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!

Holiday Kitsch

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m lying on the moon
My dear, I’ll be there soon
It’s a quiet, starry place
Times were swallowed up
In space we’re here a million miles away

There’s things I wish I knew
There’s no thing I’d keep from you
It’s a dark and shiny place
But with you my dear
I’m safe and we’re a million miles away

The Moon Song, Karen O

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s grey and dreary here.
Us folks from the Fingerlakes (and upstate NY in general) are used to harsh winters.  We don’t get the same kind of wind as Chicago or the volume of snow as Montana, but we do get the grey.

We pride ourselves on braving the cold, sucking it up, etc. etc.
(I’m serious: just the other day, I was told I had gone soft because I was wearing a big down parka and it was only, oh, say, 25 degrees.  Indignant, I cited that it was the only coat I brought home and that I need such a warm one because I live in a place where it gets to negative 50 Fahrenheit with windchill.  This remark was met with narrowed eyes and puffed, unimpressed nonchalance.)

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I suppose grey and dreary necessitates naps and snuggles and warm blankets+hot cocoa and plenty of good books and movies, but so does white and fresh, and I am positively certain that I would prefer a few feet of snow over this lingering, dripping rain.

Taking photos in this cursed weather is quite the bear.
In summer, the problem with Ithaca was the green.
All my photos were tinged with the reflections of so many thousands of bright young leaves, impossible to easily wipe out, without inadvertently creating purple food.
Now, in the winter, the problem is the darkness.  Low shutter speeds are prone to shake (guess who didn’t bring her tripod with her…), and noise is an eternal annoyance.

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Despite this, when I made these little tree-topped cupcakes, I was determined to get the (clichéd) powdered sugar shot.
So, I splayed out on the ground (unfortunately for me, I live in a 2-cat, 1-dog household and was wearing black leggings), with my camera perched on no fewer than 7 big books.

Now, I have another of these clichés to add to my resume.
Previously: here and here and here.
But, I will say, I have yet to get a coveted syrup-pouring shot.
I’m staying patient, friends: it will happen.

Definitely worth the hair-covered lulus.

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I saw a picture of cupcakes topped with tiny little trees on Instagram forever ago and they have been on my to-make list ever since.

I only had big tree cookie cutters, which were sure to overwhelm the cupcakes.  Luckily for me, I found the teeny-tiniest little tree cutter which is totally twee.

(Twee trees? Hmm?)

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

These little cuppycakes are made of the moistest chocolate buttermilk cake ever.  They’re springy yet rich, with a good chocolate bite that’s sweet with a thin edge of salt.

They’re topped with whorls of luscious, silky, peppermint Italian meringue buttercream.  The cool, clear peppermint pairs well with the buttery frosting, and a pinch of salt prevents it from being cloying.

The final touch is a little chocolate cookie, delightfully crispy and crunchy, with a little sprinkle of powdered sugar snow.

Perfect little wintermint cupcakes!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I love the idea of topping cupcakes with little cookies, now.  So many possibilities and combinations!

For that matter, you could top these cupcakes with cookies made of honey spice dough, or regular sugar cookie dough, or any other type of roll-out cookie that you so desire (maybe up the chocolate-peppermint ante with a drop of peppermint extract in chocolate dough?).

If you don’t like peppermint, replace it with a drop of vanilla and you have utterly classic chocolate and vanilla cupcakes—equally delicious and versatile!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

If I can manage, there may be a yule log up here, eking in on Christmas Day itself.
If not, have a happy, safe holiday, and I’ll see you on the other side!

Chocolate and Peppermint Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes with Peppermint IMBC
cupcake portion adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
makes 7 cupcakes

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
1/4 cup (20 grams) dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (48 grams) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
scant 1/4 cup (40 mL) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 cup (60 mL) buttermilk

for the peppermint IMBC:
3 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (110 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
1 cup (225 grams) butter, cut into chunks, softened but cool
1 drop peppermint extract

directions:
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 7 cupcake wells with liners.
Whisk together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugars.
Whisk the oil, egg, vanilla extract, and buttermilk together, then pour into the dry ingredients until the batter is homogeneous.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions into each of the tins.
Bake cupcakes for 15-18 minutes, until springy and a tester comes out nearly clean.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely.
Make the peppermint IMBC: 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.
Beat until meringue is cooled, then whip in butter one small chunk at a time.
Beat until the frosting has come together; it should take about 3 minutes at high speed; it should be fluffy and shiny.
Frost the cupcakes as desired; top with chocolate cookies and powdered sugar!

