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.

CASA x Theta!

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

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

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Seriously, guys—how important and special is that?

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

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

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

CASA Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

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

xx

Bring It

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Crepe Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

T-minus 2.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Crepe Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My favorite holiday is in two (2!) days, and I’m headed home this evening.  Boy, am I excited.
(This is definitely me.  My dad sent me this link; no explanation needed.)

I’ve got my menu ready and my cooking pants on (never mind that I have a lab report and a paper due Wednesday…), and I’m so excited to see my kitties and puppy and family.
Unfortunately, I have a ton of work over this break (which is technically not a break for UChicago students), because my professors are really f@&#*%g pretty jerky this quarter.
Yay for my school. Yay for uni. Yay.

{Wait but also, guys, I’m officially a sister of the Epsilon Phi chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta at UChicago.  TLAM!}

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Crepe Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I made this crepe cake for a sisterhood event earlier in the fall, but have been too busy to share it.
Luckily, I’ve gotten my shit together in time for Thanksgiving, because this would be a perfect holiday dessert.

You can make it ahead; it’s no bake and doesn’t take up the all important oven; it’s pumpkin and cream cheese and very impressive with its many, many layers; most importantly, it’s delicious and popular with all.

The cake is made up of spicy pumpkin crepes, lacy thin and crispy on the edges, layered with thick, creamy cream cheese frosting, salty and sweet all at once.  The top is dusted with a tiny bit of gold luster dust (Black and Gold, duh), which makes it all the more elegant.

This is a showstopper dessert, and so easy to make ahead.  It’s the best parts of a pumpkin cake, but much more refined and no-bake to boot.  If you want big bang for your effort and a pumpkin dessert that’s not pumpkin pie, this is the cake for you.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Crepe Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Crepe Cake
makes 1 8-inch round cake
crepe portion adapted from Take a Megabite

ingredients:
for the crepes:
4 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

for the cream cheese frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temp
4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons cream or half and half
Gold luster dust, if desired

directions:
Make the crepes: place milk, melted butter, eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla in a large bowl or a large blender canister.
Use an immersion blender or vigorous whisking to completely combine the wet ingredients; they should be homogeneous.
Add in the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.
Whisk or blend on high until completely smooth.
Allow batter to rest for 20 minutes.
When ready to cook, swipe a small amount of butter onto a nonstick 8-inch skillet.
Pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter into the pan, swirling to evenly and thinly coat.
Peek under crepe after 45 seconds-1 minute; if it’s lightly browned, use a thin spatula and your fingers to flip the crepe.
Allow both sides to cook to a light brown, then remove from heat to a cooling rack.
Repeat until all the batter is gone; you should get somewhere around 18-24 crepes.
The crepes can be stored, completely cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 day.
To make the cream cheese frosting, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Beat on high speed for 3 full minutes until light and fluffy.
Add in the cream cheese and beat for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the powdered sugar and salt.
Mix slowly until the sugar is combined; add half and half 1 tablespoon at a time until the frosting is think and smooth but still spreadable; use right away.
Spread each crepe with 1 1/2 tablespoons of frosting; stack them all up on a cake stand or other serving platter.
For the top crepe, place the remaining frosting in a piping bag fitted with a star tip.
Pipe concentric circles all over the top of the cake, and dust with gold luster dust if desired.
Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge; serve slightly chilled.

Take the Cake

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by carrot cake.

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Carrot cakes are (generally) overly sweet and fatty.
Cloying sugar covers up the rich earthy undertones of the carrots.
Oil is added until the batter is slick and shiny, and when baked, greasy.

On top of this, a thick, sugared crust of cream cheese frosting, which is literally just fat and pounds of icing sugar.

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Too much sugar and too much fat—not that anyone is really under the impression that traditional carrot cake is intended to be healthy, but there is such a thing as too much of a yummy thing.

Carrot cakes have all the potential in the world, and too often they fall painfully short of delicious.

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Carrots, after sugar beets, have the most natural sugar of any vegetable.  As root vegetables, this sweetness is accompanied by a rich, round earthiness and, when cooked, a pleasant chewiness.

A whole pound of them form the base of this cake, shredded into tiny threads that all but disappear, leaving a moist, coarse crumb.

Carrots are accompanied by nutty rye flour, sweet, buttery pecans, round coconut oil and peppery olive oil, and shredded coconut that melts into the finished cake.

I reduced the sugar and oil in this recipe, replacing the standard canola oil with olive and coconut and taking the sugar down by 1/4.
Both are supplanted by a mashed up banana, which gives body and sweetness in a more wholesome way.

