Just Like You

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

—Karen Kingsbury
FAME

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“A party without cake is just a meeting.”

—Julia Child

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Betsszzyyyy!

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Elizabeth made it through 2 decades of life.

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

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

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy belated birthday, Elizabeth darling.
xx

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

sprinkles, for decorating

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

Holiday Kitsch

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m lying on the moon
My dear, I’ll be there soon
It’s a quiet, starry place
Times were swallowed up
In space we’re here a million miles away

There’s things I wish I knew
There’s no thing I’d keep from you
It’s a dark and shiny place
But with you my dear
I’m safe and we’re a million miles away

The Moon Song, Karen O

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s grey and dreary here.
Us folks from the Fingerlakes (and upstate NY in general) are used to harsh winters.  We don’t get the same kind of wind as Chicago or the volume of snow as Montana, but we do get the grey.

We pride ourselves on braving the cold, sucking it up, etc. etc.
(I’m serious: just the other day, I was told I had gone soft because I was wearing a big down parka and it was only, oh, say, 25 degrees.  Indignant, I cited that it was the only coat I brought home and that I need such a warm one because I live in a place where it gets to negative 50 Fahrenheit with windchill.  This remark was met with narrowed eyes and puffed, unimpressed nonchalance.)

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I suppose grey and dreary necessitates naps and snuggles and warm blankets+hot cocoa and plenty of good books and movies, but so does white and fresh, and I am positively certain that I would prefer a few feet of snow over this lingering, dripping rain.

Taking photos in this cursed weather is quite the bear.
In summer, the problem with Ithaca was the green.
All my photos were tinged with the reflections of so many thousands of bright young leaves, impossible to easily wipe out, without inadvertently creating purple food.
Now, in the winter, the problem is the darkness.  Low shutter speeds are prone to shake (guess who didn’t bring her tripod with her…), and noise is an eternal annoyance.

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Despite this, when I made these little tree-topped cupcakes, I was determined to get the (clichéd) powdered sugar shot.
So, I splayed out on the ground (unfortunately for me, I live in a 2-cat, 1-dog household and was wearing black leggings), with my camera perched on no fewer than 7 big books.

Now, I have another of these clichés to add to my resume.
Previously: here and here and here.
But, I will say, I have yet to get a coveted syrup-pouring shot.
I’m staying patient, friends: it will happen.

Definitely worth the hair-covered lulus.

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I saw a picture of cupcakes topped with tiny little trees on Instagram forever ago and they have been on my to-make list ever since.

I only had big tree cookie cutters, which were sure to overwhelm the cupcakes.  Luckily for me, I found the teeny-tiniest little tree cutter which is totally twee.

(Twee trees? Hmm?)

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

These little cuppycakes are made of the moistest chocolate buttermilk cake ever.  They’re springy yet rich, with a good chocolate bite that’s sweet with a thin edge of salt.

They’re topped with whorls of luscious, silky, peppermint Italian meringue buttercream.  The cool, clear peppermint pairs well with the buttery frosting, and a pinch of salt prevents it from being cloying.

The final touch is a little chocolate cookie, delightfully crispy and crunchy, with a little sprinkle of powdered sugar snow.

Perfect little wintermint cupcakes!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I love the idea of topping cupcakes with little cookies, now.  So many possibilities and combinations!

For that matter, you could top these cupcakes with cookies made of honey spice dough, or regular sugar cookie dough, or any other type of roll-out cookie that you so desire (maybe up the chocolate-peppermint ante with a drop of peppermint extract in chocolate dough?).

If you don’t like peppermint, replace it with a drop of vanilla and you have utterly classic chocolate and vanilla cupcakes—equally delicious and versatile!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

If I can manage, there may be a yule log up here, eking in on Christmas Day itself.
If not, have a happy, safe holiday, and I’ll see you on the other side!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Peppermint IMBC
cupcake portion adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
makes 7 cupcakes

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
1/4 cup (20 grams) dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (48 grams) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
scant 1/4 cup (40 mL) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 cup (60 mL) buttermilk

for the peppermint IMBC:
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (110 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
1 cup (225 grams) butter, cut into chunks, softened but cool
1 drop peppermint extract

directions:
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 7 cupcake wells with liners.
Whisk together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugars.
Whisk the oil, egg, vanilla extract, and buttermilk together, then pour into the dry ingredients until the batter is homogeneous.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions into each of the tins.
Bake cupcakes for 15-18 minutes, until springy and a tester comes out nearly clean.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely.
Make the peppermint IMBC: place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place sugar, water, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Start to whisk the egg whites.
By the time the egg whites are at stiff peaks, the syrup should be at 240-245 degrees F.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while whisking at high speed.
Beat until meringue is cooled, then whip in butter one small chunk at a time.
Beat until the frosting has come together; it should take about 3 minutes at high speed; it should be fluffy and shiny.
Frost the cupcakes as desired; top with chocolate cookies and powdered sugar!

Forêt Noire

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Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

–Pablo Neruda, Lost in the Forest

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I can’t write the introduction to this post.
I have tried, deleted, tried again.  And again.

It was my dad’s birthday that prompted this cake.
So, I guess I’ll start with that: happy birthday, again, Daddy.

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I was going to begin by talking about how all news seems like bad news these days;
how this blog is not meant to discuss politics but rather butter and sugar;
and yet how stiflingly hard it is to read the paper,
to come to the realization of just how many things are going so very wrong on our planet;
how such current events leave me, as far as writing goes, speechless—wordless—frozen.

This opening, as you can probably intuit from the summary, was wholly incongruous with the happy, cheery, pink cake I’m currently shoving in your face.

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It’s like the New York Times—and Bill Hayes—read my mind.
If you’re a usual reader, you know that I’ve been struggling of late to put the pen to the page.
So much white space between photographs.

I’m practicing non-writing, I suppose, but I’m still in the stages of denial.
I want to write, I can and should write, but I feel I have little to say.
My life is just so goddamn monotonous these days (which, if I’m being truthful, I love. That’s what summer is for) and I mostly spend my time, apart from baking, which you already hear about, reading Game of Thrones or working out or or pining after N, and life around the world, as I have just mentioned, is terrifyingly depressing—death and doom seem inescapable.

