Time Enough

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough.
—Rabindranath Tagore

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy New Year my friends!
I am as belated as anyone could expect (1/24 of the year is already gone) of my sporadic blogging schedule.

Nevertheless, I hope your year has started out brilliantly and smoothly. And I hope whatever resolutions you resolved have been a fulfilling part of the beginning of 2017. May they become habits and continue for the long run!
I have been studying non-stop for my MCAT, which will be mercifully finished in exactly 4 days/96 hours… Annnndd cue the oh-my-god-that-is-terrifyingly-soon panic attack.

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Anyways, I haven’t done much of anything fun or new in 2017. I’ve been getting back into a regular gym/lifting routine after doing yoga for all of December, and that feels damn good.
(On that note, anyone have any really good music they’ve been grooving to at the gym? I need to update my playlist ASAP.)
I want to clean out my closet (especially since I’m leaving it in just a few short months, ACK!) and give my room a deep clean, but right now I’m barely getting laundry done, let alone dusting and wiping and organizing.
I guess my fresh start will come more towards February! Or March! Or… It can always be Spring Cleaning.

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Starting off the blank slate of this year with something light and lemony feels right.
Three years ago (HOW) I made this pavlova with Greek yogurt, thyme, and berries for the same reason.

These cute little tarts are made of a buttery, whole wheat shortbread base (the WW actually adds a nice hint of nuttiness), filled with simple, creamy lemon curt, and topped off with some sweet, toasted (~er… burnt) meringue.
I love the shape of the rectangle tarts—I used a silicon mold—but you could definitely make this in an 8-inch pan.

It’s a quick recipe that’s sure to impress, and perfect for a lighter January treat!

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Back soon with cake! And Valentine’s treats, hopefully. x

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts | La Pêche Fraîche

Whole Wheat Lemon Meringue Tarts
makes 8 small tarts or 1 8-inch tart

for the crust:
240 grams (2 cups) AP flour
120 grams (1 cup) white whole wheat flour
225 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the lemon curd:
3 medium egg yolks (or 2 extra-large)
240 grams (1 cups) water
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
28 grams (1/4 cup) cornstarch
27 grams (1/8 cup, 2 tablespoons) butter
zest of 1 lemons
juice of 1 1/2 lemons (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the meringue:
2 egg whites
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water

directions:
Make the crust: place butter, sugar, eggs, salt, and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high speed for 5-6 full minutes, or until completely homogeneous, fluffy, light in color, and doubled in volume.
Stir in the flours until dough comes together; roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and line tart pans/pan of choice.
Prick all over and then freeze for at least 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; bake tart shells lined with foil and weighted with pie weights, dry rice, or beans for 8-12 minutes, depending on size and thickness of crust.
Crust should be dry to the touch, golden, and fragrant when done.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd: place water in a pot over high heat; bring to a boil.
Stir in the cornstarch and sugar and bring back to a boil while stirring constantly; mixture will be quite thick and opaque.
Remove mixture from heat and, whisking vigorously, add the egg yolks.
Return to heat and bring back to a boil while whisking the entire time.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter; whisk until an emulsion forms.
Add in the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, pressing plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming.
Fill cooled tart shells with chilled lemon curd.
Make the meringue: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the vinegar and start to whip.
Stir the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
As the egg whites become frothy, add the sugar mixture in tablespoons, until the meringue is glossy and shiny and all of the sugar is incorporated.
Using a piping bag fitted with a French or star tip, pipe the meringue onto the tarts, then torch if desired.

Reconnaissant

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.

William Cullen Bryant

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

The word for grateful in French, reconnaisant, is derived from the verb reconnaître: to recognize or acknowledge.

To be thankful is to share your appreciation.
I have so, so many thanks to give this holiday season, in spite of the fragility of 2016 in the face of so many tragedies, differences, and disagreements. I feel strongly that acknowledging good and allowing our spirits to be lifted by it is just as important and crucial to progress as discussing what we feel is wrong or problematic.

I choose to feel lucky and count my blessings, because there are so many people around the world who have too few.
I am grateful for my family, for my partner, for friends near and far, for my school and the opportunities afforded to me, for clean water and laundry and a quiet bed to sleep in at night.

My life and heart are full, and yet I keep space enough to hope for peace and unity, for universal rights and equality, and an end to the bombings of hospitals and schools in Aleppo.
I pray for women and girls around the globe, for animals losing their homes and environments, or in zoos, shelters, or abusive homes, and I pray for Mother Earth.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I thought I’d share a few (mostly food) links that have made me smile, or pause and think, or drool lately. I’m thankful for the food blogging community and the creativity that thrives in it.
Inspiration is good for the soul!

Thalia turned 21! She baked herself a glorious chocolate and hazelnut and praline cake (that frosting, omg bye) and also wrote a beautiful post (with pie) about self-transformation.