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This adds up to a carrot cake full of textures and flavors, without the slick of oil and heaps of sugar.
It’s carrot cake, but better.
It’s a touch more healthy, but that’s not the point—the point is to make this cake more respectable, more complex.

Take back carrot cake, people.

IMG_1375_01After reducing the amount of sugar and fat in the cake itself, I made a batch of cream cheese frosting that was on the smaller side, and much less sweet than the standard.
In order to be able to not add 1 1/4 POUNDS of powdered sugar to the frosting, I add in powdered milk, which adds body and extra flavor without the cloying sweetness.

This gets spread in a thin layer all over the cake, making it look a little naked but still pretty, IMHO.  Most of the frosting is saved for the top, and it doesn’t crust over with sugar, but remains creamy.

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Words have escaped me when I sit down to write, lately.
I don’t have much to complain about say.
I suppose I don’t feel much inspired by my life of late—not that it’s boring, but it is rather relaxed and quiet—and it leads me to be quite quiet on the blog.
I realize that many of you don’t come for the words, so I am deciding that whether they flow or not, I shall share the recipes and photos that I have in my (long) backlog.

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Maybe my next post will have more words.  Maybe not.
xx

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Rye Carrot Cake
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
makes 1 4×8 or 3×9 inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 scant pound carrots
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup desiccated coconut (sub shredded coconut)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 medium banana, mashed
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup

for the cream cheese frosting:
12 ounces (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
pinch kosher salt
1 cup dry milk powder
1 1/2-2 cups confectioner’s sugar

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 4 8-inch round baking pans.
Stir flours, baking powder and baking soda together.
In a food processor with the finest shredder attachment disk or with a cheese grater, shred the carrots as finely as you can; set aside.
Whisk sugar, salt, oils, and banana together very briskly, until completely combined and smooth.
Beat in each of the eggs and the maple syrup; whisk until completely smooth.
Add in the dry ingredients and carrots and stir to combine; when almost combined, add in the pecans, coconut, and raisins.
Scoop even amounts of the batter into the pans and smooth out with a spatula or butter knife.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the tops of the cakes are springy to the touch.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes; turn out of pans and allow to cool completely.
Make the frosting: beat butter on high speed until softened and almost white, about 5 minutes.
Add in the cream cheese and salt and beat for 3 more minutes, until completely homogeneous.
Sift the powdered milk and powdered sugar over the mixture in 4 parts, beating on high speed for 1 minute between each addition.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute; taste for sweetness.
To assemble the cake, spread 1/3 cup frosting between each layer and thinly frost the sides; use the remaining frosting to coat the top in a thick layer.
Serve at room temperature.

It Gets Better

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“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me.
A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month.
I could have cried over it. I did.
Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table.
I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”

— Jonathan Safran Foer | Everything is Illuminated

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Eleven weeks has this year been.

Magically have the hours stretched into days, weeks, months.
In the moment, the minutes melted like molasses, yet here we are, looking back at the accumulation of time piled high like snow drifts.
The quarter gusted by, ruffling my hair, picking at the edges of my jacket, freezing my salty tears to icicles.

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.

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Eleven weeks has this year been.

One, two, three months.  Two thousand fourteen.  Twenty fourteen.

The year began as a frenzy of tears, of dually joyous and grieving reunions, of family and love and support and then fell into a deep well of loneliness and numbness, of steely walls and wintry blues, of homesickness and exhaustion.
Slowly, though, 2014 stabilized to an equilibrium.
Just as there was sadness, there was celebration.
Just as there was remembrance, there was readjustment and renewal (even some resolutions).

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.

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Yet what can I say?  It gets better.

Things get better.  I don’t eat dinner alone in the stairwell anymore, cold and alone.  I let warmth into my life.
I don’t cry when I’m falling asleep; I don’t cry when I wake up.  I smile, and stretch, long and satisfying.
I don’t feel like my lungs are collapsing in on themselves when I think about you.  I breathe deeper, and deeper still.
I don’t feel my heart break anew into a million pieces when I think about my father, his brothers, his mother.  It aches, but I embrace it.
I don’t feel like I’ve been punched in the gut when I hear your name.
(Although I did feel like I was being punched, repeatedly, when I heard your voice.  My body clenched and I started to sweat.  I listened to it over and over and over.)
I am so proud and so grateful, and I close my eyes and remind myself of that instead.

