Just Like You

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“There’s no one just like you,” she said.
“That’s why we need to celebrate.”

—Karen Kingsbury
FAME

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“A party without cake is just a meeting.”

—Julia Child

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

A birthday without cake is just another dreary day.
A birthday without cake, loves, is not a birthday at all.

Birthdays are for cakes.
(Note: cakes are definitely not only for birthdays, however.)

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m slowly curating the birthday cakes of my roommates (Daly’s birthday is 3 days before mine, so it always happens before we get to school, but a half birthday, perhaps?).
Alexa will love this—it tickles me pink how much she loves her birthday posts.  She also, for the record, loves pink.

Just for reference, here’s Alexa’s cake from last year, and the one from this year.

Dunno if I can possibly link back to that caramel popcorn cake one more time, but oh well.

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

But this is a birthday cake (and post) for a girl who loves the color mint and Paris, soy lattes and Back to the Future, the Old Major sandwich at Z&H and puppies.
Who embodies the Duchess Kate Middleton and has the most brilliant hair and sleeps like Sleeping Beauty (yes, that deeply).

The one who inspired these whole wheat peppermint mocha brownies with her love of Starbucks.

Betsszzyyyy!

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Elizabeth made it through 2 decades of life.

Obviously, we needed to celebrate with a very big, very chocolaty cake.
Thing is, her birthday was the day after we got back from winter break!  So I hadn’t prepared anything (usually I’ll bake the layers a day ahead or something along those lines, since the days can get so excitingly monotonously busy around here) the day of.
Still, I poked around in my kitchen for ~2 seconds and knew exactly what I had to make her.

A cake tailored to a few of her favorite things.
A cake just like her.

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is really easy, and miraculously fast.
I had it imagined, made, decorated, and photographed within 2 and a half hours.  Not too bad, especially when you consider that the photography took longer than any of the other processes.

The cake itself is a springy dark chocolate and coffee—mocha—cake.  It’s soft and feels light yet rich at the same time, with a good balance of sweet and bitter from the coffee and cocoa.
It’s a one bowl, one whisk, and one measuring cup kind of recipe, perfect when you need a cake, stat!

The frosting is a Nutella Italian meringue buttercream, so conceived because I had no confectioner’s sugar but lots and lots of bittersweet chocolate.
It’s impossibly light and buttery while still maintaining plenty of chocolate flavor, which I always find is missing in chocolate egg-based buttercreams.
First, a plain Italian meringue buttercream is whipped up, one big glossy cloud.  Then heaps of cooled chocolate get whisked in, and a fair dollop of Nutella, too.
The color change is mesmerizing: from the palest yellow to a red-brown cocoa.

The end result is seriously amazing.
It’s salty and sweet, chocolaty and a little bit nutty.
Italian meringue buttercreams are so silky—they pair perfectly with a cake that has a soft, tight crumb.

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

 This is a cake that’s perfect for a birthday.
It’s fun (sprinkles!), has flavors that everyone will like, and makes the right size cake for sharing with friends.

It frosts like a dream and will look impressive no matter how you decide to finish it up—just don’t forget the candles.

But seriously—don’t the adorable candles on this cake practically beg for extra sprinkles?!

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy belated birthday, Elizabeth darling.
xx

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream
makes 1 3-layer, 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the mocha cake:
1 2/3 cups (190 grams) flour
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (60 grams) cocoa powder
1 5/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5/8 cup (200 mL) buttermilk (or milk plus 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar)
1/2 cup (120 mL) coffee (or hot water plus 1 tablespoon espresso powder)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (105 mL) vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

for the Nutella Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons (45 mL) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (345 grams) unsalted butter, soft but cool
8 ounces (200 grams) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup (~120 grams(?)) nutella

sprinkles, for decorating

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
Whisk buttermilk, oil, coffee, eggs, and vanilla extract together, then whisk wet ingredients into dry.
Portion batter out evenly into pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out nearly clean and the cakes are springy to the touch.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the icing: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot over medium heat, fitted with a candy thermometer.
Begin to whisk egg whites while syrup heats up.
Once syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at semi-stiff peaks.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while beating at high speed.
Whip until the meringue is glossy and cooled to body temp.
Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, beating until the frosting comes together into a glossy, fluffy, light mixture.
Slowly add in the cooled chocolate while whipping, then add in the Nutella.
Scrape the bowl and whip for another minute to ensure homogeneity.
Frost cooled cake as desired, and add sprinkles!