Michelle wrote some realness about the election and having work to do. So refreshing when so many have just gone on posting about yummy cakes etc. If you didn’t read her 5th blogiversary post either, definitely check it out for some food for thought about what’s really important about being a blogger.

Cindy’s apple + marionberry marzipan crumble with “chewy bits of almond paste throughout the crisp topping” sounds like the best thing, ever. Definitely want to try this over the winter!

Speaking of things I want to try, Jen made an apple rose tart that is perfection embodied. Those swirly slices! I need to try making fruit roses, especially in a dessert, yum.

Adam Ellis is a cartoonist for Buzzfeed and his instagram is guaranteed to make you laugh. Hehe.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

The frosting on Sam’s hazelnut cake, holy cow. So shiny and chocolaty! I love the idea of using sour cream to add a slight contrast to the sweetness. Plus, the post is part of a campaign for No Kid Hungry, which is doubly awesome.

Erica made a beautiful pear bourbon pie and shared a sad story and her own urgings for us all to acknowledge and work together to move forward after a divisive political season. I completely understand her hesitation to say anything about politics in a space usually reserved for happy musings, but I applaud her for being bold and sharing some of her feelings.

Those seeking comfort and solace should turn to Beeta’s classic chocolate chip cookies, which look pillowy and soft and full of chocolate. I could totally go for a warm cookie and cold milk right about now.

Ellen crying while getting a Medal of Freedom from Obama made me tear up, to be honest. She is so wonderful and this was a momentous honor.

Finally, my pictures are in a Belgian magazine!
You can check out the issue from Creacorner here—spot my Yule Stump cake!

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

The pie I’m sharing with you guys today comes together in a flash and doesn’t require any rolling of crusts, which is something that I know many people dread.

Instead, this creamy, spicy, sweet pumpkin pie has a brown butter graham cracker and cinnamon cereal crust (you know your inner child wants to try this) and a thick swirl of torched, marshmallow-y Italian meringue.

This comes together in a flash and doesn’t require any ingredients that aren’t already in your pantry.
It’s not an enormous tart/pie, so it’s good as part of a holiday dessert spread.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I urge you to give your loved ones an extra squeeze and don’t be afraid to share what you’re thankful for this year.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pumpkin Meringue Tart
makes 1 8- or 9-inch tart or pie

ingredients:
for the crust:
300 grams (2 1/4 cups) crushed graham crackers and/or cinnamon cereal
25 grams (2 tablespoons) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
100 grams (7 tablespoons) butter, melted or browned

for the filling:
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
pinch nutmeg
40 grams (1/3 cup) dry milk powder (Note: you can sub 7 ounces evaporated milk for the dry milk powder and water)
120 grams (1/2 cup) water
75 grams (5 ounces, 1 small can) evaporated milk
420 grams (15 ounces, 1 regular can) pumpkin purée
2 eggs

for the meringue:
2 egg whites
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water

directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Make the crust: crush the graham crackers and cereal into crumbs, then pour into a bowl.
Stir the sugar and salt into the crumbs, then pour the brown butter over and stir until the mixture will stick together when pressed.
Pour into an 8- or 9-inch tart or pie pan and press into an even layer.
Place the pan on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
Bake for 10 minutes, until fragrant.
Meanwhile, whisk sugar, spices, and dry milk powder together.
Add the evaporated milk and water while whisking, then stir in the pumpkin until homogeneous.
Whisk in the eggs, scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything has been incorporated.
Pour into the hot crust and place back in the oven.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake for 20-30 more minutes, or until the center just barely jiggles when you shake the pan a little bit.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the meringue: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat, fitted with a candy thermometer.
Begin to whisk egg whites while syrup heats up.
Once syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at semi-stiff peaks.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while beating at high speed.
Whip until the meringue is glossy and cooled to body temp.
Spread the meringue over the pumpkin pie and torch it as desired.

Vingt-Et-Un

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

“Strange is our situation here upon earth.
Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose.
From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”
― Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Three years ago, on the cusp of adulthood—18 starry-eyed years come and gone—I was packing up to come to UChicago.
Growing up in two big ways, simultaneously.
I was scared and melancholy to say goodbye to my so-called childhood and my home, my whole body jangly with nerves.

Things are very different this time around: I’m turning 21, about to start my last year of college—comfortable in my home away from home.
I’m supposed to already be an adult, but I’m not at all sure if I’m more confident in where my life seems to be heading. The only thing I’m certain of is that time has, miraculously, begun passing much, much faster.
I always feel this way on my birthdays (but it’s not a feeling exclusive to my b-day. Because, neuroses and all).

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

This is the first birthday that I will not spend in Ithaca, in the home I grew up in.
It feels a little strange, to be sure, to not be sitting at the kitchen counter writing this and eating cake.
It’s also the first birthday I will spend away from my amazing parents, who have given me everything and more over the years.
When I’m not with them, I never don’t miss them. But I’m indulging in a ~little~ extra pining today. It is the first, after all!