These things do not a lively blog post make, friends.

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This space begs to be filled and yet frustratingly sucks up the feeble, meager lines that I proffer up.
It demands real writing, real words, and even when I concede to “non-writing”, a few snippets here and there, nothing serious, it whispers in my ear, sending shivers and doubt up my spine… don’t you think they’ll get bored without words?

For what is this blog without words?
Confessions of Confection.

It’s an empty shell of what I envision it to be; La Pêche Fraîche started because I had so much to complain about say, and because people generally only respond favorably to such whining when it is accompanied by dessert.
(I’m kidding, of course—in reality, the whining came after the desserts.)

Most of the posts of which I am proudest (oh, say, here, here, here, or here, if you want to hear me toot my horn tout my writing. Toot toot) came pouring out with a tumble of emotions and little in the way of the forceful tugging I now must do.

Fo now, each paragraph is another stubborn tooth to be pulled from the bleeding gums of my mind, and rather than satisfying as it is laid on the page, it leaves a gaping hole of limp disappointment.
(My recent experience with wisdom teeth has given me an exquisitely clear understanding of such pain.)

Ugh stop looking at me like that.
I knew I shouldn’t have used that analogy.

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And look here, now, somehow I have managed to produce more volume of self-indulgent grousing than literally everything else I have written lately combined.
How very me.

But there is cake, people!
Not just cake, there is a great feat of sugar that demands to be spoken about, a great big fat pink elephant in the room post.

This is a cake for crazy people.

I’m serious.  But let me explain.

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Before I even try to explain the ridiculousness of this cake, scroll way, way, way down to the recipe/ingredient list.
That should give you a head start on shaking your head.

I think I have carpal tunnel just from typing that monstrosity.

7 main components, here:
mocha mayonnaise cake
quark whipped cream filling
cherries marinated in kirsch
chocolate cherry macarons, filled with
whipped ganache
cherry italian meringue buttercream
ganache glaze

Yaaaaaagh.

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If you’re anything like my brothers, hearing the word mayonnaise in the same sentence as cake will cause you to wrinkle your nose, put your fork down, and push your plate away à la Calvin and Hobbes.

But!
Mayo is just emulsified eggs, oil, salt, and vinegar (I should know, I just made a huge batch with my immersion blender for my dad’s birthday dinner.  I added black truffle oil.  Divine!), which are already in a cake.
The addition of mayo makes this cake super tender and soft, with a light, tight crumb.  Perfect for sky-high layers.
Adding strong coffee makes the cake deeply chocolaty, with a bitterness that offsets the rest of the sugar marvelously.

The quark whipped cream filling tastes like a lightened up cheesecake, slightly tangy and quite fluffy.
It’s far more interesting than the classic whipped cream, which is a bit one note.
(Quark is like a cross between a farmer’s cheese and crème fraiche, and you could sub half as much cream cheese without the need to press the moisture out.)

In Germany, it’s illegal to call a cake Black Forest (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) if it doesn’t contain kirsch (kirschwasser).
With that in mind, fat, fresh cherries, pitted and halved and seeping sweet red juice are gently cooked in kirsch and sugar, until they have soaked up all the flavor and released their juice.
The resultant boozy cherries are drained of their juice and nestled in the whipped cream along with chocolate macaron shells; the juice is gently brushed over the cakes to add extra moisture.

Then, the juice is reduced to a sticky, bright red kirsch syrup, which is poured into a whipped, glossy Italian meringue buttercream, adding a blush of color and delicate kirsch/cherry flavor.

Chocolate macarons, crisp on the outside, yield to reveal fudgy whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache and a rubied center of tart cherry jam, which is a fruity suprise.

Fresh cherries, bittersweet chocolate glaze, more whipped quark, and the macs top this cake; the decoration reminds me of a banana split or an ice cream cake—cute and whimsical!

You can make it in steps: up to a week before assembling, make the cake layers.  Wrap them in a double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil and freeze them; take them out of the freezer and put them in the fridge the day before you assemble the cake.
Make the cherries in kirsch up to 3 days before; just store them in the juice, then drain them the day you assemble the cake to brush the layers and reduce to syrup.
Make the macaron shells up to a week before; store them in an airtight container and assemble a few cookie sandwiches for decorating the day before you put the cake before, so they can age and mingle with the fillings.
Make the ganache the day before you assemble the cake; to whip it for the macaron filling, simply let it come completely to room temperature before beating; for the glaze, gently warm it in 5 second bursts in the microwave until it is melted and shiny again.
The day of, drain the cherries and brush the cake layers with the unreduced juice.  Reduce it to syrup and make the cherry Italian meringue buttercream.
Whip up your super quick quark filling (say that 10 times fast), and build your cake.

If you plan ahead, you can do it.
Or, pick and choose which components you want to use!
For a simpler cake, use the chocolate layers, the filling, and the cherries: dust the top layer with powdered sugar and you still have quite an impressive cake.

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I expect there are a fair amount of people who have closed the tab and are now wondering whether it is ethical to continue reading, thereby encouraging the continuation of, a blog run by a mentally unstable individual.

This cake is an undertaking.  But dare I say it’s worth it?
My family—especially my dad, who made a quiet, simple request for black forest or German chocolate and received this enormous pink confection in answer—loved it.

It’s a project, and it will leave your kitchen dusted with a fine layer of cocoa powder and flour and splattered with enough cherry juice to look like a murder scene.
But it also leaves you with a boozy, chocolaty, pink cake, surrounded by happy, contented people, and that, my friends, is reason enough alone.