Forêt Noire

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Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

–Pablo Neruda, Lost in the Forest

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I can’t write the introduction to this post.
I have tried, deleted, tried again.  And again.

It was my dad’s birthday that prompted this cake.
So, I guess I’ll start with that: happy birthday, again, Daddy.

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I was going to begin by talking about how all news seems like bad news these days;
how this blog is not meant to discuss politics but rather butter and sugar;
and yet how stiflingly hard it is to read the paper,
to come to the realization of just how many things are going so very wrong on our planet;
how such current events leave me, as far as writing goes, speechless—wordless—frozen.

This opening, as you can probably intuit from the summary, was wholly incongruous with the happy, cheery, pink cake I’m currently shoving in your face.

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It’s like the New York Times—and Bill Hayes—read my mind.
If you’re a usual reader, you know that I’ve been struggling of late to put the pen to the page.
So much white space between photographs.

I’m practicing non-writing, I suppose, but I’m still in the stages of denial.
I want to write, I can and should write, but I feel I have little to say.
My life is just so goddamn monotonous these days (which, if I’m being truthful, I love. That’s what summer is for) and I mostly spend my time, apart from baking, which you already hear about, reading Game of Thrones or working out or or pining after N, and life around the world, as I have just mentioned, is terrifyingly depressing—death and doom seem inescapable.

These things do not a lively blog post make, friends.

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This space begs to be filled and yet frustratingly sucks up the feeble, meager lines that I proffer up.
It demands real writing, real words, and even when I concede to “non-writing”, a few snippets here and there, nothing serious, it whispers in my ear, sending shivers and doubt up my spine… don’t you think they’ll get bored without words?

For what is this blog without words?
Confessions of Confection.

It’s an empty shell of what I envision it to be; La Pêche Fraîche started because I had so much to complain about say, and because people generally only respond favorably to such whining when it is accompanied by dessert.
(I’m kidding, of course—in reality, the whining came after the desserts.)

Most of the posts of which I am proudest (oh, say, here, here, here, or here, if you want to hear me toot my horn tout my writing. Toot toot) came pouring out with a tumble of emotions and little in the way of the forceful tugging I now must do.

Fo now, each paragraph is another stubborn tooth to be pulled from the bleeding gums of my mind, and rather than satisfying as it is laid on the page, it leaves a gaping hole of limp disappointment.
(My recent experience with wisdom teeth has given me an exquisitely clear understanding of such pain.)

Ugh stop looking at me like that.
I knew I shouldn’t have used that analogy.

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And look here, now, somehow I have managed to produce more volume of self-indulgent grousing than literally everything else I have written lately combined.
How very me.

But there is cake, people!
Not just cake, there is a great feat of sugar that demands to be spoken about, a great big fat pink elephant in the room post.

This is a cake for crazy people.

I’m serious.  But let me explain.

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Before I even try to explain the ridiculousness of this cake, scroll way, way, way down to the recipe/ingredient list.
That should give you a head start on shaking your head.

I think I have carpal tunnel just from typing that monstrosity.

7 main components, here:
mocha mayonnaise cake
quark whipped cream filling
cherries marinated in kirsch
chocolate cherry macarons, filled with
whipped ganache
cherry italian meringue buttercream
ganache glaze

Yaaaaaagh.

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If you’re anything like my brothers, hearing the word mayonnaise in the same sentence as cake will cause you to wrinkle your nose, put your fork down, and push your plate away à la Calvin and Hobbes.

But!
Mayo is just emulsified eggs, oil, salt, and vinegar (I should know, I just made a huge batch with my immersion blender for my dad’s birthday dinner.  I added black truffle oil.  Divine!), which are already in a cake.
The addition of mayo makes this cake super tender and soft, with a light, tight crumb.  Perfect for sky-high layers.
Adding strong coffee makes the cake deeply chocolaty, with a bitterness that offsets the rest of the sugar marvelously.