Luckily for me, I got to FaceTime them this morning and this afternoon, Nati surprised me with flowers, so I know I won’t feel too discomfited today.

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Pavlova is my favorite dessert, which is why I like to have it for my birthday cake!

I kept this one simple and classic, with three layers of crisp meringue, marshmallow-y on the inside, fluffy whipped cream, tart, luscious lemon curd, and strawberries and raspberries.

They almost inevitably crack and begin to slide and crumple when you try to cut a slice, so I usually go the loser route and stick the whole thing in a bowl when this happens.
Voilà, Eton mess!
If the prospect of your lovely pastry ending up a wonky mess in a bowl makes you nervous, take a couple shots and just cut the damn thing. With determination, I think it can be done.

Otherwise, pavlova taste just as good when scooped with a spoon.
Take it from me.

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Birthday pavlovas, previously:
18 years old
20 years old

(…And a New Year’s pavlova, for good measure.)

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche
Lemon Berry Pavlova
makes 1 3-layer 8-inch cake

ingredients:
for the meringue:
8 egg whites
1 tablespoon vinegar
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of salt

for the lemon curd:
5 egg yolks
480 grams (2 cups) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
56 grams (1/2 cup) cornstarch
55 grams (1/4 cup, 4 tablespoons) butter
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 3 lemons (approximately 1/2 to 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to assemble:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 punnet raspberries
10-15 strawberries
powdered sugar, optional

directions:
Make the meringue: preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment; draw 3 8-inch circles on the paper.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the vinegar and start to whip.
Stir the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
As the egg whites become frothy, add the sugar mixture in tablespoons, until the meringue is glossy and shiny and all of the sugar is incorporated.
Using a piping bag fitted with a French or star tip, pipe the meringue into circles on the parchment.
Bake for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and allow to cool inside the   oven to prevent cracks.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd: place water in a pot over high heat; bring to a boil.
Stir in the cornstarch and sugar and bring back to a boil while stirring constantly; mixture will be quite thick and opaque.
Remove mixture from heat and, whisking vigorously, add the egg yolks.
Return to heat and bring back to a boil while whisking the entire time.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter; whisk until an emulsion forms.
Add in the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, pressing plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming.
To assemble, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then stir in the starch and sugar.
Layer the meringue disks with lemon curd, then whipped cream, then a few berries in between; pile the rest of the berries on top and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Quatrième

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create.
If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad.
If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it.
And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud?
Just smile sweetly and suggest—as politely as you possibly can—that they go make their own fucking art.
Then stubbornly continue making yours.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy birthday to this little blog!
La Pêche Fraîche is four years old.
Which means I’ve been running this blog for 20% of my time on this earth. Don’t ask me how…

The blogiversary rundown:
3 years
2 years
1 year (Oy vey.)

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

My blog has grown along with me, starting at the tender age of 16 and sticking with me as I graduated high school and left home for the first time to come to UChicago, got my first (and second) real job, moved to NYC all on my own, snagged a wonderful boyfriend etc, etc.
The coming year will see me turn 21, will see me finish up college (yipes), and more. If all goes as planned, there will be many, many sweet treats to share along the way.

You’d think that by now, I’d have gotten the hang of things, but every new post is a learning experience.

Take this post, for example.
Another blogiversary means another pink cake. It’s become tradition for me, although I do suspect that I will, at some point, run out of pink cake ideas. I didn’t have much time to make the cake so I tried to prep ahead; I didn’t have enough egg whites to make an Italian meringue buttercream so I went with American; my macarons were far from perfect (surprise, surprise). My chocolate ganache drip looked a bit wonky and I ended up disliking the minimal frosting look, although the entire cake together had a sort of eclectic charm.
All things to learn from, and not terrible goof-ups.
But then! I managed to leave my camera at 1600 ISO throughout the entire. stupid. shoot. And what’s more, I didn’t notice until the next time I pulled out my camera, meaning half a week later, when the cake was long, long gone. Damn.

And now, the majority of this post is going to be me complaining about this post. Hahahaha.
All in all, I actually prefer last year’s and the year before. Both the aesthetics of the cakes and the words contained within the post. So maybe go read those.

That being said, this cake was a runaway hit with everyone who tasted it, so I’ll count it in the successes, rather than the flops.

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is a mix of inspiration from Andy Bowdy, Don’t Tell Charles, and Cordy’s Cakes, all of whom you can find on Instagram, and all of whom make jaw-dropping cakes.

It’s a moist chocolate cake filled and frosted with raspberry buttercream, with layers of almond macaron shells, decorated with a river of toasted Italian meringue, dark chocolate ganache drips, coconut rafaellos, cocoa crumble, more macarons, and strawberries.

There are many components, but most can be made ahead, and it is really a delicious combination.