There were times when I didn’t think it would get easier.  When I felt hopeless, helpless, lost.
It did, though.  I see it more and more as this quarter draws to a close.
Never forgetting.  I miss you.  I keep your picture in my wallet for good luck on my tests.  I taped your picture to my wall– you’re a dreamcatcher for anything math-related because those kind of thoughts give me nightmares.
I’m sure you happily absorb them, and roll your eyes when they’re wrong.
No, never forgetting.
Just feeling my heart knit back together, feeling the rent be mended, one stitch of time by one.

Allowing it to get better.

gggg

If there was ever something that you would think couldn’t get better, it would be St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake.
The name alone is enough to give this impression.  Gooey.  Butter. Cake.

But oh, friends, oh.  Does it ever get better.  In a word, yes.
Let’s be clear and upfront about what gooey butter cake is.

There are two versions: one is the more classic, yeasted bottom, butter topped coffeecake-like confection, and one is Paula Deen’s dump-a-buncha-butter into a cake mix and slather it with cream cheese decadence.  Christina Tosi makes a similar version.
That’s how you know it’s good.
1) the name
2) Paula Deen
3) Xtina Tosi

This is the decadent, preservative-filled type, but made better.  Made way, way, way better.
No box mixes.  Sans preservatives.  Still just as easy.

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First, the base.  Normally a box of yellow cake mix with a stick o’ melted butter added.
Here, oats, brown sugar, plenty of salt, and brown butter are stirred together, turning into a thick, soft cookie base, with a hearty texture and assertive flavor.

Next, the topping.  Cream cheese, more brown sugar, eggs, plenty of salt, and a heap of powdered sugar are beaten together to form the sticky, cheesecake-y layer.

After it bakes, the top is cracked and deeply golden, and the whole thing smells like brown butter-brown sugar heaven.
Shut your eyes to resist its seductive temptation, and stick it in the freezer.  Overnight.  This is the hardest part of this recipe.
When it comes out the next day, it’s dense and chewy, yet maintains its eponymous gooey-ness.
Dust it in more powdered sugar, slice, and dive right in.

One bite and there’s no going back.
It just got better, fam.

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Brown Sugar Oatmeal Gooey Butter Cake
makes an 8×8 pan
heavily adapted from Christina Tosi (originally via the now defunct Gilt Taste)

ingredients:
for the base:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

for the topping:
8 ounces cream cheese
hefty pinch salt
6 packed tablespoons (3 ounces) brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups (13 ounces) confectioner’s sugar

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line an 8×8 pan with parchment, then grease the parchment generously.
Place oats in the bottom of a bowl, then put sugars and salt mounded up to one side.
Place your butter in a heavy pan over medium heat.
After it melts, continue to cook it until it browns and becomes nutty and fragrant.
Pour browned butter over oats and allow to sit and marinate; after a few minutes, stir the sugars and salt together with the oats.
Beat in the egg and egg yolks.
Stir in the flour and baking powder.
Mixture will be crumbly but stick together when pressed.
Press into the bottom of your 8×8 pan; you will have some left over (leave 3/4 of an inch for the topping).
Prepare the topping:
Beat cream cheese and salt together until very light and fluffy, and no lumps remain.
Whip in the brown sugar until the mixture is no longer gritty, about 3 minutes.
Add in the eggs and vanilla and beat on high for another 3 minutes.
Sift the confectioner’s sugar over the top of the mixture and beat just until combined; scrape the sides of the bowl and make sure everything is homogeneous.
Spread the mixture over the crust, making sure it covers the entire thing.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until puffed, golden, and crackly, with only a slight jiggle in the center.
Remove from oven and let cool; PLACE IN FREEZER for at least 4 hours, and up to one night.
To serve, remove from freezer and immediately slice; dust with plenty of powdered sugar.

Waiting, Wishing

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“into a star splintered
silence
I reach
with hopeful fingers
into the light
of distant
mornings
captive in the
unbloomed
flower.”

Paul Matsumoto

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Here is my feeble attempt to feed my soul warmth, sunshine, and goodness while the cold continues to bring Chicago Chiberia to its sorely frozen knees, joints creaking and complaining on the way down.
While the cold continues to send me racing in search of a hot tea, a hot coffee, a hot salted soy mocha steamer, prepared slowly, lingered over, enjoyed, a hot drink in a cold cold room.
While the cold continues to keep me bundled up, wool socks, shearling lined boots, down vests, coats, giant woolen scarves, thick mittens, layers layers layers for survival.
While the cold continues to leach any pleasure I derive from the weak winter sun that has been shining more often, that has been teasing, teasing always, fickle and teasing.

