Just Like You

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“There’s no one just like you,” she said.
“That’s why we need to celebrate.”

—Karen Kingsbury
FAME

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“A party without cake is just a meeting.”

—Julia Child

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

A birthday without cake is just another dreary day.
A birthday without cake, loves, is not a birthday at all.

Birthdays are for cakes.
(Note: cakes are definitely not only for birthdays, however.)

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m slowly curating the birthday cakes of my roommates (Daly’s birthday is 3 days before mine, so it always happens before we get to school, but a half birthday, perhaps?).
Alexa will love this—it tickles me pink how much she loves her birthday posts.  She also, for the record, loves pink.

Just for reference, here’s Alexa’s cake from last year, and the one from this year.

Dunno if I can possibly link back to that caramel popcorn cake one more time, but oh well.

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

But this is a birthday cake (and post) for a girl who loves the color mint and Paris, soy lattes and Back to the Future, the Old Major sandwich at Z&H and puppies.
Who embodies the Duchess Kate Middleton and has the most brilliant hair and sleeps like Sleeping Beauty (yes, that deeply).

The one who inspired these whole wheat peppermint mocha brownies with her love of Starbucks.

Betsszzyyyy!

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Elizabeth made it through 2 decades of life.

Obviously, we needed to celebrate with a very big, very chocolaty cake.
Thing is, her birthday was the day after we got back from winter break!  So I hadn’t prepared anything (usually I’ll bake the layers a day ahead or something along those lines, since the days can get so excitingly monotonously busy around here) the day of.
Still, I poked around in my kitchen for ~2 seconds and knew exactly what I had to make her.

A cake tailored to a few of her favorite things.
A cake just like her.

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is really easy, and miraculously fast.
I had it imagined, made, decorated, and photographed within 2 and a half hours.  Not too bad, especially when you consider that the photography took longer than any of the other processes.

The cake itself is a springy dark chocolate and coffee—mocha—cake.  It’s soft and feels light yet rich at the same time, with a good balance of sweet and bitter from the coffee and cocoa.
It’s a one bowl, one whisk, and one measuring cup kind of recipe, perfect when you need a cake, stat!

The frosting is a Nutella Italian meringue buttercream, so conceived because I had no confectioner’s sugar but lots and lots of bittersweet chocolate.
It’s impossibly light and buttery while still maintaining plenty of chocolate flavor, which I always find is missing in chocolate egg-based buttercreams.
First, a plain Italian meringue buttercream is whipped up, one big glossy cloud.  Then heaps of cooled chocolate get whisked in, and a fair dollop of Nutella, too.
The color change is mesmerizing: from the palest yellow to a red-brown cocoa.

The end result is seriously amazing.
It’s salty and sweet, chocolaty and a little bit nutty.
Italian meringue buttercreams are so silky—they pair perfectly with a cake that has a soft, tight crumb.

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

 This is a cake that’s perfect for a birthday.
It’s fun (sprinkles!), has flavors that everyone will like, and makes the right size cake for sharing with friends.

It frosts like a dream and will look impressive no matter how you decide to finish it up—just don’t forget the candles.

But seriously—don’t the adorable candles on this cake practically beg for extra sprinkles?!

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy belated birthday, Elizabeth darling.
xx

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Mocha Cake with Nutella Italian Meringue Buttercream
makes 1 3-layer, 6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the mocha cake:
1 2/3 cups (190 grams) flour
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (60 grams) cocoa powder
1 5/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5/8 cup (200 mL) buttermilk (or milk plus 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar)
1/2 cup (120 mL) coffee (or hot water plus 1 tablespoon espresso powder)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (105 mL) vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

for the Nutella Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons (45 mL) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (345 grams) unsalted butter, soft but cool
8 ounces (200 grams) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup (~120 grams(?)) nutella

sprinkles, for decorating

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
Whisk buttermilk, oil, coffee, eggs, and vanilla extract together, then whisk wet ingredients into dry.
Portion batter out evenly into pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out nearly clean and the cakes are springy to the touch.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the icing: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot over medium heat, fitted with a candy thermometer.
Begin to whisk egg whites while syrup heats up.
Once syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at semi-stiff peaks.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while beating at high speed.
Whip until the meringue is glossy and cooled to body temp.
Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, beating until the frosting comes together into a glossy, fluffy, light mixture.
Slowly add in the cooled chocolate while whipping, then add in the Nutella.
Scrape the bowl and whip for another minute to ensure homogeneity.
Frost cooled cake as desired, and add sprinkles!

