To the Gold Mine

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.”

―Jalaluddin Rumi

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I am trying to luxuriate in my last few weeks here at the University of Chicago; I get extremely choked up when I think about graduating. I have often struggled with feeling too deeply and getting lost in my emotions. I hate goodbyes more than anything.

My dad used to commute to Dartmouth to teach at the business school; he had to leave home at 5 in the morning to make his flight on Monday mornings. I would often wake up when he was leaving and pad downstairs, crying, behind him. I never wanted him to leave.

It’s similar now, only I am padding around campus, feeling lost and lonely. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the jumble of emotions that come with goodbye. I’m nostalgic, introspective, frightened, excited, dragging my feet while trying to lean in, etc., etc.
I am clinging to anything, right now, just like I used to cling to my dad.
(Truth: I still cling to him. I will always be his remora, can’t change that. I can feel my mom and dad shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at that, and that makes me smile.)

What a strange, out-of-body experience growing up is turning out to be. I wonder at how quickly time passes. It brings me to tears, frequently, and shakes me to my core. I am a confident, stubborn, perseverant person, but I am oft reduced to a puddle of quivering jelly when I realize that I can never get back what’s gone.
Not only the boundless energy and carefree schedule of a child, not only people and pets, but also emotions, like the sheer, unbridled joy I used to feel when the seasons were changing—each one felt brand new and just as exciting, with no jaded cynic inside me to put a damper on those feelings, yet.
How many wistful words have been written by those who come face to face with time’s fleet feet? I rarely feel that it would be of much use to anyone for me to write my own, infinitesimal terror out on this page.
But here is where I repeatedly find myself, cursor blinking, as these thoughts storm in my mind.

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Other things (other than self-indulgent moping, that is) with which I’ve been occupying myself:

Nati got a Nintendo Switch! And Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to go along with it. Oh my goodness, y’all, it is the most gorgeous game. I could watch him play for hours. It is 100% absorbing. So fun!

I (finally) read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A quick read, but chilling, and a classic. Maybe I’ll watch the Hulu series now, who knows.

Speaking of T.V., Nati finally watched Game of Thrones with me (this is now my 5th? 6th? time watching the show); he enjoyed it, although is not as obsessed as I am. Then again, is anyone? It just made me even more excited for season 7! I can hardly wait!

Catch me in UChicago’s newspaper, The Maroon, in a style feature (whaaat). Big thanks to MJ Chen, Chris D’Angelo, and Christian Hill for making me seem like a cohesive human being. It takes a village, people. But seriously, they were a dream to work with and I’m so flattered and grateful! So go check it out, heh.

Also, I’ve been baking more dairy-free treats lately. But more on that soon!

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This matcha and black sesame cake had been on my to-make list/I’ve been dreaming of the combination of these flavors for a while now.

The cake itself is a close-textured, moist butter cake, sweet and rich with grassy, bright notes from the matcha. The cake is brushed with a honey syrup to keep it moist, then topped with black sesame Italian meringue buttercream, which is silky soft and nutty in a delightfully unexpected way; it was almost like a peanut-butter frosting, with a little more depth and bitterness from the sesame. I finished the cake up with some gold leaf, which is, like, the biggest pain in the ass to work with, and is most certainly not necessary to make this cake a showstopper.
Seriously, all you have to do is breathe and the stuff goes everywhere. Next time any of you see me pinning or liking photos of gold leaf, knock me upside the head. I always get suckered in.

It’s actually quite a simple cake, but the decoration + the surprisingly beautiful and vibrant interior make it gorgeous.

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The matcha for this cake was kindly sent to me from Happy Matcha, which is a small Australian start up selling organic matcha powder.
The tea is a lovely green and finely milled; it maintained its bright, strong flavor even when baked, which was what I was hoping for. I think it’s a bonus that it’s organic; honestly, when buying this type of powdered tea (and face masks, for that matter), I like to be able to completely trust it to be safe and from a good distributor.
If you haven’t tried good matcha before (i.e. not Starbucks, which is mixed with sugar, I think), I do recommend Happy Matcha. At this point, they only ship within Australia (but they do it in a carbon-neutral fashion, which is dooope), but we can all hope for worldwide shipping in the future!

As for the black sesame paste, I used this paste. Note that it isn’t black sesame tahini, which is made with raw sesame seeds and has a different flavor profile.

Black Sesame Matcha Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Black Sesame and Matcha Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake, or 1 2×8-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the matcha cake:
225 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter
400 grams (2 cups) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk (or milk with 2 teaspoons vinegar)
360 grams (3 cups) flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons matcha powder

for the salted and black sesame Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
45 grams (45 mL, 3 tablespoons) water
336 grams (1 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons roasted black sesame paste

to assemble:
25 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons honey
20 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) water
gold leaf, if desired

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch cake pans; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until light in color and fluffy.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat on high for 2 more minutes; scrape the bowl.
Add in the eggs and egg yolks and beat on high for a full 3 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk or curdled milk.
Add the flour, baking powder, and matcha powder and beat until combined, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Portion out evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the honey syrup: place sugar, honey and water in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, or until the sugar is just dissolved.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Divide buttercream into two portions (about 60-40), leaving the larger portion in the bowl of the stand mixer.
Add in the black sesame paste to the larger portion and whip on high until completely homogeneous.
To decorate, first level the cakes and cut off the brown cooked portions; brush with the honey syrup.
Pipe a border of white buttercream around the edge of the cakes, then fill with the black sesame buttercream.
Frost the bottom (plain) half first, keeping an approximate line in the middle of the cake, then stick in the fridge until completely hardened.
Frost the top half with the black sesame buttercream, being careful not to go too much over the white buttercream edge.
Cover the edge with gold leaf and decorate the top with piping as desired!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!

La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes I see la vie en rose
When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose

—Louis Armstrong, La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My hope for today is that it serves as a reminder for all of us to be more open and loving every day, to everyone. I love the badass, irrepressible origins of V-day, but I don’t really buy into the modernized and commercialized part of it (ha, get it?!).
Hug and kiss your loved ones extra today, if you can, but also remember tomorrow how nice it can be when a stranger flashes a smile at you, or pays a coffee forward, etc. etc.
Now that I contemplate that, is it too late to add to my 2017 resolutions?!

I never turn down an opportunity to bake something whimsical and fun, however, so here we are with pink everywhere for the last three posts and I regret nothing. Pink is awesome.

As an aside: microbes are also f*&#ing awesome. Check out this adorable (OK, maybe only adorable to me) piece in the NYT about the microbiome, perfect for Valentine’s Day. I maintain my stance that it is one of the last great frontiers left to us as the human race.

