grief, which is, paradoxically, the balm and toxin during heartbreaking loss.

Know, however, that your heart isn’t breaking.
It is swelling so full of love and memories that it is fit to burst; the dull ache of each thump in your chest only serves to remind you how very full it is.

No matter how deeply it feels like it is rending, it is knit together tightly by years of love.
That much, my dear, I can certainly promise you.

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

“Time, that infallible, indefatigable soldier, marches on.
I pool myself at his knees, pull at his clothes, cry, implore him for more, more, more.
I beg a retreat, a repeat– just one– beg for second chances, for one minute, one hour longer.

But he is deaf, this cruel god.  There is no rewinding, no turning back.
Done is done; done is done, calls his war drum.
Onward we march.  Forward we go.

Healing is not easy.
But you cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.
One walks hand in hand with the other.
And so must we, as their waves beat down on our beaches, as they soften and change our malleable souls.
This submission is not comfortable; it is not easy.

We do not like to be changed.”

It Gets Better, 2014

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

I must share this beautiful snapshot of writing:

“She was speaking last night about a litter of cats she wanted to bring home, and the look of the moonlight on a lake.
Memories from the past resurfacing.
When we are about to cross over, these thoughts are the things we take with us.
Philip Eastman

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

This stunning tart is definitely one of the most delicious and beautiful things I have made yet this summer.
Figs, to me, signal the dog days of summer: sticky, syrupy heat that produces fruit of the same temperament, as the season bleeds lazily into Autumn.

They are an unctuous, sensual fruit, and it is truly hard to beat a perfectly ripe fig.
Figs pair well, in my opinion, with savory flavors as well as bright, citrusy flavors.
This tart blends the two, with woodsy rosemary and tart lemon creating a perfectly harmonious backdrop for lots of thinly sliced, ripe figs.

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche FraîcheFig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

For this tart, buttery crust, crisp and perfectly fluted (no shrinkage! Heh.) is hit with pine-y rosemary and molasses-y brown sugar to elevate it above a basic pâte sucrée.
The shell is filled with tart citrusy cream, rich with cream cheese, cut with a whole lemon’s worth of zest and juice.
When chilled, it sets into a sliceable form, solid enough to support any number of fresh or seasonable fruits.
I can easily imagine this tart/pie made with sautéed plums, or candied citrus, any type of berry, or many tiny apricots.
Here, I’ve chosen a bevy of super ripe, late-season juicy black mission figs, sliced thin and brushed with warm apricot jam for shine.
The effect is jaw-dropping, a spiral of late summer’s finest fruits, showcasing their orange-y pink centers—a veritable sunset of beautiful colors.

When figs pie, indeed.

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart | La Pêche Fraîche

Fig, Rosemary, and Lemon Tart
makes 1 8-inch tart

for the rosemary-brown sugar pastry:
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
30 grams (1/4 cup) confectioner’s sugar
50 grams (1/4 cup) brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
130 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) butter
1 egg
Whisk together 180g (1 1/2 cups) flour, 60g (1/2 cup) confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cut in 130g (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) butter and whisk in an egg. Press into a tart pan and freeze. Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Fill cooled shell with lemon cream: beat 130g (10 ounces) cream cheese with 90g (3/4 cup) confectioner’s sugar, the juice and zest of one lemon, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Top with fresh, ripe fruit!

for the lemon cream:
130 grams (10 ounces) cream cheese
90 grams (3/4 cup) confectioner’s sugar
juice and zest of 1 large lemon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

to assemble:
8-9 ripe figs, sliced very thinly
1 tablespoon apricot jam (optional)

directions:
Grease an 8-inch tart pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the crust: whisk together flour, confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar, rosemary, and kosher salt.
Cut in the butter and whisk in the egg.
Knead lightly until dough comes together but is still slightly crumbly.
Press into prepared pan, prick all over with a fork, and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Weight with pie weights and parchment paper and bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the lemon cream: whip cream cheese with confectioner’s sugar for 2 minutes until fluffy.
Add in the lemon zest, juice, and salt, and whip for 3 more minutes.
Fill cooled shell and chill for 15 minutes, until partially set.
Top with sliced figs or other fruit (berries, plums, candied citrus) and a brush of heated apricot jam for shine and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until completely set.
Serve chilled (cut with a hot, sharp knife).

Day by Day

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes | La Pêche Fraîche

“The way you live your days is the way you live your life.”

—Annie Dillard

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I am trying to use my days to make my life into whatever the hell I’m pretty sure I think I want my life to be like.