Can’t Catch Me

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

Not my gumdrop buttons!!!

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

The gingerbread man story is kind of dark, no?
Triumph after triumph, this little cookie man prances away unscathed, and then boop! gets eaten by a fox.

Cheery.

(I also find eating gingerbread men a little weird.  Do you decapitate?  Or systematically remove all the limbs?  Or just chomp your way up the torso?  Yikes.)

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

Tell me, is it a bit late for holiday baking?
Because I have 2, possibly 3, posts coming at you this week.

Hark, all you procrastinators; all you who like to continue baking up until the very last moment.
Let’s make some cookies!

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

Side note:
Not into xmas cookies?
I am straight up crying over Deb’s jelly doughnuts.  Help!! Someone get me a big pot of oil, stat.

Or, oh my god, if we’re talking about fried dough, Sam’s glazed pear fritters are SO necessary.  Hey, didn’t we just get a box of pears from Harry and David? Hmmm.

This challah.  So fluffy and perfect!

Finally, and most importantly, Molly put tahini in rugelach!  Have you ever heard a more beautiful union than halva rugelach?  I think not.  (It’s fun to say, too!)

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

So, these cookies.  I made a lot of them.
I baked off 5 or 6 sheets of them one night, covered them up nice and tight, and the next morning, settled down with piping bags, a #1 tip, and the Lord of the Rings (duh).
Unfortunately, I left all of my cookie decorating stuff at school, so I literally only had 1 pastry tip and 3 pastry bags, to last me through 5 colors (plus flooding!) and around 75 cookies.

It took me 5 hours to decorate all of these cookies, and now they are under lock and key so that no one eats them.
These are not for my family to eat.  They are for gifting, so that people nicer than us can enjoy them.
Just kidding!!!!  Kind of.  I’m a little loath to see them go.

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

The two types of cookie that you see here are dark chocolate and honey spice.

The chocolate dough bakes up buttery and crisp, with crunchy edges and a slightly salty, very chocolaty bite.  They are, in short, the most perfect chocolate sugar cookies I’ve ever made.  The deepness of the cocoa is complimented by the sweet royal icing.

The honey spice cookies puff up a little when baked but dry out and get very crunchy-crispy as they cool.
They’re a cross between a regular sugar cookie and a gingerbread cookie; lighter in color but still spicy.  Heaps of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves go into the dough, along with a touch of honey that rounds out the sweetness.
(To be honest, they taste a lot like graham crackers to me.  Which is a good thing, people.)

You can use royal icing made of meringue powder (follow the instructions on the can!) or do what I did, in a pinch, which is use plain old egg whites to get the job done (not if you avoid raw egg, however).  I actually prefer egg white royal icing because it seems to bubble less.  That’s just personal taste, though.

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

Decorated cookies come out differently for everyone.  There’s a big learning curve—I certainly have experienced it (and my cookies are still far from perfect).

Part of the fun, however, is in designing your cookies and getting down and dirty in the icing.  The end product doesn’t matter that much—people will love and appreciate them (as long as they taste good!).
So, I’m leaving you with the recipes for the two types of dough, which are both guaranteed to taste good, and the royal icing.
The rest is up to your imagination!

Dark Chocolate and Honey Spice Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

Dark Chocolate Roll-Out Cookies
adapted from Sweetopia
makes approximately 35 2-inch cookies

ingredients:
1 cup (225 grams) butter, softened but cool
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) flour
3/4 cup (90 grams) dark cocoa powder

directions:
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on high for 4 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the sugar; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the salt, vanilla, and egg; beat for 5 minutes until very, very fluffy and light.
Scrape the bowl and add in the flour and cocoa powder; stir until the dough is homogeneous.
Place the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, wrapped well in plastic wrap.
To roll it out, flour a clean surface lightly.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut out cookie shapes.
Collect and reroll scraps.
Place cookies on sheet pans lined with parchment and freeze for at least 1 hour and, wrapped very well, up to 2 weeks.
To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake cookies straight from the freezer, for 12 minutes.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the sheet pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Honey Spice Roll-Out Cookies
adapted from Sweetapolita
makes approximately 35 2-inch cookies

ingredients:
3 1/4 cups (405 grams) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140 grams) butter, softened but cool
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 egg
1/2 cup (110 grams) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