Also, shoutout to my wonderful roommate Alexa, whose adorable pink polaroid camera is featured in these photos. How cute, right?!

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For this cake, I really wanted to play on the Swedish Princesstårta, or princess cake, which consists of a sponge, whipped cream, (sometimes) pastry cream, jam, and marzipan.
I made mini ones two years ago (gag, how is that possible), as you might have spied on my Instagram just a few weeks ago.

I bought this cookie cutter a while back, which purports to be the “easiest rose” in the world. I started dreaming of making roses out of marzipan, which I love with a burning, fiery passion, because I am somewhat turned off by fondant and gum paste.
So I hunkered down with a half-pound of marzipan last Friday and got to work; you will need a roller set and a foam board to properly create the roses. I also got through an entire movie and two hour-long shows before I was completely satisfied. I’m sure it could be done in less time—there is a slight learning curve, however! If you want to make your own roses, I suggest two things.
First, google “FMM easiest rose cutter how-to” or something along those lines in order to find a video that you can watch and learn from!
Second, if you want perfect, lifelike roses, do NOT use marzipan—use half fondant, half gum paste, or some other similar mix, because this will allow you to get thinner, non-ragged petals. Marzipan requires a slightly thicker petal, which obviously looks less true to life. You also may want to pick up some powdered colors, to dust on the edges of the petals—this makes it look very realistic.
All in all, my experience with the easiest rose cutter in the world was very positive, and I will be experimenting more with a sturdier mix of medium to make more realistic roses in the future!

If you do decide to use marzipan, rest assured that no matter how the roses look, they will be delicious: an advantage of marzipan is that it maintains its delightful chew even if prepared ahead, and it actually tastes good, unlike gum paste.

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The base of the cake is a simple milky white cake. It’s not too eggy, which is my main problem with many sponge cakes. It has a soft, fine crumb and doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.
An almond simple syrup is amply brushed over the cake, in order to retain moisture: another problem I have with many traditional white/yellow/sponge cakes is that they tend towards dryness.
Over that, I spread a thin layer of all-fruit apricot preserves—I use an all-fruit, no-sugar version because 1) it’s what I always have on hand and 2) there is a lot of sugar going on in this cake, so it provides a nice, slightly tart contrast.
The frosting is an incredibly fluffy salted mascarpone buttercream, which is creamy just like the traditional whipped cream and which provides another type of contrast to the sweetness. I really wanted a big ruffly cake, so I laid an extremely thin crumb coat down and then piped big shells with a star tip to create a thick layer of frosting without overloading the cake itself. (Pro tip: fill in any small spots with a mini star tip and leftover frosting. The cake is very busy, so no one will notice any little patchwork you do.)
Finally, the chewy, sweet, and fragrant marzipan roses adorn the cake as the perfect accompaniment.

This cake takes all the classic flavors present in princess cake and updates the components. I’m thoroughly pleased with the results. It makes a stunning centerpiece to any celebration. I think this would be SO cute for a tea party or Galentine’s day or any princess’s party.

Sending love to all of you! xx

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Valentine’s Day, previously:

2017:
Thick, soft M&M cookies
Mocha cupcakes topped with fluffy swirls of vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream

2016:
Ginger, Malted Vanilla, and Hibiscus layer cake
Baby pink XO salty sugar cookies
Raspberry white chocolate and Nutella éclairs
Brown butter and vanilla bean teacakes

2015:
Fluffy, buttery copycat Lofthouse cookies
Chocolate covered strawberry cake with goat cheese frosting
Dolled-up red velvet cake
Mini pink princesstårta

2014:
Pink grapefruit possets with Ritz crunch and pistachios
Dark and white chocolate French mendiants
Strawberry pocky cake
Salty dark chocolate tarts

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Princess Layer Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 eggs
35 grams (1/3 cup) milk powder
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the frosting:
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, soft
400 grams (3 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 cup) mascarpone, room temperature
60 to 80 grams (1/4 to 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature

100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
drop almond extract
80 grams (1/3 cup) water
apricot or raspberry or strawberry preserves
8 ounces marzipan, tinted and rolled as desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Make the cake: cream butter, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy; add in each of the eggs and beat on high until doubled in volume.
Add in the milk powder and buttermilk and stir until batter is homogeneous; it will thin out.
Add in the flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
Portion out into prepared pans and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: cream butter on high speed for 5 full minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar and stir slowly until combined; it will be very thick.
Add in the salt and mascarpone cheese and beat until homogenous.
Add in the heavy cream 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed in between each addition, until frosting is thin enough to be pipeable but thick enough to hold a peak,
Make the syrup: place sugar and water in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds, or until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in the almond extract and set aside.
Trim the cake as needed to level it; brush each side with ample sugar syrup.
Layer the cake, placing plenty of syrup on each layer; spread 2 tablespoons of apricot preserves on top of each layer, then 1/4 cup of frosting on top of the preserves.
After adding the final layer, add a very thin crumb coat of frosting all over the cake and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Using the rest of the frosting, pipe ruffles or flowers as desired.
Decorate with marzipan shapes!

Burning

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

My blood is a rushing river.
My heart is a burning bridge.

—Pavana

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

February, how did you come so quickly?
And how is it so warm? It is freaking everyone out. I don’t want to enjoy too much, given that we’re supposedly guaranteed another six weeks of winter (although we haven’t truly had any winter here in the Windy City).
Today, it’s 50 degrees and raining, and all I wanted this grey morning, what with the soft patter of rain on my windows, was the pull the covers back over my head and sleep for the entire day.

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I am going to keep is short here, today.
My theme of the month is humble and grateful love.

I want to share it with those who matter the most to me, but also with everyone in the orbit of my life.
We could all do with more widespread love. Share some with your partner, your neighbor, your friends and your frenemies.
Show someone that you are thankful for everything they have given you—their energy, their attention, their love and affection—and give it back in kind.
Put some effort into an unexpected act of kindness. No need to brag or tell anyone about it.
It will make you feel amazing too.

Humble. Grateful. Love.


Today’s treats are these simple mocha and vanilla bean cupcakes.
They’re cheekily festive, with their pastel pink frosting and bright sprinkles on top, but you could leave out the food coloring and come away with a very elegant black and white cupcake.

The base of the cupcakes is my go-to: one bowl, one whisk, comes together in 15 minutes and bakes in just 10. The cake is moist and fluffy, and it is the perfect base for a big swirl of frosting.

