La Noix de Muscade

“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.
Exe! Unt!

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

ingredients:
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)

for assembly:
30 grams (1 ounce) dark chocolate, melted
Powdered sugar, as needed for dusting

directions:
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.

Deconstruct

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I will teach my daughter
not to wear her skin like
a drunken apology.
I will tell her
‘Make a home out of your body,
live in yourself,
do not let people turn you into a regret,
do not justify yourself.
If you are a disaster,
it is not forever.
If you are a disaster, you are
the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.
Do not deconstruct from the inside out,
you belong here,
you belong here,
not because you are lovely,
but because you are more than that.’

—Azra T., Your hands are threads, your body is a canvas

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

March! Le Mars! Spring! Semi-warmer weather! Sunrises before 7am!
March is always fun for me as a food blogger: with pi day and St. Patty’s day and spring fruits starting to roll in, there’s lots of fodder for creativity.

It’s Lent right now and I’ve been trying to come up with a treat to send to my best friend, who gave up wheat and chocolate, which is also a good prompt for creativity: dreaming up ways to feed a friend with dietary restrictions.
I welcome it, because it’s a challenge that pushes me outside of my comfort zone, and also because I think everyone deserves to be able to eat delicious food.

I have given up purchased drinks: no boba, no tea, etc., even though I no longer consider myself a Catholic.
(Or maybe I’m just a bad Catholic. Honestly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: when asked what he would be giving up for Lent, my dad said “Lent.”)
I was mostly interested in how it would affect my spending habits; I have discovered that I didn’t make as many purchases at Starbucks and the like as I perhaps thought, so maybe I should have challenged myself more.
Still, it’s a good way to inform my budgeting, which I have been attempting to adhere to strictly since moving to the city that never-sleeps-but-still-pays-ridiculous-sums-for-the-apartment-that-barely-fits-its-never-used-bed. It’s all too easy to watch your money fly into the gaping maw of the expensive abyss that is New York City.
Please do not ask me how much I have spent on Ubers/Lyfts/expensive-ass groceries from WF because it’s the only grocery store near me. Le sigh. I miss u everyday, Wegman’s.

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This concept of giving things up for a period of time has been increasingly in vogue in the food world: Whole30s abound, juice cleanses proliferate, and soup/broth cleanses have appeared, as well.

As someone who has been plant-based for essentially half of my life, I’m no stranger to needing accommodations.
I have done a juice/smoothie “fast” once before, and my lovely mumma once signed me up for a soup subscription so that I would have nutritious food to eat when I was too busy with school to cook (AKA always). Neither felt like a lifestyle choice, though.

I wonder how sustainable any of it is: how much of “giving something up” is good for the long-term?
I personally think that by framing it as giving something up, one is more likely to feel frustrated by it.
My friend, N, (who did a juice fast recently) and I were talking about this last week. I forget who coined the exact phrase, but we called what she was doing a juice feast. A simple addition, but it sounds heaps less ascetic and much more healthy. She ended up really enjoying her juice feast!
I never feel or felt restricted when I gave up meat and fish, nor when I gave up milk. Increasingly, I have been eliminating dairy and eggs and leather, as well. I mostly only use dairy and eggs when I bake. Instead of feeling limited, I have found that I have gained a sense of purpose and satisfaction in my diet and lifestyle. I don’t mean to sound preachy, of course.
But when you think of what you gain, it’s a lot easier to make a lifestyle choice. You’d be surprised!
If you’re curious, you could try doing Meatless March! Or Meatless Mondays!

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

More and more, I’ve seen people who give up bananas (not for health reasons/allergies, but because of the sugar).
At the gym the other morning, I heard a très millenial conversation, in which one participant declared that he was only allowed one serving of domestic fruit a day, hence only having 4 strawberries in his smoothie. His friend immediately asked, what about international fruit? He said, sagely, those are too high in sugar, so I don’t eat any: I haven’t had a banana in 7 months.
I had to hold in my laughter. It just seemed like the silliest distinction. I’m all for healthier eating and limiting sugar, because Lord knows we get enough of it, but to use political borders to define your allowed fruits?!

I for one, am never permanently giving up bananas. Ever.
Banana cake is one of the best desserts ever, in my opinion, and you would be hard-pressed to find flavors that don’t go brilliantly with it!

