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.

Flopsy

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

The little Flopsy Bunnies slept delightfully in the warm sun.
From the lawn beyond the garden came the distant clacketty sound of the mowing machine.
The blue-bottles buzzed about the wall, and a little old mouse picked over the rubbish among the jam pots.

—Beatrix Potter, The Flopsy Bunnies

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

It is irrevocably spring here in Chicago, finally.
It’s lovely and warm and sunny, and the cold grey drizzles and wind have, for the most part, stopped their daily doldrums. Of course, the 48 hours in which I am posting this have been very stormy. Typical.
We’re planning on doing a little gardening in Psi U’s front lawn this week—nothing sounds better to me than being out in the sunshiny weather.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

This past weekend, we jetted off to Portugal for my brother’s wedding. It was indescribably amazing (though the traveling itself was a nightmare—a story too long and too full of annoyances to recount). We flew into Lisbon and spent Saturday on Mariana’s family’s ranch (Herdade do Amendoiera) in Arraiolos. The wedding was beautiful, and I cried a lot. You couldn’t have asked for better weather or a lovelier location. Really. We were so lucky.

Sunday, Nati and I explored Lisbon on our own. Oh my gosh! There was so much we left unseen, and what we did see was fascinating. The city is beautiful, and has so many historical sites to see. We had a fabulous dinner at the Time Out market in Baixa, which was like a beefed up Eataly or like Chelsea Market (lots of restaurants and market stands). I cannot recommend it enough—the prices were good, the food was delicious, and the available variety was breathtaking.

Monday, we flew home—48 short hours in European paradise. I can’t wait to go back.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

How cute are these little carrot cake petit fours?
I shared them on Instagram the day before Easter and people went crazy for them! I was all intent on getting the recipe up in time for Easter, but here we are, friends.
I think these are perfect for any spring occasion, though. I personally love carrot cake so I wouldn’t complain to see these bite-sized pieces at any time of year.

They’re moist, two-bite wonders, slightly sweet and chewy from the carrot and topped with a generous swirl of tangy cream cheese whipped cream. The best part, in my opinion, are the little marzipan and lime zest carrots on top—they add a nutty sweetness and a tiny citrus-y kick that really perks up the cake.
Too often, carrot cake is dense and heavy—by miniaturizing it, you avoid some of this, and by using a non-traditional cream cheese frosting (no butter, light on the sugar), you lighten the dessert up even further.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

To bake these, I actually used an oven-safe ice cube mold. You could use a mini brownie pan or just bake them in a square 8×8 pan and cut them into shapes.

The marzipan carrots are easier than you think—just have a little patience and add the food coloring extremely slowly! I use Wilton and Americolor. For the lime zest leaves, I actually just zested a lime onto a plate and used tweezers to drop it onto the cake. That way, I had a little more control. You could also just sprinkle it on or make leaves out of marzipan.

Carrot Cake Bites | La Pêche Fraîche

Carrot Cake Bites
makes 12 petit-fours or 1 8×8 cake

ingredients:
60 grams (2 ounces, 1/4 cup) butter
50 grams (1/4 cup) packed brown sugar
50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 egg
30 grams (2 tablespoons) neutral oil
75 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 medium sized carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)

for the frosting:
120 grams (120 mL, 1/2 cup) heavy cream
140 grams (5 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
90 grams (3/4 cup) powdered sugar

to assemble:
30-60 grams (1-2 ounces) marzipan
orange food coloring
1 lime

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour your baking dish.
Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and egg together on high speed until doubled in volume and lightened in color.
Add in the oil and mix on low speed until homogeneous.
Add in the flour, baking powder and soda, spices, and salt and mix until batter just starts to come together.
Stir in the carrots and portion out into baking dish.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the baking dish—a cake tester should come out clean.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, shape the marzipan carrots and zest the lime.
To make the frosting, whip the cream cheese and powdered sugar together until fully mixed; whip the cream separately and then slowly mix the two together, being careful not to knock all the air out of the cream.
Frost the petit fours however you desire, and top with a marzipan carrot and a dusting of lime zest for the leaves.

La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

—Louis Armstrong, La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

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

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

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

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Sending love to all of you! xx

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Valentine’s Day, previously:

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

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

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

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

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

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

Elegant Disorder

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The second law of thermodynamics… states that the amount of disorder in the universe will always increase.
“If we see alien science someday, they will have the equivalent equation,” Tufte said.
“That’s real elegance.”
(Tom Stoppard, in his play “Arcadia,” summarized this law as
You cannot stir things apart.”)