The quark whipped cream filling tastes like a lightened up cheesecake, slightly tangy and quite fluffy.
It’s far more interesting than the classic whipped cream, which is a bit one note.
(Quark is like a cross between a farmer’s cheese and crème fraiche, and you could sub half as much cream cheese without the need to press the moisture out.)

In Germany, it’s illegal to call a cake Black Forest (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) if it doesn’t contain kirsch (kirschwasser).
With that in mind, fat, fresh cherries, pitted and halved and seeping sweet red juice are gently cooked in kirsch and sugar, until they have soaked up all the flavor and released their juice.
The resultant boozy cherries are drained of their juice and nestled in the whipped cream along with chocolate macaron shells; the juice is gently brushed over the cakes to add extra moisture.

Then, the juice is reduced to a sticky, bright red kirsch syrup, which is poured into a whipped, glossy Italian meringue buttercream, adding a blush of color and delicate kirsch/cherry flavor.

Chocolate macarons, crisp on the outside, yield to reveal fudgy whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache and a rubied center of tart cherry jam, which is a fruity suprise.

Fresh cherries, bittersweet chocolate glaze, more whipped quark, and the macs top this cake; the decoration reminds me of a banana split or an ice cream cake—cute and whimsical!

You can make it in steps: up to a week before assembling, make the cake layers.  Wrap them in a double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil and freeze them; take them out of the freezer and put them in the fridge the day before you assemble the cake.
Make the cherries in kirsch up to 3 days before; just store them in the juice, then drain them the day you assemble the cake to brush the layers and reduce to syrup.
Make the macaron shells up to a week before; store them in an airtight container and assemble a few cookie sandwiches for decorating the day before you put the cake before, so they can age and mingle with the fillings.
Make the ganache the day before you assemble the cake; to whip it for the macaron filling, simply let it come completely to room temperature before beating; for the glaze, gently warm it in 5 second bursts in the microwave until it is melted and shiny again.
The day of, drain the cherries and brush the cake layers with the unreduced juice.  Reduce it to syrup and make the cherry Italian meringue buttercream.
Whip up your super quick quark filling (say that 10 times fast), and build your cake.

If you plan ahead, you can do it.
Or, pick and choose which components you want to use!
For a simpler cake, use the chocolate layers, the filling, and the cherries: dust the top layer with powdered sugar and you still have quite an impressive cake.

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I expect there are a fair amount of people who have closed the tab and are now wondering whether it is ethical to continue reading, thereby encouraging the continuation of, a blog run by a mentally unstable individual.

This cake is an undertaking.  But dare I say it’s worth it?
My family—especially my dad, who made a quiet, simple request for black forest or German chocolate and received this enormous pink confection in answer—loved it.

It’s a project, and it will leave your kitchen dusted with a fine layer of cocoa powder and flour and splattered with enough cherry juice to look like a murder scene.
But it also leaves you with a boozy, chocolaty, pink cake, surrounded by happy, contented people, and that, my friends, is reason enough alone.

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Gâteau de Forêt Noire
cake portion adapted from Sweetapolita
macaron portion adapted from Annie’s Eats
cherries in kirsch adapted from Call me Cupcake
makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake

ingredients:
for the chocolate cherry macarons:
100 grams confectioner’s sugar
100 grams almond flour
12 grams cocoa powder
170 grams egg whites, divided into two 85 gram portions
120 grams sugar
80 grams water
pinch salt
whipped ganache, recipe below
good quality cherry jam

for the chocolate ganache (whipped and glaze portions):
100 grams (3.5 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped
100 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
pinch salt

for the mocha mayonnaise cake:
170 grams (3/4 cup, 1 1/2 sticks) butter, soft
460 grams (2 cups packed) brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
220 grams (1 3/4 cups) flour
90 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
180 mL (3/4 cup) milk
180 mL (3/4 cup) coffee
60 mL (1/4 cup) mayonnaise

for the cherries in kirsch:
275 grams cherries, weighed pits and all
1/4 cup kirsch
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