This naked cake has a base of moist buttermilk banana cake, adapted from the dependable Milk Bar cookbook. Honestly, I think you could even add another half a banana in to punch up the flavor, although it is lovely and soft as is. (Too many bananas, and I fear you begin to slide into banana bread territory.)
The frosting is maple Italian meringue buttercream, and it’s all I want to eat for the rest of my life. I want every waffle or pancake I ever lay eyes on to be served with this, in lieu of butter and maple syrup. It is a fluffy cloud of heaven.
A smattering of pecans finishes the cake in a fittingly rustic manner.

Anyways, my friends, love yourselves. Eat a slice of banana cake once in a while. Everything in moderation.
And stop vilifying perfectly good fruits, damn it!


Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Banana cakes, previously:
My 22nd birthday cake, an over the top affair with banana cake, almond dacquoise, coffee pastry cream, and chocolate Italian meringue buttercream
Roasted banana and salted chocolate cupcakes
Classic banana cake with speculoos glaze

Maple Banana Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple Banana Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake
cake portion adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar

ingredients:
for the banana cake:
85 grams (6 tablespoons) butter
200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 egg
110 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk
25 grams (2 tablespoons) oil
225 grams ripe (brown) bananas, roughly two
225 grams (1 1/3 cups) AP flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

for the maple Italian meringue buttercream:
2 egg whites
40 grams (2 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 grams (16 tablespoons, 1 cup) butter

to assemble:
chopped pecans

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Beat butter and sugar for 5 full minutes: mixture should be very light and fluffy and not gritty.
Add egg and beat for another 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the buttermilk and oil and stir until just starting to combine.
Mash the bananas very well and add to the mixture, again stirring a few times.
Add the flour on top of the batter, with baking powder, baking soda, and salt on top of the flour.
Stirring slowly at first, then increasing speed, mix batter until fully combined.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again for 20 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Portion the batter evenly into the three prepared pans.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs and the tops spring back when pressed.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the maple Italian meringue buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, sugar, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Begin whisking the egg whites.
Keep an eye on the syrup and egg whites; when the syrup reaches 240 degrees F, the egg whites should be at soft to barely-stiff peaks.
Pour the syrup into the egg whites while whipping on high speed (careful to pour down the side of the bowl to avoid hitting the whisk).
Whip on high speed until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and is glossy and shiny, about 6 minutes.
Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time while whipping on high speed.
Whip until the buttercream is fluffy and smooth, about 5 more minutes.
Fit a piping bag with a jumbo French star tip and fill with the buttercream.
Pipe a little frosting on the base of a cake stand, then place the first layer on top.
Pipe a layer of buttercream onto the layer, then top with a second and repeat with the third.
Pipe concentric circles on the third layer, then top with chopped pecans.

Golden

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

—Edgar Allan Poe, A Dream Within a Dream

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Just a few more days until Thanksgiving!
I can’t believe how quickly November has flown by. I guess this means I should get my shit together and start thinking about the holidays now, but inevitably, I won’t.
Actually, since I’ll be near a Target when I go home (oh baby), maybe I will pick up a few cute decorations to get me ~in the mood.~ We shall see.

I am so excited to be going home. This will be my first vacation time from work since starting in June, and my first time back home for more than two days in over two years. My first Thanksgiving back home without my puppy, Ginger. That will be weird. Who is going to bother me for all of the turkey juices and table scraps?! (And don’t anyone dare suggest the cats. They may be hungry, but even their appetites combined could never match a chocolate lab’s.)

My life has changed rapidly in the last year (just one year ago we were attempting to prep for Thanksgiving in a teeny city kitchen), which I believe is a symptom of being 22 years old, freshly graduated, in a new city. Certainly I am not unique in this.
But even when I was a student and had midterms to worry about and had to bring my homework or lug my MCAT books back home with me for the holiday, or when I was only going “home” to a temporary home, Thanksgiving was a time of grounding. I know many people face holiday-preparation panic, with which I sympathize. For me, however, the crazy antics that go on in the kitchen, requiring careful planning, are a delight.
Stressful, yes, but everything in life that I love is stressful for me. This is a symptom of having a brain and personality like mine.

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

 Here are some tried-and-true La Pêche Fraîche recipes that are definitely Thanksgiving appropriate:

This pound cake is a perfect base recipe; I’ll be making this in a caramel apple version this year.

Can’t not mention this show-stopping checkerboard pumpkin cheesecake; it’s no-bake, so an option to take pressure off of the oven.

This pumpkin meringue tart with cinnamon toast crunch crust. Oh YES, it’s good.

These brown butter and molasses mini cupcakes. They can be your dessert appetizers. Can we make that a thing?

These sticky sweet pumpkin and condensed milk cakes, which would be fantastic as a sheet cake to serve a crowd.

