Grey Matter

Apricot Pistachio Lemon-Chamomile Scones | La Pêche Fraîche

All we have to decide
is what to do
with the time that is given to us.

—Gandalf the Grey

Apricot Pistachio Lemon-Chamomile Scones | La Pêche Fraîche

Nary a single complaint nor excuse will I launch about how long I’ve been away from this space.
It’s been ages. Epochs.  I know.
But I’m not going to harp on the time that has passed.
Know that I wanted to be here and know that I was thinking of it constantly.
OK, I can’t resist: I just got wifi back, friends. I wasn’t just being neglectful.

I fear my mind is wasting away, lately.
The part of my brain that is fed by my own explorations, that is fattened by a good story or a poignant quote or a resonating piece of music, is greying at the edges, fading in a most unpleasant and quiet manner, so that I barely even notice it.
The encyclopedic filing cabinet of my mind that is more full up with facts that I love, rather than mandated ones, is seeming barren as a field left to fallow.
That part.  That wild, soulful, curious part.
I worry.

I need a good book to soothe my soul; I need more classical music and less coffee in the mornings.
I mean, good Lord, I sit in front of a screen all day.  I know this isn’t ideal.
I think that in order to return to balance and some sort of an even keel, some serious non-screen time is necessary.
I took a nap outside on Sunday, which was heavenly even if I was laying on the hardest lounge chair of all eternity.
Next weekend I intend to do the same, with a book thrown in the mix.
And sometime between now and then I’m going to get in the kitchen and make a wonderful mess.

Apricot Pistachio Lemon-Chamomile Scones | La Pêche Fraîche

I have things I want to share with you—photos, too.
I have willful thoughts and questions that I am trying to coax out of my brain by smashing words together, head-on.

Today, I’m hopping on the scone wagon.
I actually made these scones a while ago, and now would you just look at THAT everyone and their mother posted a scone recipe last week.  Fantastic timing on my part.
And everyone else’s are so beautiful and delicious and photogenic.
Mine are a bit craggier and are up to their necks in a pool of glaze, but trust me—flavor-wise, they’re well up to snuff.

Apricot Pistachio Lemon-Chamomile Scones | La Pêche Fraîche

These have the most ridiculously long name (even longer than the kingly titles of Game of Thrones…) but they need it because they are a little self-conscious of their cracked, flaky tops, okay??!!

Whole-wheat apricot pistachio lemon-chamomile scones.
Whole wheat pastry flour, soft-milled and nutty, meets butter in the best way possible, becoming a flaky, sweet, slightly-crumbly base.
Each bite is studded with chopped pistachios, the grassiness of which offsets the pieces of sweet Turkish apricots that are strewn throughout the dough.
A generous coat of egg wash and even more generous sprinkling of sparkly sugar and the scones are ready to meet an extremely hot oven, which puffs them up proudly and creates the craters and canyons that will secret away rivers of glaze until bitten into.
The glaze itself, poured over the cooled pastries generously, is made of delicate floral chamomile tea and tart lemon juice.  A pinch of salt tempers the sugar, as always.

Persian flavors are very subtly melded into these scones, which last for days and make for a fantastic breakfast or tea.
You can make the scones ahead and freeze them like you would cookies.  When you want a hot, buttery scone with a cup of tea, you can simply pop a few in the oven straight from the freezer.

Apricot Pistachio Lemon-Chamomile Scones | La Pêche Fraîche

Whole-Wheat Apricot, Pistachio, Lemon-Chamomile Scones
scone portion adapted from Food.com
Makes 8 large scones

ingredients:
for the scones:
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter, cubed
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for topping
2/3 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
10 dried apricots, chopped
1/4 – 1/3 cup pistachios, chopped

for the glaze:
1 tablespoon hot water
chamomile tea
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup powdered sugar, or as needed
pinch or two coarse sea salt or kosher salt

directions:
Make the scones: preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and add the cubed butter.
Using a pastry blender or your fingers, smash the butter into small pieces until the largest bits are the size of a pea.
Add the sugar and stir gently.
While stirring, pour in the milk of your choice.
Before the milk is completely incorporated, add in the apricots and pistachios and gently fold to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently pat into a circle.
Cut the dough into 8 wedges and place on the baking sheet.
Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or freeze for up to a month, well-wrapped.
When ready to bake, whisk the egg and water together and brush over the tops of the scones.
Generously sprinkle sugar all over the scones, and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.
Allow to cool.
To make the glaze, brew a very strong (and tiny) amount of chamomile tea—I used about a tablespoon of hot water and a tea bag that I allowed to steep for 10 minutes.
To the tea, add in the lemon juice and the salt.
While whisking, add in the powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, until the glaze reaches a pourable but thick and opaque consistency.
Drizzle or pour the glaze over the scones and allow to set completely before serving.
Scones keep for up to 4 days, tightly sealed.