The frosting is an Italian meringue buttercream: like a cloud of light, whipped buttery goodness. Its flecked with the seeds of two full vanilla bean pods and a big pinch of salt—dreamy.

These cupcakes are simple but adaptable—swirl different flavors into the frosting to customize it, and top with whatever sprinkles or chopped bits you so desire.

“You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

—Warsan Shire

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
cake portion lightly adapted from Sweetapolita

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
95 grams (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine sugar
60 grams (1/2 cup) dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
80 grams (1/3 cup) coffee, hot
42 grams (3 tablespoons) vegetable oil
1 egg

for the frosting:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
335 grams (3 sticks, 1 1/2 cups) butter, softened
scrapings of 2 vanilla beans
few drops pink food coloring

directions:
Make the cupcakes: line 1 cupcake tin with liners and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
Pour in the buttermilk, coffee, and vegetable oil and whisk until half incorporated; add in the egg and whisk until the batter is all combined.
Portion out into the liners (about 1/4-1/3 cup per cupcake), and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 4 minutes, then beat in vanilla bean and pink food coloring until tint is as desired.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Decorate cupcakes as desired, and top with sprinkles!

Time Enough

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough.
—Rabindranath Tagore

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy New Year my friends!
I am as belated as anyone could expect (1/24 of the year is already gone) of my sporadic blogging schedule.

Nevertheless, I hope your year has started out brilliantly and smoothly. And I hope whatever resolutions you resolved have been a fulfilling part of the beginning of 2017. May they become habits and continue for the long run!
I have been studying non-stop for my MCAT, which will be mercifully finished in exactly 4 days/96 hours… Annnndd cue the oh-my-god-that-is-terrifyingly-soon panic attack.

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Anyways, I haven’t done much of anything fun or new in 2017. I’ve been getting back into a regular gym/lifting routine after doing yoga for all of December, and that feels damn good.
(On that note, anyone have any really good music they’ve been grooving to at the gym? I need to update my playlist ASAP.)
I want to clean out my closet (especially since I’m leaving it in just a few short months, ACK!) and give my room a deep clean, but right now I’m barely getting laundry done, let alone dusting and wiping and organizing.
I guess my fresh start will come more towards February! Or March! Or… It can always be Spring Cleaning.

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Starting off the blank slate of this year with something light and lemony feels right.
Three years ago (HOW) I made this pavlova with Greek yogurt, thyme, and berries for the same reason.

These cute little tarts are made of a buttery, whole wheat shortbread base (the WW actually adds a nice hint of nuttiness), filled with simple, creamy lemon curt, and topped off with some sweet, toasted (~er… burnt) meringue.
I love the shape of the rectangle tarts—I used a silicon mold—but you could definitely make this in an 8-inch pan.

It’s a quick recipe that’s sure to impress, and perfect for a lighter January treat!

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Back soon with cake! And Valentine’s treats, hopefully. x

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts
makes 8 small tarts or 1 8-inch tart

for the crust:
240 grams (2 cups) AP flour
120 grams (1 cup) white whole wheat flour
225 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the lemon curd:
3 medium egg yolks (or 2 extra-large)
240 grams (1 cups) water
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
28 grams (1/4 cup) cornstarch
27 grams (1/8 cup, 2 tablespoons) butter
zest of 1 lemons
juice of 1 1/2 lemons (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the meringue:
2 egg whites
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water

directions:
Make the crust: place butter, sugar, eggs, salt, and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high speed for 5-6 full minutes, or until completely homogeneous, fluffy, light in color, and doubled in volume.
Stir in the flours until dough comes together; roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and line tart pans/pan of choice.
Prick all over and then freeze for at least 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; bake tart shells lined with foil and weighted with pie weights, dry rice, or beans for 8-12 minutes, depending on size and thickness of crust.
Crust should be dry to the touch, golden, and fragrant when done.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd: place water in a pot over high heat; bring to a boil.
Stir in the cornstarch and sugar and bring back to a boil while stirring constantly; mixture will be quite thick and opaque.
Remove mixture from heat and, whisking vigorously, add the egg yolks.
Return to heat and bring back to a boil while whisking the entire time.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter; whisk until an emulsion forms.
Add in the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, pressing plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming.
Fill cooled tart shells with chilled lemon curd.
Make the meringue: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the vinegar and start to whip.
Stir the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
As the egg whites become frothy, add the sugar mixture in tablespoons, until the meringue is glossy and shiny and all of the sugar is incorporated.
Using a piping bag fitted with a French or star tip, pipe the meringue onto the tarts, then torch if desired.

Reconnaissant

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.

William Cullen Bryant

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

The word for grateful in French, reconnaisant, is derived from the verb reconnaître: to recognize or acknowledge.

To be thankful is to share your appreciation.
I have so, so many thanks to give this holiday season, in spite of the fragility of 2016 in the face of so many tragedies, differences, and disagreements. I feel strongly that acknowledging good and allowing our spirits to be lifted by it is just as important and crucial to progress as discussing what we feel is wrong or problematic.

I choose to feel lucky and count my blessings, because there are so many people around the world who have too few.
I am grateful for my family, for my partner, for friends near and far, for my school and the opportunities afforded to me, for clean water and laundry and a quiet bed to sleep in at night.

My life and heart are full, and yet I keep space enough to hope for peace and unity, for universal rights and equality, and an end to the bombings of hospitals and schools in Aleppo.
I pray for women and girls around the globe, for animals losing their homes and environments, or in zoos, shelters, or abusive homes, and I pray for Mother Earth.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I thought I’d share a few (mostly food) links that have made me smile, or pause and think, or drool lately. I’m thankful for the food blogging community and the creativity that thrives in it.
Inspiration is good for the soul!

Thalia turned 21! She baked herself a glorious chocolate and hazelnut and praline cake (that frosting, omg bye) and also wrote a beautiful post (with pie) about self-transformation.

Michelle wrote some realness about the election and having work to do. So refreshing when so many have just gone on posting about yummy cakes etc. If you didn’t read her 5th blogiversary post either, definitely check it out for some food for thought about what’s really important about being a blogger.

Cindy’s apple + marionberry marzipan crumble with “chewy bits of almond paste throughout the crisp topping” sounds like the best thing, ever. Definitely want to try this over the winter!

Speaking of things I want to try, Jen made an apple rose tart that is perfection embodied. Those swirly slices! I need to try making fruit roses, especially in a dessert, yum.

Adam Ellis is a cartoonist for Buzzfeed and his instagram is guaranteed to make you laugh. Hehe.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

The frosting on Sam’s hazelnut cake, holy cow. So shiny and chocolaty! I love the idea of using sour cream to add a slight contrast to the sweetness. Plus, the post is part of a campaign for No Kid Hungry, which is doubly awesome.

