Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Joan Didion

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Alright, now for an important soapbox-y aside.

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vegan Coconut Cake
makes 1 9-inch cake

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

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

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

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











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)

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).

Ad Hoc

I find myself opening a lot of drafts, trying to figure out what to write, and a lot of times, I just don’t know.  No one told me that putting words down and sending them into the shadowy interspace would be so gosh darn hard sometimes.  
Yet I love it.  I love challenging myself to be creative, or funny, or sarcastic, or whatever, but to be honest, I’m not funny or creative or sarcastic all the time.
In fact, I hardly ever am.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, I am whiny not.
The only solution is to wing it.
Baking new things and combining new flavors is not my problem; I have an entire document on my phone of wacky flavor combinations that I’m dying to try out (See the cornmeal-fig-pistachio-brown butter combo at the bottom of this post for proof).  
My issue is that I don’t always know what to say about the food I make, without being super repetitive and annoying.  
I don’t always have witty things to say.  Really.  I just have to pretend I do.
So. Um.
These were delicious.  You should make them.  
Boom. Done.
And P.S.?  The French word for pistachio is inexplicably beautiful to me.  Pistache.

Fig, Pistachio, and Cornmeal Brown Butter Blondies
adapted from smittenkitchen’s infinitely adaptable blondies
1 stick butter, browned
1 loose cup light brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
big pinch kosher salt
3 tablespoons coarse polenta
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon white whole wheat flour (can use all-purpose)
1 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup toasted chopped pistachios
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8×8 pan.  Stir brown butter and brown sugar together, then stir in egg and vanilla and salt.  Add in the cornmeals and flour, and stir until combined.  Add in the figs and pistachios.  Spread into pan and bake until golden and slightly firm to the touch, 30-35 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, slice, and remove from pan.  Allow to cool completely, then dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

Moody Blues

When I woke up on Friday, the sky was covered with clouds heavy with rain, and a thick fog had settled low to the ground like a lush carpet.  Not the kind of morning that makes me want to jump out of my warm, cozy bed and run straight into the cold, cold rain.  
The past two mornings, however, have been utterly glorious.  People.  Take a moment to look around and take in the beauty that is autumn.  I mean, come on.  The hues of the trees are so brilliantly rich, it’s hard to believe they’re real.  I gather that the extra gorgeous colors are due to the strange growing season this year.  I can’t get over them.  
But there will be plenty more of that later on in this post.
Firstly, I bring dessert!  I’ve been baking a lot lately, but have been too lazy chosen not to write about most of them; “they” being a maple, walnut, and brown butter caramel cake (whew), a nutmeg maple cream tart, coconut chocolate banana bread, potato chip and dark chocolate bark… 
I did, however, save the best for the blog (but of course!).
Inspired by a classic cheese plate, I set out to make something that would reflect all the best elements of one:  crunchy crackers, slightly bitter nuts, smoky meat (if you’re into that sort of thing), tangy, salty, and rich cheese, sweet fruit, and just a whisper of honey.  
A few weekends ago, my family had bo ssam, a Korean lettuce wrapped, brown sugar encrusted-pork shoulder dish.  Though I (obviously) did not eat the meat, I was sure to save the rendered fat and gelatin (Why?!? Because I’m weird.)
And because I just knew it would come in handy sometime soon.  And it did!  Clearly I am learning to utilize some sort of frugality and foresight (neither being my… um… strong suit).
This tart is comprised of a brown sugar, wheat cracker, walnut, salted butter and pork fat crust, a mascarpone and blue cheese filling, figs, pears, and a drizzle of honey.
Blue cheese tart.
The revolution is coming, people.
Granted, I couldn’t taste all of the elements together because of the pork fat, but I know it was good.  I think everyone who has tasted it has had two pieces.   
Victory is mine.


And because I can’t resist… Here are some autumnal pictures I’ve taken.

Blue Cheese Tart
1 cracker crust, baked (I used equal parts wheat crackers, graham crackers, and walnuts, added 3 tablespoons of flour, then added half a stick of melted, salted butter, about 3 tablespoons of melted pork fat and gelatin, two tablespoons of brown sugar, and a hefty pinch of salt.  Mix it together, press into a buttered tart pan, and bake at 350 degrees F for 25 or so minutes, or until golden and slightly crunchy.)
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 ounces good quality blue cheese (taste as you go)
1 cup confectioner’s sugar (again, taste as you go.  Palettes vary.)
1/2 cup cream, whipped
figs, pears, and honey, for garnish
Once the crust is cool, whip the mascarpone and blue cheese together.  Add in the powdered sugar, slowly, tasting as you go, until homogeneous.  Fold in the whipped cream.  Spread into crust, and chill until set.  Top with fig and pear slices, and drizzle with honey.