Épicé

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

“Always winter, never Christmas.”

—C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

If you need some last-minute inspiration for your cookie boxes, I have rounded up some links of cookies that I’ve been stunned by lately. I guarantee we can all find some inspo from these amazing creations!

Cindy @ Hungry Girl Por Vida made really gorgeous and creative linzer cookies—with pistachios and lemon curd! Lemon curd is my favorite, so I’m keen to try this flavor combination out.

I’m sure you already saw these all over Instagram, but Tessa (Style Sweet CA) made perfect (as always!) spritz cookies in a collab with Wilton.

Snowballs—buttery and covered in powdered sugar—are always a weakness of mine. Christina (Dessert for Two) made gluten-free matcha and pistachio snowballs, and I want to try these so bad. I can only imagine how well the bitter, greeny matcha tastes when in a butter cookie!

Elizabeth from Brooklyn Supper made cardamom orange sugar cookies, and I’m intrigued.  They look delicate and lovely.

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

Jes from Whisk and Wanter made these sparkly, adorable girly evergreen cookies. I’m inspired to step up my sugar cookie game after seeing her gorgeous creations!

These super comforting peanut butter and chocolate crinkle cookies from Tieghan @ Half Baked Harvest are a must! The flaky sea salt on the milk chocolate kisses, swoon.

Last year I made some eggnog roll out cookies which were a hit, as well as chocolate peppermint shortbread, cinnamon toast crunch treats, and Russian teacakes.
The year before, it was honey spice and dark chocolate cookies, among others. You can find links through to years even before that, as well, if you really want to do a deep dive!

The fact that I only made two batches of cookies this year makes me feel like a bit of a loser, ugh. I have to remind myself to step back and enjoy what I can—the holidays are a time to be with family and relax, not worry too much about cooking (this isn’t Thanksgiving, ha!).
Besides, baking in a different (tiny) kitchen can be frustrating.

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

Still, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that brings me as much winter cheer as gingerbread, and if there was a single cookie I’d like to make and smell baking in my home, it would be these.
I just love the warm spiciness of gingerbread, whether in a layer or bundt cake or cookies crisp or soft.

These gingerbread cookies are crispy and thin—good for gifting and safe for shipping—and they stay fresh for a long time.
They are made with maple syrup and black pepper for a spicy little twist!
These are very similar to Swedish pepparkakor, or ginger thins—they’re not as dark and spicy as American style gingerbread, but rather a little lighter in color and in the spices added.
I think they’re absolutely addicting and cute, however you choose to decorate them!

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple Syrup and Black Pepper Gingersnaps
makes ~60 2-inch cookies

ingredients:
3/4 cup (6 ounces) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (6 ounces) maple syrup
3 cups 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 maple 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.
Decorate with royal icing, if desired.

Crunchy

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.
You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself.
You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”

—John Lennon

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

Welcome, brand new baby year, fresh and bright white and snow covered.
Welcome, welcome 2015!!

(I’m back in Chicago, and it’s snowing a fair amount.
Class starts tomorrow.
It’s going to be below 0 deg F on Wednesday.
Le sigh.)

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

My mama loves granola.  She eats it for breakfast almost every day.
My mama is *ahem* particular about her granola.  She likes maybe one out of every 5 she tries.

So before I left to come back to school, I made a whole bunch of simple, healthy granola for my mom.
Heaps of oats, plenty of maple syrup, rich and buttery coconut oil, a hint of spice.

This batch fills up an entire large canister of rolled oats, and it uses about half of one, so it’s a perfect way to finish off the jar floating around your pantry.

It’s utterly delicious with cold milk—cow’s or otherwise (I recently tried hazelnut-almond-cashew and fell in love)—and fresh raspberries or strawberries, difficult as they are to source in the depths of winter.

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

This granola is crunchy, sweet, with a whisper of salt.
It’s toasty and full of almonds and coconut.
It’s simple—a hint of cinnamon, maple syrup to sweeten, and that’s pretty much it.
It’s vegan and gluten-free if you want it to be—just make sure all your ingredients are certified vegan or GF either way.

It’s super easy to customize: add a tablespoon of vanilla extract or replace the almonds with hazelnuts or pecans, use coconut chunks or chips instead of flakes, toss in dried mango or raisins or cranberries or banana chips.