An Occasion

Dairy-free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“In his blue gardens,
men and girls came and went like moths
among the whisperings
and the champagne
and the stars.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 3

Dairy-free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Every Friday
five crates of oranges and lemons
arrived from a fruiterer in New York—
every Monday
these same oranges and lemons
left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 3

Dairy-free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Gosh, it seems like ages ago now, but Valentine’s day was only a month ago.
(I know, I know, we’re already gearing up for the next holiday, but this cake is from February, so deal with it.)

It’s warm here, and the shiverings of winter seem far away, now that we’re enjoying balmy 50 degree weather.
50 degrees!  Hallelujah.

You can see (dead) grass and hopeful little snow drops poking their dainty white petals out of the grey brown earth.
I heard a bird the other day singing its heart out, beak wide open and chest puffed up (exactly how I look while singing in the shower).  Shocking how we take birdsong for granted.

My daddy just visited me and brightened the gray skies.
We had dinner at Sunda (amazing! really amazing! those brussels sprouts… omg…) on Friday, Indian takeout from a Nepalese/Indian place on Saturday (having those leftovers for lunch today, yum.  Naan. Naaaan.), and an absolutely exquisite meal on Sunday at the Green Zebra, which is hands down one of Chicago’s best restaurants.  
We agreed that we have never had a bad dish from Green Zebra, in all the times we’ve been.
In fact, the food has only gotten better. (Cannot highly recommend enough! Get there if you can!)

Dairy-free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

In two weeks time, I’ll be in Mexico with my mama.
I am so excited! We’re going to have lots of mother-daughter time on the beach and spa (hint. hint.) and possibly hike a bit!  We are going to read ALL THE BOOKS.

I’m thinking of buying a GoPro for the trip/just to have (read: cute sorority videos!)—I’ve been looking at the (discontinued) Hero 3+ Black edition, but it’s pricy ($300-$400 with a monopod and SD card added).
Have any of you loved your experiences with GoPros?
Have you found them worth the money?
Heeeellllppp. I really really really really want one, but I want to feel like my purchase is justified.

Dairy-free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So why did I start this post with Great Gatsby and champagne and Valentine’s day?

Because at the end of Valentine’s day, after having split a bottle of very, very nice champagne, N and I fell asleep and I awoke to find I had an oxymoron come true mournfully sitting on my counter—leftover champagne.
I needed to do something delicious with the leftover Veuve other than letting it sadly fizzle out before pouring it down the drain, so I made a cake that N could partake in, too.

Dairy-free lemon and champagne pound cake, with a dense, tight crumb delightfully laced with bright lemon and fruity champagne.
This cake had the best pound cake texture I have ever tasted or seen or cut in my life.  So smooth and dense.
It’s topped with a boozy champagne and lemon glaze, as well as a thick, drippy vanilla glaze that’s sweet and salty all at once.

It’s quick and easy to make, and makes for perfect afternoon slices with tea.  It’s a cake made for noshing—thin slice after thin slice.
The glazes are finger-licking good, and there’s nothing quite like the mouthfeel of a good pound cake, toothsome and dense.

Dairy-free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Dairy-Free Lemon and Champagne Pound Cake
makes 1 10-cup bundt cake

for the cake:
225 grams (16 tablespoons) Earth Balance buttery sticks or other dairy-free margarine
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon (about 45 mL=3 tablespoons)
360 grams (3 cups) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup champagne (I used Veuve Cliquot, but the quality is not of great importance here)

for the lemon-champagne glaze:
juice of 1 lemon (45 mL=3 tablespoons)
30 mL (2 tablespoons) champagne
tiny pinch salt
125 grams (1 cup) (or as needed) powdered sugar, sifted

for the vanilla icing:
3-4 tablespoons almond milk or coconut cream (or heavy cream, if not dairy-free)
125 grams (1 cup) (or as needed) powdered sugar, sifted
pinch salt
splash vanilla extract

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan very well and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat margarine on high speed for 3 minutes until very fluffy.
Add the sugar and salt and beat for another full 3 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the eggs one at a time while the mixer is running; after all are added, increase speed and beat for 5 full minutes.
Add in the vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest and mix slightly.
Dump the flour on top of the batter and the baking powder and baking soda on top of the flour.
Begin to mix slowly; after the flour is halfway worked in, begin adding the champagne in a steady stream.
Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds, or until just homogeneous.
Scrape the bowl and mix for 15 more seconds.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
To make the lemon-champagne glaze, whisk lemon juice, champagne, and salt together, then sift the powdered sugar over while whisking vigorously to prevent lumps.
Add more powdered sugar if the glaze is too thin, then pour over the cake, being sure to cover the entire surface.
To make the vanilla glaze, whisk milk/cream, vanilla, and salt together, then sift the powdered sugar over.
If the glaze is too thin, again add more powdered sugar (and maybe a small pinch of salt).
Spread/pour the vanilla glaze over the lemon/champagne glaze and allow to set before cutting cake.