directions:
Stir flour and baking soda together.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on high for 4 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the sugar, salt, and spices; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg; beat for 5 minutes until very, very fluffy and light.
Scrape the bowl and add in the honey and vanilla extract; mix well.
Add in the flour mixture and stir until the dough is homogeneous.
Place the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, wrapped well in plastic wrap.
To roll it out, flour a clean surface lightly.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut out cookie shapes.
Collect and reroll scraps.
Place cookies on sheet pans lined with parchment and freeze for at least 1 hour and, wrapped very well, up to 2 weeks.
To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake cookies straight from the freezer, for 12 minutes.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the sheet pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Egg White Royal Icing
adapted from Joy of Baking
makes enough for 75 2-inch cookies

ingredients:
2 egg whites
pinch salt
3 cups (330 grams) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon water, and as needed

directions:
Whip egg whites and salt until foamy.
Sift confectioner’s sugar over egg whites and beat until smooth.
Add in water as needed to get desired consistency (check out Sweet Sugarbelle).
Tint as desired, and go to town!

A Little Party

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

A little party may not, but you know what? a few finals definitely hurt me.

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

 Luckily for my sore, sorry self, I am done.

I turned off all my alarms this morning.  I got 10 hours of sleep.
I am home, and now the holiday fun begins.

Before I came home, I sent off some gifts to my person and his family, theirs snuggled in his suitcase, his meticulously packaged in thick wrapping paper and gold ribbon and carefully nested into a big fedex box.

I have lists of presents to collect and wrap and place under the tree.  Then I have to wait, breathlessly, for them to be opened.
For that matter, we have a Christmas tree to search for—we must find a properly plump one that won’t leave green trails scraping across my mother’s white ceilings (it always does).
I have cookies and caramels to make and citrus begging to be transformed into an olive oil cake.

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I actually remembered to bring my camera home with me, this time, so expect plenty of new posts coming through (so much free time for baking and blogging!!!!!).

These cupcakes are relics from before finals began.
I barely had time to shower during finals, people, let alone make sprinkly, happy Oreo cupcakes.

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I saw some birthday cake Oreos in the store the other day, and they were practically begging to be made into extra special, sprinkled cookies and cream cupcakes.

These are simple, but very fun, and perfect for birthday parties and the like.
Simple dark chocolate cupcakes with Oreos baked right in are topped with crumb- and sprinkle-flecked American buttercream icing with a heavy dose of salt.
They’re topped with half an Oreo and, of course, more sprinkles.

Easy, quick, cute—exactly what I want out of a cupcake.

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s winter break!!  Plenty of reason to celebrate with cupcakes!
(Also, happy 12/13/14!)

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Birthday Cake Oreo Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes
cupcake portion adapted from Sweetapolita

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
3/4 cup (95 grams) flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon plus a small pinch kosher salt (~5/8 teaspoon)
1/3 cup (80 mL) low-fat milk
1/4 cup (60 mL) coffee, hot
3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 birthday cake Oreos, cut up into pieces
1 teaspoon flour

for the oreo frosting:
1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons (45 mL) half and half
6 smashed birthday cake Oreos (1/4 cup crumbs)
2 tablespoons sprinkles
6 birthday cake Oreos, halved, for decorating
extra sprinkles

directions:
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 12 cupcake tins with liners.
Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, and salt.
Whisk together milk, coffee, oil, egg, and vanilla extract.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry while whisking vigorously; batter will be a little thin.
Toss chopped Oreos with flour, then stir into batter.
Portion out batter into cupcake tins.
Bake for 15 minutes, until springy to the touch.
Allow to cool completely.
To make frosting, place butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 5 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and beat for 2 more minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar very slowly, while mixing on low speed.
Drizzle in half and half once all the powdered sugar is incorporated, and beat on high speed for 2 more minutes.
Add in the Oreo crumbs and some sprinkles and stir to combine.
Pipe onto cooled cupcakes, nestle half an Oreo on top, then top with more sprinkles!

Fizz!

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

File this one under: Anything But Vegetables.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

A certain blonde with whom I live is going to be very happy to see this post be published—

that’s right, friends, this is Alexa’s birthday cake.

Remember last year?  Of course you do, I link back to that post ALL the time.  Lauren Conrad pinned it, for God’s sake.

It’s been a bit more than a year, now, that Alexa and I have been friends.  Miraculously, we are both still alive and have, for the most part, all of our limbs (Grandma, I’m kidding).

Who knew that the gals I met on the first day of O-week would be my roomies, my #1 wingwomen, my comfort blankets and tissue fetchers and popcorn sharers and best friends?

