La Noix de Muscade

“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.
We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.
Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction—one last midnight—brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

—Rust Cole, True Detective

I suppose spring isn’t the right time to be referencing Rust Cole’s doom and gloom, but forgive for today my moody melodrama.
It comes alongside an excellent cookie recipe, so I daresay it’s worth it.
And besides, it doesn’t really feel like the season has changed yet. Winds are still whipping, snow is still falling upstate and in Chicago, blooms are still only mere suggestions of buds, and the sun’s warmth is not yet fully baked.
I, um, think we might need a reiteration of our stage directions here.

Exeunt March, in the manner of a lamb.
Exe! Unt!

On the first day of spring, a nor’easter hit NYC. It was m i s erable.
The day after, a finger of spring light, so faint that it might have been mistaken for an indoor flood lamp slipped out in the early morning and later opened up into a jubilant and blinding day.
I had to go to the NYU hospital for volunteer orientation; it’s a fair hike from my office and requires a long-ish subway ride.
As I have mentioned here before, I do my best people watching when on the subway, particularly when I’m a bit moody and would like to be out walking in the sun rather than hurtling away in damp underground tunnels.

My favorite scene of the day was of two elderly deaf ladies, seated across from one another on the uptown 6, silently gabbing at the speed of light. They paused only when Spring St. shoppers shuffled through their path, craning their necks around skinny teenage-d legs and crisply creased shopping bags to recommence their discussion as quickly as possible.
I also took note of and rolled my eyes at the baseless optimism of the two men who stepped, one in a sweatshirt and other in a proper-looking ivy cap, lockstep onto the subway as they loudly answered phone calls. Both expressed only the mildest annoyance when their signals inevitably dropped. Resigned, they pocketed their iPhones, and the rest of the car sighed in relief.

Today’s day started with a dripping, grey smear of a morning, with a forecast that threatened rain. I was up and out of my apartment earlier than usual—sneakers hitting the pavement at 6:05AM.
It was cold and the sun hadn’t yet bothered to rise, so I hustled towards the gym with my fingers jammed into jacket pockets and shoulders hunched over to ward off the chill.

There are only two people in all of New York City who are fully aware of my comings and goings, of the early trudges to the gym and the exhausted late night slogs home from the office (and, in all honestly, the occasional stumble home on boozy nights).
I have never spoken a word to either.
They are the men who run the coffee/pastry and halal carts on my corner, daily bookends so constant that I’m sure many of my neighbors think they can’t possibly move shop every day.
But I have seen the coffee cart open and the halal cart close.

This morning, through admittedly bleary eyes, I saw someone on the pavement laying out cardboard underneath the bright lights of the coffee cart. I thought, at first, that it was one of the two (friendly) homeless men who frequent the corner, but as I neared, I realized it was the man who runs the cart.
He took careful pains to straighten out the cardboard just-so, and smoothed the corners with the flat of his hand a final time before standing, then bowing and kneeling. He was praying.

I was struck by this intimate moment of humanity; prayers directed towards Mecca on a raft of cardboard in the middle of the dirty, slick sidewalk of 14th St. on a drizzling, cold April morning.

In a jaded way, I have been asking myself lately how much of my observation of others is not exposition, but self-centered projection.
How many of these brief moments of presumed humanness are really nothing worth a second glance—just my nosiness taking over?
I wonder if I only take note and mark them as special in order to feel a rush of omniscience, a weak inflation of my ego. How aware and poignant and poetic am I.
Are we not all just people leading our daily lives? And isn’t my daily life bland and beige from the inside?
By attempting to extract meaning from my examination of perfect strangers, I am selfishly wondering who around me is doing the same to the figment of myself that exists within their view.

Mostly, I think, because it is so hard to accept the routine boringness of everyday life; this has become increasingly true in the age of social media, where highlight reels are curated over days and months, so you can post a perfect throwback of a cake while sitting in your desk chair drinking your fifth black cherry seltzer.
It’s not dishonesty, exactly. It’s something else entirely, and the purpose is not only to impress our followers, but to fool ourselves.
And so I make up backstories in my head and curate my instagram. Hmm.

This cookie recipe is a bit of a throwback, itself.
I developed it for the Feed Feed/Bob’s Red Mill winter cookie giveaway way back in December, which was an altogether excellent time.
(Some cookies that were memorable: Patti’s always intricate decorated sugar cookies, which came in the shape of twee penguins with neck-scarves, ice-skates, and earmuffs; Rachel’s milk masala shortbread cookies; Erin’s vanilla sandwich cookies with vanilla bean marshmallow; Sarah’s pan-banging chocolate chip cookies (!!!), and others. Also, someone made soft gingerbread cookies with a cracklingly tart lemon glaze, and the memory of the cookies apparently has outlasted my good manners/memory of their creator. Oops.)

These little gems have a base of fragrant nutmeg shortbread, which is buttery and rich but not so short that it crumbles before you can get it to your mouth; it provides a sturdy enough base for transport or gifting.
Lashed to the butter cookie with a drop of good dark chocolate are ultra light, melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues. These are so crunchy and crisp and delicate; they really reminded me why meringue is one of my top three favorite desserts.
A dusting of powdered sugar gives them an (un)seasonally appropriate finish (ha, ha, ha, yes this everlasting winter is very funny) and provides nice color contrast to the shades of beige underneath.

These are really a special little cookie, elegant and understated, but with a flavor profile that will pleasantly surprise you, even in its subtlety. Oh, and the French word for nutmeg was too poetic not to provide you a translation of the full title:
Des sablés à la noix de muscade avec des meringues au sirop d’érable. Le sigh.

Nutmeg Shortbread with Maple Meringues
makes 50-60 1.5″ cookies

ingredients:
for the cookies:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour

for the meringues:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
60 grams (3 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar (can sub up to 50 grams (1/4 cup) maple sugar)

for assembly:
30 grams (1 ounce) dark chocolate, melted
Powdered sugar, as needed for dusting

directions:
Make the shortbread: beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add the salt, sugar, and nutmeg and beat on high speed for another 3 minutes; mixture should be lightened in color and not grainy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl again and add the flour; fold a few times and then stir on low speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn out the dough and knead into a ball; refrigerate for 15 minutes (and up to 2 days).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut out 1.5 inch rounds and place on prepared pans.
Re-roll dough until all has been used up (I filled 3 baking sheets and baked them 1 sheet at a time).
Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake straight from the freezer for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the meringues: Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, and sugar in a small pot and place over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the egg whites, carefully watching the syrup.
The syrup needs to reach 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) when the egg whites are at soft peaks; adjust speed of your stand mixer or heat under the pot accordingly.
Carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running, avoiding the whisk so that hot syrup does not splash.
Whip on high speed for 3-5 minutes, or until the meringue is fluffy, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a jumbo French tip and pipe small dollops on the prepared pans.
If you’re struggling with the parchment paper flying up and sticking to the meringue, just place small smears of meringue on the baking sheet at the corners as “glue” and stick the parchment down.
Once you have piped out your meringues, place them in the oven.
Bake at 275 for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 degrees and dry for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and lift up off the parchment cleanly.
This can take much longer than 2 hours—it depends on the humidity in your home.
If need be, you can leave the meringues in the oven overnight (I left mine for a full 18 hours…!) at 200 degrees.
To assemble, use a small smear of dark chocolate to affix the meringue onto the shortbread and dust with a little powdered sugar for a snowy finish.