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Gâteau de Forêt Noire
cake portion adapted from Sweetapolita
macaron portion adapted from Annie’s Eats
cherries in kirsch adapted from Call me Cupcake
makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake

ingredients:
for the chocolate cherry macarons:
100 grams confectioner’s sugar
100 grams almond flour
12 grams cocoa powder
170 grams egg whites, divided into two 85 gram portions
120 grams sugar
80 grams water
pinch salt
whipped ganache, recipe below
good quality cherry jam

for the chocolate ganache (whipped and glaze portions):
100 grams (3.5 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
100 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
pinch salt

for the mocha mayonnaise cake:
170 grams (3/4 cup, 1 1/2 sticks) butter, soft
460 grams (2 cups packed) brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
220 grams (1 3/4 cups) flour
90 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
180 mL (3/4 cup) milk
180 mL (3/4 cup) coffee
60 mL (1/4 cup) mayonnaise

for the cherries in kirsch:
275 grams cherries, weighed pits and all
1/4 cup kirsch
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

for the cherry Italian meringue buttercream:
reserved (reduced) cherry kirsch juice, recipe above
2 egg whites
115 grams (a smidge more than 1/2 cup) sugar
big pinch kosher salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
220 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) butter, diced and cool
1 drop red food coloring, optional

for the whipped quark filling:
227 grams (8 ounces) quark
360 mL (1 1/2) cups heavy cream
100 grams (3/4 cup) powdered sugar

to assemble:
fresh cherries

directions:
First, make the macarons (can/should be done 1 day ahead): sift confectioner’s sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder together.
Discard the large pieces of almond flour that don’t fit through the sieve.
Add one 85 gram portion of egg whites to the sifted ingredients and stir very well until a thick, uniform paste forms; set aside.
Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment and a pastry bag with a large round tip; preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the other 85 gram portion of egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment with a pinch of cream of tartar or a drop of vinegar.
Place the sugar, water, and a pinch of salt into a small pot; fit the mixture with a candy thermometer.
Begin to heat the syrup on medium heat; when the temperature reaches 180 degrees, begin to whip the egg whites; when it reaches 220, the egg whites should be approaching soft peaks; at 240, they should be at soft peaks.
Remove the syrup from the heat when it reaches 245 degrees F; pour it, carefully, into the whipping egg whites, being careful not to splatter the whisk attachment with hot syrup (aim for the side of the bowl).
Allow the meringue to whip until it is glossy and stiff-peaked, about 3 minutes.
Take 1/4 of the meringue and stir it vigorously into the almond paste, to lighten the stiff paste somewhat.
Add the rest of the meringue and carefully begin to fold the mixture together.
Stop the macaronage when the mixture flows like lava/makes a ribbon/reabsorbs a blob after 10 seconds.
Fill the prepared pastry bag and pipe out small macarons on both of the sheets.
Place the first sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F.
Bake until a cookie lifts off of the sheet cleanly, about 12-15 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature once more and place the second sheet in the oven; reduce the oven temp and bake as before.
Allow the cookies to cool completely.
Make the ganache: place the chocolate, corn syrup, and salt in a bowl and heat the cream to just before boiling, either in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Once the cream is hot, pour it over the chopped chocolate and leave it to sit for 2 minutes.
Gently begin to whisk; continue until the mixture comes together in a glossy, shiny glaze.
Place half of the ganache aside for glazing the finished cake and the other half in the fridge to cool.
Once the chilled portion is significantly thickened and cool to touch (but not solid!), whip it with a hand or stand mixer until it is fluffy and lightened in color, about 2 minutes.
Set aside 1/2 of the shells to layer inside the cake; pair up all the other shells.
To fill the cookies, place a heaping teaspoon of ganache on one shell; gently scoop out a tiny divot in the center and fill it with 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cherry jam.
Sandwich the cookies and refrigerate overnight before eating or using in the cake.
Make the mocha mayonnaise cake: grease and flour 3 8-inch round pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place soft butter, kosher salt, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high for 5 minutes, until very light and shiny.
Add in the egg yolks and eggs and beat for another 3 minutes; scrape the sides of the bowl.
Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder together.
Whisk coffee, milk, and apple cider vinegar together.
With the mixer running on medium, add in the wet and dry ingredients, alternating and beginning with dry.
Beat for 30 seconds after everything is added to ensure homogeneity.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the mayonnaise; mix on low speed for 30 seconds until the mixture is homogeneous once more.
Portion out the batter into the pans and bake for 22-25 minutes, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out of the pans and cool completely.
Make the cherries in kirsch: halve and pit cherries and place in a sauce pot with kirsch, vinegar, and sugar.
Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes until the cherries have released their juice and are soft but not mushy.
Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Once cool, drain the cherries from the juice (save the juice!!).
Poke holes all over the bottoms of the cakes (these will become the tops) with a toothpick, then gently brush with a little of the cherry juice—you want to flavor the cake, but not soak it.
Place the remaining cherry juice back into the pot and heat over low heat until simmering; allow to reduce to 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 2/3 of the original volume; reserve this syrup.
Make the cherry Italian meringue buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place water, salt, and sugar in a small pot over medium heat fitted with a candy thermometer.
When the temperature reaches 180 degrees, begin to whip the egg whites; when it reaches 220, the egg whites should be approaching soft peaks; at 240, they should be at soft peaks.
Remove the syrup from the heat when it reaches 245 degrees F; pour it, carefully, into the whipping egg whites, being careful not to splatter the whisk attachment with hot syrup (aim for the side of the bowl).
Allow the meringue to whip until it is glossy and stiff-peaked and cooler, about 4 minutes.
Add in the cool butter a tablespoon at a time, whipping on high speed the entire time.
Whip until the mixture becomes fluffy and shiny and homogeneous (keep whipping if it appears to curdle—you simply haven’t beaten it long enough, don’t worry!), about 4 minutes.
Drizzle in the reduced cherry syrup and (optionally) add 1 drop of red food coloring if you want the frosting more pink than purple.
Make the quark whipped cream filling: On a bed of paper towels (use 3 on the bottom and two on top) scrape 3/4 of the quark and press down lightly; the towels will absorb the excess moisture.
Meanwhile, begin to whip the heavy cream and powdered sugar, with a whisk attachment or an immersion blender.
Once the whipped cream reaches stiff peaks, gently mix in the thickened quark.
Place in the fridge to cool and thicken before assembling the cake; reserve 1/3 cup for piping on top of the cake.
To assemble, place the first cake layer (juice soaked side up) on a cake stand.
Add half of the remaining quark filling , spreading so that the center is depressed; arrange half of the drained cherries in a single layer on the cake.
Top with the next layer; spread the rest of the whipped cream but reserve 1/4 cup.
Top with the rest of the cherries and a layer of the reserved macaron shells.
Spread the reserved 1/4 cup of whipped cream over the macaron shells and top with the last cake layer.
Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before crumb coating.
Spread on a thin crumb coat of the cherry frosting, being careful to seal in the whipped cream between the layers.
Refrigerate for at least 20 more minutes.
Frost the cake with the rest of the cherry frosting, then place back in the fridge.
Gently heat the reserved ganache, either in a double boiler or in the microwave in 5 second bursts.
Heat until it has loosened up again, whisk until it is shiny and glossy.
Remove the cake from the fridge and carefully drizzle the ganache around the edges.
Place the reserved quark whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe 8 stars evenly around the cake.
Place 4 fresh cherries on 4 of the stars and 4 assembled macarons on the others.
Enjoy your hard earned cake!