The macaron shells between the cakes are a magical touch. I had a few people come up to me after eating the cake who asked what in the world was between the layers that made the cake sooo damn good. I had forgotten to tell everyone that there were cookies inside the cake.
Surprise cookies are almost always magical.

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Thank you all for your continued support, love, and readership.
I appreciate everyone who visits this page, even when nothing exciting or new is happening.

La Pêche Fraîche may be my own folly, but in the end, it is for you.

Here’s to another year of love, happiness, and lots of cake.

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

An Eclectic Chocolate Cake
makes 1 3-layer 6-inch cake
cake portion from Liv for Cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
90 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
56 grams (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
180 grams (3/4 cup) buttermilk
180 grams (3/4 cup) hot coffee
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

for the raspberry buttercream:
225 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
600 gram (5 cups) confectioner’s sugar, as needed
30-90 grams (2-6 tablespoons) half-and-half or whole milk, as needed
1/3 cup freeze-dried raspberries, crushed into powder
drop pink food coloring, if desired

for the meringue:
2 large egg whites
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
pinch salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water

for the cocoa crumb:
30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter, melted
30 grams (1/4 cup) confectioner’s sugar
20 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) flour
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder

to decorate:
60 grams (2 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
sliced strawberries
rafaellos
1 batch macaron shells
crushed freeze-dried raspberries

directions:
Make a batch of macaron shells (I use Annie’s recipe and follow her directions to a T) ahead of time and store in a air-tight container.
To make the cocoa crumb: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Stir together the melted butter with the sugar, then add the flour and cocoa powder at the same time. Carefully incorporate until the mixture is sandy and crumb-like.
Shake the crumbs onto the prepared pan and separate a little; bake for 5-6 minutes, until dry to the touch; allow to cool.
Crumb can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an air-tight container.
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans.
Place cocoa powder and granulated sugar in a big bowl; whisk together.
Add the oil, buttermilk, hot coffee, and salt and whisk vigorously until combined.
Add the eggs, whisking after each addition.
Stir in the vanilla.
Add the flour on top of the batter and the baking powder and baking soda on top of that.
Whisk the batter together until it is homogenous; it will be liquidy.
Portion out evenly into the 3 prepared pans and bake for 15-18 minutes in a 350 degree F oven, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until very light colored and doubled in volume.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in 4 cups of the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating on high speed after each addition.
Add in 2 tablespoons of half-and-half and beat on high speed to incorporate.
Scrape the bowl and taste the frosting; if it is too thin, add the next cup of powdered sugar; if it is too thick, add another tablespoon of half-and-half at a time.
If it is too buttery, add the extra cup of powdered sugar plus 2 tablespoons half-and-half and beat on high speed for another minute.
Add the crushed freeze-dried raspberries and food coloring, if desired, and beat to combine.
To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on serving platter and top with 1/2 cup of frosting; top with a few macaron shells and the next cake layer.
Repeat until last cake layer is used; frost with the remaining icing, leaving it semi-naked if desired.
Place in fridge while you prepare the toppings.
Melt chocolate 2/3 of the way in the microwave; microwave the cream until hot but not boiling.
Pour cream over chocolate and set aside for 1 minute.
Fill a few of the macaron shells with extra frosting; set aside or put in fridge to set.
Whisk the ganache together until very shiny, smooth, and uniform; set aside while you make the meringue.
Place egg whites and a pinch of salt in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat; begin whipping the egg whites.
When syrup reaches 240 degrees F, the egg whites should be at soft peaks.
Carefully pour hot syrup into whipping egg whites and whip on high speed until cooled, fluffy, and shiny, about 2-3 minutes.
Remove cake from fridge and decorate with a mound of meringue.
Arrange cocoa crumbs around the bottom, pour a little ganache down the sides to create a drip, and arrange sliced strawberries, more cocoa crumbs, macarons, and rafaellos around the meringue.
Torch meringue and sprinkle a little freeze-dried raspberry powder over the cake.
Serve within the day.

Cloud Nine

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”

—Rabindranath Tagore

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I always used to dream about sleeping in the clouds, with a giant white pillow on which to rest my head.
When I was younger, I would daydream out loud about it to my nanny.  Just thinking about it still calms me.
Clouds don’t always mean rain.

(Bob Ross’ happy little clouds are arguably the best example of how relaxing clouds can be…)

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Today, I’m sharing the cake equivalent of a cloud.

My go-to dark chocolate cake, not-too-sweet and rich with fruity cocoa flavor, studded with peppermint bark chips is covered in the fluffiest dang frosting I have ever tasted.
It’s a vintage icing—colonnade frosting—it’s similar to a meringue, but with a greater amount of sugar syrup and a hit of powdered sugar added in at the end.
The result is a very stable frosting that is as light as a meringue but has as much body as a marshmallow; it develops a very slight crust after setting, but remains soft on the inside.
It’s quite sweet, so it is the perfect offset to the dark chocolate cake.
The cake is topped with a few spare pieces of peppermint bark.  The whole thing ends up being a very sophisticated, non-toothpastey version of a Junior Mint.