Anyways, this is meant to be a nourishing first post of 2015 (!) but also a short one, as I have to unpack and settle into our little home here in Chiberia.

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

Almond Coconut Granola
gluten-free, vegan
makes ~6 cups of granola

ingredients:
5 cups of rolled oats (certified GF if necessary)
1 cup of sliced almonds
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut (or use unsweetened)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup melted coconut oil (or ghee)

directions:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir oats, almonds, and coconut together.
Stir salt, maple syrup, and coconut oil together, then pour wet ingredients over and stir with a spoon until all is coated.
Spread oats out onto baking sheets and tamp down lightly to pack.
Bake for 15 minutes, then lightly stir with a spatula and rotate sheets.
Bake for 15 more minutes, then stir and rotate again.
Bake for 10-15 more minutes, until evenly and lightly browned and toasted.
Remove from oven and let cool completely on sheets.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Une Souche de Noël

Une Souche de Noël | La Pêche Fraîche

 Mais non, mes chéris, pas une bûche!  Vraiment une souche!

That’s right, we just upended the Yule log—literally.
Took the classic bûche de Noël and made it into a souche de Noël.
A stump!  A stump de Noël.

 This cake is an endeavor.  It’s intricate; it’s large.
But while detailed, it’s also charmingly rustic.
It doesn’t have to be perfectly made—rough scratches around the bark make it all the more realistic.
Fallen moss and dirt add character to the forest floor.
Crooked mushrooms—perfect.  They don’t pop out of the ground white and symmetrical, after all.

Basically, this cake can be a little rough around the edges and still sparkle and shine.
The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

The first component of the cake is a buttery, yolk-rich eggnog cake, redolent with nutmeg and whiskey (traditionally rum, but peruse your own liquor cabinets for anything boozy).
It comes out of the oven as fragrant as can be.

Brushing with maple-whiskey syrup adds more flavor and ensures that the cake stays moist.
It also adds a nice kick, hey-o!

The whipped ganache that covers the cake is rich and thick, with a touch of salt and deep, dark bittersweet chocolate.
The cream keeps it light and fluffy, so that you don’t have a big brick of solid ganache bark.

The dirt is made from chocolate cookie crumbs and the moss from chopped pistachios.  Both add a little crunch and texture and a realistic touch.
Also, both are good to snack on.  Just saying.

The final touches are the mushrooms and the holly branches.
The mushrooms are made of Italian meringue, dried in the oven until super crunchy and crispy.
They’re sweet and soft on the inside, like marshmallows, but have a crisp shell which is brushed lightly with cocoa powder to mimic real mushrooms.
I got the idea from the wonderful, brilliant Stella of Bravetart.
They’re pretty damn cute, I must say.

The holly branches are made of marzipan, colored with a touch of cocoa for depth and plenty of food coloring.
I’m addicted to marzipan—the sweet almond taste is so good!  When you add a hint of cocoa, it only gets better.
Adding a tiny bit of cocoa is a great way to deepen the color of food coloring and make it seem more realistic.

The end result is five layers of golden cake, wrapped in dark chocolate ganache and garnished with magical little touches of the forest.
A sprinkling of snow brings the whole thing to life—it’s an enchanted cake, really.

It’s also a showstopper.  Definitely worthy of Christmas dinner, the necessary showpiece dessert that sparkles and shines and captures all eyes.
It may be a bit of work, but not much more than any regular layer cake.  And in my humble opinion, it’s worth it.
It’s a cake to show off and take many pictures with; it’s a cake of which to be very, very proud.

“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…”

A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Love, your resident holiday-crazed blogger.

Souche (Stump) de Noël
cake portion adapted from Joy of Baking
makes 1 large 8-inch cake

for the eggnog cake (you’ll need 1.5 times this recipe, to make 5 8-inch layers and 4 cupcakes):
2 2/3 cup (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40 grams) cornstarch
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup (170 grams) butter, soft
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 large egg yolks (110 grams)
2 tablespoons (30 mL) rum or whiskey
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 mL) milk

for the maple soak:
1/3 cup (80 mL) maple syrup
2 tablespoons (30 mL) whiskey or rum

for the whipped ganache (may need to double; a reader found she needed approximately twice as much frosting):
18 ounces (500 grams) bittersweet chocolate
2 pinches kosher salt
2 cups (500 mL) heavy cream

for the meringue mushrooms:
3 egg whites
small pinch cream of tartar
3/4 cup (300 grams) sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (60 mL) water
cocoa powder, for dusting

to assemble:
marzipan holly branches
chopped skinned pistachios
crushed chocolate cookies
powdered sugar, for dusting