Moyamoya

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Light-winged Smoke! Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight;
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou, my incense, upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

—Henry David Thoreau

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy pi day, party people! Here are 1000 pieces places of pi, to celebrate:

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640
62862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284
81117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233
786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606
31558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194
15116094330572703657595919530921861173819326117931051185480744623799627495673518857
527248912279381830119491298336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798609437
027705392171762931767523846748184676694051320005681271452635608277857713427577896
091736371787214684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235420199561121290219
60864034418159813629774771309960518707211349999998372978049951059731732816
096318595024459455346908302642522308253344685035261931188171010003137838752
8865875332083814206171776691473035982534904287554687311595628638823537875937
519577818577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989…

And yes, this is being posted at 1:59 GMT. It’s the little things that make me happy, ok?

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pi day is pretty much as close to a universally celebrated holiday in the food blogosphere as you can get.
This is especially true given that pies are currently in vogue on Instagram.

I often marvel at the virality of Instagram trends, and food trends in general.
They burst in very quickly—due to the low barrier of entry: read a recipe, get some ingredients, voilà—and then slowly trickle down, normalizing after some time.
We’ve had cupcakes. Macarons. Funfetti. Marzipan. Salted chocolate chunk shortbread. Pan-banging cookies. Intricately decorated pies. Fruit roses. Drip cakes. Unicorn cakes. Ice cream (à la Katherine Sabbath) cakes.

I don’t particularly dislike trendy foods. In my opinion, they are distinct from fashion trends, because it is very rare that they ever go completely “out of style.” Good, delicious food is always welcome.
I happily read recipes for cupcakes and drip cakes, use marzipan and sprinkles liberally, and regularly ask myself why I don’t have a stash of Alison’s or Sarah’s cookies in my freezer for, um, emergencies.
I, however, don’t frankly want to buy a Chanel fanny pack to fit in in 2018. They may have come back from their heyday in the 80s, but in between now and then, they were considered ugly.
TBH, they just are ugly. Even when they’re trending and “considered” fashionable. Can we just, like, cut it with the freaking fanny packs? Topshop is literally calling them bumbags. Nordstrom calls them bag belts. SERENITY NOW!
I am sorry if you own a Chanel/Gucci fanny pack. Mostly because you own an overpriced wallet-belt, but secondarily because I may be offending you.
Clearly, I had to get that off my chest. Were we talking about pie?

Anyways, even when I’m on the tail end of a food trend and everyone and their mother has already done the damn thing before me, I still find myself inspired by the plethora of pictures that I see on ig.
I’ve been meaning to bake more pies, and pi day is as good of an excuse as any.

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I want to share some amazing pie recipes, new and old, that have been said inspo for me:

Chocolate pies like WHOA:
Katie’s chocolate chess pie. That! Chocolate! Whipped! Cream! Cloud!
Cindy’s chocolate mudslide pie. I need all my pies to be spiked with Irish cream and Kahlua from now on, nnnkay?
Ashlae’s vegan chocolate mousse pie. Chocolate mousse, peanut butter whip, pretzel crust… Ooooof.

Uniquely flavored/hella creative pies:
Michelle’s purple sweet potato pie. Level up your sweet potato pie game, friends. And, can we talk about the color….?! Wig snatched.
Amy’s blueberry, peach, and basil pie. Turns out the queen of cakes makes ridiculously aesthetic pies, too (but of course she does!).
Naomi’s lemon meringue pie pops. These are SO twee and fun. I think I could eat 7 of them.
Linda’s apple pie with a purple blueberry crust. This pie spawned a whole new generation of insta-worthy pies, with gorgeous naturally colored and flavored crusts. The forefront of pie-nnovation!
Also, any mention of pie trends necessitates a mention of Lauren of the instagram Loko Kitchen, whose meteoric rise is owed solely to her crazy beautiful, ridiculously perfect pies. Respect.

Apple pies that have me feeling like November can’t come soon enough:
Erin’s apple and blackberry pie. You guys, this chick makes the most incredible pies. The level of detail is beyond what I can even dream of and I can truly get lost in her mesmerizing designs. The best part? Her crust is still flaky flaky flaky AF.
Courtney’s caramel apple pie v3.0. I would like to faceplant into that caramel puddle, please and thank you.
Deb’s apple pie cookies. No recipe from SK ever really goes wrong, does it? This one is no exception. These have a crust to filling ratio that I can get behind. I’ve made ’em multiple times, and I can’t wait until apple season is back and I can make them again.

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m beyond excited to share today’s recipe. It honestly rivals all the pies I’ve ever made.
It is an adaptation of a very popular recipe from the NYC pie shop, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

This is a brown butter smoked salted honey pie. YAH. I know.

The pie starts with a sturdy all-butter pie crust, shatteringly crispy and layered.
To make the filling, butter is browned until nutty and freckled; liberal amounts of smoked salt, vanilla bean seeds, and clover honey are added while it’s warm, so they melt into a glossy, flecked puddle.
The smoked alderwood salt weaves its way into the pie with sexy subtlety, adding saltiness and a kiss of je ne sais quoi that plays altogether too nicely with the vanilla bean and honey.
Eggs and a pinch of white cornmeal provide body, apple cider vinegar balance, and an unctuous stream of heavy cream is stirred in for smoothness.

The mixture is strained into the chilled shell and baked until it puffs into a golden dome, then delicate decorations slicked with cream are laid on top and baked until the pie is deep brown and barely jiggly.
It’s finished with a haphazard scattering of jagged salt flakes that up the saltiness in every other bite and provide the occasional unexpected soft crunch.

The most difficult part of this whole baking endeavor is waiting for the pie to chill completely. This is key to setting the custard properly, but the smell of the pie is so intoxicating that it’s tempting to cut into it right away. Trust me, the wait is worth it.

This pie is quite similar in texture to a crack pie, or a chess pie, or a vinegar pie (if you’ve never had any of these, think of a pecan pie without any pecans).

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

People really, really liked this pie.
Luca said, and I quote, “[this] puts the YUM in daYUM.”
Naomi said it was the best pie eating experience of her life, and she’s had my peach pie and I even made her a crack pie for her birthday in December! She actually preferred this to crack pie, and so did I.
Here’s why: I think that the pairing of a sweet filling with a traditional pie crust is better than the oat cookie crust of crack pie, which is a lot of sugar, to the point that it gets a bit cloying. Additionally, the oat cookie crust tends to be more stodgy, especially when chilled. This crust stays crisp and thin, even after the cooling period.
(Another tester described the all butter crust as “unreal.” Four & Twenty know their ish, y’all.)