It feeds a crowd and it’s quite festive.
Little slivers with a cup of hot tea are a brilliant way to finish off a wintry night.

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

A word on this (fantastic) frosting: it sets up rather quickly, and when it does, it becomes sticky and somewhat of a pain to work with—similar to marshmallows.
Thus, make the frosting only when you’re totally ready to finish the cake; this will decrease the likelihood of this irritation.
That being said, it’s still spreadable when it’s sticky, but it will not be smooth and shiny (see my photos—mine set up before I started with the swoops, so they look a little rough).

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Peppermint not your thing?
Other Christmas/holiday posts as follows.

This year: chocolate peppermint shortbread, 5-spice snickerdoodles, Russian teacakes, and cinnamon cereal marshmallow treats
festive marshmallow ropes

1 year ago: honey spice and dark chocolate roll-out cookies
chocolate, sour cherry, and coconut cookies, grapefruit butter cookies, and dark chocolate pecan snowcaps.
peppermint and chocolate cupcakes
souche de Noël (eggnog layer cake with ganache)

2 years ago: pepparkakor
candy cane and chocolate macarons,
Nutella and various fruity jam Linzer cookies,
maple, nutmeg, and rye roll-out cookies
gingerbread layer cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Peppermint Cloud Cake
makes 1 3-layer 8-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Sweetapolita
frosting adapted from Joe Pastry

ingredients:
for the cake:
220 grams (1 3/4 cup) flour
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
90 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
240 grams (1 cup) hot coffee
240 grams (1 cup) buttermilk
112 grams (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup peppermint bark chunks or chips, plus extra for decorating

for the frosting:
600 grams (3 cups) sugar
155 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) water
80 grams (4 tablespoons) corn syrup
4 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
22 grams (7 tablespoons) powdered sugar

directions:
Make the cake: preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 8-inch round cake pans.
Place flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.
Make 2 wells in the flour and pour the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla in one well; place the hot coffee in the other.
Whisk vigorously to combine the batter; it will be liquidy.
Stir in the peppermint bark chips.
Portion into the 3 pans and bake for 25 minutes, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place sugar, water, and corn syrup in a pot over medium heat.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the cream of tartar and whip on medium speed; whites should be at stiff peaks when the syrup reaches 240 degrees F, so increase or decrease speed as necessary.
Once the syrup reaches temperature, carefully pour into the egg whites while whipping at high speed.
Whip the meringue until cooled a little, then carefully add in the powdered sugar a little at a time.
Whip until fully incorporated, then stack and frost the cakes.
Move quickly, because the frosting sets fairly quickly.
Decorate with a few more chopped pieces of peppermint bark.

Spooky Spooky

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There’s a ghost in my lungs and it sighs in my sleep,
Wraps itself around my chest as it softly weeps.
Then it walks, then it walks with my legs
To fall, to fall, to fall at your feet.

There but for the grace of God go I
And when you kiss me, I am happy enough to die.

Ghosts, Florence and the Machine

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy almost-Halloweenie, my little ghouls, goblins, vampires, zombies, sexy cats, and everyone else in between!

It is the witching week.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Also, today is technically National Pumpkin Day, so this cake is perfectly timed.  Accidentally or not.  Whatever.
I am soooo seasonally aware.
Get on the autumnal train, people, or you will be LATE.

My advice is to do so with cake, not cinnamon-apple-scented Yankee Candles, but hey—à chacun son goût!
Grab your infinity scarves!
And tiny, tiny gourds!
And plaid, plaid, plaid.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So. 10/26: National Pumpkin Day.  Wauuuww.
As if we weren’t pumpkin obsessed enough already…!

But, to be fair, pumpkin spice lattes are, like, the ultimate representation of Fall, so National Pumpkin Day must be kind of, like, a big deal.

To be even fairer, though, there are so many amazing things about autumn that have nothing to do with a certain orange squash.  Keep your pants on, butternut, I’m not talking about you.
(Quick aside: I’m definitely making butternut squash mac and cheese for the third year in a row for Thanksgiving. So dang good.  Praise be to Jessica.)

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Here, I’ve collected a boatload of sweet foody links, pumpkin or no, that strike me as particularly autumnal.

Speaking of pumpkin round-ups, Cake over Steak hosted an enormous pumpkin party.
So many amazing savory and sweet recipes!
No, seriously: so many.

Some of my favorites from the punkin’ party include:
Courtney from F2B made an amazing orange pumpkin brûlée pie—I had never thought of that combination before, but golly it sounds good now that I have…

HEY what’s up helloooo—Alana turned all my pumpkin cheesecake dreams into a fluffy, cloud-like Japanese ones, and then added caramel and pecans.