Doubtful

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“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

–Karim Seddiki

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You know what kills macarons?
No, you don’t.
No one does, because these stupid fucking cookies have minds of their own.

For me, macs go hand and hand with failure.
Do I doubt them? Perhaps—just a touch—as I slide each fated sheet into the oven.

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Ah, I know there are explanations and even better explanations, there are complete lists of problems and solutions.

But sometimes, y’all, the problem cannot be explained by even the most exhaustive list of troubleshooting suggestions.

Take these macs.  I’ve never turned out a sheet as perfect as the first that was pulled from the oven.
Great feet, solid insides (beware the hollows!), crack-free.
Hallelujer.

The second and third sheets, however, looked like the San Andreas fault personified in a cookie.
Feet, yes.  Gigantic, canyon-like crevasses?  Yep.

Why?!?!?! I don’t know.
Same batter.  Same oven temp and technique… It’s a mystery.

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So this round of macaron mania resulted in 1) the single most perfect sheet of macs to come out of my oven and 2) the most delicious macs to come out of my kitchen.
The super chocolaty shells (thank you extra dark brown cocoa!) are filled with rich bittersweet chocolate ganache and a spoonful of tart, bright red currant, blackberry, and raspberry jam.

This jam is something of note, guys.  Like seriously.  It’s bursting with the flavors of summer and it is outrageously fruity.

The end result of the cookie sandwich is something that tastes like a rich brownie with a crackling shell, with a dab of jam right in the fudgiest part.

Hello, heaven.  Come to mama.

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For the macaron shells, I’m directing you to Annie.  To make them chocolate, sub 24 grams of extra dark cocoa powder for 12 grams of the almond flour and the confectioner’s sugar.

Pipeable Chocolate Ganache
ingredients:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
pinch kosher salt
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

directions:
Melt and briskly whisk the chocolate, half-and-half, butter, corn syrup, and salt together.
Whisk until the mixture is shiny and viscous.
Allow to cool until solid but still scoopable.
Whip with the confectioner’s sugar using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Whip until fluffy and lightened in color.
If it starts to melt while piping, stick it in the fridge and rewhip as needed.

Red Currant and Berry (Fridge) Jam
makes approximately 2 cups
ingredients:
1 heaping cup red currants, destemmed
heaping 1/3 cup blackberries
1 heaping cup raspberries
generous 2/3 cup sugar

directions:
Press the currants and blackberries through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon; process them for a long time so that you get the most puree possible and leave behind relatively dry seeds.
Place into a deep pot with the sugar and raspberries and place over medium heat.
Smash the raspberries with a spatula or spoon as you stir the jam.
Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, until the jam is thick (use the freezer test: place a small amount of jam on a plate and put it in the freezer until it cools to room temp: it should be thick and spreadable).
Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a clean jar and then to the fridge.

Deuxième

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“Great cooking is not for the faint of heart.
You must be imaginative.  Strong hearted.
You must try things that may not work.
And you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from.
What I say is true: anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.”

–Disney’s “Ratatouille

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Has it been this long, really?

How could it possibly have been this long?

Two years?

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Such a funny, dual-sided feeling, this one.
I have been writing this blog for my whole life, and, at the same time, have been writing for all of two days.
How can this be?

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.

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And yet here I am, still standing knee neck-deep in flour and sugar and butter.
Here I am, crying as I write this post, laughing at myself and at this silly, silly little space.

For I may have doubted this blog, doubted my writing, my work, my thoughts, myself,
but oh, oh, I have loved, loved, loved.

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188 posts prior to this one.
65 about chocolate, 55 about cake (32 about “cakes”), 50 for cookies.
43 posts in which I whine, 7 rants, 22 “stupid,” 13 diva moments.

25 brown butter, 25 holidays.
19 winter posts, but only 11 each of spring and autumn, and a sad 7 spring.

7 starry-eyed dreams, 7 cases of the blues.

39 love and 38 crazy.  Coincidence?  I think not.

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I always talk whine about this, but the growth and development on this blog is remarkable to me.
Look through the archives, and the most tangible improvement– photography– is undeniable.
I won’t lie, some of the photos on this blog are downright scary.
Out of focus, underexposed, unappetizing coloring, terrible angles, lack of styling… Good grief.

However, I remind myself as I cringe, the bad photography is only a testament to my willingness to learn, to try new things, to start from nothing and improve myself.
I am proud of this blog, damn it.
I am proud of how much I have learned, both on the pâtisserie and photographic sides.

I am beyond happy to celebrate the start of a third year.
I have no intentions of stopping or slowing down.
I don’t know where this blog is leading me.  I don’t know where my life is leading me.
I don’t even know where this post is leading me, for Pete’s sake.
Right now is a volatile and dynamic time in my life, and I’m doing my best to ride the waves, blind and fearful as I am.
Nevertheless, onwards I press, keys tapping and oven creaking.
I have faith that I shall better understand where I’m headed in the future.