I also prefer this recipe to standard chess pies: the honey adds a more complex flavor than straight up sugar does. The addition of smoked salt and vanilla beans rounds out the complexity. (Do note that you could easily swap the smoked salt for non-smoked varietals and still have an outstanding pie.)
I also like the addition of a couple tablespoons of cornmeal: it is utterly indiscernible, except that the filling has more body that a simple custard. I’m interested in subbing oats or toasted breadcrumbs for the cornmeal.

In fact, I am quite sure I will be returning to this base recipe to test out other flavors, textures, etc. It is an excellent pie.
I fully understand why it has been so popular.
Here’s to [brown butter smoked] salted honey pie being a lasting trend!

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pi day, previously:
2017: vegan campfire pie
2016: brûléed citrus and lime pie

Pie, previously:
2017: perfect peach pie
2016: pumpkin meringue tart
2015: apple, pear, butterscotch, and cheddar pie
2015: fig, rosemary, and lemon tart
2014: coconut buttermilk chess pie
2014: peach slab pie
2014: American pie
2013: Pumpkin spice brown butter chocolate pecan pie

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

P.S. Because I vowed to share this silliness every year on this day:

Cosine, secant, tangent, sine,
Three point one four one five nine,
Square root, cube root, BTU,
Sequence, series, limits too.
Themistocles, Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared, H2SO4.
Who for? What for? Who we gonna yell for?
Go, Maroons.
Logarithm, biorhythm, entropy, kinetics,
MPC, GNP, bioenergetics!
Maximize and integrate, titrate and equilibrate—
Go, Maroons.

—Very Unofficial UChicago football cheer
(And apparently also shared among other famously nerdy schools? Who knows where this even came from?)

P.P.S. For the curious, moyamoya means puff of smoke in Japanese.
It’s also a rare cerebrovascular disorder. And, uh, on that note, here’s a pie recipe?

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Brown Butter Smoked Salted Honey Pie
makes 1 9-inch pie
adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

ingredients:
for the pie crust:
150 grams (1 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
120 grams (1/2 cup) cold water
30 grams (2 tablespoons) apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice cubes

for the filling:
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons white cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon smoked salt
seeds from 2 vanilla beans
(3/4 cup) honey
3 large eggs, at room temperature
120 grams (1/2 cup) heavy cream, plus an extra tablespoon for decorating
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1-2 teaspoons soft sea salt flakes (for finishing)

directions:
Make the crust: whisk flour, salt, and sugar together.
Add water, vinegar, and ice cubes into a bowl together.
Cut and mix the butter into the flour mixture until the largest piece is pea-sized.
Sprinkle on the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time so that you can gather the dough into a cohesive mass. (I used ~4 tablespoons, but this is highly variable! Use your hands and eyes to judge this.)
Divide dough into two unequal disks: one that is ~3/4 of the dough and one that is a little less than 1/4 and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the large disk into a 10 1/2 inch round and drape over the pie plate, crimping the edges, then refrigerate.
Roll the other disk out and cut out shapes as desired; freeze the shapes while you make the filling and preheat the oven.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
To make the filling: brown butter in a large saucepan until it is darkened and nutty-smelling.
Pour over granulated sugar.
Whisk in cornmeal, smoked salt, vanilla beans, and honey (mixture may not homogenize at this point due to the large amount of fat).
Whisk in eggs one at a time, making sure that they fully incorporate before adding the next.
Whisk in the heavy cream and apple cider vinegar.
Strain the mixture through a sieve directly into the pie crust.
Place pie on a baking sheet and place in oven.
When the filling has partially set (still wobbly and jiggly in the center, but not runny at all), about 35 minutes, brush the extra tablespoon of cream over your frozen decorative shapes.
Remove pie from the oven, and arrange shapes (carefully!) how you desire.
Return pie to the oven on the top rack to encourage browning of the decorations and bake for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the center is barely jiggly and the pie has puffed on the edges and the decorations are browned.
Allow to cool completely, then ideally chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (The texture will be better if allowed to chill down, but serving from room temperature is also good! Don’t sweat it too much.)

Temptation

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

With strawberries we filled a tray,
And then we drove away, away
Along the links beside the sea,
Where wind and wave were light and free,
And August felt as fresh as May.
And where the springy turf was gay
With thyme and balm and many a spray
Of wild roses, you tempted me
With strawberries!
A shadowy sail, silent and grey,
Stole like a ghost across the bay;
But none could hear me ask my fee,
And none could know what came to be.
Can sweethearts all their thirst allay
With strawberries?

—William Ernest Henley

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Do all my posts start with a remark about how quickly time passes? Am I getting so predictable and old that it’s the only source of small talk I have to share with you all?
…But, whoa, February is halfway gone already?!
I was just remarking to my dad how February is the shortest month by far, seeing as it not only has 28 days, but it also comes directly on the heels of the incontrovertibly longest month.
Grey, dreary January.
Here in New York City, however, February has been greyer by far than January.
Rainy, gloomy days that keep me snuggled up in bed. Not that I mind.
In fact, re-emphasizing rest and self-care has led me to inadvertently stay dry for most of January and February thus far. I do like going out for drinks or enjoying a bottle of wine over dinner with my friends, but it’s always an eye opener to spend weekend mornings not feeling hungover. While I’m not consciously staying away from alcohol, it’s something on which I am going to try keep a close eye.
I’ve been tracking a bunch of different habits on a homemade bullet journal, and I find it very interesting to look back and see the shape of my days. I just finished the first side yesterday, and I’m very excited to turn the page over and start on a fresh sheet.
If you’ve never tried using a bullet journal, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s an awesome way to keep track of your life, especially for people who like to stay organized. There’s a sense of a completed to-do list at the end of each day, when you get to X off boxes all along a column. Very satisfying, indeed.

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I absolutely adore Valentine’s Day. Every year, I get very excited to make special baked goods.
Many people say that your first Valentine’s Day out of a relationship is torturously difficult, but it’s not so for me. Single or no, the idea of a day set aside to remind us all to celebrate love and hold our dear ones tighter is something I cherish.

Somehow, these last two years I have managed to do something insane with marzipan.
Last year’s cake, which I just ‘grammed, took me hours and hours to complete.
I tend to get these fanciful ideas in my head, especially ones involving marzipan and gold leaf, and they completely wipe out my better judgment and time-worn experience that would hit the brakes when it comes to delicate little projects like this. Remember when I asked you to keep me away from gold leaf?
Yeah, well… In addition to today’s mini cakes, I have a cake with marzipan AND gold leaf coming your way soon. Évidemment, je n’aie jamais compris la leçon.
I never fail to get suckered in.