Cindy and I had the same thought process with the whole pumpkin + chocolate situation.  All those buttery crumbs make me reconsider my preference for layer cakes over coffee cake.

Speaking of chocolate and pumpkin, the hot cocoa glaze on Tieghan’s baked buttermilk pumpkin donuts is mesmerizing.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple syrup/maple flavored goods are my favorite fall/winter flavor, by far.
Laura’s quinoa porridge with maple roasted pears is such a glorious way to start the day.  Maybe at some point I’ll get my life together and be able to have a composed breakfast.

Alanna takes the best photos, my Lord.
And these maple chestnut pudding chômeurs are incredible.
Listen, the Québécois know autumn, and know winter, and they definitely know maple.  I trust their choice to have such a delectable, classic dessert.
(Fun fact/knowledge drop that Alanna included: chômeur/chômeuse means unemployed individual in French.  These puddings were said to bring comfort to these Québécois during the Great Depression.)

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Finally, chocolate and cakes are always welcome:
Megan’s wreaths would be so cute during the holidays, and they’re legitimately the prettiest brioche I have ever laid eyes upon.  Brava!

Michelle’s naked chocolate and hibiscus cake is so pretty.
Naturally pink frosting is particularly appropriate for breast cancer awareness month!

Yossy’s is the most attractive carrot cake ever.
Those process shots always impress and inspire me, since I never photograph them.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I told you that was going to be a lot of links.

But now, I’m going to bring it back around to my little contribution to Halloween/National Pumpkin Day.
This isn’t quite as scary as my heart cake was, but I think the poor unfortunate souls trapped in the salted ganache are adorable and just the right amount of spooky.
You may want to make the tops of your ghosts a little more rounded or folded over.  My piping bag may or may not have been uncooperative, leading to some not unkind, worried probes into what exactly these little white ~hoods~ were supposed to be.
Well. IMHO they are clearly ghosts.  So let that conversation be terminated, thank you and goodnight.

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Little crunchy meringue ghosts haunt this cake.
They sit atop a wash of salted dark chocolate ganache that drips down the sides of a moist, heavily spiced pumpkin cake frosted with fluffy, 3-ingredient chocolate buttercream and filled with spicy sweet pumpkin butter.

Each bite balances rich and salted chocolate with spicy pumpkin—it’s a more complex twist on the traditional cream cheese/pumpkin combination, and it keeps the cake from being cloying.
This cake is incredible with or without the crunch of the meringues, so don’t stress if you don’t feel like drawing faces on fifty thousand little cookies.
You can totally leave out the pumpkin butter if you can’t find any—just add a little extra frosting between the layers!

This would be such a cute centerpiece for a Halloween celebration!  It’s definitely an attention grabber.
It somehow tastes even better on the second day, so you can make it ahead (just leave the meringues off until before serving)—
this is the perfect spooky party cake!

Spooky Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Meringue Ghosts
makes 1 3x6inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Cooking Classy

ingredients:
for the cake:
55 grams (1/4 cup, 2 ounces) butter, soft
50 grams (1/4 cup) neutral oil
135 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
220 grams (7 1/2 ounces, 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) pumpkin purée
30 grams (2 tablespoons) milk
195 grams (1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the whipped ganache frosting:
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 cup, 2 sticks) butter
180 grams (6 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional
small pinch salt

for the ganache drip:
45 grams (1.5 ounce) dark chocolate, chopped
45-60 grams (3 tablespoons-1/4 cup) heavy cream
small pinch salt

for the meringue ghosts:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional
pinch salt
black food writing pen

to assemble:
pumpkin butter, if desired

directions:
Make the meringue ghosts, up to 2 days before: preheat oven to 200 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Prepare a piping bag with a round tip.
Place egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt into a small pot over medium heat, and start the egg whites to whipping.
When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, the sugar syrup should be at 245 degrees F.
Remove from heat and carefully pour into whipping egg whites.
Allow to whip until somewhat cooled, about 4 minutes, then fill the pastry bag and pipe out little ghost shapes.
Bake for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and allow to dry in the oven overnight.
When dry, use a black food color pen to draw on little ghost faces!
Now, make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Place butter and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer with both sugars and the salt.
Beat on high speed for 4 minutes, until very light and fluffy and not gritty.
Add in the eggs, vanilla, and spices, and beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and stir in pumpkin purée and milk.
When almost homogeneous, add in the flour and baking soda and baking powder all at once.
Stir for another minute or so until fully homogeneous.
Portion out into the prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the whipped ganache: place butter, chocolate, corn syrup, and salt into a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second bursts until 2/3 of the way melted.
Whisk vigorously until smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Whip at high speed for 3-4 minutes until very fluffy and light in color.
Frost cake right away by spreading a tablespoon or two of pumpkin butter on a layer, then adding a 1/4 cup of frosting, then repeating until all layers are used up.
Frost with a generous layer of fluffy ganache, then refrigerate while you make the ganache drip.
To make the liquid ganache, place chocolate and salt in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until 2/3 of the way melted.
Microwave the heavy cream until lukewarm, about 30 seconds, then whisk vigorously into the chocolate until the ganache is smooth and shiny.
Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes until somewhat thickened.
Meanwhile, to get the mottled look that I’ve gone for, use a hot offset spatula to smooth and slightly melt the chilled frosting, then carefully pour the still-warm ganache over the edge of the chilled cake.
Refrigerate until the drip is set, then place the ghosts on top!