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Spoiler: Alexa definitely didn’t.  She was fairly certain I hated her…
(She still hasn’t gotten the hint, guys. I think she’s following me.)

Anyways, it’s been quite an eventful year+ and I couldn’t be more grateful to have spent it with such good people.

I couldn’t have asked for a better house-mate, better roommate, and better friend.  Alexa is such a giver and can ALWAYS put a smile on my face or at least a blanket round my shoulders.
She knows what to say, who to hate, how to make popcorn the best, and how to be the most loyal, loving friend out there.
Ugh. So much love.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

To celebrate her birthday, I made an over-the-top cake, obviously.

Alexa loves diet coke, as a sorority girl should.
Alexa loves chocolate and vanilla bean, like normal people do.
Alexa thinks that salted caramel is the stuff of gods (she is right).

Alexa is looking over my shoulder and drooling wishing for another cake right now—
“Please? I ate this for all three meals.”

Alexa is going to kill me for putting that up on the internetz but it’s ok friends I will survive because I am holding birthday cake oreo cupcakes hostage right now.
(Look for those here in the coming weeks!!!)

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

I knew I had to make a chocolate coca cola cake, and I wanted to incorporate a fat vanilla bean and some gold and sparkly caramel in there somewhere as well.

The end result is a rich, moist chocolate cola cake with vanilla bean buttercream swirled with heaps of salted caramel glammed up with gold luster dust and chocolate sprinkles.

It’s sparkly and gooey and sweet and salty and I think it was just about a perfect way to celebrate my BFF’s birthday.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Some notes on the cake:
you can make the cake portion and the caramel ahead, but make the frosting right before you are going to decorate the cake; the finished cake can be stored in a cool place at room temperature overnight.
The luster dust is optional, but a very nice glam touch to the caramel on top of the cake.
This caramel recipe is good for pouring, so if you don’t want to smudge it on the sides, just pour it over the top and let it drip down!

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy belated birthday, darling girl.
You’re wonderful.

Coca cola cake with caramel and vanilla bean | La Pêche Fraîche

Alexa’s Birthday Cake
Coca cola + chocolate + caramel + vanilla bean
makes 1 3-layer 6-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen

ingredients:
for the cake:
1 cup (240 mL) Coca cola
1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter
1/4 cup (30 grams) dark cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (120 mL) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (240 grams) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

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

for the vanilla bean frosting:
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) butter, soft
1 whole vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup (30 mL to 60mL) half-and-half

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place butter, oil, coca cola, cocoa powder, and salt in a large pot.
Heat over medium heat, whisking, until it comes to a boil.
Pour the hot mixture over the sugar and whisk to combine.
Whisk in the eggs vigorously.
Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
Whisk flour and baking soda together, then stir into the batter.
Portion batter out into the prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, until springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.

Make the caramel: heat the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt together, whisking at the beginning until they dissolve.
Stop stirring and allow to caramelize into an amber color, then remove from heat and quickly whisk in butter and cream, being careful of the splattering.
Whisk until completely smooth, adding luster dust if desired, then allow to cool before using.

Make the frosting: place butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 6 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the vanilla bean and powdered sugar; stir on low speed until powdered sugar is incorporated, then beat on high while slowly drizzling in 2 tablespoons of half and half.
If the frosting is too thick, add more half and half until the proper consistency is reached.
Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, then use immediately to frost the cake as desired.

Sakura-iro

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Oh, I know how it is in the spring
when Japonica’s in bloom
and rivers of many waters bring
life to the unplucked fruit.
Then the vineyards of the Maidens flower
on every shaded vine;
all flourish in that restful hour—
but, oh, this can’t be mine!
All seasons are the same to Love,
it’s always time to storm;
thunder is always flashing over
my head, and there’s a swarm
of desiccating furies in my mind.
Love chews away my heart
from the roots, in the dark.

Ibycus, Fragment 286

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It makes me sad when people say they hate Valentine’s day.

I love Valentine’s day!  Not because I spend it with anyone special (womp womp) but because I love the idea.

I love love.

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I guess I can see the strikes against Valentine’s day (too mushy, too commercialized, too silly, too much effort) BUT my gosh just how wonderful of a concept is it, honest and truly?

A day to celebrate love: a day to show your appreciation to those who make your life a little bit better every day.
A day to share tokens, sweets, and affection with your sweetheart, with your friends, with your family.
A day to honor a man who accepted illicit love, who just wanted people to be happy and content.

Appropriate, with all that’s going on in Sochi at the Winter Olympics.

People are people.  Love is love.
Everyone deserves to be loved; everyone deserves to give love.