Fizz!

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

File this one under: Anything But Vegetables.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

A certain blonde with whom I live is going to be very happy to see this post be published—

that’s right, friends, this is Alexa’s birthday cake.

Remember last year?  Of course you do, I link back to that post ALL the time.  Lauren Conrad pinned it, for God’s sake.

It’s been a bit more than a year, now, that Alexa and I have been friends.  Miraculously, we are both still alive and have, for the most part, all of our limbs (Grandma, I’m kidding).

Who knew that the gals I met on the first day of O-week would be my roomies, my #1 wingwomen, my comfort blankets and tissue fetchers and popcorn sharers and best friends?

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Spoiler: Alexa definitely didn’t.  She was fairly certain I hated her…
(She still hasn’t gotten the hint, guys. I think she’s following me.)

Anyways, it’s been quite an eventful year+ and I couldn’t be more grateful to have spent it with such good people.

I couldn’t have asked for a better house-mate, better roommate, and better friend.  Alexa is such a giver and can ALWAYS put a smile on my face or at least a blanket round my shoulders.
She knows what to say, who to hate, how to make popcorn the best, and how to be the most loyal, loving friend out there.
Ugh. So much love.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

To celebrate her birthday, I made an over-the-top cake, obviously.

Alexa loves diet coke, as a sorority girl should.
Alexa loves chocolate and vanilla bean, like normal people do.
Alexa thinks that salted caramel is the stuff of gods (she is right).

Alexa is looking over my shoulder and drooling wishing for another cake right now—
“Please? I ate this for all three meals.”

Alexa is going to kill me for putting that up on the internetz but it’s ok friends I will survive because I am holding birthday cake oreo cupcakes hostage right now.
(Look for those here in the coming weeks!!!)

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

I knew I had to make a chocolate coca cola cake, and I wanted to incorporate a fat vanilla bean and some gold and sparkly caramel in there somewhere as well.

The end result is a rich, moist chocolate cola cake with vanilla bean buttercream swirled with heaps of salted caramel glammed up with gold luster dust and chocolate sprinkles.

It’s sparkly and gooey and sweet and salty and I think it was just about a perfect way to celebrate my BFF’s birthday.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Some notes on the cake:
you can make the cake portion and the caramel ahead, but make the frosting right before you are going to decorate the cake; the finished cake can be stored in a cool place at room temperature overnight.
The luster dust is optional, but a very nice glam touch to the caramel on top of the cake.
This caramel recipe is good for pouring, so if you don’t want to smudge it on the sides, just pour it over the top and let it drip down!

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy belated birthday, darling girl.
You’re wonderful.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Alexa’s Birthday Cake
Coca cola + chocolate + caramel + vanilla bean
makes 1 3-layer 6-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen

ingredients:
for the cake:
1 cup (240 mL) Coca cola
1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter
1/4 cup (30 grams) dark cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (120 mL) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (240 grams) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

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
1 teaspoon gold luster dust, if desired

for the vanilla bean frosting:
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) butter, soft
1 whole vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup (30 mL to 60mL) half-and-half

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place butter, oil, coca cola, cocoa powder, and salt in a large pot.
Heat over medium heat, whisking, until it comes to a boil.
Pour the hot mixture over the sugar and whisk to combine.
Whisk in the eggs vigorously.
Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
Whisk flour and baking soda together, then stir into the batter.
Portion batter out into the prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.