—Patrick House, “What is Elegance in Science?” from the New Yorker

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“That kind of self-respect is a discipline,
a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.
It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag.
As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that,
but the psychological effect alone is incalculable:
it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag.
There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves;
imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal,
in a cold shower.”

—Joan Didion

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Balance, ever sought—ever fickle.

It seems—often in autumn—that I bite off a hunk that is, for the most part, far too tough to chew.
I gnaw my way through, tired, weak, cranky, and overwhelmed, drawn forward really only by the inevitability of Thanksgiving, of winter break;
by the measly promise of three full days outside of the library.

The majority of November has escaped me (and this blog)—and it’s long overdue that I stop back in to share some treats.

(It’s been three weeks of radio silence—cruel and longer than usual to be sure!)

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chicago has already had our first snow storm (the past two days have been quite the wintry mix), and UChicago’s fall quarter is only 2 weeks from done.
Which means autumn is well on its way out.
And no pies to show for it…!

Honestly, I’m not even sure where the time has gone, which is woefully typical of this quarter.
Last autumn, I went for about a month without a post because of school stress and Pinterest-related issues.

With the holidays approaching (I’ve already written my yearly Thanksgiving Manifesto, which usually rounds out at about 10 pages of recipes, lists, schedules, etc.), rest assure that I’ll be around far more often.

Gift-worthy cookies and cakes are on the way, from a sorry and guilty resident blogger.

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For now, this is a birthday cake!

This cake was from mid-October, AKA Alexa’s birthday.
It appeared in the kitchen at a busy time, when there were other treats and people were busy.

As a result, it sat for an entire day, perfectly cased in smooth frosting and drippy caramel, before being sliced into.

I swear, you guys, this cake got better on the second and third days.  It was miraculous.
I made the cakes and caramel a week before, and froze/refrigerated them.

The cakes retained an incredible amount of moisture, and thawed into lusciously dense, tightly-crumbed specimens.

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The layers are comprised of dense almond cake, buttery and subtly almond-esque.
The frosting is white chocolate and vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream, which crusts ever-so-slightly, creating a soft and creamy inside with a sugary, crunchy coat.
Lashings of salted caramel are poured over the top and allowed to drip all the way down (only to be swiped away by greedy fingers!), and covered with a dusting of gold luster dust and glitter stars and a few of my tallest candles.

Seriously, can you see those vanilla bean flecks?!
Swoon.

The flavor combination here—almond, white chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and cream cheese—is rich but far more interesting than a vanilla on vanilla cake.

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I get asked fairly often what the trick to drippy caramel cakes is.
My most foolproof caramel drip is the result of completely cool caramel.
It’s best to make your caramel a full day ahead and leave it covered on your counter overnight.
This way, you ensure that it’s really at room temperature—it takes a long time, and it’s easy to try to cut corners.
But even slightly warm caramel will not give you the same result.
And if you are super worried about overly melty caramel, just decrease the cream by 1 or 2 tablespoons.

Happily, like I said, the cake and caramel here can be made up to a week ahead and frozen/refrigerated, respectively.
The frosting takes 15 minutes to whip together and once frosted, the cake is good to go for up to two days.
So you can assemble the cake the day before and stay cool as a cucumber, no matter what your party day looks like!

That’s what I call a celebration cake!

White Chocolate and Caramel Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

White Chocolate Almond and Caramel Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Sky High

ingredients:
for the almond cake:
140 grams (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, soft
170 grams (6 ounces) almond paste, crumbled
270 grams (1 1/3 cups) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 egg whites
180 grams (3/4 cup) milk
270 grams (2 1/4 cups) flour
2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

for the white chocolate vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) butter, softened
225 grams (8 ounces) cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
scrapings of 1 vanilla bean
460 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream, or as needed
4 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

for the salted caramel:
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

to assemble:
gold luster dust, optional
edible gold stars, optional

directions:
Make the salted caramel up to a week in advance: place sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook until the temperature reaches 245 degrees F.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in butter and heavy cream.
Keep whisking until the caramel comes together fully.
Pour into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap touching the surface and refrigerate until use.
Make the almond cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans well.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 2 minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add in crumbled almond paste, sugar, and salt.
Beat on high for 5 full minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the vanilla extract, egg whites, and milk.
Mix on low speed until halfway combined; the batter may look curdled at this point.
Add in the flour and baking powder on top of the battler and mix on low until homogeneous.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed for 15 seconds to ensure even mixing.
Portion the batter out evenly into the 3 prepared pans and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
To make the frosting, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on high for 4 minutes.
Add in the cream cheese, vanilla bean, and salt and whip for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, making sure all is incorporated before adding more.
Add heavy cream as needed; once all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, drizzle in the cooled white chocolate while whipping on high.
To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake stand.  Frost with 1/3 cup frosting, then drizzle some salted caramel over top.
Add the next layer and repeat.
Crumb coat very well, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before finishing the frosting.
Smooth the icing with a hot knife.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before drizzling the cooled caramel around the edges.
Top with gold luster dust, edible gold stars, and candles.