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 4 8-inch round pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat the butter for 3 full minutes, until light and fluffy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the sugar, nutmeg, and salt and beat for 3 more minutes.
Add in the eggs and beat for 5 full minutes, until mixture is fluffy, shiny, and pale white—it shouldn’t be gritty.
Whisk vanilla extract, milk, and whiskey then beat slowly until partway combined.
Place the flour, cornstarch and baking powder on top of the batter, then gently stir to combine everything, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Portion batter out into the prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.
Allow cakes to cool completely. (You’ll need to make another half-batch of batter, baking 1 8-inch round and 4 cupcakes.)
Meanwhile, bring maple syrup and whiskey to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Brush cooled cakes with the whiskey syrup.
Make the chocolate ganache: chop chocolate finely and place in a bowl with the salt.
Heat cream to boiling, then pour over the chocolate and let sit for 4 minutes.
Whisk the chocolate and cream together, starting slowly, speeding up until the ganache is smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool until room temperature, then whip with a mixer until fluffy.
Frost two cupcakes into a tower to make the small stump; put 1/3 cup frosting between each layer and also place a crumb coat on the cake.
Using the rest of the frosting generously, to frost the cake roughly.
Use a fork to scrape the sides to look like bark, and swirl the top to look like the top of a stump.
To make the meringue mushrooms, preheat oven to 225 degrees F.
Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place sugar, water, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Start to whisk the egg whites.
By the time the egg whites are at stiff peaks, the syrup should be at 240-245 degrees F.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while whisking at high speed.
Pipe the meringue into stem and cap shapes on parchment paper-lined sheets.
Bake for 2 hours, turning the oven to 175 degrees F after 90 minutes.
Allow to dry in the oven until mushrooms peel off the parchment paper.
Dust the caps with cocoa powder and rub in with your fingers.
Use your cocoa-y hands to lightly rub the stems to make them slightly colored too.
Decorate the stump with chocolate cookie crumbs around the bottom, pressing some into the sides of the cake.
Place mushrooms and holly branches around the cake, and press some chopped pistachios into the bark to be “moss.”
Dust a little powdered sugar over the top, and then impress all your friends and family with your very own stump de Noël!

Serendipitous

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Hey there, Autumn.

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I thought I’d share some things that I’m loving and coveting right now.  Some hover on the edge of the seasons, some I share with autumnal intent, and some for plain old adoration.

First off, I cannot stop listening to “I’m Not the Only One.”
It’s been on repeat for 2 full days.
Sam Smith gets me and my current life mood, and this song is soothing but oh-so-sad.
It’s incredibly refreshing to hear his beautiful Adele-man-voice singing something other than “Stay With Me” or “Latch.”

I finally (!) read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Oh!!!!
It was utterly fantastic. I picked it up and didn’t put it down until I finished, 24 hours later.
The attention she pays to details, her nuanced plot implications, and realistic emotional touch add up to quite an addictive read.
And OMG I can’t wait for the movie.

I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally want to read The Hedge Knight (AKA the tales of Dunk and Egg) by GRRM to bide my time until the next GoT book (2015?!?! REALLY?!) but have discovered that it costs $100+ dollars to buy a new copy.
I may have to settle for the kindle version, which is inferior in my humble opinion. Give me a crackling spine and sweet, faintly musty paper pages any day.

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I love the Hunter “Iconic Red” collection, but I really have my eye on some tall black wellingtons.  I have the olive green ones and absolutely adore them, and I think black can only be more versatile!
(Although since I intend to buy these gorgeous black boots in the next few weeks, red wellingtons could be just the ticket to keep my boot collection from looking too monotonous…)

I bought a pair of Lululemon 4-way stretch running shorts about a month ago, and I am about ready to throw out all my “norts” and invest in 4 more pairs of these babies.
They’re fitted without being clingy, so they don’t ride up or stick to you in weird places; they’re stretchy and comfortable, lightweight, and don’t cut in at all at the hips.
I hate having to adjust my clothing in the middle of a workout, which is the main reason why I fell for lulu leggings.  Now, I fear also been converted to their sport shorts…

This bag shall be mine, as soon as it goes back on sale (as Jessica pointed out, Rebecca Minkoff is always on sale).
I have a similar bag (white python, gold hardware) but it’s irritatingly large and due to its poor quality, stained from my blue jeans.  Can’t wait to get rid of it and replace it with a mini Mac!

