“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map.
It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.
Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
“You see, he was going for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail now and then. It was a several years’ cruise. They always put in the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way, though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was, and I don’t think any of them actually expected to find it, or would have known what to do with it if he had run across it.”
― Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
“Here we are again!
Bless me, I believe I said that before—but after all you don’t want Christmas to be different each year, do you?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas
Christmas for my family was different this year.
One (1) of my three (3) brothers couldn’t come to the East coast for Xmas.
We’re celebrating in the city, rather than upstate, which means an apartment and a baby tree rather than a big house with a fireplace.
And we have the cutest, most adorable mini addition to our family with my baby niece, Emilia.
I honestly can’t believe how perfectly cute she is.
Cannot get enough of her chub!
So although we didn’t have some of our traditions this year, we still had a lovely time together.
Gifts were opened, brunch was had (I made Belgian waffles, my mom made a delicious polenta dish, we all drank mimosas and coffee), and much cooing over the baby was done.
Now that I’m not a kid anymore, I am reminded each year that what I love most about Christmas is being with my family.
This year, I am especially reminded that home is where your family is.
So, about this cute little pastel Christmas cake.
Technically, everything except the reindeer’s ribbon scarf is edible. (No toothpicks used here, just uncooked spaghetti lol.)
The decorations are made of (non-gelatin) fondant that I added tylose powder to to make it more like gumpaste (firm and quick setting/drying).
Sculpting the reindeer took days, as I did each piece in turn.
I painted it with gold food coloring and used pink luster dust to add the blush.
The gingerbread house is made of a new recipe of gingerbread that I created, which has no eggs or water so that it doesn’t bubble and maintains its shape. It’s much more building-friendly, and although it doesn’t taste quite as good, it is still far more delicious than “construction” gingerbread.
Let me know if you want the recipe!
I stuck the gingerbread house together with melted white chocolate, and I will never use anything else! It is far more dependable than royal icing, because it sets quickly and, importantly, is just a little bit pliable when it sets—you can avoid things cracking and falling all apart because of a little push or drop here and there. It even survived a subway ride where it was rattling around in a tupperware a little.
A simple royal icing made the piped decorations, the snow on the trees, and the icicles.
My inspiration was the endlessly creative and cute Juniper Cakery, a bakery in the UK.
I hadn’t worked with fondant in so SO long, and while it’s not the tastiest thing in the world, it’s not entirely inedible, either. It also makes sculpting work so enjoyable and smooth.
For making something like a gingerbread house or a figurine that is unlikely to be eaten and isn’t integral to the cake, I really recommend it. You might be surprised as I was!
The cake itself is a soft-crumbed, lightly fragranced orange spice cake, redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and cloves, with orange and lemon zest.
It’s made using a reverse creaming method, meaning that you beat very soft butter into the dry ingredients, including the flour, before adding the wet. Bittersweet orange marmalade is spread between the layers to add an extra hit of citrus.
Finally, salted chocolate buttercream, made with unsweetened chocolate and extra cocoa powder to really amp up the chocolate flavor, enrobes the cake.
Orange, chocolate, and spice is a warming, cozy combination that evokes winter and Christmastime to me. If you’d rather leave out the citrus, a chocolate spice cake would also be delicious.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And to those who don’t celebrate this holiday, a peaceful and happy day.
Orange Spice and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake
for the orange spice cake:
1 egg yolk
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground anise
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) butter, extremely soft
for the chocolate frosting:
175 grams (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
50 grams unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
340 grams (12 ounces, 2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons cream or milk, only if needed
orange marmalade, if desired
Make the cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk eggs, egg yolk, and buttermilk together.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, zest spices, and salt together.
Beat butter into the dry ingredients until it’s fully incorporated; mixture should be clumpy but there should be no large pieces of butter at all—aim for more of a paste, without overmixing.
Slowly stream in the wet ingredients while whisking.
Once fully incorporated, scrape the bowl and whisk another few times.
Portion evenly into the two prepared pans.
Bake for 18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the buttercream: whip butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently melt the chocolate over low heat with a bain-marie or in a microwave, going in small bursts.
Add the salt, half the powdered sugar, and cocoa powder to the butter; whip until incorporated.
With the mixer running, slowly stream in the melted chocolate.
Once fully incorporated, add the other half of the powdered sugar a spoonful at a time.