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Regardless of whether you like Valentine’s day or not, I know y’all like cake.

And so that is what I’m bringing you.
I’m sharing love and cake.  Doesn’t that just sound like the best combination ever?

Cake, love, and pocky.  Sign me up.

Isn’t this little cake the cutest!  Oh!  It makes me so happy.  Happy cake love.  Happy, pinky, red velvet cake love.
It abounds.

Pink for all!  All the pink.  This cake doesn’t have to be only for Valentine’s day.  Pink is a year-round color
(Although perhaps especially appropriate for Wednesdays.)

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Speaking of pink…
Have you ever had Japanese Pocky?
They’re little biscuit sticks, dipped in chocolate.  They’re crunchy, creamy, and utterly addictive.

In fact, true story: I have been planning on making this cake for ages, not even necessarily for Valentine’s day.
I purchased a bunch  of Pocky from Amazon, but kept stalling making the cake (and munching on Pocky).
Eventually, I had eaten all the Pocky!!!!!
So, another bulk order later, I decided to make the cake ASAP.
Since we’re in the depths of Valentine’s day themed posts on this blog, I knew the pink would be perfect.

And what a pink it is!  Pale and not too orangey, it’s the color of cherry blossoms (sakura-iro).
A lovely contrast to the vivid cake within.

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Red velvet brownies, rich and a touch chocolaty, are dense and moist, somewhere between a cake and a true brownie.  They make a perfect base for our cake.
They get a generous swirl of cream cheese frosting, fluffy, tangy, and sweet, and a heap of fresh sliced strawberries, which are a nice foil to all the richness going on in the cake and frosting.

The whole deal is ringed with strawberry/white chocolate pocky sticks and tied with some baker’s twine.

A bite with a little of everything is a myriad of flavors and textures:
toothsome and rich brownies
tangy and soft cream cheese frosting
fresh, bright strawberries
crunchy sprinkles
crisp, creamy pocky!

Cuteness (and deliciousness) to the max!

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All the red and pink going on in this cake make it quite fun; the pocky sticks are visually exciting and make this cake a real statement piece.
This is a bold cake.
Cutting into it is a surprise; the bright red velvet is a stark contrast to the pastel exterior.
It would make a great birthday cake, especially for a little girl who loves pink. Omg.

If you can’t tell, I’m mildly obsessed with this cake.  I can’t stop using exclamation points.
IT’S JUST SO CUTE!!!!!!!!!

I want to stick Pocky on the outsides of all my cakes, from now on.
(Another perk: no need to worry about the neatness of your frosting job.  Score.)

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Anyways, be mine?

Parce que je te kiffe!

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Red Velvet Brownie Cake
ingredients:
for the red velvet brownie layers:
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons red food coloring
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

for the cream cheese frosting:
8 tablespoons (1 stick, 1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, or as needed
1/4 cup powdered milk
drop of pink or red food coloring
to assemble:
7 or 8 packages of strawberry pocky, inspected for broken sticks
10 strawberries, sliced thickly
sprinkles, for the top (I used sugar pearls)
directions:
Make the cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Beat butter with sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add in the eggs and yolk and beat for 4 more minutes; mixture should be very glossy and not grainy.
Whisk the buttermilk, food coloring, and vanilla together.
Whisk all the dry ingredients together.
Scrape the bowl with the butter and add in the wet and dry ingredients while mixing on low.
Beat on high to fully homogenize the batter, then spread into prepared pans.
Bake for 20 minutes, until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs.

Make the frosting: beat butter and salt on high speed for 5 minutes, until fully softened and fluffy.
Add in cream cheese and beat for 4 more minutes; the mixture should be very fluffy, light colored, and homogeneous.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for 2 more minutes; add the powdered sugar and powdered milk and slowly beat to combine.
Add more powdered sugar if the consistency is too runny still (up to another 1/2 cup).
Tint frosting to desired shade with food coloring.

Assemble the cake:
Place a dollop of frosting on cake plate, then place first cake layer on top.
Spread a thick layer of frosting onto the top of the first cake layer, then arrange strawberry slices over.
Spread a thick layer of frosting on the bottom of the second layer, then gently place it over the strawberry slices.
Frost the rest of the cake generously, making sure the sides have plenty of frosting to stick the pocky to.
One at a time, press the pocky sticks into the side of the cake, biscuit side up.
Add sprinkles to the top, if desired, and tie with a ribbon (remove to cut).
Serve with cold milk and extra strawberries!