Make the caramel: heat the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt together, whisking at the beginning until they dissolve.
Stop stirring and allow to caramelize into an amber color, then remove from heat and quickly whisk in butter and cream, being careful of the splattering.
Whisk until completely smooth, adding luster dust if desired, then allow to cool before using.

Make the frosting: place butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 6 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the vanilla bean and powdered sugar; stir on low speed until powdered sugar is incorporated, then beat on high while slowly drizzling in 2 tablespoons of half and half.
If the frosting is too thick, add more half and half until the proper consistency is reached.
Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, then use immediately to frost the cake as desired.

Busy Bee

Whole Wheat Peppermint Mocha Brownies | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s past time we talk, isn’t it?

Whole Wheat Peppermint Mocha Brownies | La Pêche Fraîche

Let’s talk about busyness.  Let’s talk about crazy sleep-deprived weeks and times when there just isn’t enough time.

Talk about my new coffee-free lifestyle and how damn hard it is to keep your eyes open in a darkened lecture room.

About blog malfunctions (WHy, Pinterest, wHyyyYYyy) that seemingly can’t be fixed, about being so frustrated that you don’t even want to try anymore.
Talk about sophomore year and living with best friends and becoming a Theta girl and bumps and ruts in the road.
Talk about all the millions of things that I’ve wanted to say here that I haven’t had time to put down in a post.

Can we talk about how just the other day I saw a man and his young son sitting in the autumn sun, basking with eyes shut, hands folded, peaceful as can be, and it warmed my heart for one brief moment, almost as much as it warmed theirs, before bio lecture called and demanded that I rush onwards?

Time is cruel.  My schedule is punishing.
But I’m still here, and I know you are all here, waiting, too.

Whole Wheat Peppermint Mocha Brownies | La Pêche Fraîche

I’ve hired a web developer to try to solve my Pinterest woes, but that still hangs heavy in my heart.
I put so much work into this blog, and all I want is for it to work and run smoothly like a well oiled machine.

I have some fabulous things to share here, but I’m reluctant since I know a big part of the meat of my blog (Pinterest traffic/interest) is missing in action!

Life is crazy busy; second year is hard; my roomies are busy and my boyfriend is busy and I don’t sleep anymore.
But it’s good.  This life of perpetual motion and grinding work is one I chose; in the end, it’s fun and rewarding and there’s something deeply satisfying about being so exhausted that you fall asleep even before you’ve sunken all the way down into your fluffy, white, cloud bed.

Whole Wheat Peppermint Mocha Brownies | La Pêche Fraîche

These brownies are for Betsy.
She’s a Starbucks addict, and her favorite is a soy peppermint mocha (or an iced vanilla soy latte).
I was looking for an excuse to use my mini tartlette pans (remember these cute cakes?!), so I got to mixing up some quick brownie batter.
This batter takes the typical melted chocolate that’s added to brownies and replaces it with cocoa powder and butter—chocolate is just cocoa butter and cocoa powder, so why not replace the relatively flavorless cocoa butter with flavorful dairy butter?
Thank you Alice Medrich, for this impeccable logic.
Everyone else. Dooo it.

These brownies are fudgy, with shiny, crackly tops and the most satisfyingly chewy edges; the peppermint, salt, and espresso powder cut the richness and provide depth.
The ganache is—literally—the icing on top, finishing the thick, rich brownie with a perfectly smooth counterpart.
PLUS they’re whole wheat, and no one had any idea.

My roommates’ verdicts?
“Christmas in a cupcake.”
“I think I’ve had thousands of peppermint mochas in my life, and this passes the test.” (Guess who said that…)
“Thin mint. Thin mint. Thin mint.”

I don’t like Starbucks (I HATE Starbucks tbh) but this flavor combo is a straight up killaaaaa.
It’s a must make for fall/winter bakers!