If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk (I didn’t have to do this) and whip to incorporate.
Level the cakes if they have domed and spread 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade over the bottom cake.
Crumb coat the cakes with the frosting, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours.
Frost the rest of the cake thickly; I had about 2 tablespoons of frosting leftover, so if you want to add decorative piping, frost the cake a little more sparingly.
Decorate with fondant if desired!
Always you have been told that work is a curse
and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of Earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you
when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth
And to love life through labour is to be
intimate with life’s inmost secret.
Happy sixth birthday, La Pêche Fraîche!
I can’t believe that these past years have flown by so quickly.
Six seems impossibly long. I swear I was celebrating two years just a moment ago, in my house’s common room in our dorm.
But I can’t deny it: it’s 2018, and the first time I hit publish was May 30th, 2012.
2012! I was an angsty 16-year old junior in high school, still taking AP Chemistry. I don’t think I even had my full driver’s license yet.
Now I’m an angsty 22-year old. Looking back on now in 6 years, I’m sure I’ll think I didn’t even have a properly-sized apartment yet.
In six years, will I still be running this space?
I suspect so, but expect nothing. Life takes on so many bizarre shapes, which I know well enough even as young as I am. What is certainly undeniable is that being a blogger, an internet writer, has become folded into my sense of self. Inextricably.
I don’t consider La Pêche Fraîche to be my alter ego, or a nickname, or anything like that. In fact, I don’t think of the title often—it is mildly disconcerting to ponder about.
LPF is, at once, of me and defining to me. I am the creator, but the implications of the final product are more than I think the pieces that I put in. What I mean is that when I think of this blog, I think of it as an independent piece of the world, when in reality it is simply a promulgation of my private self.
It does not—it cannot—exist apart from me. But somehow, in the ether, it does. Would that make it harder to put down and walk away from, or easier? I don’t know.
It is impossible to say whether La Pêche Fraîche, the fresh peach, is me, or if I am it.
It can be as difficult to pick up a mirror and look with clarity at yourself as to break your gaze and put it down. Narcissus, indeed.
This beauty of a cake is a triumph of coconut and chocolate.
The vegan coconut cake is wonderfully chewy, with a texture that is dense and moreish. Coconut oil provides the luxurious mouthfeel, and coconut milk keeps the whole cake extremely moist.
It is soft in the center, with a light, springy crumb.
Between the layers, a softly salted coconut and chocolate ganache is thickly spread for a rich, deep contrast to the sweet and silky coconut buttercream. Delicate, naturally dyed (freeze-dried raspberries and matcha!) flowers are laid on the cake, alongside little seed pearl sprinkles.
The whole effect is super girly and kawaii, and would be perfect for a tea-party, or a celebration of any kind. I love the hand-painted effect of the flowers, although I think I need more practice with the technique to really get it down pat.
Thanks for your support, dear readers. It means the world to me.
Everything here is for you.
Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 5 or 6 layer x 6-inch layer cake
for the cake:
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
480 grams (2 cups) canned coconut milk
200 grams (1 cup) coconut oil, liquid
30 grams (2 tablespoons) vinegar
for the chocolate ganache:
150 grams (5 1/2 ounces) dark dairy-free chocolate
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) full fat coconut milk, well shaken/stirred
for the buttercream:
170 grams (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
625 grams (5 cups) powdered sugar, or as needed
45-75 grams (3-5 tablespoons) coconut milk, or as needed
crushed freeze-dried raspberries, matcha powder, and sprinkles, to decorate
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together, and make a well in the center.
Stir in coconut milk, coconut oil, and vinegar until the batter is smooth.
Fold the shredded coconut into the batter and pour into prepared pans.
Bake until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs, or about 20-25 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
When cakes are cool, split in half (one of my layers split incorrectly, so I only had 5 layers in this cake).
Make the ganache: heat chocolate gently in the microwave in 15 second bursts until 1/2 melted.
Add in the coconut oil and heat until the chocolate is 2/3 melted.
Set aside; heat the coconut milk and salt until warmed, about 20 seconds.
Whisk the chocolate vigorously while adding in the coconut milk; whisk until glossy and fully melted.
Set aside until cooled to room temperature.
Whip the cooled ganache until it is fluffy and lightened in color, about 1 minute.
Spread in between the layers of cake and place in fridge to set while you make the buttercream.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place butter, coconut oil, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until very light colored and doubled in volume.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in 4 cups of the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating on high speed after each addition.