This apple, pear, butterscotch, and cheddar pie could not be more autumnal and really elevates the apple pie game, y’all.

This double pumpkin (with pumpkin butter and pumpkin purée!) bread is a crowd-pleaser, and can be made dairy-free very easily.

This pumpkin spice, brown butter, chocolate pecan pie is a stunner; what Thanksgiving is complete sans pecan pie?!

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Savory things I’m pocketing for Thanksgiving:

This golden fennel and kale chop from Sprouted Kitchen looks a lot like my go-to kale salad recipe; Sara adds fennel where I add raisins, and I love her twist on it! I might have to throw some into my salad this Thanksgiving.

I make an aioli every year to go alongside roasted vegetables; it’s the perfect easy sauce to throw together ahead of time. This year, I’ll be adding curry powder and maybe a touch of tahini.

This is the recipe I’m going to try for our cornbread stuffing this year; it looks solid and I love that it’s simple and vegan to boot!

Pie-inspo, because, duh:

Marbled chocolate cheesecake pumpkin pie from Adrianna: a mouthful, literally and figuratively. Just gorgeous (those swirls!) and I am personally a huge fan of chocolate + pumpkin.

Brownie. Pie. That is all. (Praise be to Joy and Erin for making me aware of this phenomenon.)

Erin made a chocolate cream pie with whipped peanut butter cream, and I think it would make a welcome break from pumpkin, apple, and cinnamon-spiced things at TGives!

Every post Linda creates is pure magic, and this vegan chocolate meringue pie is no exception. So dreamy, I can get lost in her photography!

Erin says, “[a] pithivier is a crispy, flaky alternative to pie.” That is when I stopped reading and started drooling. Her cranberry version looks dope.

Cakes to inspire you this holiday:

Michelle recently celebrated her sixth blog birthday (yay!) and made an autumnal hummingbird cake; it would make a great non-pie addition to the holiday table!

Zoe’s poached pear and ginger chocolate cake is something my mama would love; the flavor combination is elegant and classic and never goes out of style.

Tejal Rao wrote a lovely piece about three very different cakes for the holidays; I’m sure the recipes are bang-on (considering the sources!) and I enjoyed reading this one.

Sweet things that aren’t pie and cake to take notes on:

Jen makes macarons the same way I do (sucre cuit, or Italian meringue) and put together an awesome tutorial. If you’ve been scared to try them, this recipe may just be the ticket!

Alana’s baked apple cider donuts with maple glaze and cinnamon crumbles sound like the best iteration of apple cider donuts other than the original (piping fresh at the orchard). I love the combination of textures!

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

The recipe I’m sharing today is one that will have a proud place on my family’s Thanksgiving table, and I guarantee you that people will be shocked when they find out it is vegan, raw, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free.
My taste testers, both of whom had just arrived back from separate spinning classes (freaks) ate these with gusto, unbelieving that in spite of the creamy, indulgent taste, these were a virtuous and appropriate choice for a post-workout snack.

These are raw, vegan pumpkin-spice “cheesecakes” and they will convert even the most annoying of carnivores (ya, I said it, you people can be annoying too).
They are creamy and delicately spiced, with a date and almond cocoa crust and a cashew and coconut filling sweetened with maple syrup and given heft and color from earthy pumpkin purée.
They are a breeze to whip together, as long as you have soaked your cashews (overnight, covered in cold water; nothing fancy necessary).
They come together in a little under 15 minutes (no, I’m serious) and just require the freezer, so making these will free up some in-demand oven time!
Here, I’ve used this silicon mold, and it works perfectly.
I’ve been really into making raw cheezcakes lately in all forms, and you can make this in a springform pan as well. If you double this recipe, it will make a very tall 6-inch cake, or a regular 8-inch one.
Be sure to thaw the cake for a few hours in the fridge before serving, so it’s not rock solid.

I hope you all have a most wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving!