Better Late

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt | La Pêche Fraîche

“Your problem is you are too busy holding onto your unworthiness.”

Ram Dass

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt | La Pêche Fraîche

It must seem as if I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, or dived to the depths of the sweet, cold ocean only to resurface, gurgling and apologetic, every fortnight.

Autumn has blown right past this blog.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, WHAT!?
It’s not that I don’t have things to complain about, good lord you know it’s not, but that I don’t have time to type up my complaints.

Far easier to light a few million candles and wallow about when given a moment of free time.
Actually, most of my free time is spent doing more work. (Note: this definition of “free time” only applies to UChicago students.)
Yes. Yes indeed, I’m ready for Thanksgiving, people.

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt | La Pêche Fraîche

Sometimes I feel guilty for setting certain things aside while my life continues on its hectic hurricane path.
Plenty of people juggle it all, balancing this or that on all ten fingers and their nose, too. (see: This poor puppy.)

But I’m not them. And for me, trying to stay on top of things in one part of my life means sacrificing in other places.
I promise this space will never be my sacrificial lamb.
I will always come back.
I promise to bring good food and real talk and always, always love.

As life changes, so does my relationship with my family, my friends, my readership.
But they are always constants.  I know that.

Big hugs and kisses!  Thank you for reading my blog.  Thank you for your appreciation for this space.

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt | La Pêche Fraîche

Big bundt!
I’m jumping back on the pumpkin bandwagon.
It’s been far too long, and I’ve been eating pumpkin pancakes too often to not share a treat here of the same nature.

This is a great cake for the hollydaze.
It’s easy easy easy, and saves marvelously.
It’s chockfull of spices, reminiscent of gingerbread, with a punchy lemon glaze to awaken your tastebuds from the sugar- and fat-overload that is soon to come.

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt | La Pêche Fraîche

The cake itself is moist, spicy, and perfect for nibbling on with a cup of tea.
Lemon and gingerbread are one of my favorite combinations.
Lemon and anything, but you know that already!

P.S. it has been snowing here.
Winter is coming.

(What, that’s not an appropriately cheery way to sign off?)

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt | La Pêche Fraîche

Dairy Free Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze
cake portion adapted from Taste of Home
makes 1 10-cup bundt plus 3-4 muffins

ingredients:
for the cake:
170 grams (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) Earth Balance butter
60 grams (1/4 cup) coconut oil
500 grams (2 1/2 cups) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 eggs
420 grams (15 ounces,1 standard can) pureed pumpkin
360 grams (3 cups) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

for the glaze:
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon (~3 tablespoons of juice)
tiny pinch salt (1/16 of a teaspoon)
1-2 cups confectioner’s sugar, or as needed

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan very well (you may want to have some muffin liners in a muffin tin as well, for extra batter).
Place Earth Balance and coconut oil in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high for 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add sugar, salt, molasses, and spices.
Beat for a full 5 minutes on high speed.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the eggs.
Beat for 3 more minutes, until very fluffy, light colored, and smooth and shiny.
Stir in the pumpkin part-way (leave some unmixed).
Place the flour on top of the batter, then the baking soda on top of the flour; mix on low speed to combine.
Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure the batter is homogeneous, then mix for 1 more minute.
Pour into prepared pan, scooping extra batter into the muffin tin.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, until a tester comes out completely clean (the muffins will be done in 18-20 minutes, so check on them early).
Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out of its pan onto a cooling rack.
Meanwhile, make the glaze.
Zest a lemon into a bowl, then get all the juice out of it that you can.
Add the salt and begin adding the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, while whisking to prevent lumps.
The glaze should have a thick consistency, similar to honey or molasses.
Add powdered sugar as necessary to reach this consistency (if you go too far, add 1 tablespoon very hot water and whisk), then use a spoon to pour over the barely-warm cake.
Allow cake to fully cool and glaze to set.
Serve at room temperature.