In the realm of bags, I am coveting this Céline.
Sigh. One day.

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I have more links to share, but I don’t want my varied obsessions to be too long-winded, so I’ll save them for another link love post.
(Although by then I’ll inevitably have racked up another impressive list of randoms…)

Let’s chat about this here cake, y’all.

It started out as a spiced applesauce cake with a heaping ton of streusel on top, but in the heat of the oven, the top of the cake buckled in and ate much of the streusel—when I pulled out the loaf, the top sported an eighth of the original amount of streusel.
I figured it would mostly just melt into the batter, no big deal.

However, something far, far better happened:
a pocket of molten streusel, basically a little river of caramelized sugar and butter with a heavy hit of salt, aka the stuff of dreams aka pinch-me-am-I-dreaming-deliciousness, formed right in the center of the cake.

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The parts of the cake that retained their streuseled top (mostly the edges) were, just as expected, pleasantly moist with a lovely crunch on top.
So, if your streusel doesn’t sink through the cake, don’t worry.  Either way produces a gently spiced, super moist cake that offers a faint suggestion of apples and fall.
Either way, however, you neeeeed to add this glaze.
It’s my go-to: maple syrup, brown butter, salt, a touch of cream. UGH. Could eat with a spoon.

I snuck one two pieces of this cake before I wrapped it up and gave it to my bestfriendinthewholeworld, Gwen.
It’s perfectly comforting, well-suited for stressed out students!
Like a hug in cake form.
It’s a bomb way to start off fall baking—warm and spicy, but decidedly not pumpkin.

(I’m so not ready for that yet.)

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Brown Butter Applesauce Cake
cake portion adapted from Averie
streusel portion adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 1 9×5 loaf

ingredients:
for the streusel:
5 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

for the cake:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup sour cream
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the brown butter maple glaze:
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 – 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
Make the streusel: combine all of the ingredients and pinch with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, set aside.
Make the cake: place the sugars, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Brown the butter in a skillet, then pour it over the sugar mixture.
While whisking, add in the eggs and vanilla extract; whisk until combined, then stir in the applesauce and sour cream.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, then stir into the batter until homogeneous.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, then sprinkle the streusel on top.
Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick comes out completely clean (you can tent it with foil if the top browns too quickly).
Remove from the oven; while the cake is cooling, make the glaze.
Place butter in a small skillet and brown; remove from the heat and add stir in the salt and maple syrup.
While whisking, add in the powdered sugar, then add heavy cream to thin it to a pouring consistency (if you add too much cream, you can add in a little more sugar to balance it out).
Pour/drizzle the warm glaze over the slightly warm cake, then leave to cool completely.
Serve in thick slices with strong coffee.

Take the Cake

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by carrot cake.

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Carrot cakes are (generally) overly sweet and fatty.
Cloying sugar covers up the rich earthy undertones of the carrots.
Oil is added until the batter is slick and shiny, and when baked, greasy.

On top of this, a thick, sugared crust of cream cheese frosting, which is literally just fat and pounds of icing sugar.

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Too much sugar and too much fat—not that anyone is really under the impression that traditional carrot cake is intended to be healthy, but there is such a thing as too much of a yummy thing.

Carrot cakes have all the potential in the world, and too often they fall painfully short of delicious.

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Carrots, after sugar beets, have the most natural sugar of any vegetable.  As root vegetables, this sweetness is accompanied by a rich, round earthiness and, when cooked, a pleasant chewiness.

A whole pound of them form the base of this cake, shredded into tiny threads that all but disappear, leaving a moist, coarse crumb.

Carrots are accompanied by nutty rye flour, sweet, buttery pecans, round coconut oil and peppery olive oil, and shredded coconut that melts into the finished cake.

I reduced the sugar and oil in this recipe, replacing the standard canola oil with olive and coconut and taking the sugar down by 1/4.
Both are supplanted by a mashed up banana, which gives body and sweetness in a more wholesome way.