Decade II

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche FraîchePassionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

She said,
“I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.
I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone.  People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but
people will never forget how you made them feel.”

—Maya Angelou

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche FraîchePassionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

It doesn’t really feel like my birthday today.
It couldn’t possibly be.
And yet here I am, turning twenty.
My body and soul have completed one more trip around the sun.
September 16th.
20 years old; 2 decades done and dusted.
Today is a very special day; it’s the day when all my Facebook friends will murmur their felicitations on my wall.
Hbd, hbd.  Heartfelt.  Ha. Ha.
But in all seriousness—and maybe it seems too cliché and millennial—these little reminders are a sweet part of the day; after all, people are taking their time out to send me a little wish.
It would be wasteful to not be thankful, although my friends and I no longer keep count the way we did in middle school.
Thank God.

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche FraîchePassionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

As I age (o, le pauvre, j’suis vraiment trop vielle…), birthdays become a new sort of clarifying moment.
What becomes important and what falls out of magnification are telling.
That which I reflect upon, replaying over and over, and those minutiae that I let fall to the wayside simply because they are heavy are telling.
Somehow, the nights that bookend my Glorious Day of Birth find me in tears and astounded gratitude for my life/the world.
I aim more and more, these days, to take nothing for granted.  To live and revel in what is important, and let all else go.  In some ways, to depart from my hyper uptight nature.
Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche FraîchePassionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

When I was little (very little and even not-so-little), my birthdays would always, always end in a tantrum, in a great storm cloud of frustration and sadness and lots and lots of crying.
Why?
I’m not quite sure why, exactly.
There was always such a buildup of excitement and anticipation; I think we’re all familiar with the over-hype of a birthday.
I’m type-A, to say the least; even when I was 5, when the smallest thing would go wrong with the endless and carefully laid plans that my mom and dad had made, tailored to my obsessive specifications, I would melt (Princess hats must be more CONE-shaped, Mummy, and they must be pink satin).
My parents, patient pillars that they are, would herd the little party guests away from their red-faced, sobbing spawn.

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

When I think back on these times (and, curiously, I do remember snippets from these parties, though little else from that age remains in the dusty cabinets of my brain), I laugh and cringe and feel ashamed.
But mostly, I am moved and inspired by what my creators put up while at the mercy of my meaty little birthday paws.
I feel their love and forbearance even through the years.

I couldn’t ask for better birthday memories than those.

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche FraîchePassionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s strange to think of how old I have become.
Even stranger to think how it must look to others.
I am, after all, the baby of the family.
My brothers wonder that I’m not still 8; my parents marvel at the years that have flown by; my peers are suspicious that I haven’t been 23 this entire time…
I don’t know which age I perceive myself to be.  I just know it can’t possibly be twenty—that number feels like an ill-fitting shoe on the wrong foot for now.
But it will wear in (gracefully, I pray), and by the time 21 and Adulthood roll around, I know that I shall be twenty through and through.  Just in time to start over again.

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

A pavlova is my idea of a perfect birthday cake.
It is the ultimate dessert for me—no question about it.
So light, so airy and fluffy—the perfect cloud of dessert.
I, of course, prefer primarily fruity sweets to deep, dark chocolaty ones.
And my birthday cake is therefore appropriately fruitful.

A very sturdy, slow-baked meringue with a hint of salt forms the layers of the cake.
Tart, buttery, and unmistakably fruity passionfruit-lemon curd is spread over, then topped with smooth, cool whipped cream.
Jewel-like late-season raspberries accentuate each layer, as do light lashings of dark chocolate nutella ganache, a perfect rich and sweet foil to the tart fruits.

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Each bite is a harmonious melange of textures and flavors.  It’s a birthday cake perfectly suited to my tastes, and it is simply delicious!
P.S. I actually like making my own birthday cakes, because then I don’t have to feel a single ounce of guilt for cutting into it early for photographs!

Too bad pavs don’t cut very cleanly…!
I preemptively put this one in a bowl and used a spoon to scoop; the first cut rendered it utterly slippery and slidey and it was not long for the layered life.
Now, it’s an Eaton mess.  And I ain’t even worried.

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

The monument of a memory
You tear it down in your head
Don’t make the mountain your enemy
Get out, get up there instead
You saw the stars out in front of you
Too tempting not to touch
But even though it shocked you
Something’s electric in your blood.