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

These happy little cakelets are just the cutest, aren’t they?!

These are strawberry cake truffles.
They’re made of balsamic vinegar and olive oil chocolate cake, velvety and damp, with the faintest savory notes threaded through it.
Sweet strawberry buttercream is folded into the cake crumbs, and they are shaped into little naked strawberries.
Tinted marzipan, chewy and toothsome, blankets the truffles. It is accented with little dots of royal icing that harden to a hint of crunchiness, just like what you would expect from tiny strawberry seeds.

The overall effect is unbelievably kawaii, and these are sure to charm anyone you give them to. If you have Serious Chocolate Lovers in your life, you could even dip them in melted chocolate to make chocolate dipped “strawberries.”
(You know, if this recipe isn’t extra enough for you already. Ha!)

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Lots of love, darlings! I hope you all have a happy, contented Valentine’s Day.
xo

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Valentine’s Day, previously:

2017:
Fluffy, ruffled princess layer cake with a cascade of marzipan roses
Thick, soft M&M cookies
Mocha cupcakes topped with fluffy swirls of vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream

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

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

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

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes
makes 36 mini cakes

ingredients:
for the balsamic olive oil chocolate cake:
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
60 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
114 grams (1/2 cup) olive oil
360 grams (1 1/2 cups) hot coffee
15 grams (1 tablespoon) balsamic vinegar

for the strawberry buttercream:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
227 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) milk or cream, or as needed
170 grams (1/2 cup) strawberry jam

to assemble:
336 grams (12 ounces) marzipan
food coloring, as desired
royal icing (meringue powder + water), as desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Place flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together briefly.
Slowly stream the hot water or coffee into the dry ingredients; once it’s mostly incorporated, whisk vigorously while you add in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Scrape the bowl to ensure homogeneity, then portion evenly into the two pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Allow to cool completely before continuing.
Once cool, cut off any crusty edges and crumble the cakes into fine crumbs.
Set aside.
Make the frosting: whip butter with powdered sugar and salt until light and fluffy; add in the milk while whipping so that the mixture is thick but spreadable.
Fold in the jam until combined; it may curdle (that’s okay!) due to the amount of jam.
It’s all just for binding, anyways, so it won’t matter.
Add the frosting into the cake crumbles and stir until the mixture is a cohesive ball.
Scoop out teaspoon – 2 teaspoon measures and roll into conical strawberry shapes.
Refrigerate until hardened, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, tint the marzipan; here, I used Americolor and Wilton colors in red, black, and green, and added a touch of cocoa powder to the leaves to temper down the brightness.
Once the cakes are hardened, roll out a knob of red marzipan to 1/8 of an inch thickness.
Wrap the marzipan around the cake gently, pinching off excess at the seams and gently smoothing with your fingers.
Place the cake seam side down and return to the fridge.
Repeat with all the red marzipan; once that is all finished, roll out the green marzipan to 3/16 inch thickness.
Using fondant flower cutters, cut out the top leaves for the berries.
Affix to the top of the berries, using a tiny amount of water if needed.
Decorate the berries with a toothpick and white royal icing to create little dots as seeds.
Serve at room temperature the day they are made (marzipan will get a bit soggy if left in the fridge too long).

Promenade en Traîneau

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“I just like to smile.
Smiling’s my favorite!”

—Buddy the Elf

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Hello everyone!

I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season; I’ve spent a few extremely restful days with my family (except one of my older brothers, who had to stay back home), and I’m feeling very grateful for each and every one of them.
Christmastime holds many of my most cherished and vivid memories from childhood, and as I grow older and more sentimental, I realize increasingly why: not because of the material goods or the delicious food, but because it’s a time of gratitude and giving back and cozy, hygge nights with your loved ones watching Elf or playing fibbage.

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This Christmas tree cake continues my tradition of making a big Christmas cake for my family that we all end up way too full to even make a dent in. Having started the day with morning buns, banana bread, and having challah and scalloped potatoes for dinner last night… and going to see Star Wars and eating popcorn and candy this afternoon… we are all very satiated, to say the least.

Still, it’s always a fun creation and I enjoy making something whimsical that isn’t cookies (so. many. cookies.) that I can share.

Three years ago, I made the souche de Noël.
Two years ago, a woodland wonderland cake.
Last year, a golden spice cake.

And this year, I made a different kind of tree! An actual Christmas tree!
It’s made of dense, moist butter cake with eggnog cream filling (the secret ingredient is hard boiled egg yolks! Weird, right?) with brown sugar and chocolate Italian meringue buttercream and marzipan ornaments and presents.
It’s over the top and takes a bit of effort, but it is certainly a showstopper and centerpiece, and I am going to enjoy a thin sliver tonight.

Christmas Tree Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

P.S. For those of you wondering, promenade en traîneau means sleigh ride.

Christmas Tree Cake
makes 1 large, 4 tiered cake

ingredients:
for the yellow cake:
225 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the eggnog filling:
2 hard boiled egg yolks
113 grams (1 stick) butter, softened
380 grams (3 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream or half and half, as needed

for the brown sugar and chocolate frosting:
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) brown sugar
225 grams (2 sticks) butter
75 grams (2 2/3 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
75 grams (1/3 cup) heavy cream

to assemble:
(225 grams) 8 ounces marzipan

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch round baking pans, 2 cupcake wells, and 2 mini cupcake wells, and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter on high speed for 3 minutes, until completely fluffy and no lumps remain.
Add the salt and sugar and beat for 5 full minutes; the mixture should be very light and fluffy.
Add the eggs and the egg yolks and beat for another 3 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the buttermilk and vanilla extract; gently stir with a spoon until about half is incorporated.
Add in the flour and baking powder and stir until incorporated; beat for 30 seconds on high to ensure homogeneity.
Spread the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the filling:
Cream butter until soft and fluffy.
Press the egg yolks through a fine sieve into the butter and cream on high until fully incorporated.
Add the powdered sugar, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and whip until fluffy and thick.
Add cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the eggnog buttercream is spreadable.
Meanwhile, make the brown sugar and chocolate buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Heat heavy cream to just barely boiling, then pour over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes, or until mostly melted.
Whisk together until glossy and smooth and allow to cool slightly.
Whip the buttercream on high and stream in the ganache.
Add green food coloring as needed to get a dark green color.
Layer the tiers largest to smallest (you will have an extra cupcake and mini cupcake for snacks) and fill with eggnog buttercream; use a serrated knife to sculpt it into a cone shape.
Place the cake in the fridge and allow to harden.
Frost the outside with a thin layer of green, then use large and small french star tips to pipe needles.
Tint the marzipan with food coloring and dust with luster dust, if desired.
Shape marzipan into small ornaments and presents and a large star for the top of the tree.
Place them around the tree and use a lollipop stick or skewer to attach the star.