for the cherry Italian meringue buttercream:
reserved (reduced) cherry kirsch juice, recipe above
2 egg whites
115 grams (a smidge more than 1/2 cup) sugar
big pinch kosher salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
220 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) butter, diced and cool
1 drop red food coloring, optional

for the whipped quark filling:
227 grams (8 ounces) quark
360 mL (1 1/2) cups heavy cream
100 grams (3/4 cup) powdered sugar

to assemble:
fresh cherries

directions:
First, make the macarons (can/should be done 1 day ahead): sift confectioner’s sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder together.
Discard the large pieces of almond flour that don’t fit through the sieve.
Add one 85 gram portion of egg whites to the sifted ingredients and stir very well until a thick, uniform paste forms; set aside.
Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment and a pastry bag with a large round tip; preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the other 85 gram portion of egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment with a pinch of cream of tartar or a drop of vinegar.
Place the sugar, water, and a pinch of salt into a small pot; fit the mixture with a candy thermometer.
Begin to heat the syrup on medium heat; when the temperature reaches 180 degrees, begin to whip the egg whites; when it reaches 220, the egg whites should be approaching soft peaks; at 240, they should be at soft peaks.
Remove the syrup from the heat when it reaches 245 degrees F; pour it, carefully, into the whipping egg whites, being careful not to splatter the whisk attachment with hot syrup (aim for the side of the bowl).
Allow the meringue to whip until it is glossy and stiff-peaked, about 3 minutes.
Take 1/4 of the meringue and stir it vigorously into the almond paste, to lighten the stiff paste somewhat.
Add the rest of the meringue and carefully begin to fold the mixture together.
Stop the macaronage when the mixture flows like lava/makes a ribbon/reabsorbs a blob after 10 seconds.
Fill the prepared pastry bag and pipe out small macarons on both of the sheets.
Place the first sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F.
Bake until a cookie lifts off of the sheet cleanly, about 12-15 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature once more and place the second sheet in the oven; reduce the oven temp and bake as before.
Allow the cookies to cool completely.
Make the ganache: place the chocolate, corn syrup, and salt in a bowl and heat the cream to just before boiling, either in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Once the cream is hot, pour it over the chopped chocolate and leave it to sit for 2 minutes.
Gently begin to whisk; continue until the mixture comes together in a glossy, shiny glaze.
Place half of the ganache aside for glazing the finished cake and the other half in the fridge to cool.
Once the chilled portion is significantly thickened and cool to touch (but not solid!), whip it with a hand or stand mixer until it is fluffy and lightened in color, about 2 minutes.
Set aside 1/2 of the shells to layer inside the cake; pair up all the other shells.
To fill the cookies, place a heaping teaspoon of ganache on one shell; gently scoop out a tiny divot in the center and fill it with 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cherry jam.
Sandwich the cookies and refrigerate overnight before eating or using in the cake.
Make the mocha mayonnaise cake: grease and flour 3 8-inch round pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place soft butter, kosher salt, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high for 5 minutes, until very light and shiny.
Add in the egg yolks and eggs and beat for another 3 minutes; scrape the sides of the bowl.
Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder together.
Whisk coffee, milk, and apple cider vinegar together.
With the mixer running on medium, add in the wet and dry ingredients, alternating and beginning with dry.
Beat for 30 seconds after everything is added to ensure homogeneity.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the mayonnaise; mix on low speed for 30 seconds until the mixture is homogeneous once more.
Portion out the batter into the pans and bake for 22-25 minutes, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out of the pans and cool completely.
Make the cherries in kirsch: halve and pit cherries and place in a sauce pot with kirsch, vinegar, and sugar.
Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes until the cherries have released their juice and are soft but not mushy.
Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Once cool, drain the cherries from the juice (save the juice!!).
Poke holes all over the bottoms of the cakes (these will become the tops) with a toothpick, then gently brush with a little of the cherry juice—you want to flavor the cake, but not soak it.
Place the remaining cherry juice back into the pot and heat over low heat until simmering; allow to reduce to 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 2/3 of the original volume; reserve this syrup.
Make the cherry Italian meringue buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place water, salt, and sugar in a small pot over medium heat fitted with a candy thermometer.
When the temperature reaches 180 degrees, begin to whip the egg whites; when it reaches 220, the egg whites should be approaching soft peaks; at 240, they should be at soft peaks.
Remove the syrup from the heat when it reaches 245 degrees F; pour it, carefully, into the whipping egg whites, being careful not to splatter the whisk attachment with hot syrup (aim for the side of the bowl).
Allow the meringue to whip until it is glossy and stiff-peaked and cooler, about 4 minutes.
Add in the cool butter a tablespoon at a time, whipping on high speed the entire time.
Whip until the mixture becomes fluffy and shiny and homogeneous (keep whipping if it appears to curdle—you simply haven’t beaten it long enough, don’t worry!), about 4 minutes.
Drizzle in the reduced cherry syrup and (optionally) add 1 drop of red food coloring if you want the frosting more pink than purple.
Make the quark whipped cream filling: On a bed of paper towels (use 3 on the bottom and two on top) scrape 3/4 of the quark and press down lightly; the towels will absorb the excess moisture.
Meanwhile, begin to whip the heavy cream and powdered sugar, with a whisk attachment or an immersion blender.
Once the whipped cream reaches stiff peaks, gently mix in the thickened quark.
Place in the fridge to cool and thicken before assembling the cake; reserve 1/3 cup for piping on top of the cake.
To assemble, place the first cake layer (juice soaked side up) on a cake stand.
Add half of the remaining quark filling , spreading so that the center is depressed; arrange half of the drained cherries in a single layer on the cake.
Top with the next layer; spread the rest of the whipped cream but reserve 1/4 cup.
Top with the rest of the cherries and a layer of the reserved macaron shells.
Spread the reserved 1/4 cup of whipped cream over the macaron shells and top with the last cake layer.
Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before crumb coating.
Spread on a thin crumb coat of the cherry frosting, being careful to seal in the whipped cream between the layers.
Refrigerate for at least 20 more minutes.
Frost the cake with the rest of the cherry frosting, then place back in the fridge.
Gently heat the reserved ganache, either in a double boiler or in the microwave in 5 second bursts.
Heat until it has loosened up again, whisk until it is shiny and glossy.
Remove the cake from the fridge and carefully drizzle the ganache around the edges.
Place the reserved quark whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe 8 stars evenly around the cake.
Place 4 fresh cherries on 4 of the stars and 4 assembled macarons on the others.
Enjoy your hard earned cake!