Tårta

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O, Pivoine

From verdant buds they did erupt;
from tight globes came flowers flush.
O, the peonies blossomed,
fat and full,
on a day that promised rain.
A hundred thousand petals unfurled
as a misty dawn hid the moon away.
Their silken scent clung to the breeze;
the honeyed air wound in my hair
and the sultry day perfumed.
Now they droop under heat and sun
and wish they were not troubled so.
But I still love their burdened blooms
and kneel to smell them all.

–6/9/2014

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A poem shared for spring, for summer, as the seasons transition like sand slipping twixt our fingers.

Flowers have bloomed and trees have greened; buds become fruits slowly but surely.
The bounty of summer prostrates itself beneath our greedy, hungry fingers as a fat, juicy, sprawling spread.
I mean, have you seen the peaches coming in right now?

To market, to market, to pick the reddest fruits.
To market, to market, for armfuls of darkest greens.
Here’s to fresh produce and to the beginning of a fruitful (vegetal?) summer.

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Yes! The summer solstice has come and gone.  It’s officially summer!
It’s sunny and hot and green!
(Can I be tanned yet?!)

I have no real responsibilities (Scary that I’m feeling a little… bored?) and am able to spend the day daydreaming about pastries and makeup and shoes and big salads.
I can get my nails done, oh luxury of luxuries, and–soon–my hair cut.

It will be my first time getting a real haircut in so so long.  I’m scared to cut off too much!  I recently took off an inch and half (thanks to my mama), so I’ll probably take off another inch and a half and call it quits.
My mermaid hair is definitely my security blanket– anyone else feel this way?

I’ve also been watching the World Cup and really enjoying it.
This is my first time seriously following along.
Fuuuutbol, y’all.

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This luscious tart was inspired by a great trio of flavors: strawberry, lemon, and black pepper.

I originally wanted to garnish with candied celery leaves, but decided against it when they came out a little wonky and far too sugar-coated.  Celery+strawberry+black pepper is a bomb-ass combination though, so keep it in mind.

I also played with the idea of a lemon-ricotta filling, which would be marvelous if you want to give it a try, but I didn’t want to bake twice–it’s summer, after all, and my kitchen is hot as hell as is.

One tip that I wish I had foreseen: add a few extra grinds of black pepper to your crust than you think are necessary.
That way, you ensure that you’ll get a burst of gentle heat in each bite.
It’s a perfect foil to the sweet strawbs and tart lemon.

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In the end, the tart is made up of a black pepper crust, buttery and a hint spicy, filled with a rich, round lemon curd filling and topped with as many of the season’s reddest, juiciest strawberries as can possibly fit. 

The whole thing is utterly divine, each mouthful embodying the fresh, bold flavors of summer.
Tart, sweet, spicy, buttery, crisp, lush, juicy.
(Adjective addict.)

This tart is, quite possibly, my ideal.
You know I prefer fruit over chocolate, and citrus is arguably my favorite.
While it’s often showcased in the winter, with the addition of summer-sweet strawberries, lemon launches fully into the appropriate season.
It lasted <24 hours in my household– always a good sign!

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“In case you ever foolishly forget, I am never not thinking of you.”

–Virginia Woolf

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Strawberry, Lemon, and Black Pepper Tart
makes 1 14×4 inch tart

ingredients:
for the black pepper shell:
8 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour

for the lemon curd filling:
2 lemons
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon corn starch
4 tablespoons butter

to assemble:
27 small to medium strawberries
lemon marmalade, optional

directions:
Make the tart crust: beat butter on high speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes.
Stream in the sugar and salt slowly, then beat for another 2 minutes.
Add in the black pepper and egg yolk, scrape the sides of the bowl, and beat for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl, add in the flour, and mix on low until the dough forms– it should be clumpy but not 1 cohesive mass.
Press clumps evenly into tart pan; prick all over with a fork.
Freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the tart shell with aluminum foil, then fill it with pie weights or beans.
Bake for 15 minutes, until set, then remove the foil and pie weights carefully.
Return to oven for 5-7 minutes, until lightly golden.
Remove tart shell from oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, make the filling: zest 1 of the lemons and set the zest aside.
Juice both of the lemons to obtain 1/4 cup juice.
Place juice, eggs, sugar, salt, and cornstarch in a sauce pot.
Whisk vigorously to combine, then cook over low heat for 15 minutes, or until thickened enough that a finger dragged along a spatula leaves a trail.
Remove from heat and whisk in butter and zest.
Place hot curd in a food processor and pulse for 30-45 seconds, until lightened in color and slightly cooler.
Pour warm curd into warm tart shell, smoothing the top.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to one night.
To assemble the tart, hull the strawberries.
Line them up next to the tart shell to judge how they will fit.
Cut off small slices from the strawberries on the side if they will not fit, then snuggle them into the center strawberry.
Heat up a few tablespoons of lemon marmalade, then brush over strawberries if desired.
Best if enjoyed the day it is made, but it will save reasonably well overnight in the fridge.