I have faith that one day, I’ll figure my shit out.
And I have a strong suspicion that La Pêche Fraîche will be a part of it.

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It’s true that there have been times when I have been scared or reluctant to press “Publish.”
There have been posts so raw with emotion that I worry what my readership will think of me.

But you have stuck with me, through all the painful changes and exciting developments.
You’ve borne all my typos and rants and sappiness.
You’ve continued on with me during the slowed down times– I can see you clicking around, probably hungry for fresh material, tired of stale old crumbs.  I see you.  And I appreciate you.
You’ve read through too-long and too-short posts, through my geek-outs and freak-outs.

So sometimes, goes the moral of this story, you have to let go of the pan and let the oven work its magic.

Thank you, readers, for being my oven.
Thank you for demonstrating, with your clicks and searches and comments, that it is fine for me to press publish, to let go of the pan, to reveal insecurities and intimacies to an invisible audience.
It is for you that I write LPF, and it is thanks to you that it continues to grow.

Thank you for supporting this blog, replete with sugar and silliness.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.  From La Pêche Fraîche– from me.

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A birthday–blog birthdays included– demands cake.
Cupcakes, cookies, pavlovas, pudding and custards, ice creams, etc., will simply not do.
It must be cake.  I assure you, it must. be. cake.

Last blogiversary (May 2013) I made a brown-sugar/chocolate marble cake, filled with passionfruit curd and covered in fluffy, shiny clouds of vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream.

The flavors were amazing– some of my absolute favorites– but I think the cake was left in the oven 3 minutes too long.
It wasn’t (ohhhh God, here it comes…) *moist* enough, in my opinion.

So though there have been many cakes in the last year, today’s cake demonstrates one way to keep your cakes from being dry and crumbly, in honor of last year’s semi-dry cake.

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This year’s is a 1 bowl cake.  (The frosting requires an additional pot, but whatever.)
This is a virtually fool-proof cake.

(ATTN: nerd alert. Skip to the recipe at the bottom if you don’t want to have to listen to me geek out.)

All is due to the FP FFP scheme that I have deployed here.
Fool Proof Fat Flour Paste.  Sound disgusting?  Well, yeah.

The idea here is that by creating a paste of the flour and fat, you coat essentially of the fat particles with starch particles.
Following this observation, then, it becomes clear that all of the starch particles are associated with fat particles, which prevents them from forming too much gluten when moistened.
Adding sugar in the form of cane sugar and milk sugar (lactose) further inhibits gluten formation.
Since all of the ingredients are thoroughly beaten together, the batter is completely homogeneous and the dry ingredients are very evenly distributed, preventing pockets of dryness or bitterness where flour or baking soda didn’t fully incorporate, and making over-beating cake batter a thing of the past.

Once moisture is added, some gluten forms, which maintains the structure of the cake.
Plenty of egg whites are added, since they contain albumen, a structural protein, that help enhance the gluten structure, ensuring the cake is sturdy, not crumbly.

Basically, by preventing too much gluten from forming, we ensure the cake is very tender and fine-crumbed, and since the fat particles have been evenly suspended in starch, as they melt, they create a very moist, soft cake.

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In sum total: this cake is a tall, four-layer beauty, with a base of malted milk cake, redolent of nutty malt and laced with a hint of salt, butter, and buttermilk.  The crumb is fine, tender, and soft.

The frosting is sweet and salty vanilla Italian meringue buttercream, glossy and fluffy, swaddling the cake in buttery goodness.

Finally, and most importantly, 39 ( and exactly 39) handfuls of sprinkles are thrown, haphazardly, at the cake.
The pattern that results is organic in shape but very much artificially dyed and flavored.

Sprinkles are just so happy and fun and bright and colorful and they, along with the pink frosting, make this cake so damn twee.
Once I pull out that 1 pound jar (no, I am not kidding), there’s no stopping me.
The soles of my shoes have been tracking sprinkles everywhere since I made this cake.
I may have gotten a tad bit out-of-control.  Just a tad, though.
{Send help.}

Joyeuse anniversaire, La Pêche Fraîche!

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“I did then what I knew how to do.
Now that I know better, I do better.”

–Maya Angelou 

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Malted Milk Birthday Cake
makes a 4 layer 6-inch cake or a 2 layer 8- or 9-inch cake

ingredients:
for the malted milk cake:
340 grams (2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) all purpose flour
50 grams (5 tablespoons) cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1 teaspoon kosher salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
100 grams (8 tablespoons) shortening
350 grams (1 3/4 cups) granulated sugar
60 grams (heaping 1/2 cup) malted milk powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
3 egg whites
120 grams (120mL, 1/2 cup) buttermilk, cold
240 grams (240mL, 1 cup) water, cold

for the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream:
6 egg whites
3 drops (1/8 teaspoon) white vinegar
350 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
big pinch kosher salt
90 grams (6 tablespoons) water
660 grams (6 sticks, 1 1/2 pounds, 3 cups) butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
drop red gel food coloring, if desired

to assemble:
sprinkles!

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 4 6-inch pans or 2 8- or 9-inch pans.
Place flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.
Add in the softened butter and shortening a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until a flour-fat paste forms– it will be thick like cookie dough.
Stir together the sugar and malted milk powder, then add to the flour paste, stirring slowly at first, then beating until fluffy.
Whisk together the vanilla, egg, egg whites, buttermilk, and water, then add to the batter, stirring very very slowly at first, then increasing speed to beat at high speed for 30 seconds.
Batter should be thick and creamy; if it is a tiny bit curdled, don’t worry about it.
Pour into prepared pans and bake for 35-38 minutes, until springy in the center and a tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely, then trim and level as needed.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: place egg whites and vinegar 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.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To assemble the cake, stack layers with 1/2-2/3 cup frosting between them.
Use about 1 cup of frosting to crumb coat and level out the cake; freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Finish the cake with the remaining frosting as desired, and add sprinkles to your heart’s content!

Monster

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“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live?
Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?”