I have a bad habit of looking too far in the future.  Of being too fastidious and anxious of a planner.  Sound familiar?
(“Wherever you are, be all there.”
—Jim Elliot)

Ahem. Remember what I said about reading more?
I’ve been reading more… online, though.
Needless to say, that wasn’t what I previously had in mind.

I have other habits on my kill list.
I’m determined.
Just you wait and see!

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes | La Pêche Fraîche

How long do they say breaking or forming a habit takes?  22 days?

I feel like that is completely achievable.
Of course, I am speaking naïvely from the outset of any of these break-ups or formations.

I have been writing in a little journal every night for the past month and half.  It’s a pipeline for random emotional anguish and rambling, bumbling thoughts from the day–perfect for when no one can be bothered to listen to me spout off for ages at 11pm!
Now that I’ve begun to develop this habit, I have the right mind to treat myself to a fancier journal, with creamy pages and a beautiful cover design.
Yes!—I am thinking of Rifle Paper Co.
How can one not fall in love with every pattern?  Anna creates the most mesmerizing designs.  I am in love.
You should follow her on Instagram, if you don’t already, for sneak peeks into future holiday cards and collections!
(Who here thinks I can motivate myself enough to invest in a 2016 planner?  I am notoriously bad at keeping planners intact and updated…)

I am trying to develop a habit (if it can be called that) of sleeping more.  That is, instagramming less at night.
I mean, really, someone give me a shout-out who also finds themselves idling away for HOURS on the discover tab.
I need an intervention!
My goal is to not touch my instagram/snapchat/facebook after 10pm.
I want to reserve time before bed only to check my email and send out my nightly volley of “goodnight; I love you; *kissy face**kissy face**kissy face*” texts.
(I say this as I write this post at 1AM on a weeknight, phone beside me…)

Don’t get me wrong. My bed is great as is.  That’s not what’s stopping me from sleeping.
In fact, as long as I have a pillow and a non-burlap set of sheets, I’m set.  But that hasn’t stopped me from drooling over certain Pinterest bedrooms…
Do you follow me on Pinterest yet (well, why not?!)?
I’ve been particularly active and I’m quite proud of the little spaces I have cultivated.
I’m always looking for more boards to follow though—which are your favorites?

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes | La Pêche Fraîche

And now, to preach about sweets, which is why we’ve all found ourselves here in the first place:

Take advantage of Summer, friends, while her bounty is still plentiful!
Even non-farmer’s market, non-woodland (I’m looking at you, Dominique Ansel) strawberries and berries and other summer fruits are amazing right now.

I used mine to make des petits gâteaux au fromage et aux fraises.
Soft and fluffy little baked cheesecakes, laced with strawberry jam so that you get a hint of sweet fruitiness inside the cake itself.
The base is the butteriest graham cracker crust, with plenty of salt and brown sugar.
Each mini cake is topped with a tangy, creamy sour cream topping and a perfect half strawberry for a summer punch.

I love cheesecake. There is no denying that. But, arguably, I love mini cheesecakes even more.
So poppable! So party-friendly! And sooo easy. No cracks, no problems.
Let there be cheesecake.  Amen.

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Summer strawberries, previously:
Center stage, in a lemon-black pepper-strawberry tart.
Crowning jewels on a Victoria sponge, with goat cheese and tous les fruits rouges.
Embellishments on the fluffiest of coconut cupcakes, cutting through the sugar and adding a bite of freshness.
Playing the perfect foil to the most magnificent matcha butter cake; adding a pop of color and fruitiness to a simple, dang delicious pastry.

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes | La Pêche Fraîche
Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes

makes 6 mini cheesecakes
ingredients:
for the crust:
5 sheets of graham crackers, broken up into crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

for the cheesecake:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons of high-quality strawberry preserves, warmed in the microwave for 15 seconds

for the topping:
2 tablespoons sour cream
2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar
3 large strawberries, halved

directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line 6 cupcake wells with paper liners.
Stir the melted butter, salt, and brown sugar into the graham cracker crumbs; mixture should hold its shape when pressed together.
Press a tablespoon of crust into each cupcake liner, pressing firmly to pack it down.
Make sure the cream cheese is completely at room temperature (I let mine sit out overnight), then whisk briskly while pouring in the sugar.
Whisk vigorously to completely incorporate the egg.
Pour the warmed strawberry preserves into the mixture and stir gently to combine.
Place 2-3 tablespoons of filling into each cupcake liner.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, then let cool completely.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
To top the cheesecakes, whisk the sour cream and powdered sugar together until it loosens up.
Dollop over the cheesecakes, and top with a half strawberry.
Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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.