Whole Wheat Peppermint Mocha Brownies | La Pêche Fraîche

Whole Wheat Peppermint Mocha Brownies
makes ~30 brownie bites, or 1 8×8 inch pan
adapted from Alice Medrich

ingredients:
for the brownies:
275 grams (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons espresso powder
250 grams (1 1/4 cup) sugar
70 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 eggs
80 grams (~1/2 cup) white whole wheat flour

for the ganache:
70 grams (~2.5 ounces) dark chocolate
pinch salt
28 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
50 grams (~3 tablespoons) half-and-half, room temp

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour whatever pans or tins you are using.
Melt unsalted butter in a pan or in the microwave; stir in espresso powder and sugar.
Whisking vigorously, whisk in cocoa powder, salt, and extracts.
Whisk in eggs and then gently stir in flour until the batter is homogeneous.
Scoop or spread the batter into the greased tin and bake for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool completely, then place in freezer for at least 45 minutes.
While the brownies are chilling, make ganache: place chocolate, salt, and butter in a microwave safe bowl.
Melt in 30 second increments until 3/4 of the way melted; remove from microwave and whisk the half-and-half in very vigorously.
Whisk until ganache comes together and is shiny.
Pour hot ganache over the frozen brownies (it should set on contact), then allow it to set and the brownies to thaw.
Serve at room temperature with a big glass of milk or a hot cup of coffee!

As Promised

IMG_7170_01

This post is a wee bit out-of-season.  You might not be able to find candy canes at the grocery store.
Check the clearance section.  If you still can’t find any, you’re S.O.L.

Just kidding.  I advocate the use of sprinkles, as you probably already know.

IMG_7219_01

I’ve made lofthouse-style cookies once before, and dumped on the brand in a whiny post a lo o o o o ong time ago.

I am not providing a link to said post, and don’t you go nosing around for it either, primarily because the photos look like they were taken with a flip phone from 2007 (Razr, anyone?  I had the Pebl.  Gr8.) and I don’t want to be reminded of that.

Ok?  Ok.  Glad we talked about this.

IMG_7151_01

These lofthouse cookies are the (late) peppermint post that I promised would infuriate you.

Be happy, because I came thisclose to not only posting a candy cane post after the holidays, but making it a repeat recipe from the-post-that-shall-not-be-named-searched.

THISCLOSE.  But.  I found another promising recipe, and ran with it.

This one uses cake flour and corn starch, as well as shortening (Don’t look at me like that. I know. Deal with it.) to keep the cookies super soft and fluffy, where the last recipe used sour cream.
These were more cakey than real lofthouse cookies, but nevertheless, delicious, and pretty damn close to the addictively gross originals.

I topped them with a salty espresso + chocolate buttercream and a smattering of crushed candy canes for crunch. (Hellooooo alliteration nicetomeetyou.)

IMG_7180_01

P.S. I realize that these photos are very similar looking.  No, this isn’t one of those spot-the-difference games.

I’m just lazy, which should further confirm your idea of me as a bad blogger.

Anyways!  Good luck finding candy canes.  Ha.

IMG_7222_01_01

Chocolate and Peppermint Lofthouse Cookies
makes about 15 cookies
cookie portion adapted from Cooking Classy
ingredients:
for the cookies:
300 grams (2 1/2 cups) cake flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
110 grams (1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons) butter
55 grams (1/4 cup, 4 tablespoons) vegetable shortening
200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

for the frosting:
60 grams (~2 ounces) dark chocolate, melted
110 grams (1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons) butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder
45 grams (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

to assemble:
2 candy canes, chopped finely or ground in a food processor

directions:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and shortening and beat for 2 minutes.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat for 3 minutes.
Add the egg and egg white as well as the vanilla and beat for 4 full minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder together.
Scrape the sides of the bowl after 4 minutes of beating, then add in the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.
Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To bake, remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to 1/2 inch thickness, or perhaps a little less, on a well-floured surface.
Cut out desired shapes and place on parchment lined baking sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until set.
To make the frosting, beat the butter and espresso powder on high until very soft.
Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder over the butter and mix on low; mixture will be dry.
Add the salt and, with the mixer running on medium speed, stream the melted but cooled chocolate into the frosting.
Beat until completely homogeneous.
To frost the cookies, place a generous tablespoon of frosting onto the cookie, and spread out with a butterknife or offset spatula.
Dust with candy cane pieces.