Janvier

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

-Oscar Wilde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And thank goodness for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Calm

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“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk of happy things.”

-Chaim Potok

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“Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.”

-Tien Yiheng

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“Strange, how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.”

-Author Unknown

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“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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There is always time for tea and room for cake.
Or, in this case, both.

Chocolate cakes infused with Earl Grey tea in two manners: dry tea leaves, and hot brewed tea.
The sweet, floral undertones, which have orange and verbena notes, as well as the astringent black tea leaves, contrast well with the deep and rich chocolate cake.
The Italian meringue buttercream is made with honey and golden syrup, resulting in a salty-sweet, silky delight that tastes like the top of a good piece of toast, minus the bread, which is the worst part anyway.

I might actually like cupcakes again.
This recipe only makes 6, which is perfect (I don’t need 24 cupcakes floating around my house, people…), and is a marriage of unexpected flavors which ended up working inexplicably well.

The best recipe for health and happiness:
good books, better tea, and, of course, delicious cupcakes.

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Teatime Cupcakes
makes 6
cake portion adapted from Sweetapolita
ingredients:
for the chocolate Earl Grey cakes:
48 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
75 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon cornstarch
big pinch kosher salt
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon loose Earl Grey leaves
40 mL (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) buttermilk
1 medium egg (if using a large egg, beat it well before adding it, and remove 2 teaspoons of beaten egg)
30 mL (2 tablespoons) hot Earl Grey tea
25 mL (1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons) vegetable oil
splash vanilla extract

for the honey golden syrup IMBC:
111 grams (1/3 cup) honey
111 grams (1/3 cup) golden syrup
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 egg whites
230 grams (1 cup) butter, cut into small pieces and soft but cool