It’s so fracking cold here, y’all.

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Yes.  It’s cold.  And I’ve been busier than ever, nonstop work nonstop studying nonstop demands to be alert awake alive enthusiastic, wishing no more than sleep and rest and relaxation.

School has been overwhelming, with one big assignment following on the heels of the last: midterms, papers, psets, reading.  Labs, responses, eating (?), sleeping (?).
Last weekend was crazy.  My dad was visiting (lovely), there were big social events (that’s a nice change), and I had a million and one academic demands on my plate (which has become a miserably constant equilibrium).

I survived, though.  I survived.  And then came the cold.
And then came the weekend of 8th/9th week, when course requests are due, final midterms are spoken about in hushed tones, the whisper of finals and final papers forms on the tongue.

School, man.  It never ends here at UChic.  It’s like we like it or something.  I dunno.  Don’t ask me.

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Planning my schedule=major stress.
Finishing up big assessments=major stress.
Trying to make sense of my major= major stress. (lol)

All of these are acting as the boot behind me, as the sweet, crunchy carrot of SPRING BREAK entices me forward, forward, forward.

I am going somewhere warm, damn it.
Forget Chiberia and this ridiculous winter.  It’s time for me to revel in Vitamin D and wear less than 4 layers of clothing at any one time.
Forget UChicago and this ridiculous winter quarter.  It’s time for me to sleep and nap and read a book on a beach.

Where, I don’t yet know.  Somewhere southron.

This cake allows me to focus on something other than tropical dreams, one bite at a time.
This cake is my tropical dreams, lush and rich and satisfying.

(Here, listen to this while you read this post.)

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This cake embodies all the sunny flavors for which I am so desperate.

The cake base is not a pound cake.  Rather, it’s a supremely light and fluffy cake, made sans butter, but oil for moisture and whipped eggs for lightness.  (I wish I had had coconut oil!  I was all out when I made the cake, but the coconut flavor still came through.)

A spot of creamy coconut milk, threads of lime zest, and chewy, finely shredded coconut are stirred into the batter.  Tangy lime syrup is poured over the hot cake, then it’s topped with swirls of cream cheese frosting.

I’ve never met a loaf cake with better texture than this one.  It’s got a firm bite, soft crumbs, and manages to hold together well while still maintaining plenty of moisture, thanks to the lime syrup.
Where the syrup pools, the cake turns into luscious soaked bites, full of flavor and fall-apart-tender in your mouth.

This cake is easy, pretty, and delicious.  It’s exciting and enticing, and conjures up feelings of sandy toes, warm sun, and tanned skin.  You should try it.

Lime in the coconut, baby.

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Lime and Coconut Soaked Cake
adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
makes 1 9×5 or 10×4 inch loaf cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
240 grams (2 cups) flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
zest from 3 limes
370 grams (1 2/3 cups) granulated sugar
240 mL (1 cup) coconut milk
180 grams (3/4 cup) canola oil, or coconut oil, melted but cool
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4-1 cup finely shredded coconut

for the lime soaking syrup:
120 mL (1/2 cup) lime juice
70 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar

for the cream cheese frosting:
60 grams (4 tablespoons) butter
170 grams (12 tablespoons) cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
30 mL (2 tablespoons) coconut milk
150 grams  (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
70 grams (2/3 cup) nonfat powdered milk

directions:
Make the cake: line your loaf tin with parchment paper, then grease and flour the parchment.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk flour and baking powder together.
Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment with salt, lime zest, and sugar.
Whip on high speed for 5 minutes, until the mixture has tripled in size and is pale yellow.
Stir in the coconut milk, oil, and vanilla; when partially incorporated, place flour mixture on top and coconut on top of that and use gentle folding motions to fully homogenize the batter.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour on a baking sheet, checking for doneness at around 50 minutes.
A tester should come out with just a few crumbs.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup: place the lime juice and sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil; allow to simmer for 3 minutes.
Make the frosting: whip butter on high speed until it is completely soft, about 5 minutes.
Add in the cream cheese and beat for at least 4 more minutes.
Add in the rest of the ingredients and slowly mix to combine; beat on high for a few minutes to ensure that everything is incorporated and prevent lumps.
Refrigerate until ready to use to allow it to set up.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poke it with a skewer or thin chopstick all over, about halfway through the cake.
Pour the syrup all over the hot cake, and allow it to cool completely.
Frost the cooled cake with the chilled cream cheese frosting.
Serve in generous slices.