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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My Kind of Town

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Warning: cliché tourist-y Chicago pictures ahead.
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It’s weird to think that I live in a city now.
I’m a small town girl, born and raised in heaven Ithaca.
Living in a city is different.  I’ll grow used to it (I already have) but there is a lot more hustle and bustle and many fewer friendly faces.  (It’s true!)

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I miss Ithaca.  I love my hometown.  It’s, well… my home!
This weekend, I missed the apple festival, which is my favorite fest in Ithaca.
I miss fall/nature.  Cities are kinda weird for me in terms of the absence of animals.
I’ve seen, like, 3 squirrels since I’ve been here.
I miss my fam.
I really, really, really miss my dog.
And I kinda sorta miss my cats.

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So I’m still getting used to being away from home, and also being in a city.
Pretty standard college stuff… I ain’t stressed.
I must say, though, the architecture in Chicago (and uChic, but that’s for another post… Coming attractions!) is amazing.
I love walking around this city.  It’s inspiring and so, so beautiful.
So, photos.  Tourist-y photos.  Sorry not sorry.
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The cake you see here was the first thing I made upon arriving at college.
It was for someone in my house; their birthday was in the middle of o-week.
It was a disaster.
The first batch I made didn’t seem to be setting up, and was overflowing like crazy out of the pans.
Aside from new kitchen jitters, I knew something else was going on.
Upon further inspection, I realized I had used whole milk in the batter, which had added enough fat that the gluten never properly formed, resulting in overflow and explains the never-setting-up part.
Oh well.  My friends and I ate the molten cake and I made up another batch the next day; only one of the first cakes was salvageable.
The frosting is a simple Italian meringue buttercream with a few ounces of chocolate mixed in.
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P.S. You can see some more Chicago/tourist photos on my flickr, in the Chi-Town set.

Click here.

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The recipe for the cake is here.
I spread raspberry jam in between the layers.
For chocolate Italian meringue buttercream, halve this recipe and, right after whipping in the butter, add in 4 ounces of melted and cooled chocolate.

Mac Attack

Because it’s impossible not to smile while eating a pink cookie with sprinkles.
Because why not trash up a classic French pastry with America’s favorite flavor? (Birthday cake, duh.)
AKA funfetti.
AKA sprinkles.
Just look at these cute little macs.  
They’re pink.  And sprinkled.  And yes, they taste like birthday cake.
I think I’m finally getting the hang of making macarons!
 
I thought I would share a few of my personal tips and tricks for macaron success, although I won’t lie and say that making these cookies isn’t still stressful or difficult or volatile… I have shells that crack too, it’s just that now I better understand/can better explain these fatalities.
1.  I no longer make macarons the French way, which involves heating egg whites with sugar over a double boiler and then making a meringue.
This process is identical to making a Swiss meringue, which I no longer do either. (more on this in an upcoming post!)
Rather, I use the Italian (sucre cuit, cooked sugar) method to make my macarons (and buttercream, but like I said… hold your horses for an in-depth tutorial).
This involves mixing half of your egg whites with almond meal and confectioner’s sugar, and making a cooked meringue with a hot sugar syrup and the other half of the egg whites.
You then marry the two mixtures by performing macaronage, or folding and gently mixing, and finally, you pipe out your shells.
 
2.  I don’t worry about the age or temperature of my egg whites (thanks, Stella!).  To be honest, however, I almost always have aged egg whites stored in my fridge from recipes needing only or mostly yolks, and these are the whites I use most often for making meringue buttercreams or macarons.  
However, if I don’t have the full weight of whites needed, I’ll simply crack open a fresh egg.  
It theoretically shouldn’t matter, and I don’t find that it does.
P.S. If you haven’t been saving your unused, unloved egg whites, shame on you!
That’s money down the drain!
Save them and use them in buttercream or macarons or angel food cake, or feed your dog a nice egg white omelet to make their coat super shiny and soft.
Waste not want not!
 
3. I mix my (gel) food coloring in with my almond flour- not my meringue.  
I find that this better distributes the color and ensures that there are no pockets of food coloring that can lead to streaks and holes in your macarons.
When I am partially mixing my almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, and half of the egg whites, I also add in a dab of food coloring (Wilton Rose, for these shells) and gently mix until the mixture is dusty and dry but streaked and there are no globs of food coloring.
 
4.  I let my shells dry before baking.  
This is something a lot of people don’t buy into, but I’ve found that the extra 30 minute drying period really helps ensure that my shells have feet and don’t crack.  
Regardless of others’ experiences, this is what has consistently worked for me.
Different strokes for different folks.
 