directions:
For the cakes, line 6 muffin tins with cupcake papers.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, cornstarch salt, tea leaves, and cocoa powder together.
Into the dry ingredients, add the buttermilk, egg, hot tea, oil, and vanilla.
Whisk very well to combine. (It will be a very thin batter.)
Fill each cupcake well with 1/4 cup of batter.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until domed and springy to the touch, and a tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the honey golden syrup IMBC:
Place the egg whites, along with a pinch of cream of tartar, in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place the honey, golden syrup, and salt in a small sauce pot over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the eggs.
When the syrup reaches 230 degrees, the eggs should almost be at soft peaks.
When the syrup reaches 240 degrees, the egg whites should have soft peaks that are almost stiff.
Pour the syrup carefully, down into the bowl while the mixer is running.
Beat the meringue until it has cooled to body temperature, then beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time.
Beat until the buttercream has become very fluffy and light.
Frost cupcakes as desired.

P.S.

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감사합니다

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I’m thankful for home.

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I’m grateful to be surrounded by love and warmth and family.

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This brief respite has been much needed, and much appreciated.

It saddens me to leave (tomorrow), but I am comforted with the knowledge that I will be back in just a few short weeks.

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I love my home: my house, my friends, my family, my town.

I love this place.

I was dearly missing this place.

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I thought I’d share some snapshots of home with you; the first photo is of my beloved bed, where I haven’t been spending enough time this break. (Too many things to do!  People to see!  Places to go!)

You get a preview of our holiday cards (blech) and some cute photos of my kitten and pup.

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Also, THANKS GUYS, for being awesome and reading these stupid posts of mine on this silly little blog.

You rock.  Thanks for that.  I sure do appreciate you.

Now, food.

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Thanksgiving Menu 2013:

Roasted roots: herbed sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots with honey mustard aioli (GF)

Roasted brown butter and maple Brussels sprouts (GF)

Honey glazed turkey with giblet gravy (GF)

Maple and apple cranberry sauce (GF)

Cornbread stuffing with spiced sausages, pecans, sage, and celery (GF)

Goat cheese, buttermilk, and olive oil mashed potatoes (GF)

Whole wheat butternut squash mac and cheese

Mixed green salad with pomegranates, walnuts, shaved fennel, apples, and Parmesan with pomegranate dressing (GF)

Butterscotch and thyme apple pie (GF)

Maple kefir brûlée tart (GF)

Pumpkin roll with Frangelico and mascarpone whipped cream, brown butter glaze, chopped pecans (GF)

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Yes, I made all of that myself.  Boy, was it a marathon.  A very, very, very, long and delicious haul.

My photos were all very rushed and poorly lit; I had hoped to show you pictures of all the gluten free goodies I made, but no such luck.

At least I got a picture of the pumpkin roll cake… So I can torture you with yet another pumpkin recipe!

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This will be the last pumpkin recipe of the year.

It’s one to remember: light, fluffy pumpkin sponge cake rolled around mascarpone and maple whipped cream, topped with brown butter and Frangelico glaze and chopped pecans.

You might just be inspired to pull out one last can of pumpkin.

Happy Thanksgiving (weekend), y’all.

Thanksgiving (scaled)

 Pumpkin Roll Cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
powdered sugar, for sprinkling on towel
90 grams (3/4 cup) flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, coriander
pinch salt
3 large eggs
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
for the filling:
1 cup whipped cream
1 cup mascarpone
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch salt

for the glaze:
4 tablespoons butter, browned
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons Frangelico (optional)

For garnish:
Chopped pecans

Directions:
For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a sheet pan very well; line with parchment paper.
Sprinkle a dishtowel with powdered sugar.
Whisk the flour, leaveners, spices, and salt together.
Beat the yolks and ¼ cup of the sugar very well, then stir in pumpkin.
Sift the flour mixture over the yolks and fold in gently.
Whip the egg whites and remaining sugar to stiff peaks.
Fold into the pumpkin mixture, then spread the batter out onto your prepared pan.
Bake for 15 minutes, until set.
Flip over onto towel and let cool for 5 minutes.
Gently roll up the cake and set aside to cool completely.
For the filling, beat the whipped cream to soft peaks, then gently beat in the other ingredients.
Spread onto the cooled, unrolled cake, then reroll the cake.
For the glaze, mix everything together until no lumps remain; drizzle over the rolled cake.
Garnish with chopped pecans.