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake | La Pêche Fraîche

Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecakes 

makes 6 small cheesecakes or 1 8-inch round

ingredients:
for the crust:
140 grams (1 cup) whole almonds
8-10 dates, depending on how juicy they are
2 tablespoons cacao or cocoa powder
pinch sea salt

for the filling:
250 grams (15 ounces) raw, unsalted cashews (soaked*)
50 grams (3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons) coconut oil
150 grams (5.4 ounce can) coconut cream
78 grams (2 tablespoons) maple syrup
60 grams (1/4 cup) pumpkin puree
juice of 1 lemon
pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

directions:
*Soak cashews overnight in cold water.
First, make the crust: place almonds, dates, cacao/cocoa powder, and salt in a food processor or blender.
Pulse until a rough meal forms, then press into tins and refrigerate.
Any leftover crust can be shaped into decorations for the tops of the cakes.
Place cashews into a clean blender with the other ingredients for the filling except the pumpkin and spices.
Blend for 5-8 minutes, depending on the power of your blender; filling should be very smooth.
Portion out 1/3 of the filling and pour over prepared crust; place into freezer until hardened.
Add the pumpkin and spices to the remaining filling and blend to combine.
Once the plain base is set (about 30 minutes to an hour), pour the pumpkin filling over top and freeze again until set.
To serve, allow to thaw for 3-4 hours in the fridge; dust with cocoa powder and top with leftover crust decorations.

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Épicé

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

“Always winter, never Christmas.”

—C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

If you need some last-minute inspiration for your cookie boxes, I have rounded up some links of cookies that I’ve been stunned by lately. I guarantee we can all find some inspo from these amazing creations!

Cindy @ Hungry Girl Por Vida made really gorgeous and creative linzer cookies—with pistachios and lemon curd! Lemon curd is my favorite, so I’m keen to try this flavor combination out.

I’m sure you already saw these all over Instagram, but Tessa (Style Sweet CA) made perfect (as always!) spritz cookies in a collab with Wilton.

Snowballs—buttery and covered in powdered sugar—are always a weakness of mine. Christina (Dessert for Two) made gluten-free matcha and pistachio snowballs, and I want to try these so bad. I can only imagine how well the bitter, greeny matcha tastes when in a butter cookie!

Elizabeth from Brooklyn Supper made cardamom orange sugar cookies, and I’m intrigued.  They look delicate and lovely.

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

Jes from Whisk and Wanter made these sparkly, adorable girly evergreen cookies. I’m inspired to step up my sugar cookie game after seeing her gorgeous creations!

These super comforting peanut butter and chocolate crinkle cookies from Tieghan @ Half Baked Harvest are a must! The flaky sea salt on the milk chocolate kisses, swoon.

Last year I made some eggnog roll out cookies which were a hit, as well as chocolate peppermint shortbread, cinnamon toast crunch treats, and Russian teacakes.
The year before, it was honey spice and dark chocolate cookies, among others. You can find links through to years even before that, as well, if you really want to do a deep dive!

The fact that I only made two batches of cookies this year makes me feel like a bit of a loser, ugh. I have to remind myself to step back and enjoy what I can—the holidays are a time to be with family and relax, not worry too much about cooking (this isn’t Thanksgiving, ha!).
Besides, baking in a different (tiny) kitchen can be frustrating.

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

Still, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that brings me as much winter cheer as gingerbread, and if there was a single cookie I’d like to make and smell baking in my home, it would be these.
I just love the warm spiciness of gingerbread, whether in a layer or bundt cake or cookies crisp or soft.

These gingerbread cookies are crispy and thin—good for gifting and safe for shipping—and they stay fresh for a long time.
They are made with maple syrup and black pepper for a spicy little twist!
These are very similar to Swedish pepparkakor, or ginger thins—they’re not as dark and spicy as American style gingerbread, but rather a little lighter in color and in the spices added.
I think they’re absolutely addicting and cute, however you choose to decorate them!

 Black Pepper and Maple Syrup Gingerbread | La Pêche Fraîche

Maple Syrup and Black Pepper Gingersnaps
makes ~60 2-inch cookies

ingredients:
3/4 cup (6 ounces) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (6 ounces) maple syrup
3 cups all-purpose flour

directions:
Cream butter for 2 minutes to soften.
Add in the spices and sugar and cream for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the egg and vanilla and cream for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the maple syrup.
Beat until well combined, about 1 minute.
Scrape the bowl and add the flours.
Mix on low speed until a dough forms.
Knead once or twice, then wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a well-floured surface and cut shapes as desired.
Place on baking sheets and refrigerate for 15 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake cookies for 7-10 minutes, depending on desired level of crispness.
Decorate with royal icing, if desired.

Crunchy

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.
You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself.
You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”

—John Lennon

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

Welcome, brand new baby year, fresh and bright white and snow covered.
Welcome, welcome 2015!!

(I’m back in Chicago, and it’s snowing a fair amount.
Class starts tomorrow.
It’s going to be below 0 deg F on Wednesday.
Le sigh.)