5.  I never use silpats.  
Seriously, people, parchment is best for macarons.  
I find that silpats stick and tend to pull the bottom right off my macs.  They’re impossible to pry off, and I end up gouging giant holes in the bottom or cracking the shells right in half when I try to wrench them off of a silpat with a paring knife.
Not a pretty scene, take it from me.
 
6. I use heavy-duty sheet pans, or double up on flimsier ones.  
This is a big help with cracking, which generally occurs when the inside/bottom of the shell is cooking too fast, causing the interior to expand and the top to rupture.  
Using thick (or double) sheet pans also prevents the bottoms of the macs from browning, which is not quite so pretty but still tasty.
If you have trouble with cracking, try using two sheet pans for your macarons.  
It just might help. 

These aren’t the easiest baking project in the world, and are somewhat fussy little cookies.
But once you find a set of guidelines that work for you, you may just be swept away by the macaron mania. 
There are endless possibilities for these little French cuties, and you can mix and match shells and fillings to your hearts delight.  
The filling recipe that I’ve created for these is scary in that it tastes exactly like the frosting out of a can- in a good way.  
 
I will admit that it is slightly less sweet and a bit more creamy, but it is nearly an exact copy-cat.
How did I make this up?  I threw a bunch of stuff in a bowl, tasted, adjusted, tasted, adjusted, and, once satisfied, licked the rest of the bowl (after all those tastings, there wasn’t much left anyways!).
Who needs fillings for macarons anyways?!
 
Pulling a successful batch of macarons out of your oven is reason for celebration unto itself, so why not celebrate with cake?

 

Birthday Cake Macarons
for the shells:
adapted from DessertFirst Girl
ingredients:
100 grams almond flour
100 grams confectioner’s sugar
200 grams sugar
50 grams water
pinch of cream of tartar
150 grams egg whites, divided into 2 75-gram portions
approximately 1/4 teaspoon pink gel food coloring
directions:
Line 2 or 3 heavy duty baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor, process the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar.
Dump into a bowl with 75 grams of the egg whites and the pink food coloring.
Mix partially with a spatula until mostly combined but still streaked with dry ingredients.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar and the water in a saucepan.
Cook the syrup to 245 degrees F.
While the syrup is cooking, whip the second 75 gram portion of egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar.
The egg whites should be just a tiny bit shy of stiff peaks when the syrup comes to temperature.  
The peaks should be stiff, just not dry.
Once the whites have whipped and the syrup is up to temp, slowly and carefully drizzle the syrup over the meringue with the mixer on low, until all of the syrup is used up.
Beat on high until cooled slightly.
The meringue should be smooth, thick, and glossy, and hold a “beak” on the end of your whisk.
Scoop all of the meringue on top of the almond meal mixture and begin to fold and turn your batter.
Continue to turn and scrape the bowl while folding the mixture until it falls in a ribbon and flows like magma.  
The ribbon that cascades off of your spatula should disappear into the mixture after 10 seconds.  (Please see Anita or Heather’s picture tutorials for a clearer idea.)
Place batter into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe 1 inch circles onto your baking sheets.
Preheat oven to 320-325 degrees F while shells dry.
Bake for 15 minutes, changing the top rack to the bottom and vice versa halfway through the baking. 
Shells are done when one can be lifted cleanly and easily off of the parchment, with no browning on the bottom.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.
for the faux canned frosting:
ingredients:
115 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1+ cup confectioner’s sugar (this is to taste; I always add less confectioner’s sugar and build my way up, tasting as I go.  I prefer things much less sweet, so I advise you to taste as you go with any recipe, as they often call for a lot of sugar.  What I have listed here is my preference and is not too sweet.)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk powder
pinch salt
splash vanilla extract
splash butter extract (trust me!)
directions:
Beat butter and cream cheese on high until very creamy and smooth.  
Scrape sides and beat in confectioner’s sugar.
Mixture should be fluffy and light.
Add in the heavy cream and beat to combine- mixture may look curdled.
Add in the milk powder and beat on low to combine.