Add in 2 tablespoons of coconut milk and beat on high speed to incorporate.
Scrape the bowl and taste the frosting; if it is too thin, add the next cup of powdered sugar; if it is too thick, add another tablespoon of milk at a time.
If it is too buttery, add the extra cup of powdered sugar plus 2 tablespoons milk and beat on high speed for another minute.
Split out 2 small portions of frosting (one about 3 tablespoons and one about 2 tablespoons) add the crushed freeze-dried raspberries (to the larger portion) and matcha (to the smaller portion), if desired, and beat to combine.
Frost cake, being sure to have a fridge nearby for when the frosting gets soft (the coconut oil doesn’t hold up well in high temperatures).
To make the flowers, use the edge of a palette knife or a small teaspoon to smear one petal/leaf at time.
Decorate with pearl sprinkles and fresh flowers!
I FOUND you and I lost you,
All on a gleaming day.
The day was filled with sunshine,
And the land was full of May.
A golden bird was singing
Its melody divine,
I found you and I loved you,
And all the world was mine.
I found you and I lost you,
All on a golden day,
But when I dream of you, dear,
It is always brimming May.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
LONG TIME NO TALK.
I never expect to be gone as long as I am… I do find that sometimes it’s hard to sit down and write, as much as I want to. Gone are the days of free-flowing writing. They have been gone for a good, long while, actually.
I used to write poetry, jotting down notes every time a line or two came to me. Now, it all feels forced and terribly childish. I can’t bear to let myself alone with a thesaurus, for fear of everything reading like a middle schooler’s first essay.
In fact, the more I try to write, the more likely that the words won’t come, an inverse relationship that leaves me staring at a blinking cursor between pictures of cake.
Still, might as well give it my best shot.
May is quite the mixed month in my life.
Every year, a new, complicated layer seems to be spread over the top. It is hopeless to try to keep up with all of the different dates, but the whole month is permeated with emotions from each event.
May is (one of) my brother’s birthday month.
It is the month when a close family friend passed from here to the infinite.
It was my last class as a college student.
It was an anniversary, and now it isn’t.
It brims with spring and the promise of warmth.
It marks another year of this blog.
This is the first May in all my 22 years that does not demarcate a major change in scenery and activity for me. That is to say, I will keep working, I will stay in the same apartment, etc., etc., just in shorter skirts and fewer jackets.
There are no internships nor summer vacation for adults. I won’t be graduating or going to camp or home for an extended stay.
It is curious to feel static and still sense summer swelling.
Anyways. Abrupt change to cake because there’s nothing that really connects it to ~musings of May~.
This cake. I mean, dang. Couldn’t you just faceplant into those swoops and swirls of Nutella buttercream (because I could)?
It’s a banana snack cake, super moist with the addition of sour cream. The edges are slightly crisp from the high fat content, and the center is comfortingly squidgey and dense.
A great pile of Nutella buttercream, fluffy and heavily salted to cut the sweetness, is spread on top, without overmuch worry about it being perfectly smooth.
A pinch (or two) of sprinkles, and you have a happy snacking cake, easy to make, transport, and eat.
This is a good one to keep in your back pocket, folks.
Banana and Nutella are both total crowd pleasers, and for good reason.
(And now I am thinking about banana and Nutella crepes…)
Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting
cake portion adapted from Food52/ButterYum
makes 1 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake
for the cake:
130 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) sour cream
30 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (about 3 small or 2 large) overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
120 grams (1 cup) flour
for the frosting:
113 grams (8 tablespoons, 1/2 cup) butter, softened
75 grams (1/2 cup) Nutella
30 grams (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
350 grams (2.5 cups) powdered sugar, as needed
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) half-and-half or milk, as needed
sprinkles, if desired
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour an 8″x8″ or 9×9″ pan liberally.
Cream butter, sugar, salt, and egg together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the sour cream and mashed bananas until about halfway incorporated.
Add the flour and baking soda and stir well to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl.
Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
To make the frosting: whip butter on high speed for 3 minutes, or until very fluffy and light.
Add in Nutella and salt and whip for another 2 minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, stirring slowly and increasing speed after each addition.
Add in the milk or half-and-half 1 tablespoon at a time; whip frosting between additions until the spreadability and consistency of the frosting are to your liking (this can vary enormously depending on the humidity and heat of your kitchen).