FOTA

Chiaroscuro LARGE

CHIAROSCURO

blackberry caviar, coconut mousse, coconut crumb, coconut yolk, blackberry puree

Chiaroscuro SMALL II

Hi!  To any newcomers, welcome to my blog, and welcome to my project for UChicago’s spring Festival of the Arts!

(I’ll post more explaining this post-presentation, for all you laypeople.)

////// Okay!  SO Hi!  Yes!  Presentation went off without a hitch. \\\\\\

I gave a 7-ish minute spiel about molecular gastronomy, this here blog, my weird love of reverse frozen spherification, and the three desserts you see here, which were funded by FOTA.

Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too badly (I definitely did).Chiaroscuro SMALL I

Contrast, made edible.  Fruity, creamy, crunchy, chewy.

Why are there so many seeds in blackberries?  Getting ultra-smooth puree is a pain in the ass.

Fragola LARGE

FRAGOLA

black pepper cheesecake, lemon curd, lemon sorbet, ginger black pepper sand, walnuts, candied lemons, creme fraiche, honey

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Early summer on a plate.  Spicy, sour, rich, fresh.

PSA: candied lemons are so incredibly addictive.  So is lemon curd.  OMg.

Fragola SMALL II

For my live presentation, I made a deconstructed strawberry pie: strawberry yolk, yogurt cream, 5-spice milk sand.
Simple, delicious.

Tuolo LARGE

TUORLO

mango yolk, watermelon tartar, avocado mousse,  lime curd, creme fraiche, grapefruit

Tuolo SMALL I

A play on tuna tartare with raw egg yolk.  Tropical, crunchy, herb-y, tangy.
(There is nothing quite like cold watermelon on a hot day, amirite?!)

Tuolo SMALL II

Happy to provide any of the recipes pictured for my fellow molecular nuts!

Blink

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Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what’s to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I’ve done my best
And all’s to do again.

–A.E. Housman

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Hi friends!  This is a quick update/reassurance for today.
I’ve got a few great things coming your way, they just need extra time, work, and love, all of which are in short short supply right now.  Things are a little hectic/crazy/busy in my life at the moment, but it will all settle down shortly.
One of these days, I’ll get the chance to sleep for a full 8 hours.  One of these days.

For now, here is the most delicious pound cake I have ever tasted in my entire life.

Buttery, soft, tender pound cake with piles of citrus zest–lime, lemon, and orange– is brushed with a honey lime glaze and topped with a decadent vanilla honey cream icing.

The edges are ever so slightly crispy and crunchy, thanks to the unique shape and surface area of a bundt pan, and all these exterior nooks and crannies are saturated with salty-sweet honey glaze and icing; the interior is moist with delicate citrus flavor and pure buttery texture heaven.

The bright citrus zests add to the gorgeous yellow color– just like the daffodils that have cheerily sprung up around campus!

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Twice-Glazed Citrus Honey Pound Cake
cake portion adapted from Bon Appétit

ingredients:
for the cake:
1 cup (16 tablespoons) butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 cups sugar
zest from 2 lemons
zest from 2 oranges
zest from 1 lime
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

for the lime glaze:
zest from 1 lime
juice from 1 lime
juice from 1 lemon
pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 cups powdered sugar, as needed

for the vanilla honey cream icing:
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
big pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, as needed

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan very well.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the butter and salt.
Beat for 4 minutes, until softened and very fluffy.
Scrape the bowl and add the sugar and citrus zests, stirring slowly at first, then increasing the speed up to high; beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the eggs; beat for 3 more minutes.
Stir the milk and apple cider vinegar together; stir the flour and baking powder together in another bowl.
At the same time, going very slowly, add the milk and flour mixtures, alternating if need be but largely adding them simultaneously to the egg mixture with the mixer running.
Once all the flour and milk has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for a minute longer to ensure homogeneity.
Pour the batter into the bundt pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make your glazes: whisk the ingredients for each glaze together in separate bowls until no lumps remain.
Add 1 cup of powdered sugar first; if the glazes are still too runny, just add more powdered sugar.
When the cake comes out of the oven, allow it to cool for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a serving plate.
Cover the cake in as many layers of lime glaze as you can, then allow it to cool for 10 more minutes.
Whisk the vanilla honey icing together to ensure that it is pourable, then spread it over the top of the still-warm cake.
Icing will drip and melt down the sides of the cake.
Allow to cool completely, then slice and serve!