Erica made a beautiful pear bourbon pie and shared a sad story and her own urgings for us all to acknowledge and work together to move forward after a divisive political season. I completely understand her hesitation to say anything about politics in a space usually reserved for happy musings, but I applaud her for being bold and sharing some of her feelings.

Those seeking comfort and solace should turn to Beeta’s classic chocolate chip cookies, which look pillowy and soft and full of chocolate. I could totally go for a warm cookie and cold milk right about now.

Ellen crying while getting a Medal of Freedom from Obama made me tear up, to be honest. She is so wonderful and this was a momentous honor.

Finally, my pictures are in a Belgian magazine!
You can check out the issue from Creacorner here—spot my Yule Stump cake!

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

The pie I’m sharing with you guys today comes together in a flash and doesn’t require any rolling of crusts, which is something that I know many people dread.

Instead, this creamy, spicy, sweet pumpkin pie has a brown butter graham cracker and cinnamon cereal crust (you know your inner child wants to try this) and a thick swirl of torched, marshmallow-y Italian meringue.

This comes together in a flash and doesn’t require any ingredients that aren’t already in your pantry.
It’s not an enormous tart/pie, so it’s good as part of a holiday dessert spread.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I urge you to give your loved ones an extra squeeze and don’t be afraid to share what you’re thankful for this year.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pumpkin Meringue Tart
makes 1 8- or 9-inch tart or pie

ingredients:
for the crust:
300 grams (2 1/4 cups) crushed graham crackers and/or cinnamon cereal
25 grams (2 tablespoons) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
100 grams (7 tablespoons) butter, melted or browned

for the filling:
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
pinch nutmeg
40 grams (1/3 cup) dry milk powder (Note: you can sub 7 ounces evaporated milk for the dry milk powder and water)
120 grams (1/2 cup) water
75 grams (5 ounces, 1 small can) evaporated milk
420 grams (15 ounces, 1 regular can) pumpkin purée
2 eggs

for the meringue:
2 egg whites
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water

directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Make the crust: crush the graham crackers and cereal into crumbs, then pour into a bowl.
Stir the sugar and salt into the crumbs, then pour the brown butter over and stir until the mixture will stick together when pressed.
Pour into an 8- or 9-inch tart or pie pan and press into an even layer.
Place the pan on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
Bake for 10 minutes, until fragrant.
Meanwhile, whisk sugar, spices, and dry milk powder together.
Add the evaporated milk and water while whisking, then stir in the pumpkin until homogeneous.
Whisk in the eggs, scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything has been incorporated.
Pour into the hot crust and place back in the oven.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake for 20-30 more minutes, or until the center just barely jiggles when you shake the pan a little bit.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the meringue: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar 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.
Spread the meringue over the pumpkin pie and torch it as desired.

Spooky Spooky

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There’s a ghost in my lungs and it sighs in my sleep,
Wraps itself around my chest as it softly weeps.
Then it walks, then it walks with my legs
To fall, to fall, to fall at your feet.

There but for the grace of God go I
And when you kiss me, I am happy enough to die.

Ghosts, Florence and the Machine

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy almost-Halloweenie, my little ghouls, goblins, vampires, zombies, sexy cats, and everyone else in between!

It is the witching week.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Also, today is technically National Pumpkin Day, so this cake is perfectly timed.  Accidentally or not.  Whatever.
I am soooo seasonally aware.
Get on the autumnal train, people, or you will be LATE.

My advice is to do so with cake, not cinnamon-apple-scented Yankee Candles, but hey—à chacun son goût!
Grab your infinity scarves!
And tiny, tiny gourds!
And plaid, plaid, plaid.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So. 10/26: National Pumpkin Day.  Wauuuww.
As if we weren’t pumpkin obsessed enough already…!

But, to be fair, pumpkin spice lattes are, like, the ultimate representation of Fall, so National Pumpkin Day must be kind of, like, a big deal.

To be even fairer, though, there are so many amazing things about autumn that have nothing to do with a certain orange squash.  Keep your pants on, butternut, I’m not talking about you.
(Quick aside: I’m definitely making butternut squash mac and cheese for the third year in a row for Thanksgiving. So dang good.  Praise be to Jessica.)

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Here, I’ve collected a boatload of sweet foody links, pumpkin or no, that strike me as particularly autumnal.

Speaking of pumpkin round-ups, Cake over Steak hosted an enormous pumpkin party.
So many amazing savory and sweet recipes!
No, seriously: so many.

Some of my favorites from the punkin’ party include:
Courtney from F2B made an amazing orange pumpkin brûlée pie—I had never thought of that combination before, but golly it sounds good now that I have…

HEY what’s up helloooo—Alana turned all my pumpkin cheesecake dreams into a fluffy, cloud-like Japanese ones, and then added caramel and pecans.

Cindy and I had the same thought process with the whole pumpkin + chocolate situation.  All those buttery crumbs make me reconsider my preference for layer cakes over coffee cake.

Speaking of chocolate and pumpkin, the hot cocoa glaze on Tieghan’s baked buttermilk pumpkin donuts is mesmerizing.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple syrup/maple flavored goods are my favorite fall/winter flavor, by far.
Laura’s quinoa porridge with maple roasted pears is such a glorious way to start the day.  Maybe at some point I’ll get my life together and be able to have a composed breakfast.

Alanna takes the best photos, my Lord.
And these maple chestnut pudding chômeurs are incredible.
Listen, the Québécois know autumn, and know winter, and they definitely know maple.  I trust their choice to have such a delectable, classic dessert.
(Fun fact/knowledge drop that Alanna included: chômeur/chômeuse means unemployed individual in French.  These puddings were said to bring comfort to these Québécois during the Great Depression.)

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Finally, chocolate and cakes are always welcome:
Megan’s wreaths would be so cute during the holidays, and they’re legitimately the prettiest brioche I have ever laid eyes upon.  Brava!

Michelle’s naked chocolate and hibiscus cake is so pretty.
Naturally pink frosting is particularly appropriate for breast cancer awareness month!

Yossy’s is the most attractive carrot cake ever.
Those process shots always impress and inspire me, since I never photograph them.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I told you that was going to be a lot of links.