Add in the salt and extracts and beat on high.
If mixture is too runny, add a bit more confectioner’s sugar and/or milk powder.
If it is too thick, add in heavy cream or half and half a teaspoon at a time- it can go from too thick to runny very quickly, so beat well between additions.
to assemble the macarons:
ingredients:
shells
frosting
sprinkles
directions:
Spread half of the shells with about a teaspoon and a half of the filling, then sandwich with another shell.
Fill a small bowl with sprinkles, then roll the edges of each macaron in the sprinkles.
There should be enough filling exposed on the edges to pick up sprinkles around the middle of the mac.
Allow to “mature” overnight if possible, but definitely allow the flavors and textures at least 2 hours to mingle and get comfortable before eating.
Enjoy!

Knockoff

Not all knockoffs are like that fake Juicy Couture bag I bought at the Silk Market in Beijing.
 
The one which turned out, once inspected in a brighter lighting and clearer mindset, to be a brown-and-pink diaper bag with a malfunctioning zipper.
Take these cookies, for example.  They’re a take on those lovely, pillowy “Lofthouse” style sugar cookies that you can buy in every single supermarket in America.
You know the ones… They come in packages of six or ten or so, generally with pink or blue Crisco-based “butter”cream icing adorned with heaps of sprinkles, which, during appropriate holiday rushes, change into seasonally themed icing and sprinkles.
 
They’re so bad…. But so very, very soft.  And hard to resist.
 
Editor’s note:
[While perusing their website, which took an inordinately long time to load, discovered that they now come in red velvet [?!] and frosted with nerds [?!!].  Suspicious whether this is good idea or very, very bad one.  Must say, nerds are great.  
Therefore still on fence about nerd-frosted sugar cookies.
 
Also noted: holidays featured are Easter, Halloween, 4th of July, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Thanksgiving.
Wonderful!!! All imaginable holiday cookie needs covered! 
 
Perusing further, discovered watermelon and sugar plum flavored sugar cookies (and, of course, ubiquitous and gratuitous pumpkin).
 
Must ask what a sugar cookie designed to mimic sugar plum even tastes like?
Best guess: saccharine.
 
Watermelon?  Can only think of sticking Hubba Bubba into a cookie and dyeing the whole thing bright green.  Mmmmm refreshing.
 
Nearly done with snottiness.  
Blue-, pink-, yellow- and white-frosted cookies considered disparate flavors/groups?!
Found one difference: which number dye goes in at end of mixing time.
 
Last and most important point: how does “purple-boo” icing taste?  And why not kosher?]
Oh, and actually…  Props to Lofthouse for trying to be more eco-friendly.  It’s hard for me to love the cookies anymore, but I sure as heck appreciate that.
 
Here.  Now that you’ve endured an entire post of whining and carrying on, why don’t you enjoy a big, fat, soft cookie with a sweet, buttery swirl of icing on top?
These cookies are wonderful.  So soft and fluffy, perfectly offset by a mound of buttercream.  I also made free-form rose flavored sprinkles/shards to top the whole thing off.
Subtle, and not overly perfume-y.  Just what I was going for.  
I don’t want people thinking I poured a bottle of my nicest Chanel into my cookies.  Feel me?

I loved this recipe… Easy and produced great results.  I highly recommend it!



Faux Lofthouse Sugar Cookies
ingredients:
6 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces( 16 tablespoons) butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (I added much more… I like vanilla) vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sour cream
directions:
Stir together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  
In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together.  Scrape the sides.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Scrape the sides.
Beat in the vanilla and sour cream just until combined.
Mix in the dry ingredients just until the dough comes together and is fully mixed.
Divide into 2 disks and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line sheet pans with parchment or silpats.
Lightly dust a clean surface with flour, and turn one of the refrigerated disks out. 
Roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch, then cut out desired shapes.
Bake for 7 minutes, then let cool on wire racks.
Gather scraps, refrigerate for a little (10 minutes) if they are becoming warm and elastic, then re-roll.
Repeat with other dough.
 
American Buttercream Frosting
ingredients:
1 stick butter
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar, sifted
big pinch of salt
splash of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of cream, as needed
directions:
Beat the butter until smooth and fluffy.  
Sift in the sugar, add the salt and vanilla extract, and beat on low speed until incorporated.
Beat on high speed for about 20 seconds, until everything is homogeneous.  If the frosting is thick, add some cream or milk in small increments until it is spreadable.
Spread a thick layer onto each cookie, leaving a slight mound in the center of the cookie.  Spin the cookie while lightly pressing down in the center to create a small well for your sprinkles!
 
Rose Shards:
Use this recipe (brilliant!), but add in a drop of rosewater and spread it very thinly and evenly over a sheet of parchment instead of piping lines out.  Let dry completely, then break apart into little shattered pieces.  Use it to garnish the frosted cookies.