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

My mama loves granola.  She eats it for breakfast almost every day.
My mama is *ahem* particular about her granola.  She likes maybe one out of every 5 she tries.

So before I left to come back to school, I made a whole bunch of simple, healthy granola for my mom.
Heaps of oats, plenty of maple syrup, rich and buttery coconut oil, a hint of spice.

This batch fills up an entire large canister of rolled oats, and it uses about half of one, so it’s a perfect way to finish off the jar floating around your pantry.

It’s utterly delicious with cold milk—cow’s or otherwise (I recently tried hazelnut-almond-cashew and fell in love)—and fresh raspberries or strawberries, difficult as they are to source in the depths of winter.

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

This granola is crunchy, sweet, with a whisper of salt.
It’s toasty and full of almonds and coconut.
It’s simple—a hint of cinnamon, maple syrup to sweeten, and that’s pretty much it.
It’s vegan and gluten-free if you want it to be—just make sure all your ingredients are certified vegan or GF either way.

It’s super easy to customize: add a tablespoon of vanilla extract or replace the almonds with hazelnuts or pecans, use coconut chunks or chips instead of flakes, toss in dried mango or raisins or cranberries or banana chips.

Anyways, this is meant to be a nourishing first post of 2015 (!) but also a short one, as I have to unpack and settle into our little home here in Chiberia.

Granola | La Pêche Fraîche

Almond Coconut Granola
gluten-free, vegan
makes ~6 cups of granola

ingredients:
5 cups of rolled oats (certified GF if necessary)
1 cup of sliced almonds
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut (or use unsweetened)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup melted coconut oil (or ghee)

directions:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir oats, almonds, and coconut together.
Stir salt, maple syrup, and coconut oil together, then pour wet ingredients over and stir with a spoon until all is coated.
Spread oats out onto baking sheets and tamp down lightly to pack.
Bake for 15 minutes, then lightly stir with a spatula and rotate sheets.
Bake for 15 more minutes, then stir and rotate again.
Bake for 10-15 more minutes, until evenly and lightly browned and toasted.
Remove from oven and let cool completely on sheets.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Winter White

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“It comes in winter white/ in holiday disguise…”

-A Fine Frenzy

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Let’s hop aboard the crazed “winter-white” train, people.
Lord knows we’ve got enough crazy to go around in these here parts.

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I’ve certainly hopped aboard the crazy cookie train, more so than ever, I think.

I love gifting cookies!  People love to receive little sweets to celebrate with.
Personally… I eat my weight in cookies every holiday season.  It’s only natural and I won’t have it any other way lalalalala I can’t hear you.

I’ve baked sooo many cookies and packed them all up in pretty little Martha Stewart (God help me, I just wrote Marsha.  Marsha Stewart) cookie boxes, to be given away to fill people with joy and butter and sugar.

All good things.

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Can we talk about sparkles+cookies?
GUYS as if holiday sugar cookies could get any more appealing now we can add glitter and sparkly things.

I’m done for.  Definitely done for.  Look for my body underneath a mountain of luster dust.

I think I’m getting the glitter lung, Pop.

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The cookies hidden underneath all that sparkle and glitter aren’t your regular ol’ Christmas sugar cookies, either.
Nope.  I wanted to jazz that up too.  And so I did!  You will be glad.

I started with my 3-2-1-1-2-3 dough.  Out went the egg, to be replaced with thick maple syrup.
A smattering of nutmeg to heighten the nuttiness of the rye flour.
The resultant cookie is extra crisp and buttery (no eggs will do that) with a depth beyond that of any sugar cookie I’ve tasted.

I iced them with Bridget’s royal icing (1 batch), and since I used Wilton meringue powder, the icing came out just a touch lemony, which was lovely with the cookies.  If your meringue powder doesn’t have lemon extract in it, you may want to add a tiny drop.  If you’re into that kinda thang.

The glitter is white luster dust, the pearls are edible, and the sprinkling of stars are all paper thin sprinkles.

Glittery cookies!  They match my glittery ornaments!!
*stereotypical girl alert*

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Maple, Nutmeg, and Rye Sugar Cookies
ingredients:
16 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 pinches kosher salt (1 scant teaspoon)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
splash vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup rye flour

directions:
Whip the butter for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Scrape the bowl and add in the sugar and salt and beat for 3 more minutes, until there is no grit left.
Scrape the bowl and add the maple syrup, nutmeg, and vanilla; beat for 1 more minute.
Scrape the bowl and add the flour in all at once; stir until a dough forms.
Knead once or twice before turning out onto a floured surface.
Roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch, then cut the shapes you desire.
Freeze the shapes for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days before baking in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden and fragrant.
Decorate as desired: I used 1 batch of Bridget’s royal icing, left pure white, some luster dust and star sparkles, as well as some edible pearls; I used number 1 and number 4 Ateco tips.