For Sansa

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Valar morghulis.
Valar dohaeris.

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Finally, finally, finally.
After months of agonizing waiting, frenzied reading, and greedy marathon-watching, Season 4 of The Best Show Ever Made is here.
It premiers tonight.  HBO.  Don’t miss it. (Have you seen the new trailer?)

It’s April 6th.  Game of Thrones.  Season 4.  Premiers. Tonight. Be still, my beating heart.

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I recently finished A Dance with Dragons, the 5th book in the series.
George R.R. Martin takes no prisoners.
I am so transported by his writing, and the show even more so, I dare say.
I’m really glad that I watched part of the show before reading the books, which is a first, because the sets that they dream up are truly magical and fantastic, arguably better than what my imagination would have filled in.
This way, when I read the books, I can visualize the characters and their homes and country very clearly.
Normally, I’m an advocate for experiencing a series the opposite way, books first, then movie/T.V. show, but Game of Thrones is special.
It’s a cinematic masterpiece.

I’ve rewatched season 3 for the 90th time, and I have this on repeat while I study daydream all day and snack on these cakes.
I am so ready, y’all.  I can’t even express it.

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Sansa: “Lemon cakes are my favourite!”
Lady Olenna: “So we’ve heard.”

(Our first introduction to Lady Olenna, that marvelously dry and brutal little bird.)

Poor, miserable Sansa.
We can only wait for her luck to turn around and her life to stop constantly falling to pieces (or die, knowing G.R.R.M).
She really does love lemon cakes, as is made abundantly clear by all the mentions of these little treats.

In honor of her, I made dainty lemon cakes to share today.
These are incredibly quick to make, about 40 minutes from start to stuffing them in your face.
These have only seven ingredients, and no chemical leavening!  If we are really trying to be accurate, these cakes come incredibly close to ingredients available in Westeros.

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The cakes are light and delicate, crumbly and ever so slightly sweet, buttery and full of lemon, the glaze sticky and luxuriously tangy.

Where the glaze sinks into the warm cake, pockets of puckery sweetness form, prompting a finger licking so as not to lose any of the precious, sticky icing.
The cakes themselves are redolent with butter, vanilla, and lemon, with a fine textured crumb and crisp edges.
I think they’d go over quite well with Lady Sansa of House Stark, and they will fit right in as a snack during the premiere tonight.

These are best served with a piping hot cup of milky black tea and the heads of your enemies.

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Sansa’s Lemon Cakes
makes 15-18 small cakes

ingredients:
for the cakes:
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter, plus extra for greasing the pans
4 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
pinch sea salt
zest of two lemons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour

for the glaze:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons dried milk powder
1 tablespoon butter

directions:
Make the cakes: first, brown the butter until very dark, almost burnt, then strain out the solids by pouring the butter over a mesh sieve lined with 2 paper towels.
Allow to cool, then squeeze out the extra butter in the paper towels and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter your mini muffin tins or mini tart shells very well with melted butter– be sure to get in all the grooves.
Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment with a pinch of sea salt and begin to beat on high.
Meanwhile, zest 2 lemons into a bowl with the sugar and rub very well with your fingertips to release the essential oils.
When eggs are beginning to become light colored and fluffy, start to slowly stream in the lemon sugar.
Whip for about 6 minutes, until quadrupled in size and very light colored.
Pour in the vanilla and beat until combined, 10 seconds.
Sprinkle the flour on top of the eggs, then pour the cooled butter over the flour.
Gently fold batter to combine, being sure to incorporate any pockets of flour.
Batter will deflate slightly, but still be very light when you are done folding.
Scoop rounded tablespoons into your pans, filling them 2/3 of the way full.
Bake for 15 minutes, until deeply golden and springy to the touch.
Immediately turn the cakes out of their molds, and set aside while you make the glaze.

Make the glaze: place sugar, lemon juice, and water in a small pot.
Heat until boiling and bubbling, cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk powder and butter.
Whisk very well; glaze should be sticky but homogeneous and still pourable when hot.
Pour a teaspoon or so of glaze over each warm cake, then set aside to cool and set.

Enjoy with tea!

Janvier

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“There are many things we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”

-Oscar Wilde

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January is a fragile month.
The new year is only just hatching, stretching its wings, ruffling its feathers, blinking awake.
The sun is slowly becoming stronger, the days longer.

It is the month of resolutions, ever so delicate, easily crushed in their nascence.