Golden

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

—Edgar Allan Poe, A Dream Within a Dream

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Just a few more days until Thanksgiving!
I can’t believe how quickly November has flown by. I guess this means I should get my shit together and start thinking about the holidays now, but inevitably, I won’t.
Actually, since I’ll be near a Target when I go home (oh baby), maybe I will pick up a few cute decorations to get me ~in the mood.~ We shall see.

I am so excited to be going home. This will be my first vacation time from work since starting in June, and my first time back home for more than two days in over two years. My first Thanksgiving back home without my puppy, Ginger. That will be weird. Who is going to bother me for all of the turkey juices and table scraps?! (And don’t anyone dare suggest the cats. They may be hungry, but even their appetites combined could never match a chocolate lab’s.)

My life has changed rapidly in the last year (just one year ago we were attempting to prep for Thanksgiving in a teeny city kitchen), which I believe is a symptom of being 22 years old, freshly graduated, in a new city. Certainly I am not unique in this.
But even when I was a student and had midterms to worry about and had to bring my homework or lug my MCAT books back home with me for the holiday, or when I was only going “home” to a temporary home, Thanksgiving was a time of grounding. I know many people face holiday-preparation panic, with which I sympathize. For me, however, the crazy antics that go on in the kitchen, requiring careful planning, are a delight.
Stressful, yes, but everything in life that I love is stressful for me. This is a symptom of having a brain and personality like mine.

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

 Here are some tried-and-true La Pêche Fraîche recipes that are definitely Thanksgiving appropriate:

This pound cake is a perfect base recipe; I’ll be making this in a caramel apple version this year.

Can’t not mention this show-stopping checkerboard pumpkin cheesecake; it’s no-bake, so an option to take pressure off of the oven.

This pumpkin meringue tart with cinnamon toast crunch crust. Oh YES, it’s good.

These brown butter and molasses mini cupcakes. They can be your dessert appetizers. Can we make that a thing?

These sticky sweet pumpkin and condensed milk cakes, which would be fantastic as a sheet cake to serve a crowd.

This apple, pear, butterscotch, and cheddar pie could not be more autumnal and really elevates the apple pie game, y’all.

This double pumpkin (with pumpkin butter and pumpkin purée!) bread is a crowd-pleaser, and can be made dairy-free very easily.

This pumpkin spice, brown butter, chocolate pecan pie is a stunner; what Thanksgiving is complete sans pecan pie?!

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Savory things I’m pocketing for Thanksgiving:

This golden fennel and kale chop from Sprouted Kitchen looks a lot like my go-to kale salad recipe; Sara adds fennel where I add raisins, and I love her twist on it! I might have to throw some into my salad this Thanksgiving.

I make an aioli every year to go alongside roasted vegetables; it’s the perfect easy sauce to throw together ahead of time. This year, I’ll be adding curry powder and maybe a touch of tahini.

This is the recipe I’m going to try for our cornbread stuffing this year; it looks solid and I love that it’s simple and vegan to boot!

Pie-inspo, because, duh:

Marbled chocolate cheesecake pumpkin pie from Adrianna: a mouthful, literally and figuratively. Just gorgeous (those swirls!) and I am personally a huge fan of chocolate + pumpkin.

Brownie. Pie. That is all. (Praise be to Joy and Erin for making me aware of this phenomenon.)

Erin made a chocolate cream pie with whipped peanut butter cream, and I think it would make a welcome break from pumpkin, apple, and cinnamon-spiced things at TGives!

Every post Linda creates is pure magic, and this vegan chocolate meringue pie is no exception. So dreamy, I can get lost in her photography!

Erin says, “[a] pithivier is a crispy, flaky alternative to pie.” That is when I stopped reading and started drooling. Her cranberry version looks dope.

Cakes to inspire you this holiday:

Michelle recently celebrated her sixth blog birthday (yay!) and made an autumnal hummingbird cake; it would make a great non-pie addition to the holiday table!

Zoe’s poached pear and ginger chocolate cake is something my mama would love; the flavor combination is elegant and classic and never goes out of style.

Tejal Rao wrote a lovely piece about three very different cakes for the holidays; I’m sure the recipes are bang-on (considering the sources!) and I enjoyed reading this one.

Sweet things that aren’t pie and cake to take notes on:

Jen makes macarons the same way I do (sucre cuit, or Italian meringue) and put together an awesome tutorial. If you’ve been scared to try them, this recipe may just be the ticket!

Alana’s baked apple cider donuts with maple glaze and cinnamon crumbles sound like the best iteration of apple cider donuts other than the original (piping fresh at the orchard). I love the combination of textures!

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

The recipe I’m sharing today is one that will have a proud place on my family’s Thanksgiving table, and I guarantee you that people will be shocked when they find out it is vegan, raw, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free.
My taste testers, both of whom had just arrived back from separate spinning classes (freaks) ate these with gusto, unbelieving that in spite of the creamy, indulgent taste, these were a virtuous and appropriate choice for a post-workout snack.

These are raw, vegan pumpkin-spice “cheesecakes” and they will convert even the most annoying of carnivores (ya, I said it, you people can be annoying too).
They are creamy and delicately spiced, with a date and almond cocoa crust and a cashew and coconut filling sweetened with maple syrup and given heft and color from earthy pumpkin purée.
They are a breeze to whip together, as long as you have soaked your cashews (overnight, covered in cold water; nothing fancy necessary).
They come together in a little under 15 minutes (no, I’m serious) and just require the freezer, so making these will free up some in-demand oven time!
Here, I’ve used this silicon mold, and it works perfectly.
I’ve been really into making raw cheezcakes lately in all forms, and you can make this in a springform pan as well. If you double this recipe, it will make a very tall 6-inch cake, or a regular 8-inch one.
Be sure to thaw the cake for a few hours in the fridge before serving, so it’s not rock solid.

I hope you all have a most wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving!

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecakes 

makes 6 small cheesecakes or 1 8-inch round

ingredients:
for the crust:
140 grams (1 cup) whole almonds
8-10 dates, depending on how juicy they are
2 tablespoons cacao or cocoa powder
pinch sea salt

for the filling:
250 grams (15 ounces) raw, unsalted cashews (soaked*)
50 grams (3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons) coconut oil
150 grams (5.4 ounce can) coconut cream
78 grams (2 tablespoons) maple syrup
60 grams (1/4 cup) pumpkin puree
juice of 1 lemon
pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

directions:
*Soak cashews overnight in cold water.
First, make the crust: place almonds, dates, cacao/cocoa powder, and salt in a food processor or blender.
Pulse until a rough meal forms, then press into tins and refrigerate.
Any leftover crust can be shaped into decorations for the tops of the cakes.
Place cashews into a clean blender with the other ingredients for the filling except the pumpkin and spices.
Blend for 5-8 minutes, depending on the power of your blender; filling should be very smooth.
Portion out 1/3 of the filling and pour over prepared crust; place into freezer until hardened.
Add the pumpkin and spices to the remaining filling and blend to combine.
Once the plain base is set (about 30 minutes to an hour), pour the pumpkin filling over top and freeze again until set.
To serve, allow to thaw for 3-4 hours in the fridge; dust with cocoa powder and top with leftover crust decorations.