Sakura-iro

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Oh, I know how it is in the spring
when Japonica’s in bloom
and rivers of many waters bring
life to the unplucked fruit.
Then the vineyards of the Maidens flower
on every shaded vine;
all flourish in that restful hour—
but, oh, this can’t be mine!
All seasons are the same to Love,
it’s always time to storm;
thunder is always flashing over
my head, and there’s a swarm
of desiccating furies in my mind.
Love chews away my heart
from the roots, in the dark.

Ibycus, Fragment 286

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It makes me sad when people say they hate Valentine’s day.

I love Valentine’s day!  Not because I spend it with anyone special (womp womp) but because I love the idea.

I love love.

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I guess I can see the strikes against Valentine’s day (too mushy, too commercialized, too silly, too much effort) BUT my gosh just how wonderful of a concept is it, honest and truly?

A day to celebrate love: a day to show your appreciation to those who make your life a little bit better every day.
A day to share tokens, sweets, and affection with your sweetheart, with your friends, with your family.
A day to honor a man who accepted illicit love, who just wanted people to be happy and content.

Appropriate, with all that’s going on in Sochi at the Winter Olympics.

People are people.  Love is love.
Everyone deserves to be loved; everyone deserves to give love.

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Regardless of whether you like Valentine’s day or not, I know y’all like cake.

And so that is what I’m bringing you.
I’m sharing love and cake.  Doesn’t that just sound like the best combination ever?

Cake, love, and pocky.  Sign me up.

Isn’t this little cake the cutest!  Oh!  It makes me so happy.  Happy cake love.  Happy, pinky, red velvet cake love.
It abounds.

Pink for all!  All the pink.  This cake doesn’t have to be only for Valentine’s day.  Pink is a year-round color
(Although perhaps especially appropriate for Wednesdays.)

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Speaking of pink…
Have you ever had Japanese Pocky?
They’re little biscuit sticks, dipped in chocolate.  They’re crunchy, creamy, and utterly addictive.

In fact, true story: I have been planning on making this cake for ages, not even necessarily for Valentine’s day.
I purchased a bunch  of Pocky from Amazon, but kept stalling making the cake (and munching on Pocky).
Eventually, I had eaten all the Pocky!!!!!
So, another bulk order later, I decided to make the cake ASAP.
Since we’re in the depths of Valentine’s day themed posts on this blog, I knew the pink would be perfect.

And what a pink it is!  Pale and not too orangey, it’s the color of cherry blossoms (sakura-iro).
A lovely contrast to the vivid cake within.

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Red velvet brownies, rich and a touch chocolaty, are dense and moist, somewhere between a cake and a true brownie.  They make a perfect base for our cake.
They get a generous swirl of cream cheese frosting, fluffy, tangy, and sweet, and a heap of fresh sliced strawberries, which are a nice foil to all the richness going on in the cake and frosting.

The whole deal is ringed with strawberry/white chocolate pocky sticks and tied with some baker’s twine.

A bite with a little of everything is a myriad of flavors and textures:
toothsome and rich brownies
tangy and soft cream cheese frosting
fresh, bright strawberries
crunchy sprinkles
crisp, creamy pocky!

Cuteness (and deliciousness) to the max!

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All the red and pink going on in this cake make it quite fun; the pocky sticks are visually exciting and make this cake a real statement piece.
This is a bold cake.
Cutting into it is a surprise; the bright red velvet is a stark contrast to the pastel exterior.
It would make a great birthday cake, especially for a little girl who loves pink. Omg.

If you can’t tell, I’m mildly obsessed with this cake.  I can’t stop using exclamation points.
IT’S JUST SO CUTE!!!!!!!!!

I want to stick Pocky on the outsides of all my cakes, from now on.
(Another perk: no need to worry about the neatness of your frosting job.  Score.)

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Anyways, be mine?

Parce que je te kiffe!

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Red Velvet Brownie Cake
ingredients:
for the red velvet brownie layers:
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons red food coloring
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

for the cream cheese frosting:
8 tablespoons (1 stick, 1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, or as needed
1/4 cup powdered milk
drop of pink or red food coloring
to assemble:
7 or 8 packages of strawberry pocky, inspected for broken sticks
10 strawberries, sliced thickly
sprinkles, for the top (I used sugar pearls)
directions:
Make the cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Beat butter with sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add in the eggs and yolk and beat for 4 more minutes; mixture should be very glossy and not grainy.
Whisk the buttermilk, food coloring, and vanilla together.
Whisk all the dry ingredients together.
Scrape the bowl with the butter and add in the wet and dry ingredients while mixing on low.
Beat on high to fully homogenize the batter, then spread into prepared pans.
Bake for 20 minutes, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs.