Various Storms and Saints, Florence and the Machine

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Chocolate Pavlova
makes 1 8-inch pavlova

ingredients:
for the meringue layers:
100 grams (10 large) egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vinegar
500 grams (2 1/2 cups) sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch kosher salt

for the passionfruit curd:
125 grams (1/2 cup) passionfruit pulp, thawed if frozen
2 egg yolks
3 eggs
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
150 grams (6 ounces) butter, cold

to assemble:
60 grams (2 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
45 grams (3 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 tablespoons nutella
pinch kosher salt

3 cups heavy cream, cold

raspberries

directions:
Make the meringue: preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line 2 being sheets with parchment; draw 3 8-inch circles on the paper.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the cream of tartar and vinegar and start to whip.
Stir the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
As the egg whites become frothy, add the sugar mixer in tablespoons, until the meringue is glossy and shiny and all of the sugar is incorporated.
Using a palette knife, spread the meringue into rough circles on the parchment, using the knife to create high sides.
Bake for 5 hours, then turn off the oven and allow to cool inside the   oven to prevent cracks.
Meanwhile, make the passionfruit curd: whisk passionfruit pulp, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, salt, and lemon juice together.
Place cold butter in a food processor or blender.
Cook over medium heat; sift cornstarch over while whisking; bring to a boil.
When curd comes to a boil and thickens, pour over cold butter; start the machine and process until the butter has emulsified.
Allow to cool completely, then press a piece of plastic wrap against  the surface and refrigerate until chilled.
To assemble, melt the chocolate, nutella, salt, and cream together, then whip vigorously until shiny and thick.
Whip the cream to stiff peaks.
Place 1 layer of meringue on a cake plate; secure the bottom with a dollop of curd if desired.
Spread a layer of curd onto the meringue, then a layer of whipped cream.
Drizzle a little chocolate sauce onto the whipped cream, then place a few raspberries.
Repeat the process with the remaining layers; finish the top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, if desired.
Best eaten the day it is made.

Magical

Vegan Eton Mess | La Pêche Fraîche

You know what a loser is? A real loser is somebody that’s so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try.

—Little Miss Sunshine

Vegan Eton Mess | La Pêche Fraîche

I recently tried something new and a little big magical.
It wasn’t quite perfect, but it wasn’t half-bad, either.
I learned a lot and I know now that I’m going to try it again—maybe even until I get those near-perfect results.
Maybe not.  Depends on my patience.

Either way, it was supercool and blew my mind.

Vegan Eton Mess | La Pêche Fraîche

As some of you might be aware of, this past spring, a nasty outbreak of avian influenza has decimated populations of chickens and poultry, particularly hens kept in unsanitary and inhumane factory farms.
(Just being frank, friends.)
Michigan recently cancelled its poultry fair, as the first cases of bird flu spread to their state.

There’s no vaccine—so sick and healthy birds alike must be killed to try to stop the flu.  Some 40 million of them, in fact.
This boils down to eggs being in shorter supply and the US agricultural economy taking a huge blow.

Think this is enough to get us all to stop and think about our farming practices and how animals and animal products are raised and made?

And how can we responsibly move forward as consumers and customers?

Vegan Eton Mess | La Pêche Fraîche

You all know my favorite desserts contain meringue (read: pavlova, daquoise, macaron, IMBC…).
And we all know that meringue can’t be made without eggs, right?

WRONG!

Sorry for shouting.  BUT YOU GUYS some genius food scientist figured out how to make vegan meringue out of aqua faba, or bean water.  Yes, the stuff that you drain off the top of a freshly opened can of beans.

Egg whites, in reality, are just water with suspended proteins; when they are whipped, the proteins form a net and the water is suspended, creating a foam (meringue!).

Using another type of protein solution, as it turns out, can work nearly as well.

So these eton messes are vegan.
And the meringue is made of chickpeas.
And I saved a couple eggs in the process.

Vegan Eton Mess | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s so, so simple.
Just use the drained water from a can of beans, and whip the living daylights out of it until it forms a foamy, fluffy meringue.
Stabilize with a little powdered sugar and starch, and you’ve got fluffy, pipeable meringue.

This was my first attempt, and my lovely fluffy meringues got all deflated in the oven, so that although they were crispy and light, they weren’t as tall as I wanted.
I’m going to try again, with different methods of stabilization and perhaps different beans.

The rest of the vegan eton mess was a bit of cold and creamy coconut whip, some sweet sliced bananas and crunchy toasted coconut, and a few golden star sprinkles for an extra magical touch!

Vegan Eton Mess | La Pêche Fraîche

Since my first vegan meringue didn’t come out quite perfectly for me, I’m still working on my own adaptations to the recipe I used so that the meringues stay super fluffy and tall, even after baking.  They were delicious as is, though, so I want to direct you to the original recipe should you want to try.
Check it out here, at Wallflower Girl!
For coconut whip, check out Minimalist Baker (duh).

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!