Almond Joyous

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

—From Sonnet 8, Shakespeare

Almond Joy Cake 070_01

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

Let them eat cake, indeed.

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

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

How twee are the little flags on this cake?!

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

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

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Almond Joy Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

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

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

to assemble:
225 grams (8 ounces) almond paste

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

Troisième

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

—Roald Dahl

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

—Deuxième, May 29 2014

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

My two absolute favorites:

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

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

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

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

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

—Maya Angelou

Vanilla Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vanilla Almond Cake
makes 1 4 layer 6-inch cake

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

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

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

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

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!

Copacabana

I peer out at the sun,
slowly relenting to the day’s end,
approaching the horizon and dragging its feet, dropping inch by inch,
white in its brightness from behind an evening haze.
Sand gives way to my burrowing toes,
digging for hidden treasures deep
beneath the soft carpet.
Shadows form, stretch and elongate their necks,
casting blue light, then purple, over their minute footprint kingdoms.
A lizard tongue darts out from between my lips,
savoring the sharp tang of salt.
I am reeling in the wake of a good book,
drunk on sunshine and delirious from the soft breeze,
which caresses my hair and gently dries the last drops on my skin,
leaves me as briny as the unending cerulean sea at which I squint.
These cupcakes remind me of sunny summer days.
It’s because they’re redolent with coconut and banana, with a pinch of cinnamon to round it all out.
The carrots provide a lovely texture, with just enough chew, punctuated by crunchy nuts.
 
Or maybe it’s just because as I was trying to name them, I saw this video.  
Immediately, they became cocobanana cupcakes- like copacabana.
I don’t know.  It made sense at some point or another.
These cupcakes are pretty darn healthy for cake.
They’re ideal pre-test food.
 
Coconut oil is full of MCFA (medium chain fatty acids) which are quickly metabolized by the body, unlike many other fats.
Walnuts are a brain food.  They’ve got a ton of omega-3 fatty acids (1/4 cup of walnuts provides 94% of your daily recommended value), which are crucial for proper brain function, and which almost no one gets enough of.  You find them in other nuts and seeds like flax and hemp, and they help with cognition, memory, and problem-solving.
Bananas have potassium, as does the molasses left in the raw sugar, key to maintaining proper balance in your body.
The carotenoids (namely, beta-Carotene) in the carrots and carrot juice used in the marzipan 
Cinnamon can help with regulating blood sugar, so you don’t get any nasty sugar spikes and resulting crashes.
The tumeric that I used to dye the marzipan is full of anti-oxidants.
Practically health food.
Practically.
I’ll be back on Saturday with a new post.
Or maybe not.
I have two AP math finals (Calc BC and Stats) tomorrow and Friday.
If i’m not back, check in the exam rooms.
There is a great and terrifying possibility that I will have expired right in my chair.
Chain rule, chain rule, chain rule.

Cocobanana Carrot Cupcakes
makes 24 mini cupcakes + 8 regular, or 18 regular cupcakes

for the cakes:
ingredients:
2/3 cup raw sugar (sub brown sugar)
1 banana, mashed
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted then measured (you can sub canola)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch each cinnamon and salt
1/2 pound carrots, shredded (on a cheese grater or using a food processor)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line your cupcake tins with liners.
Stir the sugar, banana, oil, eggs, and vanilla together in a large bowl.
Dump all of the flour over top and sprinkle the baking soda, cinnamon, and salt over the flour.
Stir until just coming together, then add the carrots and walnuts and stir until thoroughly combined.
Evenly portion into cupcake liners, and bake for 11-12 minutes for minis, 15-16 for regular size.

for the frosting:
ingredients:
8 tablespoons butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
Pinch salt
Splash vanilla extract
directions:
Beat everything together, with a paddle attachment, until smooth.
Pipe or spread onto cupcakes as desired.


I topped my cupcakes with some homemade marzipan that I made out of carrot juice, almond meal, and sugar.  I tinted it with some tumeric (I actually love the spicy, mustardy flavor of tumeric in sweets, I know, it’s weird.) and a little food coloring.