Make the frosting: beat butter and salt on high speed for 5 minutes, until fully softened and fluffy.
Add in cream cheese and beat for 4 more minutes; the mixture should be very fluffy, light colored, and homogeneous.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for 2 more minutes; add the powdered sugar and powdered milk and slowly beat to combine.
Add more powdered sugar if the consistency is too runny still (up to another 1/2 cup).
Tint frosting to desired shade with food coloring.

Assemble the cake:
Place a dollop of frosting on cake plate, then place first cake layer on top.
Spread a thick layer of frosting onto the top of the first cake layer, then arrange strawberry slices over.
Spread a thick layer of frosting on the bottom of the second layer, then gently place it over the strawberry slices.
Frost the rest of the cake generously, making sure the sides have plenty of frosting to stick the pocky to.
One at a time, press the pocky sticks into the side of the cake, biscuit side up.
Add sprinkles to the top, if desired, and tie with a ribbon (remove to cut).
Serve with cold milk and extra strawberries!

Shorted

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The kitchen burned down.

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No, I did not burn it down.  Thank goodness.
No, the building did not burn down.  Thank god.
Everyone is safe, but there was major damage done.
I am hardly the one most affected in this whole ordeal.

Let me tell the (theorized) story.

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People staying over Thanksgiving break understandably wanted to make latkes to celebrate Thanksgivukkah with the house.
They deep fried the latkes, took the pot of hot oil off the burner, and placed it on another burner.
All good.  Except they failed to check if the second burner was off (people were cooking like crazy, and it’s an electric stove, so)… It was not off.
It is no ones fault; there is no blame to lay.  It was a complete and total accident.

Apparently, the fire alarm went off while they were eating dinner, and it was discovered that there was a grease fire raging on in our house kitchen.

The sprinklers dumped gallons and gallons of water into the kitchen. It flooded.

The lounge flooded.

The remediation crew came in and threw everything out.

Everything.  From my hoarded Madagascar vanilla beans to my favorite, homemade apron. (This one.)
My carefully curated pantry was emptied.

Where bags of flour, sugar, cocoa, and spices once resided, there is nothing.
Today, they’ve gutted the kitchen.  There is no longer even a cabinet.
I cried.  Not gonna lie.

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The apartment below the kitchen, a faculty member’s, has had extensive water damage and flooding through the ceilings.  They have 2 dogs and 2 small children.  My heart goes out to them in this trying time as they attempt to put their life back together.

Our kitchen will (fingers crossed) be back up and running at the beginning of winter quarter.

None of you are probably wondering what will happen to this blog in the two weeks to come, before I can go home.
A lot of no bake stuff, some posts I have saved up, some cookie swapping.

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Enter these memorable cookies, which I made 2 weeks ago and which are still fragrant and melting on my tongue.
I was craving something buttery and sweet, something that balanced coconut, raspberry, and salt.

Putting raspberry jam in cookies has proven to be too steep a task for me recently, so I decided on something simple, that could be served with the jam on the side: enter the classic Scottish shortbread.
And, honestly, no one touched the jam but me.  It’s not necessary, but you will include it on a serving tray with these cookies if you know what’s good.

The cookies are a mash-up of ingredients I had in my pantry (before it burned down, RIP).
Coconut oil, butter, cream cheese.  Flour, salt, sugar.  Simple, simple, simple.

The dough is easy: cream, mix, press, crimp, bake.
My friend who thought she didn’t like coconut loved these!  Yay!  Yet another victory for coconut oil!

Back soon with peanut butter.  Or lemon.  But not both. (Ew ew ew that’s probably something only my dad would like.)

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Coconut Oil Shortbread

makes one 9-inch pan
ingredients:
2.2 ounces (4 1/2 tablespoons) butter
3 ounces (5 1/2 tablespoons) coconut oil, solid
1.5 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces (3/4 cup) powdered sugar
7 ounces (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
scant 2 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar, for sprinkling

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour a 9-inch round pan.
Cream butter, coconut oil, and cream cheese together for 3 minutes, until homogeneous and smooth.
Scrape the bowl and add the sugar, flour, and salt.
Mix on low until a crumbly dough forms.
Scrape the crumbs into the prepared pan and press down firmly.
Prick all over with a fork; crimp the edges and score if desired and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, until shortbread is golden and fragrant.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
Eat with raspberry jam!  Please!