Spread frosting thickly over cooled cake, and top with sprinkles as desired. SaveSave
“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.
We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.
Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction—one last midnight—brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”
—Rust Cole, True Detective
I suppose spring isn’t the right time to be referencing Rust Cole’s doom and gloom, but forgive for today my moody melodrama.
It comes alongside an excellent cookie recipe, so I daresay it’s worth it.
And besides, it doesn’t really feel like the season has changed yet. Winds are still whipping, snow is still falling upstate and in Chicago, blooms are still only mere suggestions of buds, and the sun’s warmth is not yet fully baked.
I, um, think we might need a reiteration of our stage directions here.
Exeunt March, in the manner of a lamb.
On the first day of spring, a nor’easter hit NYC. It was m i s erable.
The day after, a finger of spring light, so faint that it might have been mistaken for an indoor flood lamp slipped out in the early morning and later opened up into a jubilant and blinding day.
I had to go to the NYU hospital for volunteer orientation; it’s a fair hike from my office and requires a long-ish subway ride.
As I have mentioned here before, I do my best people watching when on the subway, particularly when I’m a bit moody and would like to be out walking in the sun rather than hurtling away in damp underground tunnels.
My favorite scene of the day was of two elderly deaf ladies, seated across from one another on the uptown 6, silently gabbing at the speed of light. They paused only when Spring St. shoppers shuffled through their path, craning their necks around skinny teenage-d legs and crisply creased shopping bags to recommence their discussion as quickly as possible.
I also took note of and rolled my eyes at the baseless optimism of the two men who stepped, one in a sweatshirt and other in a proper-looking ivy cap, lockstep onto the subway as they loudly answered phone calls. Both expressed only the mildest annoyance when their signals inevitably dropped. Resigned, they pocketed their iPhones, and the rest of the car sighed in relief.
Today’s day started with a dripping, grey smear of a morning, with a forecast that threatened rain. I was up and out of my apartment earlier than usual—sneakers hitting the pavement at 6:05AM.
It was cold and the sun hadn’t yet bothered to rise, so I hustled towards the gym with my fingers jammed into jacket pockets and shoulders hunched over to ward off the chill.
There are only two people in all of New York City who are fully aware of my comings and goings, of the early trudges to the gym and the exhausted late night slogs home from the office (and, in all honestly, the occasional stumble home on boozy nights).
I have never spoken a word to either.
They are the men who run the coffee/pastry and halal carts on my corner, daily bookends so constant that I’m sure many of my neighbors think they can’t possibly move shop every day.
But I have seen the coffee cart open and the halal cart close.
This morning, through admittedly bleary eyes, I saw someone on the pavement laying out cardboard underneath the bright lights of the coffee cart. I thought, at first, that it was one of the two (friendly) homeless men who frequent the corner, but as I neared, I realized it was the man who runs the cart.
He took careful pains to straighten out the cardboard just-so, and smoothed the corners with the flat of his hand a final time before standing, then bowing and kneeling. He was praying.
I was struck by this intimate moment of humanity; prayers directed towards Mecca on a raft of cardboard in the middle of the dirty, slick sidewalk of 14th St. on a drizzling, cold April morning.
In a jaded way, I have been asking myself lately how much of my observation of others is not exposition, but self-centered projection.
How many of these brief moments of presumed humanness are really nothing worth a second glance—just my nosiness taking over?
I wonder if I only take note and mark them as special in order to feel a rush of omniscience, a weak inflation of my ego. How aware and poignant and poetic am I.
Are we not all just people leading our daily lives? And isn’t my daily life bland and beige from the inside?
By attempting to extract meaning from my examination of perfect strangers, I am selfishly wondering who around me is doing the same to the figment of myself that exists within their view.
Mostly, I think, because it is so hard to accept the routine boringness of everyday life; this has become increasingly true in the age of social media, where highlight reels are curated over days and months, so you can post a perfect throwback of a cake while sitting in your desk chair drinking your fifth black cherry seltzer.
It’s not dishonesty, exactly. It’s something else entirely, and the purpose is not only to impress our followers, but to fool ourselves.
And so I make up backstories in my head and curate my instagram. Hmm.
This cookie recipe is a bit of a throwback, itself.
I developed it for the Feed Feed/Bob’s Red Mill winter cookie giveaway way back in December, which was an altogether excellent time.