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This adds up to a carrot cake full of textures and flavors, without the slick of oil and heaps of sugar.
It’s carrot cake, but better.
It’s a touch more healthy, but that’s not the point—the point is to make this cake more respectable, more complex.

Take back carrot cake, people.

IMG_1375_01After reducing the amount of sugar and fat in the cake itself, I made a batch of cream cheese frosting that was on the smaller side, and much less sweet than the standard.
In order to be able to not add 1 1/4 POUNDS of powdered sugar to the frosting, I add in powdered milk, which adds body and extra flavor without the cloying sweetness.

This gets spread in a thin layer all over the cake, making it look a little naked but still pretty, IMHO.  Most of the frosting is saved for the top, and it doesn’t crust over with sugar, but remains creamy.

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Words have escaped me when I sit down to write, lately.
I don’t have much to complain about say.
I suppose I don’t feel much inspired by my life of late—not that it’s boring, but it is rather relaxed and quiet—and it leads me to be quite quiet on the blog.
I realize that many of you don’t come for the words, so I am deciding that whether they flow or not, I shall share the recipes and photos that I have in my (long) backlog.

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Maybe my next post will have more words.  Maybe not.
xx

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Rye Carrot Cake
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
makes 1 4×8 or 3×9 inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 scant pound carrots
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup desiccated coconut (sub shredded coconut)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 medium banana, mashed
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup

for the cream cheese frosting:
12 ounces (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
pinch kosher salt
1 cup dry milk powder
1 1/2-2 cups confectioner’s sugar

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 4 8-inch round baking pans.
Stir flours, baking powder and baking soda together.
In a food processor with the finest shredder attachment disk or with a cheese grater, shred the carrots as finely as you can; set aside.
Whisk sugar, salt, oils, and banana together very briskly, until completely combined and smooth.
Beat in each of the eggs and the maple syrup; whisk until completely smooth.
Add in the dry ingredients and carrots and stir to combine; when almost combined, add in the pecans, coconut, and raisins.
Scoop even amounts of the batter into the pans and smooth out with a spatula or butter knife.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the tops of the cakes are springy to the touch.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes; turn out of pans and allow to cool completely.
Make the frosting: beat butter on high speed until softened and almost white, about 5 minutes.
Add in the cream cheese and salt and beat for 3 more minutes, until completely homogeneous.
Sift the powdered milk and powdered sugar over the mixture in 4 parts, beating on high speed for 1 minute between each addition.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute; taste for sweetness.
To assemble the cake, spread 1/3 cup frosting between each layer and thinly frost the sides; use the remaining frosting to coat the top in a thick layer.
Serve at room temperature.

Mercurial

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“I have been ten days in this temple
and my heart is restless.
The scarlet thread of lust at my feet
has reached up long.
If someday you come looking for me,
I will be in a shop that sells fine seafood,
a good drinking place,
or a brothel.”

-Ikkyu,
fifthteenth-century Zen Buddhist high priest

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Mercury is no longer in retrograde, and I could not be more grateful.
I welcome March and spring and this change of heavenly bodies with a smile and a sigh.

It has been a long and harsh winter, both emotionally and weather-wise.
I am weary.  My soul, my mind, my third eye, are weary.
Three more weeks, and I have the chance to rebalance, reignite, refocus, relax.  

As I urge myself onward, through ninth, tenth, and finals week, I am comforted by the knowledge that it will all be over soon.  Thank god.  I am ready for this quarter to be over.

Mercury being in retrograde (I know it’s all hokey, but…) has seriously funked with me.
Mercury rules clear thinking, communication, and truth, and is supposedly closely linked with Virgos (das meee).
Needless to say, I don’t fully believe in astrology, but honest-to-Pete, this Mercurial retrograde has affected my life.
Things inexplicably going wrong, brain feeling fuzzy, tired, worn-out; life feeling stagnant and shallow, a shell of what it should be.
A veritable smorgasbord of bad things, a series of unfortunate events.
But it’s over!  Now Mars is in retrograde.  Hallelujer.

(I have been ten weeks in this college
and my heart is restless.)

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This is a recipe for those of you who are weary, too.
Those of you who want dessert with minimal effort and maximal results.
Who want to be reassured of Mercury’s reappearance with a perfect tart, an almost foolproof recipe.
This tart is so so simple, fast, and easy, yet manages to be show-stopping and jaw-dropping all the same.