But now, I’m going to bring it back around to my little contribution to Halloween/National Pumpkin Day.
This isn’t quite as scary as my heart cake was, but I think the poor unfortunate souls trapped in the salted ganache are adorable and just the right amount of spooky.
You may want to make the tops of your ghosts a little more rounded or folded over.  My piping bag may or may not have been uncooperative, leading to some not unkind, worried probes into what exactly these little white ~hoods~ were supposed to be.
Well. IMHO they are clearly ghosts.  So let that conversation be terminated, thank you and goodnight.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Little crunchy meringue ghosts haunt this cake.
They sit atop a wash of salted dark chocolate ganache that drips down the sides of a moist, heavily spiced pumpkin cake frosted with fluffy, 3-ingredient chocolate buttercream and filled with spicy sweet pumpkin butter.

Each bite balances rich and salted chocolate with spicy pumpkin—it’s a more complex twist on the traditional cream cheese/pumpkin combination, and it keeps the cake from being cloying.
This cake is incredible with or without the crunch of the meringues, so don’t stress if you don’t feel like drawing faces on fifty thousand little cookies.
You can totally leave out the pumpkin butter if you can’t find any—just add a little extra frosting between the layers!

This would be such a cute centerpiece for a Halloween celebration!  It’s definitely an attention grabber.
It somehow tastes even better on the second day, so you can make it ahead (just leave the meringues off until before serving)—
this is the perfect spooky party cake!

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Meringue Ghosts
makes 1 3x6inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Cooking Classy

ingredients:
for the cake:
55 grams (1/4 cup, 2 ounces) butter, soft
50 grams (1/4 cup) neutral oil
135 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
220 grams (7 1/2 ounces, 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) pumpkin purée
30 grams (2 tablespoons) milk
195 grams (1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the whipped ganache frosting:
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 cup, 2 sticks) butter
180 grams (6 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional
small pinch salt

for the ganache drip:
45 grams (1.5 ounce) dark chocolate, chopped
45-60 grams (3 tablespoons-1/4 cup) heavy cream
small pinch salt

for the meringue ghosts:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional
pinch salt
black food writing pen

to assemble:
pumpkin butter, if desired

directions:
Make the meringue ghosts, up to 2 days before: preheat oven to 200 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Prepare a piping bag with a round tip.
Place egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt into a small pot over medium heat, and start the egg whites to whipping.
When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, the sugar syrup should be at 245 degrees F.
Remove from heat and carefully pour into whipping egg whites.
Allow to whip until somewhat cooled, about 4 minutes, then fill the pastry bag and pipe out little ghost shapes.
Bake for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and allow to dry in the oven overnight.
When dry, use a black food color pen to draw on little ghost faces!
Now, make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Place butter and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer with both sugars and the salt.
Beat on high speed for 4 minutes, until very light and fluffy and not gritty.
Add in the eggs, vanilla, and spices, and beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and stir in pumpkin purée and milk.
When almost homogeneous, add in the flour and baking soda and baking powder all at once.
Stir for another minute or so until fully homogeneous.
Portion out into the prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the whipped ganache: place butter, chocolate, corn syrup, and salt into a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second bursts until 2/3 of the way melted.
Whisk vigorously until smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Whip at high speed for 3-4 minutes until very fluffy and light in color.
Frost cake right away by spreading a tablespoon or two of pumpkin butter on a layer, then adding a 1/4 cup of frosting, then repeating until all layers are used up.
Frost with a generous layer of fluffy ganache, then refrigerate while you make the ganache drip.
To make the liquid ganache, place chocolate and salt in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until 2/3 of the way melted.
Microwave the heavy cream until lukewarm, about 30 seconds, then whisk vigorously into the chocolate until the ganache is smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes until somewhat thickened.
Meanwhile, to get the mottled look that I’ve gone for, use a hot offset spatula to smooth and slightly melt the chilled frosting, then carefully pour the still-warm ganache over the edge of the chilled cake.
Refrigerate until the drip is set, then place the ghosts on top!

Almond Joyous

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?”

—From Sonnet 8, Shakespeare

Almond Joy Cake 070_01

And thus did the Month of Birthdays begin.
Within a 1 month period, my father, my mother, one of my brothers, my halmoni, my best friend, and I had our birthdays.

Let them eat cake, indeed.

(As you may well recall, however, my grandmother does not have a birthday anymore, or at least “refuses” to acknowledge her date of birth as a day of celebration…)

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So much love goes into birthday cakes.
I spend weeks pestering everyone in my family about what kind of cake they want…
My dad knew immediately.  My ma, not so much.
(But she figured it out, don’t worry—and it’s coming soon…)

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There have been many, many birthday cakes on this blog.

My dad’s amazing, complicated modern black forest cake from last year.
(yes, I have a Cool Dad who likes pink. In fact, he’s wearing a pink oxford shirt as I write this.)
One of my favorite layer cakes ever!

Alexa’s salted caramel popcorn cake, from way back when.
One of the most popular recipes on this blog.
This was made before piling popcorn on cakes was in vogue, for the record…

Hana’s adorable funfetti and sprinkle cake, tiny and travel sized and absolutely lacquered in sprinkles…

Betsy’s mocha and Nutella cake, and The Ultimate chocolate layer cake it spawned.
Both perfect for b-days.

This blog’s birthday cakes!
This year’s, pink ombre and almond vanilla ice-cream sundae cake.  It was heavenly and so happy to look at!
Pink and malted and sprinkled, 2 years ago.

My birthday pavlova, from my 18th birthday.
This fueled my rabid love of meringue cakes…
There was no going back after the first bite!

My birthday pavlova, unbelievably tall and opulent, from this year’s big 2-0, because duh.

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

How twee are the little flags on this cake?!

I made them from skewers and a few varieties of gold washi tape that I picked up at A.C. Moore.
I love that they’re all a little different, and they were so easy to make!  They took the place of candles because I couldn’t find my tall white candles that are my favorites.

One thing that I will note is that washi tape sometimes doesn’t stick all that well, and it’s necessary to keep pressing it together before placing the flags on the cake.
Maybe it was just the brands I used…?

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The recipe for this big old cake is a bit long.
But it’s a multi-step process, and it’s totally doable.
You can make the coconut and chocolate layers up to 3 days (or a week or so if frozen) before, just wrap them well in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge or freezer.
The coconut filling can be made 2 days before and stored in the fridge as well.
It’s best to make the buttercream the day of the assembly, but the cake itself can be assembled and refrigerated 12 hours to a day before.
Moral of the story: long recipe, but unintimidating process, I promise.

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is an amazing combination of flavors.
It all balances and works out to taste exactly like an Almond Joy candy bar, but in cake form.