We are all only dipping our toes in the cold, cold new waters.
Not a one of us knows what the year will bring—a terrifying and invigorating prospect.

How has it come to pass that the end of this first month of 2014 is nigh?
January has flown by in a blur, spinning me around in a whirled frenzy of snow and wind.
I shiver to think of what this year holds—whether it is borne from excitement or dread, I cannot say.
It could also be the ungodly cold here in Chicago.  I don’t know.

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January is a month of citrus.
Though, I must admit, you cannot tell as much from my archives.

January 2013: puff pastry tutorial, coconut mochi, s’mores cake, conversation heart cookies, nutella-raspberry-brown butter crumb bars, maple-bacon and Vietnamese coffee doughnuts, gâteau des rois.  Only one had citrus…
January 2014: Peppermint-chocolate cookies, PB cupcakes, pear-cranberry-ginger crisps, earl grey cupcakes.  Ahem.  Still none.

This pavlova is my answer, my remedy, then, to the absent citrus in what I have just declared to be a month of citrus.
Specifically, lemon.
January is a lemon month.

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Lemon.  Perky, bright, sunny.
Lemon.  Tart, balancing, acidic.
Lemon lemon lemon, I’d choose over chocolate any day.  (Freak.)

The first time I met a meyer lemon was 2006.
I received the January issue of Martha Stewart Living.
As I tore through it, my 11 year old self soaking in every hit of inspiration, I fell upon this cake.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to make this cake so incredibly badly, but knew it was out of my reach.

This cake prominently featuring these mysterious meyer lemons was all I wanted.  And I couldn’t have it.
I begged my parents to let me make it.
They said, “um… no. We don’t need a 3 foot high, 3 tier meyer lemon cake.  Stop reading Martha Stewart, you little weirdo.

Everything was so beautiful and yellow and happy and lemony.
It was torture.
And what the hell was a meyer lemon, anyway?

Can you tell what a strange, disturbed child I was?  A Martha Stewart addict from a young age.
It explains so much, don’t it?

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In a month where stagnation is banished, where the wheels are turning and the world is changing, lemon is ideal.
It’s fresh and lively, something which I appreciate when the fresh produce situation is somewhat abysmal.
Lemon never fails to awaken the palette.
It’s a clean flavor, and after all the heavy desserts of December, we can all use a flavor boost.

Pavlova.  Also perfectly suited for January, with its light airiness and minimal sweetness.
Good for resolution breaking, but not resolution destroying, ja feel?

It’s probably my favorite dessert.  Which is a big, big deal.
I wrote a sonnet inspired by rhubarb, which was featured in my first pavlova. (I have no words for the white balance in those photos.  Please accept my apologies.)
I had pavlova for my 18th birthday cake, a simple one-layer affair, covered in coconut/mascarpone fluff, passionfruit sauce, and tumbling raspberries.

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And now, here we are.
This pavlova focuses on tartness, allowing the meyer lemons to shine.

A supremely light meringue base, crispy and crackling on the exterior, pillowy marshmallow on the inside, is
layered with barely sweetened Greek yogurt,
thick and luscious meyer lemon curd,
fresh bites of strawberries and raspberries, and
finished with a sprinkle of earthy, grounding thyme and
tart, chewy candied meyer lemons.

My pavlova cracked, pretty badly.  I ain’t stressed about it.
See, I thought it would be genius to layer the yogurt and curd onto the layers before stacking them.
What anybody with a shred of common sense would quickly see is that the meringue was too delicate and fragile to stand up to the thick sauces and promptly crrrrrraacked.  *shit shit shit*
Oops.  It’s okay.  Pavlovas crack and crumble; it’s part of their personality, their patina.
Get over it.

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Once I was done photographing the cake, I realized how futile it would be to try to keep it on the cake pedestal.
It was already slip sliding around, as I didn’t secure it to the stand with a daub of lemon curd, as I should have.
Things were cracking, falling, toppling.
So, I plopped it into a bowl, shoved the leftover fruits on top, and called it a day.

The secret?  It tastes just as good smashed up, packed into a bowl, smashed to bits and spooned straight into your mouth as it does dressed up, stacked, and eaten from a proper plate.

And thank goodness for that.