A brown sugar tart shell, crisp and buttery, encases chewy, decadent and heavily-salted caramel studded with a mélange of crunchy, toasty nuts, served with softly whipped cream.

Crisp, chewy, crunchy, sweet.  Buttery, sticky, salty, satisfying.

It’s a finer mixed bag than the past month has been, and much tastier to boot.

Welcome back, Mercury.  Glad to have you.  Now please stop fucking with my life. xx

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Caramel Nut Tart
makes 1 6-inch tart; easily doubled for a 10-inch

ingredients:
for the brown sugar tart crust:
115 grams (8 tablespoons, 4 ounces) butter
50 grams (1/4 cup packed) brown sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk
120 grams (1 cup) flour

for the caramel:
125 grams (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
30 mL (2 tablespoons) maple syrup
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
40 mL (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream
generous pinch sea salt

to assemble:
generous 1 cup mixed nuts

to serve:
freshly whipped unsweetened whipped cream

directions:
Make the shell: in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 2 minutes, until softened.
Add the brown sugar and salt and cream for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl, add in the egg yolk, and beat for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the flour; mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
Lightly grease a 6-inch springform or tart pan, and press the dough in evenly and firmly (the dough will be cohesive, but will spread easily when pressed).
Prick all over with a fork, and freeze for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the frozen tart shell with aluminum foil, then place pie weights, dried beans or rice inside to weigh it down.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden, then remove foil and bake for approximately 15 more minutes, until shell is deeply tanned and golden.
Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the filling.
First, toast your nuts in your warm oven: place the nuts on a heavy baking sheet and toast for 7-10 minute, shaking the pan quite often to prevent burning.
Allow to cool completely, then place them in your tart shell (do not overfill!) and save some for pressing into the top.
Make the caramel: Place all ingredients except heavy cream in a small pot, and heat until golden and bubbling, about 7-10 minutes.
Quickly remove from heat and whisk in heavy cream; mixture will splatter and bubble, so be careful.
Pour caramel over nuts in tart shell and shake the pan very well to allow the caramel to seep down through the nuts.
Press the reserved nuts into the still-warm top.
Allow to cool completely.
Serve with freshly whipped, unsweetened cream.

Soie

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Time and patience change the mulberry leaf into silk.

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I have to come clean with a recent addiction.

I am hooked on The Sopranos.
It finally happened.  I started watching, and now I can’t stop.
Season 3 and still going strong.

I wouldn’t have expected myself to enjoy it as much as I do.
The complexities and fine details are what make HBO shows so great, and seeing as The Sopranos arguably started this vein of television (plot intrigue, very nuanced characters, lots of action and violence and detail), it is no exception.

It’s so bad.  I can sit and watch 3 episodes in a row and forget where I am.
It is an incredibly immersive show.

(In other Rachel-TV-addiction news: watching this and this and now this makes me want to cry and pee myself because I cannot wait one minute longer for Season 4 of Game of Thrones.  I. Am. So. Fucking. Impatient. Excited.
Currently reading A Sword of Storms… and… I just can’t even any more.  GEORGE.)

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Anyways, let’s talk panna cotta.  A true Italian masterpiece.
Panna cotta = “cooked cream.”
This delightfully simple dessert originated in Northern Italy, and consists of cream, milk, and sugar being cooked together with a touch of gelatin (fish bones, in ye olde days, but, um, ick).
The resultant custard is softly set and light on the tongue, each spoonful melting to nothing.
It’s fast, easy, versatile, impressive and a great make-ahead dessert.
I clearly have nothing but good to say about panna cotta.

A note: a good panna cotta should be smooth and silky, not gelatinous or rubbery.
Especially panna cotta that won’t be turned out of its mold.
It shouldn’t be too firm: this is not Jell-O, people.  Thank god.

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Since panna cotta has no eggs to dull the flavor, it’s a great foil for fruits, nuts, and other flavors.

This panna cotta is made with buttermilk, which cuts the cream and sits super clean on the tongue.
It adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, so that the base itself has some personality, and the dessert isn’t all about the toppings.
(I’m looking at you, fro-yo.)

You can let your imagination run wild; the flavor of the pudding itself is only slightly tangy, and not overpowering in the least.
While it’s refreshing on its own, I have a million and one ideas of toppings or mix-ins.