My go-to rich, dense, moist chocolate cake is sandwiched with super rich coconut cake, made with a handful of shredded coconut  to give a nubby, moreish texture.
Between each layer is a thin round of sweet almond paste, just sweet enough to avoid being cloying and with the right amount of chew.
On top of the almond paste is a thick custard, thickened with coconut chips and slivered almonds—it’s an eggier, creamier version of the filling in an Almond Joy.
Finally, the frosting is a shiny, glossy, cloud-like chocolate Italian meringue buttercream, swirled into fluffy circles, adding just the right amount of butter and chocolate to round out the coconut flavors inside.
A chocolate ganache would be equally sinful, now that I think about it…

Each bite is a mélange of textures and a perfect balance of the trio of flavors: coconut, almond, and chocolate.
It’s not too sweet, though it’s very rich, and it will serve a crowd with ease.

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy birthday Daddy!
Sorry it took so long to post your cake…

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche
Almond Joy Cake
Makes 1 4-layer 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the chocolate cake:
220 grams (1 cup plus 2 teaspoons) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
120 grams (1 cup) flour
45 grams (1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon) cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant coffee
80 grams (1/3 cup) boiling water
60 grams (1/4 cup) coconut oil
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 tablespoon vanilla
105 grams (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) full-fat coconut milk
15 grams (1 tablespoon) apple cider vinegar

for the coconut cake:
120 grams (1 cup) flour
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
60 grams (2 ounces) butter, soft
30 grams (1 ounce) coconut oil
175 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) coconut milk, full-fat
85 grams (3 ounces, 3 large) egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut

for the coconut almond filling:
2 egg yolks
130 grams (2/3 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
160 grams (2/3 cup) half-and-half or single cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
55 grams (4 tablespoons) butter
1 1/2 cups coconut chips (or unsweetened flaked)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

for the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream:
4 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
450 grams (2 cups) butter, soft but cool, chopped
350 grams (12 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

to assemble:
225 grams (8 ounces) almond paste

directions:
Make the chocolate cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch round pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place sugar, salt, baking soda and powder, flour, cocoa powder, and instant coffee in a bowl.
Whisk the dry ingredients; make a well in the center and add the coconut oil into the well.
Pour the boiling water over the coconut oil to melt it fully; stir until approximately halfway incorporated.
At this point, add in the egg and egg white, vanilla, coconut milk, and apple cider vinegar.
Beat well until fully incorporated; batter will be thin.
Evenly portion batter into the prepared pans and bake for 20-24 minutes, until the tops of the cakes spring back when touched and a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Next, make the coconut cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk flour, cornstarch, and baking powder together; set aside.
Place butter and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat on high for 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the salt and sugar; beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the coconut milk, egg whites, and vanilla.
Mix until approximately half combined, then slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixer running.
Beat on high for 30 seconds to fully incorporate the ingredients, then portion out into prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the tops are golden brown and springy.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Meanwhile, make the filling: whisk egg yolks, sugar, and salt together.
Whisk half and half and cornstarch together and place over medium heat.
When the half and half comes to a simmer, add the butter and allow to melt; pour over the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
Return the mixture to the pot and heat over low heat until thickened.
Stir in the coconut chips and slivered almonds and allow to cool completely.
Make the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream: melt chocolate in short bursts in the microwave until 2/3 melted; stir until completely melted and set aside to cool slightly.
Place egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place water, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small pot over medium heat; begin to whisk the egg whites.
When the sugar syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at stiff peaks.
With the mixer still running, carefully drizzle the hot syrup into the egg whites; whip until cooled.
When the meringue has reached room temperature, begin beating in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time.
Once all the butter has been beaten in, whip on high speed for 5 minutes until the buttercream is fluffy and shiny.
3 minutes in, start to drizzle in the cooled chocolate until it has all been incorporated.
Scrape the sides of the bowl when the buttercream is fluffy, then whip on high for 30 more seconds to ensure it is homogeneous.
To assemble the cake, divide the almond paste into 3 equal portions and roll out to 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut 6-inch circles out of each of the portions of almond paste.
Stack the first cake layer onto a cake stand; top with a round of almond paste and a third of the coconut filling; pipe an edge of buttercream around the layer and top with the second.
Repeat until all 4 layers have been used; use 1 1/2 cups of buttercream to crumb coat the cake.
Chill for at least 20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
Decorate cake as desired with the remaining frosting.
Serve with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

Troisième

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life.
He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead.
Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and, above all, become passionate about it.
Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either.
White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

—Roald Dahl

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

One more trip around the sun has served to ripen cette petite pêche, giving it a deeper, sweeter significance with each passing month and each published post.

One more trip around the sun has seen me splashing liters of digital ink across this page with endless photos and words that are too often few and far between.
Has seen me splashing tears and buttermilk on counters and in posts alike.

Another year has made me ever so much more grateful for everyone who populates this web page.
Has reminded me, with every post and every pin, how proud and devoted I am to LPF.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

A blink is all it took for three years to pass me by.

I was in high school just yesterday—I swear—concentrating all my effort into thinking of a name that was just right for the wildly successful blog (*eye roll*, high schoolers) that I meant to start just as soon as, well… I thought of a name.
And yet somehow this year, old high school friends scattered across the country world will graduate from university.

And it was just yesterday that I made my first successful meringue buttercream, and my first (and only) batch of perfect macarons, and tasted the heaven that is pavlova.

Amazing how quickly time passes.
Every event that reminds me of a year passing—an anniversary, a blogiversary, a birthday, a tearful memory—pushes me back into perspective, squarely on my bottom.
And so here I sit, in wondrous rapture, as the pages of the calendar flip by comically quickly, as if blown by the breath of Father Time himself.
Awesome and deeply unsettling, isn’t it?

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I have stumbled and stubbed toes, sliced fingers and scrubbed dishes; I have burned wrists and knuckles and cookies countless, have made nine thousand messes and used an entire herd of cows’ butter; I have dropped cakes and dropped things on cakes, have cried and sworn and studied and laughed on the kitchen floor.

I have planned meticulously and tasted liberally and danced in sheer delight; I have spat out failures and hoarded successes.

I have moved and survived, have mourned and celebrated, have resisted and adapted, have failed and succeeded.
I have given in and given up.
I have poured my heart and soul and dozens of cups of cream into La Pêche Fraîche.

I have closed my eyes and stuck the pan in the oven and then, terrified, let go.”

—Deuxième, May 29 2014

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite gems from this past year.