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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More green.  I’m afraid I’m the worst.
I really was displeased with the way this cake looked.  I originally topped it with those little green meringues, in the hopes that it would be springy and light and lovely, but it looked really fucking weird, guys.
The meringues did NOT mesh with the aesthetic of the cake, and the colors were all off.
They looked like white and green diseased dog shit on top of an unnaturally colored cake.
Sooooo ugly.  Tooooo ugly. I gave up photographing the cake and plucked all the meringues off to photograph.

I was really frustrated; I had been very excited about this mint and chocolate cake and yet to me, the cake looked like the cartoon version of Frankenstein’s monster, green skin and black-brown hair with weird sideburns.
UGH.  (I am actually laughing out loud at how creepily similar this cake is to the monster.  Good god.)
I chopped it up, ready to throw in the dish towel, but then I ended up half-liking how it looked all cut up into fat wedges, so I plonked it back on the table and took a few shots.

And that’s the riveting story of this monstrous cake.

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Here’s the story of the interior:
The fastest chocolate cake EVER (accidentally vegan!) provides a tender, moist base.
Sandwiched between the layers is whipped chocolate ganache, deep and dark and lovely.
The cake is frosted with the silkiest, lightest mint Italian meringue buttercream, refreshing and buttery and NOT toothpaste-y in the least (at least I’ve got that going for me).
Hot, melty ganache is dripped along the sides of the cake, for extra va va voom and shits and gigs.

Someone in my house triple texted me, begging for a slice after they caught a glimpse of it sitting in the kitchen.
By the time I got home, the thing had been decimated by a pack of hungry monsters college students.
I take that as a sure stamp of approval, ugly or not.

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Mint Chocolate Cake
ingredients:
for the chocolate cake:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

for the mint Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
pinch salt
1 tablespoon water
2 sticks butter, cut into chunks, softened but cool
drop peppermint extract
drop green food coloring, if desired

for the ganache:
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
4 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons sugar
big pinch salt
1 ounce (heaping tablespoon) corn syrup
4 tablespoons butter

directions:
Make the cakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda together.
Add all the wet ingredients at once while whisking.
Pour batter (will be liquidy) into prepared pans and bake for 20-22 minutes, until springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean; allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place salt, water, and sugar in a small pot over medium heat; begin whipping the egg whites.
When the syrup reaches 240 degrees F, the egg whites should be at soft to stiff peaks.  Carefully pour the hot syrup over the whipping egg whites, avoiding the whisk so that there is no splattering.
Whip meringue until it has reached body temperature; whip in butter 2 tablespoons at a time.
Add in the peppermint extract and food coloring and beat until buttercream is shiny, fluffy, and smooth.
Set aside while you prepare the ganache: melt all ingredients together in a microwave or double boiler.
Place in a blender or blend with a stick attachment until smooth, shiny, and glossy, about 1 minute.
Remove 1/3 of the ganache and set aside.
Place the rest of the ganache in the fridge and allow to set softly, about 30 minutes.
Remove from fridge and whip until soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
To assemble the cake: spread first layer with 1/3 of the whipped chocolate ganache, then place the next layer on top and repeat.
Frost the exterior of the cake with a crumb coat of the buttercream, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set.
Finish icing the exterior of the cake with the remaining buttercream, then place in the fridge for another 30 minutes.
If the reserved ganache has set, simply microwave it for 10 seconds until it is smooth and flowing once more; drip or pour the ganache over the edge of the cold cake; it will set as it drips down the side.
Allow the cake to come to room temperature, and serve!

So Question

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Much wonder.
Such searches.
Wow.

“my olive oil bottle had some slimy things”
Eeew.

“is little debbie oatmeal cream pies good for chakras”
Probably not?

“lets make marscarpone ourselves for once”
Yes, let’s.  God.

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“dumb jokes”
“dysfunctional family funny”
“dumb shit jokes”
I think you’re in the right place, my friend.

“homogeneous motor for milk and mango juice”
“gothic baking dishes”
“fairy hand cream mango butter switzerland”
“brass triangle fruit ripener”
“picture of willy wonka marshmallow pillow”
“ready to bake cheese marscapone croissants wholesale”
“kids throwing cookie dough on ceiling”
“plate with some fruits two toothbrush one small pot drawing in pencil”
“lime green fat baby boots with white fluffy stitching on the toe”
What?  No.  How did you manage to end up here?

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“comfy belly pumpkin roll”
“christina tosi maple”
“nigella frangelico tiramisu grams”
“michael laiskonis silpat”
“dorie greenspan is too soft and crumbly cheesecake”
Nope nope nope not me.  Wrong person.

“why is my mississippi mud pie still runny in the middle”
“2c heavy cream 4 tsp matcha 3/4 c sugar 6 egg yolk 1 c milk where is it books”
“how to bake cake in a 5 burner gas cooktop candy”
“660grams of chocolate buttons = cups?”
“should a pumpkin roll cake be wet still when you take it out of the oven”
“why do my meringue cookies always end up with a syrup like crust on the bottom???”
“can u use buttercream piping for a dummy cake or will it rot? cake central”
“creme brulee didn’t set congeal can i freeze it”
“3cups cocoa powder 4sticks butter layer cake”
“why gateau cake didn’t rise”
“do they have pumpkin butter in sweden”
“why does creaming butter and sugar in more than one direction, get curds”
“260 grams flour and sugar and butter cake making how many eggs i use”
“i like to make it my own pomelo powder tall me how”
“i am looking for a recipe that used nutter butter cookies and butter as a crust, and then you melt marshmallows then make a layer of candy using cornsyrup and peanut butter chips”
I wish I could tell you the answers to all these existential questions, but…

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“best ice cream scoopers activated by body heat”
“brown butter cookie nutella fill kitchen dink w/ 2″ of cold water”
“waterproof nut pie crust”
“she made a graham with childish decorated toppings”
“pressure ulcers cooker de leche condensed milk”
“glitter sprinkle french macaron vanipla”
“whot. can. you yes. hef. coleur perpar”
“no egg no milk no butter cookiesh ki,o.lpo.ol”
“cheese lava guna kracker magic”
“like golden ray butter”
“drama psheat”
“pepar fool ke banana”
What?!?