A Wise Man Once Said

My dearest readers, I have some frightening exciting news to share with you.
For the next four months or so, I will be embarking on a foray deep into the world of modernist cuisine AKA molecular gastronomy.
 
My best description goes something like this: modernist cuisine and molecular gastronomy sit squarely, and comfortably, at the crossroads of food, science, and art.  
 
This weak explanation is strengthened by examples; the most highly sought-after and rated restaurants in the world, e.g. the late El Bulli, the Fat Duck, Alinea, wd-50, etc., are based in molecular gastronomy.  These chefs are the best in the world, and they utilize precise techniques and unique flavor pairings to create transcendental dining experiences. 
“But why,” say you? 
This is a school assignment, that’s why.
A very unorthodox school assignment.
I am a second-semester senior in WISE English, a course which allows seniors to conduct sixteen weeks of independent study and research, in a field of their choosing.
 
Obviously, I chose dessert above all else.
Thus, I find myself making spreadsheets of costs of compounds like hydroxypropyl methylcellulose and calcium lactate gluconate, poring over endless lists of strange flavor combinations, and freezing and re-freezing my ice cream maker’s bowl.
 
There are many so-called “molecular gastronomy” techniques, but modernist cuisine is not all about tricks and chemicals.  Much comes from the presentation of the food.  Not every dish has to contain manipulated foodstuffs, but every plate has to be aesthetic.
Not to mention taste good!
 
 
I’m beyond excited.  And terrified.  
 
 
I currently have around 10 pounds of food-grade chemicals being shipped to my house.  I have hemispherical molds and glucose and carbonated sugar and a .01 gram accuracy scale.  
I think I’m ready; I’ve done my best to prepare myself.
I know that not everything will go the way I want it to, or the way it’s supposed to (see: my pitiful quenelles in these pictures.  What is that strange pointy thing on the end?!?  I haven’t the faintest.)
My goal is to have created many a fanciful and delicious composed dessert: not just a slice of cake or hunk of chocolate thrown on a plate with a schmear of sauce.  I want to make high-quality restaurant desserts.
 
I want to push myself to try out as many techniques as I can: spherification, gelation, dehydration, carbonation, smoking, foams, making powders, etc. etc.
Sixteen weeks isn’t as much time as one would think; I’ll have to work quickly and in a timely manner.
 
So what does this mean for La Pêche Fraîche?  Why am I even telling you this?
Because once a week, I will be sharing my thoughts, failures, and endeavors on this here blog, using it as part of my project journal.
This is not to say that my regular sweets won’t stick around; I’ll still post cookies and cakes and more pedestrian fare, but don’t be shocked when you click through and see something that doesn’t even look like food.
Whatever panic you might feel at that moment, rest assured that I’m feeling 10 times more.
 
I’m so glad to be sharing this with y’all.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  
Without any further ado, here’s my first shot at a composed dessert.
 
“Carly Simon”
espresso, chocolate, meyer lemon
(components, from base layer upwards)
bittersweet chocolate ganache
meyer lemon curd
firm chocolate and coffee grind “ganache” cubes
dark chocolate butter cookies
crumbled meyer lemon meringues
espresso ice cream with whipped cream “clouds” frozen in
fried meyer lemon zest
mocha dust
 
In the future, recipes will accompany.  Right now, I’m just about ready to close this introductory post up, and that is just what I shall do.