This matcha cake, with early (too early) berries.
This lemon, black pepper, and strawberry tårta.
The ultimate chocolate-chocolate cake.
This crumbly, buttery vanilla bean and pine nut shortbread.
My daddy’s birthday cake: modern black forest (+macs!).
Speaking of macs, chocolate+summer fruit macarons.
Starred and striped red velvet roll-out cookies for the fourth.
Whole wheat peppermint mocha brownies.  For my Starbucks lovers out there.
Dark chocolate and honey spice “gingerbread” men!
Fat, fluffy Lofthouse clone cookies.
Elegant, chocolate dipped vanilla bean shortbread.

My two absolute favorites:

This nutso “souche de Noël,” with eggnog layer cake, chocolate ganache, marzipan holly, and adorably realistic meringue mushrooms.  An insane cake that took lots of dedication—but the end result was well worth it.

This red-fruited Victoria sponge, with drippy goat cheese and sour cream filling.  Another version of this, with fluffier filling, is on my to-make list this summer.  There are honestly few better ways to use a plethora of ripe, fresh fruit.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

And of course, here’s the link to last year’s blogiversary cake.
(And the year before, I suppose.)

This adorable cake is worthy of a celebration in and of itself.
I knew this year had to include pink and sprinkles, in the same vein as last year.
I wanted candles, but couldn’t find any red “3” candles for a reasonable price (weird?) and I left my special tall candles (carefully saved from last year’s cake) back home in NY for God knows what reason.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

And so, with a little planning and a lot of preparation, I made a cake with sprinkles, and a tinge of pink, and it was the happiest little thing I think has ever come out of my oven.

I knew I wanted to use the marzipan that I found beneath the coconut in my pantry (oops); I knew I wanted maraschino cherries, which compliment almond so well.
I knew that I didn’t want any almond extract, because even the slightest heavy hand makes that stuff unbearable.

The sprinkly 3 that I fashioned out of white chocolate and a scavenged lolly stick was too large for my dainty cake.
I stuck it on for kicks at the end of shooting, but I didn’t like how it looked—too clunky, in my humble opinion.
(That’s okay… after all, it was just white chocolate and sprinkles, and tasted juuuust fine in little nibbles.)

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

What resulted was the fluffiest vanilla almond cake, flavored with a touch of almond milk and vanilla extract, kept soft and supple with a little cornstarch, with a baking time that, despite using only egg whites, kept the crumb moist.

I covered it in my favorite glossy, shiny Italian meringue buttercream, which is by far my favorite frosting.
It’s like a buttery cloud, ever so slightly sweet-and-salty, that compliments the fluffy cake perfectly.
Too heavy of a frosting would have weighed each bite down; I wanted a cake that would melt in your mouth and leave a whisper of sugar, vanilla, and almond behind.
I tinted a tiny amount of frosting with cherry juice and a drop of red gel coloring, leaving it a perfectly pale pink.  I used this around the bottom of the cake for a teeny-tiny amount of ombré.

The layers of the cake were each fitted with a perfect circle of chewy, sweet marzipan, which added the exact amount of almond flavor that I was hoping for, and kept the texture of each bite interesting.

Finally, a few lashings of milk chocolate ganache, creamy and decadent and, importantly, not overwhelmingly chocolaty, crowned the edges of the cake.

A handful of sprinkles, and 8 perfect maraschino cherries finished off the cake.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I think it looks rather like an ice cream sundae—cheery and happy—how can this cake not make you smile?

It was delicious, and the people with whom I shared it loved it (phew).

This is exactly the cake I wanted to create for this special 3-year blogiversary.
I want this blog to make people smile; I want to share yummy, beautiful things.

Who knows how long this blog will continue?
I hope for many years to come, but I don’t know.
We can only take each day and make the most of it.
I, personally, will have my cake and eat it, too, for as long as I possibly can.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Thank you, friends, for supporting La Pêche Fraîche.
Every click, every visit—I appreciate you.
This blog would be nothing without you.
This blog is for you.

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.”

—Maya Angelou

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vanilla Almond Cake
makes 1 4 layer 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
240 grams (2 cups) flour
30 grams (1/4 cup) cornstarch
350 grams (1 3/4 cups) sugar
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
175 grams (6 ounces) butter, soft and cut into pieces
240 mL (1 cup) almond milk
170 grams (6 ounces, 6 large) egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the frosting:
200 grams (7 ounces, 7 large) egg whites
200 grams (2 cups) sugar
75 mL (5 tablespoons) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
565 grams (20 ounces, 5 sticks) butter, cubed and softened

to assemble:
200 grams (7 ounces) marzipan
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) milk chocolate, chopped finely
45 mL (3 tablespoons) heavy cream
drop of red food coloring, if desired
sprinkles, if desired
jar of maraschino cherries, if desired

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 4 6-inch round pans.
Mix flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add in the softened, cubed butter one piece at a time at a low speed until the mixture looks like sand and the butter is fully incorporated.
Whisk the almond milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract together, then slowly pour into the batter with the mixer running.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Portion batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the cakes are golden and the tops spring back to the touch.
Cool completely on a rack.
To make the frosting, place sugar and water and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Simultaneously, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin whipping them on medium speed.
When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees F, the egg whites should be nearly at stiff peaks.
Carefully pour the sugar syrup into the whipping egg whites.
Continue whipping at high speed until the meringue has cooled to body temperature and is glossy and shiny.
Beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time, until it has all been incorporated into the buttercream.
Whip on high until the buttercream is fluffy, soft, and shiny, about 7 minutes.
To assemble the cake: roll out the marzipan to 1/8 of an inch thickness and cut 3 6-inch round circles out.
Layer a cake round, a 1/3 cup of buttercream, and 1 marzipan circle; repeat twice more, until you place the top layer on.
Crumb coat the cake and place in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove 2/3 cup of the buttercream and add a drop of red food coloring and 2 tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice; stir well to combine.
Remove the cake from the fridge and finish frosting the top and 3/4 of the sides with plain buttercream, leaving the bottom 1/4 with just a crumb coat (reserve the rest of the plain buttercream)
Place the cake in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the ganache: place chopped chocolate and cream in a small bowl and microwave on medium power for 30 seconds-1 minute until the chocolate is 2/3 melted.
Whisk vigorously until the ganache has come together and is shiny and smooth.
Set aside to cool slightly.
Take the cake out of the fridge and add the cherry buttercream to the bottom 1/4, spreading it up to create a slight ombre effect.
Apply sprinkles to the bottom of the cake, as desired.
Refrigerate for 5 more minutes.
Carefully pour a little of the chocolate ganache around the rim to create drips.
Refrigerate for 5 more minutes.
Fill a piping bag with the reserved plain buttercream and pipe small swirls on top of the cake; place a maraschino cherry on top of each swirl.