“la peche fraiche”
“lapechefraiche”
“lapechce fraiche”
“la pache frasche”
“la pilche frache”
“peche freche”
“lapechefraige”
“la peche peach”
“rachel sally pastry blogs”
“rachel sally blog”
“ithaca rachel sally”
Lol hai.  Welcome.

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You guys search such silly things and manage to end up here, at my doorstep.
I can only begin to understand my readership through searches like “cheese lava guna kracker magic.”
Conclusion: you guys are weird.  And poor typists.  And are therefore in good company.

These cookies are delicious, fat, bakery-sized peanut butter sandwiches, filled with fluffy marshmallow and rolled in honey roasted peanuts, in honor of whoever searched
“i am looking for a recipe that used nutter butter cookies and butter as a crust, and then you melt marshmallows then make a layer of candy using cornsyrup and peanut butter chips”
Sadly, this is the best I can do for you.  I hope you enjoy them, mystery googler.
(I have a feeling they’re more delicious than this suspect nutter butter-corn syrup pie…)

The cookie base has edges that are crispy and crunchy, like a nutter butter, but a thick, soft center.  Perfect for sandwiching, and not too brittle or crumbly, like most PB cookies.
A cookie with bite.
Even better, they can be frozen for later!  Only use what you need, and stick the rest in the freezer for emergencies.
The marshmallowy filling is a billowy Italian meringue, whipped to sticky perfection.
Annnnnd this cookie sandwich is then rolled in
salted honey roasted peanuts.

These are like fluffernutters, only made with cookies.
Fluffernutter cookies.  Do I need to say more?

Perhaps just this: make these, you weirdos.  Ok.  That is all.

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Fluffernutter Cookies
makes 6 very large cookie sandwiches, or 12 cookies
cookie portion adapted from Miette

ingredients:
for the cookies:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
70 grams (1/3 cup packed) brown sugar
1 egg
160 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
180 grams (1 2/3 cups) flour

for the Italian meringue:
1 egg white
50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water

to assemble:
about 3/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped
pinch or two kosher salt

directions:
Make the cookies: beat butter on high speed until softened, about 2 minutes.
Add in the salt and sugars and beat for 3 minutes, scraping the bowl halfway through.
Add the egg and beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the peanut butter; beat for 1 more minute.
Scrape the bowl and add in the flour and baking soda all at once.
Mix on low speed until homogeneous.
Scoop out generous (1/3 cup) portions, then roll into smooth balls.
Press a cross-hatch pattern onto the cookies with a fork (or gently press them with a meat tenderizer) to flatten them slightly.
Place on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 15 minutes, and up to a month, wrapped very tightly in plastic and aluminum foil.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake cookies for 12 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through.
Allow to cool completely, then assemble the sandwiches.
Make the Italian meringue: place egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk.
Place the salt, sugar, and water in a small sauce pot.
Begin to whip your egg white while heating the syrup on medium heat.
When your syrup reaches 200 degrees F, the egg white should be all foam; at 240, it should be at soft peaks.
Carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg white; beat the meringue until cooled to body temperature, about 5 minutes.
Spread onto one cookie and sandwich with another.
Mix the honey roasted peanuts with the extra salt, then roll the edges of each cookie in the mixture.
Enjoy with milk!

To the Core

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“Our biggest disagreement was about chunks.
Ben came up with the flavors and I did the manufacturing, and he wanted bigger chunks and I wanted small ones with greater distribution.
He said people didn’t care if you got a chunk in every bite as long as you knew that fairly soon you’d get a chunk.”

Jerry Greenfield

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I think we can apply Ben Cohen’s theory about ice cream chunks to life happiness.

How important, and too often forgotten, is the idea that not every bite will or needs to contain a chunk?
We’re so trained for instant gratification that anything less feels like deprivation.
We forget that not every day needs to be perfect or leave you fulfilled.
You don’t need to be cheery and happy every minute to feel satisfied in the big picture.

We think about our lives in terms of monumental moments; we measure the passing of time with the passing of tragedies and victories.
What about all the days where nothing “of importance” happens?

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They are to our lives as bites without chunks are to Ben and Jerry’s, as junk DNA is to genes.
From the outset, they seem less important.  Undesirable, useless.  Wasted.
But more flies under our radar, which is tuned to big spikes in emotion, than we think.
Little things.  Daily things, both annoying and delightful.

The first bite of a crisp apple.
Losing your keys, phone, wallet, mind.
A smile from a passerby.
Stubbing a toe.  Twice.
The smell of cookies baking.
Being overworked and overtired at the end of a long day, a long week, a long year.
Snuggling into your own bed.

So much that we take for granted is beautiful in its own right.

I intend to practice more gratitude and appreciation for the plain, the mediocre, the underappreciated, the kind-of-crappy happenings in my life.
I intend to take each moment as it comes, to breathe it in and live in it,
to meet it with a smile and know it fully.

Each moment of each day in our fantastic, terrible world deserves meaning.

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It is a sophisticated hope, then, that sustains true, lasting happiness.
The hope—or rather, the knowledge—that you’ll get a “chunk” fairly soon.
And the deep and conscious enjoyment and appreciation of every moment, every plain bite of ice cream, every pretzel in the Chex mix.

Food for thought.  Thought for food.

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Speaking of food… Cupcakes?!  Again?!  Who am I?!
Just last week, I made these “teatime” cupcakes.  And I loved them!
Photographing cupcakes is more pleasant than cookies, and lord knows I’ve made enough of those in recent times.
So.  Many.  Cookies.
Thus, despite my semi-loathing of cupcakes, I made more.

Part of my newly affirmed affection for cupcakes is that I’ve been frosting them with a meringue buttercream.
Seriously, I used to think that thick, American-style buttercream was a decent choice for cupcakes.
But, truthfully, there is no comparison to a cloud of rich, glossy IMBC.
Especially not a brick of confectioner’s sugar/butter ABC.