Here, I’ve topped each panna cotta with a splash of thick, round Grade B maple syrup, sweet and earthy,
a few fresh, plump, tart blackberries,
a smattering of crunchy, nutty pepitas,
and a hefty sprinkle of Maldon salt.

A few more ideas: add chopped fresh peaches to the base before it sets, then top with caramel and pecans and more thinly sliced peaches.
Stir some melted white chocolate into the base, top with pomegranate seeds and chocolate ganache.
Zest a lemon into the base, top with honey, hazelnuts, and raspberries.

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While we’re talking about addictions, I also need to mention Maldon sea salt.
It’s been a craze for a long time, but I never felt the urge to give into the fad.
I refused that little white rock box during many a grocery trip.  Then one day, I gave in.

And thus did it begin, my love affair with this stupid salt.
I put it on everything, from chocolate to broccoli.
I love the crunchiness; I love the pure sea flavor; I love the look of those flakes.

You saw it on these tarts and these chocolates, and now, here, on panna cotta.
A little dusting of salt can truly make the difference between a blah dessert and a lively, exciting one.

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How amazing are these little teacups?

I purchased them from a girl who lives in my house, at our house auction.
I fell in love at first sight and was willing to outbid anyone who dared go against me.

They are seriously precious; the color palette could not be more my aesthetic.  (Seriously, just take a look at my Pinterest color board.)
In addition, I love that they’re different sizes and shapes.  So dainty and adorable!

I want to (re)learn how to throw, so that I can make more plates and cups and cake stands… Oh my.
This cannot be good.

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Buttermilk Panna Cotta
adapted from Donna Hay
makes 4 small ramekins
2 teaspoons gelatin
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
pepitas, maple syrup, berries, flaky sea salt, to garnish

directions:
Mix the gelatin with 2 tablespoons of the cream and set aside to bloom.
In a small saucepot, combine buttermilk, heavy cream, and sugar.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent a skin from forming.
Remove from heat and vigorously whisk in the gelatin, ensuring that all of it dissolves.
Pour into molds and set in the fridge until firm, at least 2 hours.
Garnish with berries, a splash of maple syrup, and a sprinkle of pepitas and flaky sea salt.

Kiss Kiss

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Coucou!  Bisous bisous!

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Because what good is Valentine’s day without chocolate?

No good!  Must have chocolate.  Certainly.  Surely.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or fussy.  But you best believe it better be present somewhere.

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 If you need chocolate, these tarts are just the ticket.
They are chocolate taken to the max, pushing the boundary of being too rich, too ridiculously chocolaty.

They’re dead simple (Keep It Simple Stupid) but have serious wow factor.

Dark, fruity chocolate is spiked with a pinch of cinnamon and maple syrup, whisked into luxurious ganache with hot cream, and then poured into buttery tart shells.  

As the ganache sets, it becomes like the interior of a good truffle: soft and creamy, but with substance you can actually sink your teeth into.  Chocolate gets all over your mouth, but not a drop will be lost to the front of your shirt.

Hello, total date food in my eyes.

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This pâte sucrée is such a dream to work with.
I’ve been developing this recipe for ages; it’s my go-to.  I’ve probably made 20+ tarts using this dough.

It’s easily adaptable; swap in a different flour (even GF), add some ground nuts, some cocoa powder, press it in or roll it out.
It’s equally good when you need to parbake and when you don’t; it’s rich and buttery, but not too sweet.
Not brittle, but sturdy, and yet not heavy.  It’s light and crispy and melts on your tongue after you’ve taken a bite.

It’s not made in the way you might expect, but that’s okay.
Butter, salt, and sugar are creamed together for what feels like ages (around 5 minutes at high speed), then flour is gently mixed in as an egg yolk is simultaneously added.
The whole process takes about 10 minutes, and then you’ve got a chunk of tart dough to stick in your fridge (it’ll last a couple days) or your freezer (wrapped well in foil, it’ll last for a month or so) and use whenever your heart so desires!

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This recipe simple by design.  (KISS, people, KISS)
9 ingredients, huge return.
Easy, fast prep and long down time means these can be prepared ahead to share with your sweetheart later.
These will score you major sweetheart-points because, people.  They’re truffles in tart form.
I mean, c’mon.  It’s almost unfair how good these taste for how easy they are.