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Checkmate


No-Bake Checkerboard Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Without error there can be no brilliancy.”

—Emanuel Lasker

No-Bake Checkerboard Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche FraîcheNo-Bake Checkerboard Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

The 2017 #virtualpumpkinparty is here, folks!
Click here for the page on Sara’s website.
Big thanks to Sara (Cake Over Steak) for hosting this party again! It’s such a fun way to share with other food bloggers and our readers.

No-Bake Checkerboard Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve last posted. I have so many wonderful fall things to share with you, so expect to see fresh content here more often in the coming few months.
Especially now that we’re in holiday mode! Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then the winter holidays. Ugh, I’m so ready for it.
As lovely as they are, I’m more than ready to wipe away the vestiges of summer that still cling to New York in the form of 75 degree days and bright green leaves.
Give me all the chilled winds and decorative gourds and chai teas and fall foliage.


I have had precious little sleep of late, so I’m not able to find many words at the moment. My brain is pretty mushy right now, and I need a solid 12 hour deep sleep to replenish my mind.
Although this way we can circumvent my usual bland blathering about life and get to the goods (AKA cheesecake) much faster.
Plus, I think most prefer the pumpkin pictures to another embarrassing and squashy diary entry. (See what I did there? Hahaha yeah it makes no sense and I need sleep.)


I just reread all of the Harry Potter books (…all in one week…); late night reading is at least partially to blame for my recent lack of sleep. I thoroughly enjoyed the reread; it had been a long time since my last.
I always find that Harry Potter gets me into an autumnal and wintry mood, because even though the books stretch over all parts of the year, J.K. Rowling’s descriptions of the great hall on Halloween and Christmas are transportive and ultra-dreamy.
I’ve started reading LoTR now. Definitely going to take me more than a week to finish it.
By the way, if you have Amazon Prime, you can download the single-volume version for free to your kindle (or phone) right now!
I’ve also discovered that you can download certain magazines for free as well—there are a lot of great Thanksgiving issues out right now.
I’ve got to start preparing my menu! Eeeeek!!


I’m not going to lie, this is a very involved pumpkin cheesecake.
It is probably too involved to make it onto our holiday table, given that I usually make three different desserts. This one is a stand-alone treat, for sure.
It’s made easier by virtue of being no-bake, but if you were to forgo making two separate mixtures and just make the whole thing pumpkin, it’s going to taste exactly the same. I promise.
So, no sweat if you’re not into all the fussy piping detail. I wish I had made mine cleaner, so you’ll probably see this technique repeated in the future when I have more time to practice.

This cheesecake is incredibly creamy and light, and avoids any of the rubberiness to which no-bake cheesecakes sometimes fall prey.

The simple crust is sweet and buttery and holds together without baking; it stretches up the sides of the whole cheesecake so you don’t have to line your pan (holla!).
The filling is half classic cheesecake, half pumpkin spice. It is tangy and rich, and the spices add balance to the earthiness of the pumpkin. Cloves, cinnamon, and ginger are just about the most warming combination of spices I can think of. Add a pinch of nutmeg if you’ve got it on hand.
On top, a checkerboard of dark chocolate and salted caramel adds whimsy to the bake, and clouds of fluffy, barely sweetened whipped cream cut the texture of the cheesecake wonderfully.

All in all, this cheesecake is undeniably impressive, and when you cut into it, the surprise of the checkerboard filling makes it even more attractive. The more careful you are with your piping, the cleaner your interior will be (mine is a little bit wonky, frankly).

Pumpkin, previously:

chocolate pumpkin cake with meringue ghosts
pumpkin meringue tart
pumpkin and condensed milk cakes
double pumpkin cake
dairy free pumpkin bundt cake with lemon glaze
pumpkin cream cheese crepe cake
brown butter pumpkin kanelbullens
brown butter pumpkin and cranberry upside down cake

No-Bake Checkerboard Pumpkin Cheesecake
makes 1 6-inch cheesecake

ingredients:
for the crust:
200 grams (about 12 full sheets) graham crackers
75 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
pinch salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

for the filling:
455 grams (16 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
20 grams (5 teaspoons) lemon juice, from 1 very juicy lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) heavy cream
7 grams (1 packet, 2 1/4 teaspoons) gelatin
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
120 grams (1/2 cup) pumpkin puree
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

to assemble:
65 grams (1/3 cup) sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
40 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream, cold
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

melted and slightly cooled dark chocolate

directions:
First, make the crust: crush graham crackers into crumbs and mix with the sugar, salt, and melted butter.
Press evenly into your pan and up the sides, then refrigerate.
To make the filling, beat cream cheese, sugar, salt, and lemon juice on high speed with a paddle attachment until smooth and not gritty, about 3 minutes.
Add in the heavy cream and whip on high until thickened.
Stir the gelatin into the water and set aside for 2 minutes; heat it gently in the microwave until it melts.
Mix the gelatin into the cheesecake mixture and allow to thicken for a few minutes.
Portion half of the mixture out and stir in the pumpkin and spices until homogeneous.
Fill two piping bags with each of the mixtures, and pipe alternating concentric circle layers inside the prepared crust.
Refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
To assemble, make the salted caramel: place sugar and salt in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.
Cook without stirring until the caramel is dark toffee color, then remove from heat and carefully stir in butter and heavy cream.
Allow to cool completely before using.
Whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
Make a grid pattern lightly with a knife on the surface of the firm cheesecake; pipe alternating checkerboard squares of chocolate and caramel on top.
Use a star tip to pipe large swirls of whipped cream around the edge of the cheesecake.
Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

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XXII

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”

—Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Yesterday, my parents sent me the dreamiest bouquet of pale peach roses, white hydrangeas, and black and white anemones.
Last night, my instagram bio ticked from 21 to 22.
(I don’t have a Facebook anymore, so no messages will be received from acquaintances collected through the years. I’m, like, so off the grid. *rolls eyes*)
Tonight, I will drink and be merry with some of the best people I have ever and will ever know.
Today, though, I am taking time to reflect and relax into my new age by myself.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche FraîcheBanana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My atoms in their current arrangement have made the long trip around the sun twenty two times.
In this time, my body has grown, my mind has expanded, my hormones have been tamed (…kind of?); I have shed skin cells and old clothes and loves alike. I have been fortunate to see many corners of the world and optimistic enough to dream of other, unknown parts.
I have pushed and pulled and trudged my way through years of schooling and through an altogether too short stint at my alma mater. In the best of times, I have excelled and succeeded; in the worst of times, I have simply kept on moving.
Four years ago, on the cusp of 18, I left my childhood home and my parents for the first time; in many ways, I felt and was alone. The birthdays following were distinctly part of my college years.
So although 22 is a relatively unremarkable birthday, this one means a lot to me. It is my first birthday after college and striking out into the world. It is the bookend to the collection that began at 18.
Today, in a new city and in a different sense, I feel and am alone.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Is it sad or freeing to be alone on your birthday?
It is coldly realistic or melancholic to realize that we all age on our own?