(Some cookies that were memorable: Patti’s always intricate decorated sugar cookies, which came in the shape of twee penguins with neck-scarves, ice-skates, and earmuffs; Rachel’s milk masala shortbread cookies; Erin’s vanilla sandwich cookies with vanilla bean marshmallow; Sarah’s pan-banging chocolate chip cookies (!!!), and others. Also, someone made soft gingerbread cookies with a cracklingly tart lemon glaze, and the memory of the cookies apparently has outlasted my good manners/memory of their creator. Oops.)
These little gems have a base of fragrant nutmeg shortbread, which is buttery and rich but not so short that it crumbles before you can get it to your mouth; it provides a sturdy enough base for transport or gifting. Lashed to the butter cookie with a drop of good dark chocolate are ultra light, melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues. These are so crunchy and crisp and delicate; they really reminded me why meringue is one of my top three favorite desserts.
A dusting of powdered sugar gives them an (un)seasonally appropriate finish (ha, ha, ha, yes this everlasting winter is very funny) and provides nice color contrast to the shades of beige underneath.
These are really a special little cookie, elegant and understated, but with a flavor profile that will pleasantly surprise you, even in its subtlety. Oh, and the French word for nutmeg was too poetic not to provide you a translation of the full title:
Des sablés à la noix de muscade avec des meringues au sirop d’érable. Le sigh.
Nutmeg Shortbread with Maple Meringues
makes 50-60 1.5″ cookies
for the cookies:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour
for the meringues:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
60 grams (3 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar (can sub up to 50 grams (1/4 cup) maple sugar)
30 grams (1 ounce) dark chocolate, melted
Powdered sugar, as needed for dusting
Make the shortbread: beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add the salt, sugar, and nutmeg and beat on high speed for another 3 minutes; mixture should be lightened in color and not grainy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl again and add the flour; fold a few times and then stir on low speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn out the dough and knead into a ball; refrigerate for 15 minutes (and up to 2 days).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut out 1.5 inch rounds and place on prepared pans.
Re-roll dough until all has been used up (I filled 3 baking sheets and baked them 1 sheet at a time).
Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake straight from the freezer for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the meringues: Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, and sugar in a small pot and place over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the egg whites, carefully watching the syrup.
The syrup needs to reach 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) when the egg whites are at soft peaks; adjust speed of your stand mixer or heat under the pot accordingly.
Carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running, avoiding the whisk so that hot syrup does not splash.
Whip on high speed for 3-5 minutes, or until the meringue is fluffy, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a jumbo French tip and pipe small dollops on the prepared pans.
If you’re struggling with the parchment paper flying up and sticking to the meringue, just place small smears of meringue on the baking sheet at the corners as “glue” and stick the parchment down.
Once you have piped out your meringues, place them in the oven.
Bake at 275 for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 degrees and dry for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and lift up off the parchment cleanly.
This can take much longer than 2 hours—it depends on the humidity in your home.
If need be, you can leave the meringues in the oven overnight (I left mine for a full 18 hours…!) at 200 degrees.
To assemble, use a small smear of dark chocolate to affix the meringue onto the shortbread and dust with a little powdered sugar for a snowy finish.
With strawberries we filled a tray,
And then we drove away, away
Along the links beside the sea,
Where wind and wave were light and free,
And August felt as fresh as May.
And where the springy turf was gay
With thyme and balm and many a spray
Of wild roses, you tempted me
A shadowy sail, silent and grey,
Stole like a ghost across the bay;
But none could hear me ask my fee,
And none could know what came to be.
Can sweethearts all their thirst allay
—William Ernest Henley
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Do all my posts start with a remark about how quickly time passes? Am I getting so predictable and old that it’s the only source of small talk I have to share with you all?
…But, whoa, February is halfway gone already?!
I was just remarking to my dad how February is the shortest month by far, seeing as it not only has 28 days, but it also comes directly on the heels of the incontrovertibly longest month.
Grey, dreary January.
Here in New York City, however, February has been greyer by far than January.
Rainy, gloomy days that keep me snuggled up in bed. Not that I mind.
In fact, re-emphasizing rest and self-care has led me to inadvertently stay dry for most of January and February thus far. I do like going out for drinks or enjoying a bottle of wine over dinner with my friends, but it’s always an eye opener to spend weekend mornings not feeling hungover. While I’m not consciously staying away from alcohol, it’s something on which I am going to try keep a close eye.