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Meyer Lemon, Berry, Thyme, and Yogurt Pavlova
meringue base from Donna Hay
lemon curd adapted from Use Real Butter
ingredients:
for the meringue base:
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white vinegar

for the lemon curd:
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup meyer lemon juice
zest of 2 meyer lemons

for the candied lemons:
2 meyer lemons, sliced very thinly
2 cups sugar
2 cups water

to assemble:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 pint strawberries, 1/2 hulled and sliced, 1/2 whole
1 cup raspberries
Fresh thyme

directions:
Make the meringue base:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Trace 2 6-inch circles (you could do 8- or 9-inch, but it won’t be as tall.) with pencil, then turn the paper over.
Begin to whip egg whites with a stand mixer.
When soft peaks are just starting to form, stream in the sugar very slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until the meringue has reached very stiff peaks.
Gently fold in the vinegar and cornstarch.
Spread the meringue out around the traced circles.
Bake for an hour and a half, then turn off the oven and allow the pavlova to cool completely inside the oven.

Make the lemon curd:
Place water and sugar in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, then whisk in cornstarch.
Bring to a boil; mixture will be very thick and gloppy.
While whisking egg yolks, take a spoonful of the cornstarch mixture and quickly combine; continue to add, by the spoonful, until about 1/3 of the hot cornstarch mixture has been added.
Whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the corn starch mixture, and return to very low heat.
Whisk in the butter, then, off the heat, carefully whisk in the lemon juice and zest.
If any lumps are present, blitz the curd in a blender until smooth.

Make the candied lemons:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.
Place the very thinly sliced lemons in the boiling water and cook for 20 seconds.
Remove to the ice bath and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water to the pot and bring to a simmer, until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the lemon slices and allow to simmer for 45 minutes, until softened and no longer bitter.

Assemble the pavlova:
Whisk the yogurt and confectioner’s sugar together.
Spread a thin layer over the first pavlova layer, then spread half of the lemon curd onto the yogurt.
Top with the sliced strawberries and a sprinkling of thyme.
Add the second meringue disk, and top with the remaining yogurt and lemon curd.
Arrange the fruit on top of the lemon curd, and sprinkle more thyme leaves over.
Serve with a spoon, in bowls.

Peppy Pip

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“That morning Pippi was busy making pepparkakor–a kind of Swedish cookie. She had made an enormous amount of dough and rolled it out on the kitchen floor.
Because, said Pippi to her little monkey, what earthly use is a baking board when one plans to make at least five hundred cookies?

-Astrid Lindgren

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I feel as if I’ve made five hundred cookies, y’all.
It’s more like 200 or so. (Good god.)

This beautifully written post describes how I feel.  Hilarious and insightful.

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This is the fourth part of our updated cookie platter.  Forget what the other parts were?  I’ve got you covered.

Part I: nutmeg, maple, and rye sugar cookies
Part II: Linzer cookies
Part III: chocolate and peppermint macarons
Part IV: pepparkakor!

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Pepparkakor are Swedish ginger cookies, kin to gingersnaps.
They’re traditional Christmas cookies, and are actually popular all over northern Europe.

They’re crispy, crunchy, and lightly spiced.
Made with sweet, sticky golden syrup, plenty of ginger and cloves, a touch of black pepper, and heaps of butter.

The ideal Christmas cookie!
Here, I’ve decorated them with lemony royal icing in a variety of patterns.
The traditional shapes for pepparkakor are pigs, hearts, and men and women (little gingerbread men!).
Unfortunately, of these I only had hearts.  (And two donkeys?!? Didn’t think that was quite appropriate…)

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These are perfect for fika.
A little treat to be served alongside tea or coffee.
Shared with friends and loved ones.
Lingered over.
Laughed over.
Enjoyed.

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Leave some for Santa; you’re sure to get extra pressies.

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Classic Pepparkakor
adapted from Cottage in the Oaks
ingredients:
3/4 cup (6 ounces) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch allspice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (6 ounces) golden syrup
2 cups bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour

directions:
Cream butter for 2 minutes to soften.
Add in the spices and sugar and cream for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the egg and vanilla and cream for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the golden syrup.
Beat until well combined, about 1 minute.
Scrape the bowl and add the flours.
Mix on low speed until a dough forms.
Knead once or twice, then wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a well-floured surface and cut shapes as desired.
Place on baking sheets and refrigerate for 15 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake cookies for 7-10 minutes, depending on desired level of crispness.
Let cool, then ice with lemon royal icing, recipe below.

Lemon Royal Icing
adapted from Bridget of Bake at 350
ingredients:
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold water
4 tablespoons meringue powder
1 teaspoon corn syrup
12 ounces (3/4 pound) powdered sugar

directions:
Place lemon juice, water, and meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer; whip on high until stiff peaks form.
Add the corn syrup and beat until incorporated.
Sift the powdered sugar over the meringue and beat until a uniform frosting forms.
Add water a teaspoon at a time to thin to desired piping/flooding consistency.