We live our lives with ourselves. It is as simple and as difficult as that. Though none of us will ever stop changing, we have but one body and mind to live in and put up with.
It’s easy to wistfully romanticize our past lives and selves; it is also easy to make grand resolutions about our future.
I hope that everyone has the opportunity to fall in love with who they are in the present, which is a far harder endeavor, in my experience.
I hope that you have the chance, whether this year or in many years to come, to spend a birthday by yourself and not feel lonely.
I hope this especially for myself.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche FraîcheBanana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My twenty-second birthday cake is not a simple one. It’s not an afternoon affair, not something to whip up casually sans plan.
No one should be surprised by this, least of all readers of this blog who have seen my other involved creations. I have a flair for the dramatic and a birthday is an excuse to indulge both my creative urges and tastebuds.
This is all to say, I know that this recipe is more than a little ridiculous. A lot of effort went into making this cake just right. It is worthy of a celebration.
Make it for a loved one; make it for yourself. And prepare to impress.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake starts with a super moist banana cake—it is the least banana bread-y banana cake I have made, which I consider an achievement. There is a time and place for a lovely, dense banana bread. This cake is not that.
The layers have a swipe of silky, slightly bitter coffee pastry cream, flecked with espresso and enriched with egg yolks and butter.
Hidden inside the cake are two layers of dacquoise; a crisp almond and meringue confection that softens and turns into a whisper of caramel and almond married with the coffee cream. It is the reason that this cake is better on the second day. The crunch is fabulous, yes, but the dacquoise becomes an ethereally light filling when it softens—just like meringue does in a pavlova or Eton mess.
The whole affair is finished with a cloud of rich, chocolaty Italian meringue frosting, my favorite way to ice a cake. I love that with each bite, you get a varying amount of chocolate. It makes eating a piece that much more interesting.

This cake is a labor of love, and its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The flavor combination is very unique—but it works so well. In fact, I like it so much that I am planning on dreaming up new ways to use banana, almond, coffee, and chocolate (to me, that sounds like a hella good muffin).

Note also that this can be made ahead of time; the pastry cream up to 3 days in advance, and the dacquoise up to 2 days. You could make the cake ahead and freeze it as well. It’s manageable. I mean, sort of.

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Birthdays, previously (and no, I don’t know what happened to 17 and 19…):

21
20
18

Banana, Almond, Coffee, and Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Banana Cake with Almond Dacquoise, Coffee Pastry Cream, and Chocolate Meringue Buttercream
makes 1 3×6 inch layer cake
pastry cream adapted from the Kitchn

for the almond dacquoise:
4 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
65 grams (2/3 cup) almond meal or flour
40 grams (scant 1/4 cup) sugar
big pinch salt

for the coffee pastry cream:
1 tablespoon espresso powder
360 grams (1 1/2 cups) milk
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
hefty pinch salt
4 egg yolks
30 grams (1/4 cup) flour
15 grams (2 tablespoons) butter

for the banana cake:
150 grams (2/3 cup, 10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) butter, softened
170 grams (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ripe bananas
120 grams (1/2 cup) milk
200 grams (1 2/3 cup) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

for the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
pinch salt, to taste
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
25 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) water
340 grams (1 1/2 cups, 24 tablespoons, 3 sticks) butter
170 grams (1 cup) dark chocolate chips or chunks, melted and cooled slightly
20 grams (1/4 cup) cocoa powder, as needed

directions:
First, make the dacquoise, up to 2 days in advance.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and trace 3 6-inch circles on a piece of parchment lining a baking sheet.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and begin to whip.
Once foamy, add in the first (150 grams, 3/4 cup) portion one spoonful at a time, and whip on high speed until the meringue is glossy and fluffy and stiff peaks have formed.
Whisk together the almond meal, remaining portion sugar, and salt, and gently fold into the meringue.
Pipe onto the circles you traced, and bake for 65-85 minutes, until the dacquoise is dry and slightly golden colored.
Remove from oven and let cool completely; you can store the baked dacquoise for up to 2 days in a moisture-free, air-tight container.
You will only need 2 dacquoise layers for the cake; the third is insurance in case of cracking (one of mine did, when I dropped it); you can trim them if they spread a little with a sharp knife so that they fit in the cake.
Make the coffee pastry cream: place espresso powder (or you could use whole beans, if you don’t like the grains) and milk over medium heat.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and flour together.
Once the milk is just shy of boiling—it should be at a simmer—carefully pour in 1/3 of it into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
Place the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the remainder of the coffee-milk, whisking all the while.
Heat over medium heat while whisking constantly, until thickened.
You should be able to coat a spoon and draw a line with your finger that does not fill in with cream.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.
Strain through a sieve, then blend on high speed with an immersion blender or in a regular blender (wait until it is cooled, though!) for about 20 seconds—don’t go too long with the blender, just enough to get it smooth.
Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream and allow to cool completely.
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Place butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high speed for 4 full minutes.
Meanwhile, mash the bananas with the milk in one bowl and stir the flour and baking powder together.
Scrape the sides of the stand mixer and add in 1/3 of the flour mixture.
While you stir the flour mixture in, add in half of the banana mixture.
Add another third of the flour mixture, adding the remainder of the banana mixture and the remainder of the flour mixture one after the other while stirring on low speed.
Increase the speed to medium for 30 seconds, to ensure that the batter is homogenous.
Portion out into prepared pans and bake for 18-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and allowing to cool completely.
Make the Italian meringue buttercream: 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.
Portion into 4 separate portions—one portion should be slightly smaller than the other three.
Place one of the larger three portions back into the bowl of the stand mixer; while whipping on high, add about 3/4 of the melted and cooled chocolate and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
Whip until chocolate is fully incorporated.
Into another of the three larger portions of frosting, add about 3/4 of the remaining chocolate (so about 3/16 of the original portion) and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder; stir vigorously to combine.
Into the remaining of the three larger portions, stir in the remaining chocolate and 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder.
Into the smallest portion, stir in 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder.
At this point, tint any of the 4 portions as you see fit with a few extra teaspoons of cocoa powder.
To assemble the cake, place a dollop of pastry cream on a cake stand and place 1 of the banana layers on top.
Spread 1/8-1/4 cup of the pastry cream onto the banana cake; place one of the almond dacquoise layers on top and spread with another 1/8 cup pastry cream.
Top with a second banana cake, more pastry cream, the second dacquoise layer, more pastry cream, and the final banana cake layer.
Use a small amount of the three larger portions of frosting (the darkest three) to lightly crumb coat the cake—you don’t need a thick crumb coat here.
Using 4 pastry bags filled with each of the colors, pipe an ombre effect with desired piping tip (I used a single tip and 4 couplers).