I’ve been tracking a bunch of different habits on a homemade bullet journal, and I find it very interesting to look back and see the shape of my days. I just finished the first side yesterday, and I’m very excited to turn the page over and start on a fresh sheet.
If you’ve never tried using a bullet journal, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s an awesome way to keep track of your life, especially for people who like to stay organized. There’s a sense of a completed to-do list at the end of each day, when you get to X off boxes all along a column. Very satisfying, indeed.
I absolutely adore Valentine’s Day. Every year, I get very excited to make special baked goods.
Many people say that your first Valentine’s Day out of a relationship is torturously difficult, but it’s not so for me. Single or no, the idea of a day set aside to remind us all to celebrate love and hold our dear ones tighter is something I cherish.
Somehow, these last two years I have managed to do something insane with marzipan.
Last year’s cake, which I just ‘grammed, took me hours and hours to complete.
I tend to get these fanciful ideas in my head, especially ones involving marzipan and gold leaf, and they completely wipe out my better judgment and time-worn experience that would hit the brakes when it comes to delicate little projects like this. Remember when I asked you to keep me away from gold leaf?
Yeah, well… In addition to today’s mini cakes, I have a cake with marzipan AND gold leaf coming your way soon. Évidemment, je n’aie jamais compris la leçon.
I never fail to get suckered in.
These happy little cakelets are just the cutest, aren’t they?!
These are strawberry cake truffles.
They’re made of balsamic vinegar and olive oil chocolate cake, velvety and damp, with the faintest savory notes threaded through it. Sweet strawberry buttercream is folded into the cake crumbs, and they are shaped into little naked strawberries. Tinted marzipan, chewy and toothsome, blankets the truffles. It is accented with little dots of royal icing that harden to a hint of crunchiness, just like what you would expect from tiny strawberry seeds.
The overall effect is unbelievably kawaii, and these are sure to charm anyone you give them to. If you have Serious Chocolate Lovers in your life, you could even dip them in melted chocolate to make chocolate dipped “strawberries.”
(You know, if this recipe isn’t extra enough for you already. Ha!)
Lots of love, darlings! I hope you all have a happy, contented Valentine’s Day.
Strawberry, Chocolate, and Marzipan Cakes
makes 36 mini cakes
for the balsamic olive oil chocolate cake:
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
60 grams (3/4 cup) cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
114 grams (1/2 cup) olive oil
360 grams (1 1/2 cups) hot coffee
15 grams (1 tablespoon) balsamic vinegar
for the strawberry buttercream:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
227 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) milk or cream, or as needed
170 grams (1/2 cup) strawberry jam
336 grams (12 ounces) marzipan
food coloring, as desired
royal icing (meringue powder + water), as desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Place flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together briefly.
Slowly stream the hot water or coffee into the dry ingredients; once it’s mostly incorporated, whisk vigorously while you add in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Scrape the bowl to ensure homogeneity, then portion evenly into the two pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Allow to cool completely before continuing.
Once cool, cut off any crusty edges and crumble the cakes into fine crumbs.
Make the frosting: whip butter with powdered sugar and salt until light and fluffy; add in the milk while whipping so that the mixture is thick but spreadable.
Fold in the jam until combined; it may curdle (that’s okay!) due to the amount of jam.
It’s all just for binding, anyways, so it won’t matter.
Add the frosting into the cake crumbles and stir until the mixture is a cohesive ball.
Scoop out teaspoon – 2 teaspoon measures and roll into conical strawberry shapes.
Refrigerate until hardened, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, tint the marzipan; here, I used Americolor and Wilton colors in red, black, and green, and added a touch of cocoa powder to the leaves to temper down the brightness.
Once the cakes are hardened, roll out a knob of red marzipan to 1/8 of an inch thickness.
Wrap the marzipan around the cake gently, pinching off excess at the seams and gently smoothing with your fingers.
Place the cake seam side down and return to the fridge.
Repeat with all the red marzipan; once that is all finished, roll out the green marzipan to 3/16 inch thickness.
Using fondant flower cutters, cut out the top leaves for the berries.
Affix to the top of the berries, using a tiny amount of water if needed.
Decorate the berries with a toothpick and white royal icing to create little dots as seeds.
Serve at room temperature the day they are made (marzipan will get a bit soggy if left in the fridge too long).