16 September

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It’s my 18th birthday, today.

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Today is the only day of the year

where everyone writes

on my facebook wall.

Rejoice.

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I secretly hate my birthday.

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This may seem trite coming from a teenager, but I’ve always been acutely aware and afraid of growing older.

Each birthday that passes, a wave of fear and anxiety passes over me.  I’ve always been the baby.
I’m the baby of my family; I’m almost always the baby among friends.

Getting older makes me feel uneasy scares the shit out of me.

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Birthdays have hung heavy with regret, especially as I come close to adulthood.  (Am I an adult yet?)

I’m a worrier.  It’s my nature.

I worry that I haven’t done enough
haven’t enjoyed enough
haven’t appreciated enough
haven’t taken each and every last moment of my life, this precious and fleeting thing, and lived it to the fullest.

It’s futile, of course.

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That doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, waking in the dead of night, sweating, crying, scared, worried, tangled in the sheets, blinking like a bird roused from its nest.

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So, yes.  But birthdays come with cake.

And I love cake.

So.

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This was my birthday cake.

It’s a pavlova, which means it’s a baked meringue base, topped with whipped cream and fruits.

Mine is a simple French meringue, baked until the outside is crispy but the inside is still billowy and marshmallow-y, topped with a coconut/mascarpone whipped cream and pucker-inducing passion fruit sauce, and finished with raspberries and coconut flakes.

I love meringue cakes; this one is exactly how I like my cakes: light, airy, but packed with a walloping punch of vibrant flavors.

It was divine.

It almost made me like my birthday.

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Pavlova

ingredients:
4 large egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 cup passion fruit purée, liquid
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1 can of full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated and UNSHAKEN (see here)
1 cup of heavy cream, cold
2 tablespoons mascarpone
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

1 pint of raspberries
coconut flakes, optional

directions:

Preheat oven to 175 degrees F.
Draw a 8 inch circle on a piece of parchment with a pencil and place it pencil side down on a sheet pan.
Combine egg whites and cream of tartar.
Beat until soft peaks form, then slowly stream in the sugar while beating at high speed.
Beat until stiff peaks form, then beat in the cornstarch and vinegar.
Spread out on the parchment, staying within the circle.
Bake for 2 hours, then turn the oven off and allow to cool completely in the oven.
Meanwhile, make the passion fruit sauce.
Place passion fruit, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a saucepan and whisk to combine.
Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 1 1/2 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before using.
Make the coconut whipped cream by beating the separated coconut fat (detailed instructions here or here) until soft peaks form, then beating in the mascarpone and confectioner’s sugar.
Beat the heavy cream to stiff peaks separately, then beat it into the coconut/mascarpone mixture.
Chill until you need to use it.

Assemble the pavlova no more than 30 minutes before serving (don’t worry, it’s really simple).
Place the meringue on a serving dish, then pile the coconut whipped cream high on top of it.
Drizzle with the passionfruit sauce, and top with raspberries and coconut flakes, if desired.
Enjoy!

P.S.
As you may have noticed, you can now pin my photos simply by rolling over them and clicking the Pinterest symbol.
In addition, there are social media buttons at the bottom of each post.
You can share posts via twitter, linkedin, Google+, instagram, Pinterest, facebook, and email.
(Right below this!)

Sweet Heaven

Thou art the vegetable most unsung.
Scorned for the raw sourness you impart,
though your sapor glides, winged, o’er the tongue.
O! sweet rhubarb! Thine flesh, stringed and tart, 
melts into the ambrosia of the gods.
Thy ruby hue knows no earthly confines;
deepens when simmer’d with a vanilla pod.
Thine taste is heightened by nutmeg and wine.


Be not forlorn, for here ready I stand,
thy sweet delicacy must be made known
I stand proud, lemon and rhubarb in hand,
layers set thee on thy velvet throne.

Tis past time for us to make way, posthaste!
‘Tis time to revel in thy piquant taste.

 

Ahem.  Yes, I wrote a sonnet.
… About rhubarb.
It happens, okay?!
I just love this weird ass vegetable.  
I like most weird vegetables.
I identify with them.  They’re like my tribe.
 