I wax on about meringue buttercreams all the time (not sorry) but that’s because they’re amazing.
Light, easy to pipe, smooth, shiny, stable, flavorful.
(I’m an adjective junkie.)

They’re only minimally more work, are less likely to break/curdle/be gross and are therefore totally worth the extra 10 minutes of prep.
Give your favorite cupcakes a makeover with some IMBC and you won’t recognize them, or ever even look back.

Maybe you don’t like cupcakes, like me.
I swear to you, cupcakes frosted with IMBC may change you.

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These cupcakes were inspired by Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!

One of their “core” UK flavors is called Peanut Butter Me Up.
It’s half peanut butter and half vanilla ice cream, surrounding a core of raspberry jammy goodness.  The vanilla is studded with peanut butter cups.
Sounds like a perfect pint to me.  Heaven is peanut butter+vanilla+fruit.
Why don’t we have it in America?  I don’t know.  But it’s killing me.

These “Peanut Butter Me Up” cupcakes are a soft, buttery, salty PB cake, filled with tart raspberry jam, topped with a big fluff pile of vanilla Italian meringue buttercream, topped with a peanut butter cup.

I used raspberry preserves made only with pomegranate juice as the sweetener, so it was extra tart and tangy!
I only made 12 cupcakes, but there was definitely enough batter/buttercream to make 16 or 18 cupcakes, so I’ve adjusted the yield in the recipe to reflect that.

Since I can’t get the ice cream here, I’ll have to stick with cupcakes.
Somehow, I’m OK with that.

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Peanut Butter Me Up Cupcakes
makes 16-18 cupcakes
cake portion adapted from Serious Eats

ingredients:
for the peanut butter cake:
4 tablespoons butter
1 packed cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

for the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
big pinch salt
6 ounces (3 sticks) butter, cut into small bits, soft but cool
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to assemble:
raspberry jam, approximately 1/2 cup
mini peanut butter cups

directions:
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 18 muffin tins with papers.
Beat butter until softened, about 1 minute.
Stream in brown sugar and salt and beat for 3 full minutes.
Add in the peanut butter and beat for 3 more minutes.
Add in the eggs, one at a time, and beat for 2 full minutes.
Mix the milk and vanilla extract, and, very slowly and carefully, stream into the batter while slowly, slowly mixing to prevent splashing.
Dump the flour on top of the batter and add the baking powder over the flour mound.
Slowly stir batter until homogeneous (it will be thick).
Portion out with an ice cream scoop into your tins.
Bake for 22-26 minutes, until springy to the touch, very fragrant, and a tester comes out with only a couple crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.

Make the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream: combine sugar, salt, and water in a heavy bottomed pot.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Begin to whip egg whites on medium speed while heating the sugar syrup over medium-high heat.
When the sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees F, your egg whites should be at very soft peaks.
By the time the syrup reaches temp at 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at soft peaks.
Slowly and carefully pour the hot syrup into the whipping egg whites.
Whip the meringue until it reaches body temperature, then begin to whip in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Add the vanilla and continue to whip the buttercream at high speed until it becomes fluffy, glossy, and thick.

Assemble the cupcakes: place your raspberry jam in a piping bag fitted with a plain tip.
Plunge the tip into the cupcake and wiggle it around, applying gentle, even pressure to fill the cake, until the pressure forces the tip out of the cake.
Frost the cupcakes with the meringue buttercream as desired, then top with a peanut butter cup!

Keep Calm

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“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk of happy things.”

-Chaim Potok

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“Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.”

-Tien Yiheng

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“Strange, how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.”

-Author Unknown

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“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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There is always time for tea and room for cake.
Or, in this case, both.

Chocolate cakes infused with Earl Grey tea in two manners: dry tea leaves, and hot brewed tea.
The sweet, floral undertones, which have orange and verbena notes, as well as the astringent black tea leaves, contrast well with the deep and rich chocolate cake.
The Italian meringue buttercream is made with honey and golden syrup, resulting in a salty-sweet, silky delight that tastes like the top of a good piece of toast, minus the bread, which is the worst part anyway.

I might actually like cupcakes again.
This recipe only makes 6, which is perfect (I don’t need 24 cupcakes floating around my house, people…), and is a marriage of unexpected flavors which ended up working inexplicably well.

The best recipe for health and happiness:
good books, better tea, and, of course, delicious cupcakes.

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Teatime Cupcakes
makes 6
cake portion adapted from Sweetapolita
ingredients:
for the chocolate Earl Grey cakes:
48 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
75 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon cornstarch
big pinch kosher salt
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon loose Earl Grey leaves
40 mL (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) buttermilk
1 medium egg (if using a large egg, beat it well before adding it, and remove 2 teaspoons of beaten egg)
30 mL (2 tablespoons) hot Earl Grey tea
25 mL (1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons) vegetable oil
splash vanilla extract

for the honey golden syrup IMBC:
111 grams (1/3 cup) honey
111 grams (1/3 cup) golden syrup
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 egg whites
230 grams (1 cup) butter, cut into small pieces and soft but cool

directions:
For the cakes, line 6 muffin tins with cupcake papers.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, cornstarch salt, tea leaves, and cocoa powder together.
Into the dry ingredients, add the buttermilk, egg, hot tea, oil, and vanilla.
Whisk very well to combine. (It will be a very thin batter.)
Fill each cupcake well with 1/4 cup of batter.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until domed and springy to the touch, and a tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the honey golden syrup IMBC:
Place the egg whites, along with a pinch of cream of tartar, in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place the honey, golden syrup, and salt in a small sauce pot over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the eggs.
When the syrup reaches 230 degrees, the eggs should almost be at soft peaks.
When the syrup reaches 240 degrees, the egg whites should have soft peaks that are almost stiff.
Pour the syrup carefully, down into the bowl while the mixer is running.
Beat the meringue until it has cooled to body temperature, then beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time.
Beat until the buttercream has become very fluffy and light.
Frost cupcakes as desired.

P.S.

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