Also, we know chocolate + salt + cinnamon = devilishly good.
(Previously, in cookie form)

P.S. These truffle tarts would be greatly appreciated by anyone in the place of a box of truffles… Just sayin’.

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Chocolate Truffle Tarts
makes 6-8 small tarts, or one 8- or 9-inch tart

ingredients:
for the pâte sucrée:
114 grams butter
50 grams sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
140 grams flour
1 large egg yolk

for the ganache:
256 grams dark chocolate, chopped
200 grams heavy cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon

to assemble:
flaky sea salt
{pine nuts}

directions:
Make the pâte sucrée: beat butter, salt, and sugar together for 5 or so minutes, until incredibly fluffy and pale; there should be no grit left to the mixture.
Scrape the bowl and add in the flour, as you are slowly mixing the flour in, add the yolk and allow to dough to come together into a homogeneous ball.
Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
To roll out, use a very well floured surface and roll to 1/4 inch thickness before pressing into desired pans.
Prick all over with a fork and freeze for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the tart shells with aluminum foil and weight with dry beans or rice.
Bake for 12 minutes, until lightly golden, then remove beans and bake for 5 more minutes, until golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool while you prepare the filling.
Chop chocolate and place in a large, microwave-safe bowl with heavy cream and cinnamon.
Microwave until 2/3 melted, then remove from microwave, add maple syrup, and whisk until ganache is totally smooth and shiny.
Pour into cooled shells and refrigerate until set, about an hour.
Top with pine nuts and flaky sea salt.

Winter White

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“It comes in winter white/ in holiday disguise…”

-A Fine Frenzy

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Let’s hop aboard the crazed “winter-white” train, people.
Lord knows we’ve got enough crazy to go around in these here parts.

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I’ve certainly hopped aboard the crazy cookie train, more so than ever, I think.

I love gifting cookies!  People love to receive little sweets to celebrate with.
Personally… I eat my weight in cookies every holiday season.  It’s only natural and I won’t have it any other way lalalalala I can’t hear you.

I’ve baked sooo many cookies and packed them all up in pretty little Martha Stewart (God help me, I just wrote Marsha.  Marsha Stewart) cookie boxes, to be given away to fill people with joy and butter and sugar.

All good things.

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Can we talk about sparkles+cookies?
GUYS as if holiday sugar cookies could get any more appealing now we can add glitter and sparkly things.

I’m done for.  Definitely done for.  Look for my body underneath a mountain of luster dust.

I think I’m getting the glitter lung, Pop.

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The cookies hidden underneath all that sparkle and glitter aren’t your regular ol’ Christmas sugar cookies, either.
Nope.  I wanted to jazz that up too.  And so I did!  You will be glad.

I started with my 3-2-1-1-2-3 dough.  Out went the egg, to be replaced with thick maple syrup.
A smattering of nutmeg to heighten the nuttiness of the rye flour.
The resultant cookie is extra crisp and buttery (no eggs will do that) with a depth beyond that of any sugar cookie I’ve tasted.

I iced them with Bridget’s royal icing (1 batch), and since I used Wilton meringue powder, the icing came out just a touch lemony, which was lovely with the cookies.  If your meringue powder doesn’t have lemon extract in it, you may want to add a tiny drop.  If you’re into that kinda thang.

The glitter is white luster dust, the pearls are edible, and the sprinkling of stars are all paper thin sprinkles.

Glittery cookies!  They match my glittery ornaments!!
*stereotypical girl alert*

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Maple, Nutmeg, and Rye Sugar Cookies
ingredients:
16 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 pinches kosher salt (1 scant teaspoon)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
splash vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup rye flour

directions:
Whip the butter for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Scrape the bowl and add in the sugar and salt and beat for 3 more minutes, until there is no grit left.
Scrape the bowl and add the maple syrup, nutmeg, and vanilla; beat for 1 more minute.
Scrape the bowl and add the flour in all at once; stir until a dough forms.
Knead once or twice before turning out onto a floured surface.
Roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch, then cut the shapes you desire.
Freeze the shapes for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days before baking in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden and fragrant.
Decorate as desired: I used 1 batch of Bridget’s royal icing, left pure white, some luster dust and star sparkles, as well as some edible pearls; I used number 1 and number 4 Ateco tips.