Red, Red

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day!

Here is another cake to add to your to-make-for-loved-ones list.
Other cakes I can think of for V-day:

this most recent chocolate covered strawberry delight
this red-berry strewn cake, accompanied by my favorite poem
these pink and red cakelets, fluffy and elegant
or, for a chocolate fix,
these sexy, whole-wheat (didn’t think those could go together? Think again.) brownies with glossy ganache
or, for a French dessert fix,
these petites Madeleines, soaked in tart lemon syrup, sticky and dense and delectable.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Things that have moved me lately (laugh, cry, feel, and love, love love):

How to fall in love with anyone.
/How to fall out of love with anyone. (lol)

This beautiful, heartwrenching photo story about a couple who both have cancer.  Beautiful.

These terrible valentines.  #6.

This adorable duo.  The tiniest kitten and his best doggie friend.  True love and friendship.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Food I’ve been drooling over lately:

Ohhhh, these scrambled eggs. These are love on a plate and if I woke up to these with fresh squeezed orange juice and hot, toasted, crispy baguette I would be the happiest girl alive (too bad N doesn’t read my blog, this is a gimme).

While I maintain that pie is always love, this pie is extra.
Salty/sweet/floral depending on your honey.
From Four and Twenty Blackbirds, so you know it’s good.
(+added bonus of pie tips!)

Churros. You can never go wrong with churros.
Sam, won’t you come live with me please?!

This is the most lovely heart shaped bundt cake in the world; and I am the world’s biggest sucker for lemon glaze.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is a 1950s dream.
Red velvet, creamy white frosting, dark chocolate malt balls.
It’s the kind of cake you would see in a diner or, if Kerri Russell ever made cakes, one that she would whip up.

Red velvet, in all its dyed and bright glory, is worth the few teaspoons of red No.5 that you will ingest.
Beet cakes will never be red velvet.
I love you, I love beets, and I’m sorry, but they won’t be.
When I want a traditional cake, I want it made right.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

So that’s what we’re doing here.
Making it the right way.

The red velvet cake is adapted from Magnolia (you know it’s going to be good!), and is lusciously moist, with a fine crumb and a distinctive, slightly cocoa-y, buttermilk tangy flavor.
The frosting is a fluffy cloud of cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream, not overly sweet and firm enough to pipe, with a balance of the buttery flavor of a traditional European buttercream and the very necessary and traditional American cream cheese frosting, without which red velvet would not be the same.
The cake is dolled up with lashings of dark chocolate ganache and dark chocolate malt balls, toasty and sweet, and a shower of powdered sugar to finish.

Each thick slice is a little piece of cake heaven, with the traditional flavors of red velvet, made better with extra butter and a touch of chocolate (totally necessary for Lover’s day, right!?).

It really is red velvet in all its glory!

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

A few notes about this recipe:
You could top this cake with sprinkles or truffles or really nothing at all, the frosting alone is a statement.

If you’re not 100% absolutely confident in meringue buttercreams, do not make this one.  It is tricky.  Start with a non-cream cheese meringue buttercream first (like this beautiful pink one), or make a cream cheese frosting like Rosie’s or a cooked milk frosting like Pioneer Woman’s.

ACV or white vinegar will work in the recipe.
Make sure to chill your cake before pouring hot ganache over it.
Set a timer for beating your eggs/butter (I usually underestimate the time it takes to fully cream butter and sugar).

Red food coloring: I use Americolor.  I know it incorporates seamlessly and it gives me great color with a small amount.
That being said, you could use liquid (you’ll need more, maybe ~2 tablespoons) or Wilton (I’ve had plenty of success with their red food coloring, but it comes in small tubs so I’ve a huge bottle of Americolor now).
Cocoa: don’t use extra dark cocoa, as it might tint your cake darker than you’d like.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“The sexiest thing in the world is being really smart.
And thoughtful.
And being generous.
Everything else is crap.”

—Ashton Kutcher

Red velvet cake with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Dolled-Up Red Velvet Cake
makes 1 6-inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Baking in Pyjamas

ingredients:
for the red velvet cake:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
30 grams cocoa powder
333 grams (1 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup) sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons red gel food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
240 grams (1 3/4 cups) flour
240 mL (1 cup) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

for the cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
125 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sugar
pinch salt
3 tablespoons water
2 sticks of butter, soft but still cool and cubed
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 block) cream cheese
225 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar, sifted

for the ganache:
140 grams (10 tablespoons) butter
60 grams (1/4 cup) half-and-half
pinch salt
200 grams dark chocolate, chopped finely

to assemble:
malt balls
powdered sugar

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Beat butter until soft and light, about 3 minutes if already softened.
Add in the cocoa powder, salt, and sugar and beat for 3 full minutes; the mixture should be glossy and very fluffy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the eggs, food coloring, and vanilla extract.
Beat for 5 full minutes; the mixture should have tripled in size.
Scrape the bowl and dump the flour on top of the butter.
Place the baking soda over the flour.
Mix the buttercream and vinegar together.
Start mixing the flour into the batter at a very low speed; simultaneously, start drizzling in the buttermilk.
Once all is incorporated, beat on high speed for 20 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Portion out the batter equally into your 3 pans and bake for 20-22 minutes, until springy to the touch and a tester comes out nearly clean.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the cream cheese meringue buttercream: whip cream cheese until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Scrape into another bowl and set aside (leave at room temp!).
Place the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place the sugar, water, and salt into a small pot over medium heat.
Begin to whip the whites as you heat the sugar syrup; once it reaches 240 degrees F, your whites should be nearly stiff peaks.
At 242-245 degrees F, slowly and carefully drizzle the sugar syrup into the whipping egg whites.
Beat until nearly body temp; add in the slightly soft butter 1 cube at a time.
Continue to whip (even if it looks curdled!) until the buttercream comes together and makes a whapping sound against the bowl.
Scrape the whipped cream cheese into the buttercream and add in 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar.
Slowly mix the icing, increasing once it is nearly homogeneous.
Don’t beat too much.
Place in fridge for 5 minutes if needed to slightly firm up.
To frost the cake, do a crumb coat then freeze.
Apply the rest of the frosting, then freeze again.
Use a knife dipped in hot water and then dried off to smooth the icing perfectly, then chill until you drizzle the ganache.
To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.
Heat the butter and half and half until boiling, then pour over the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, whip with a whisk until the ganache is glossy and shiny.
Pour over the edges of the cake.
Pipe little stars on the edge of a cake, then top with a malt ball and a shower of powdered sugar.