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Rarest


To live is the rarest thing in the world.
Most people just exist.

—Oscar Wilde

I have been trying my best to feel lucky and blessed as I welcome in September and fall this week, as so many have suffered so much at the hands of hurricane season already.

I hope all of you, your loved ones, and your far-flung, little-known Facebook friends are safe and dry in the wake of Harvey/Irma.
The images and videos splashed across the television could only be described as living nightmares; I can’t fathom what it is like to have it happen to you. I am deeply impressed and moved by people like Dana from Minimalist Baker and Miley Cyrus (boy that feels strange to say) who went to work using their platforms to do good in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
There do exist good people, after all.

This photo reminder of Sandy from National Geographic is humbling.
It stopped me in my tracks. It looks like a tumblr-shopped photo that would have some dreamy teenage quote scrawled across the turquoise waters in white script. Or from a different lens, a still from a horror movie about a mysterious, flooded amusement park.
What I mean to say is that it doesn’t look real.
And when you realize that it is all too real, that these really are our coasts swallowed by our angry seas—that this alternate universe is the one we’re living in, not a photoshopped dimension nor a movie set—it is the most pin-prickling sensation of all.
I can’t stop staring at that photograph.

Yes, September is here. 2017 lumbers towards its final quarter and autumn approaches.
The gingko trees outside my gym have been absolutely crowing about it for the last week and a half, daintily dropping canary-colored leaves, proud to be the first harbingers.
They don’t know, but marketers—frantic from huffing their pumpkin spice—had them beat, what with orangey, latte-scented everything having been regurgitated onto seemingly every store shelf before Labor Day.

I picked up a little coffee colored candle from the heady essential oil slick that is the Whole Body section of Whole Foods the other day. It smelled so, so good. And I turned it around, and I am ashamed to admit that it was just a bougie pumpkin spice latte candle. I quickly put it down, label facing away, and walked away before anyone saw my guilty enjoyment. Ha!

I am accustomed to the smell of cool, crisp fall nights, the kind that allow you to throw windows open and burrow under covers and dream deeply. It is part of what makes this season my very favorite.

It is still early, of course, but I have discovered that this pleasure of mine will not be so while living in my New York apartment and in my current headspace.
I sleep uneasily in my little bedroom perfumed with bergamot and Bleu de Chanel, my air-conditioner whirring and faint clangs of the pizza shop downstairs and bleating horns from the street very gently punctuating the quiet.
It is my space, and it is clean and comfortable and well cared-for.
Yet somehow, it is still foreign.
It is not unfamiliar in a sterile way, like a hotel might be, nor is it unsettling like a stranger’s home.
Certainly, it is a part of me—I labored to build every little detail, and my fingerprints and errant DNA are smeared everywhere.
I live here. Permanently. As in, I’m not going back to school; I’m not a student anymore.
I’m not going back home; I am, in theory, not a child anymore.
Accepting this is mostly passive, because it is not constantly on my mind.
But when I do brood on it, I am confronted with a new piece of myself that is as strange as looking in the mirror and seeing a different colored pair of eyes blinking back at you.

Who am I, if not the person I was before I came here?
What will autumn bring me, if not the frosty fresh scent of the morning?

Summer hasn’t kicked the can just yet, however.
I can still find excellent peaches easily, although the blushing plums have truly come into their prime and the apples are peeking around the corner.

Finding a perfect ripe juicy peach is rare, even in the heart of the summer. You know when you’ve found the platonic ideal, and you’re lucky if 1) you’re eating it straight up and 2) you get more than one in a season. The beauty of peach pie is that  a few bruises on your peaches don’t make a difference whatsoever, as long as the peaches themselves are juicy and plump.

This pie baked up gorgeously. I am (not really) sorry for the slew of excess photos. I have just wholesale bought into the instagram trend of unbaked, prettily decorated pies of the last year and a half.
There is something irresistible about the juxtaposition of a rustic, jammy pie and delicate flowers, braids, and lattices. (Just ask elleventy or Julie…! Pie masters.)

A perfect peach pie needs little other than a squeeze of something bright and acidic, a light sprinkle of zest and sugar, a pinch of salt, and a spoonful or two of a thickener.
Here, I went with lemon juice and zest, good ol’ granulated sugar, and tapioca starch. It would be magical to substitute brown sugar or coconut sugar, for a hint of molasses, and you could easily swap out actual tapioca if you like the texture, or flour or corn starch if that’s what you have on hand.
The two tricks to a good fruit pie are making a solid crust and not overthinking the filling.
This crust is very easy to work with and makes a bit more than is needed for a double crust pie—this is to accommodate any and all decorations your heart desires.

I wanted lattices of varying widths, interwoven with braids, topped with leaves/flora.
I did not have a leaf cutter.
So, (spoiler warning) I used a baby chick cutter and added veins with a knife. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

P.S. Friday was my grandma’s birthday (although she refuses to celebrate birthdays anymore), so shout out to the number one fan of this blog! Love ya grandma.
(I should probably remake this cake that I made in honor of her birthday, since it was so delicious and rich and since it has been so long since I made anything mochi!)

I have done nothing all summer
but wait for myself
to be myself again.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Perfect Peach Pie
makes 1 10-inch double-crusted pie

for the crust:
438 grams (3 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) flour
40 grams (3 tablespoons) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
340 grams (3 sticks, 1 1/2 cups) butter, cold and in chunks
14 grams (1 tablespoon) shortening (or more butter)
106 grams (7 tablespoons) water, ice cold

for the filling:
2 1/2 pounds (1.1 kg) peaches (about 8-9 medium)
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar, or to taste
big pinch salt
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 tablespoons tapioca flour

to assemble:
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
sugar, if desired

instructions:
Make the dough: whisk flour, salt, and sugar together.
Cut and mix the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the largest piece is pea-sized.
Sprinkle on the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time so that you can gather the dough into a cohesive mass.
Divide dough into two disks and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out one disk into a 12 inch round and drape over the pie plate, leaving a little overhang, then refrigerate.
Roll the other disk out and cut out shapes as desired; freeze the shapes or lattice strips while you make the filling and preheat the oven.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
To make the filling, toss thinly sliced peaches (I do not peel mine, just wash them well) with the sugar, salt, lemon juice and zest, and tapioca flour.
Set aside for at least 5 minutes and up to 10.
Pour the filling into the prepared bottom crust, spooning the leftover juices and sugar over top of the fruit.
Top with frozen shapes, then trim and crimp the bottom crust.
Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Place on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and place in the oven.
Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 375 and bake for 35-45 minutes, covering crust if necessary, until the crust is deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling and thick.

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Mêlé

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Joan Didion

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Alright, now for an important soapbox-y aside.

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vegan Coconut Cake
makes 1 9-inch cake

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

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

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

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

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