I, too, do not move and spend much of my life under a thick layer of dirt.
I, too, do not fit in with the rest of the produce aisle.
I, too, frighten many as they open up their CSA box to see me sitting inside.
Rhubarb is so yucky when uncooked- fibrous, extremely sour, and, hello! poisonous.
Yet there is a magical transformation that takes place when rhubarb is subjected to heat, sweetened just a touch, and spiked with plenty of nutmeg, vanilla, and salt.
Magical.  
It melts down and becomes velveteen and ever so silky.
The vegetal taste is lost, and transforms into a mysteriously addicting, but difficult to describe, earthy, fruity flavor.
Rhubarb and strawberries and lemon were meant to be together.
Rhubarb is thus the gateway drug vegetable between winter and summer produce.
Lemons abound (year round, really) in the winter, when citrus is essentially the only fruit to be found.
Strawberry season begins in spring and extends well into summer.
But rhubarb, wily and tricksy (tricksy little hobbitses) as it is, has a very brief season, right at the beginning of spring; after early spring, it becomes increasingly harder to find.
Marry these three (I suppose you could even add in some raspberries, you minx), and you have a divine combination, which hits your taste buds in all the right places.
Seriously.  I took one bite of this cake and promptly cut myself another slice.
I’m not kidding.  The cake was all but gone this morning, when I finished it off for breakfast.
It’s that good.
The crisp meringue softens slightly and becomes pillowesque and marshmallow-y, while the whipped cream plays gorgeously off of all the tartness coming from the rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon, providing just enough richness to please your palate.
Now, it’s true that I prefer fruit desserts (especially lemon curd) over chocolate ones (strange but true), but I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of my all time favorite cakes, perhaps even the numero uno big dog.
 
And it’s not even cake!
It’s a miracle.
P.S. Have you met my friend, Kohlrabi?
She looks like an alien space capsule and a squid mixed with a cabbage.
Just beautiful.
 
Sweet Heaven Cake
note: I tried to keep the sugar to a minimum here, because I prefer tart desserts.  
If you prefer things sweeter, feel free to bump up the sugar in the lemon curd to 5 or 6 tablespoons, and to increase the maple syrup in the compote (I free-poured somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of a cup and that was plenty).  
You can also increase the sugar in the meringue to 3/4 cup, but I don’t think that is necessary.  
Oh, and also, you can sweeten the whipped cream with a tablespoon or so of powdered sugar.
for the meringue layers:
ingredients:
6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
splash vanilla extract
directions:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  
Line two sheet pans with parchment and trace 2 six inch circles on each.
Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until they begin to foam.
Slowly begin to add in the sugar, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until meringue is stiff and holds peaks.
Whip in the vanilla extract.
Transfer to a piping bag, or go freehand- pipe out meringue, about 3/4 inch thick, onto each of the pre-traced circles.
Bake for 2 or so hours, until the meringue is no longer sticky and is slightly golden.  
Turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven; prop the door with a wooden spoon handle.
for the rhubarb compote:
1 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/4 inch moons
1/2 cup maple syrup, to taste
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
splash vanilla extract
directions:
Place all ingredients except vanilla in a large sauce pot; heat over medium high heat until the rhubarb breaks down and the whole compote has no chunks. 
Stir in the vanilla and let cool.
for the lemon curd:
adapted from Alice Medrich
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg
scant quarter cup sugar
pinch salt
directions:
Whisk everything together and cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 6 minutes.  
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
to assemble:
ingredients:
1/2 cup cold heavy cream, whipped softly with a pinch of agar (optional)
sliced and whole strawberries
directions:
Place your first meringue layer on a cake stand or plate.  
Spread lemon curd over it, then spoon rhubarb compote in the middle and spread over the curd.  
Place your second layer on top of the first, then spread whipped cream over it.  
Add rhubarb compote and spread over the cream,then layer sliced strawberries over the compote.
Place the third layer over the second, and repeat the steps for the first layer.
Place the fourth layer on top, and dollop/spread the rest of the whipped cream over it.
Decorate with more sliced and whole strawberries.