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.

Windy Wednesday

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Today’s post is brought to you by the letter W.

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Words are not one of the W’s.  They escape me today.

But rather: waffles, waterfalls, and wistful. (Wednesday, too, I suppose!)

Oh… and windy… Because, yes, I am in the Windy City.

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So, um, yes.  Here are some abstract pictures of a waffle cake.

And my dog, obviously.

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My waffle maker makes kind of smushed waffles.  It’s pretty old.  I don’t blame it.

The result of  stacking up these smushed waffles with a lightly spiced brown butter and maple pear-apple compote and a maple Italian meringue is a delicious but somewhat ugly cake.
I know!! So many ugly cakes lately.  Sorry.  Sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles.
Whataryagonnado.

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Pssst… I even had a slice for breakfast!

(Ginger, on the other hand, did not.)
Which explains her facial expression.

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Pear and Apple Waffle Cake

for the waffles:
from King Arthur Flour
ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed to 110 degrees F
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 scant cup of Belgian pearl sugar

directions:
Sprinkle the yeast over the milk to prepare it for its job; after five minutes, whisk in the butter and maple syrup as well as the vanilla extract.
Stir in the eggs and the flour and salt; set the batter aside in a warm place, covered in plastic wrap, for one hour, to rest and rise.
Right before cooking, stir in the Belgian pearl sugar.
Cook the waffles in a waffle maker.
for the pear and apple compote:
ingredients:
2 medium pears, peeled and cored and chopped into small pieces
3 medium apples, peeled and cored and chopped into small pieces
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon butter
pinch salt
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg

directions:
Brown the butter in a saute pan, then add all the apples and pears and saute them until they soften.
Add the maple syrup and allow it to reduce by 1/2.
Season to taste with salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Allow to cool before using.

for the maple Italian meringue buttercream:
ingredients:
1 egg white
pinch salt
pinch cream of tartar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 stick of butter, softened
directions:

Place egg white, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place maple syrup in a small pot and begin to heat it up.
Whip the egg white while heating the maple syrup to 240 degrees F.
The white should be at soft peaks when the syrup reaches temp; drizzle it in with the mixer running.
Once the meringue has cooled, beat in the butter.
Stack up the waffles with buttercream and compote.
Enjoy!

C.R.E.A.M.

Catz Rule Everything Around Me.
Meow.
I have a love/hate relationship with these two nasty little buggers.
See, Sasha and Kasha were both rescues of sorts- both rescued from dirty, teenage-boy apartments.
 
Sasha was a farm kitty who was bought on a whim by my older brother and his roommates.  
They brought her back to NYC and she promptly (and tragically) fell out of a four story window.
She survived with just a tiny cut on her chin…  She now has 8 lives left.
She’s the nicer of the two cats, but certainly lacks in the beauty department.
She also has a bad habit of escaping outdoors when you’re least expecting it (our cats are firmly indoor cats), and then manages to evade recapture for ages.  
She lets you get in very close, almost as if to catch her, then sprints away.
That little ratfink.  
Kasha was just a little kitten “rescued” from my friends’ apartment last summer.
They had initially rescued her from a field.
She is truly a feral cat… Raised among teenage boys, what else could one expect?
She’s a pretty one, covered in stripes and spots, but she’s very small.
I don’t expect she’ll grow much more.  We call her Peewee.  (More often than we use her real name!  She’s such a dinky little thing.)
Kasha is not very friendly, and doesn’t like to be held or pet.  Real lovely personality.
She eats like a starved and crazed animal, which she is not.
She’s even got a tiny pudgy little belly. 
If you even come near her eating her food, she will make a strange, high pitched gurgling/growling noise and proceed to try to fit everything in her bowl in her mouth.
It’s grotesque.  Seriously nauseous eating habits.
Also, Kasha tends not to purr.  Or meow.  She beeps.
She sounds like a bird mixed with a telephone.
I don’t know where this is going.
But basically, all I do is take photos of my cats and food.
And all I talk about are my cats.  I don’t even like them that much.
Welcome to my life, I guess.
It’s very exciting and instagram-worthy.
I don’t have a recipe for these cookies.  
I dumped a bunch of things in a bowl and hoped for the best.
When I experiment like that (which is very often), I always make notes on a post-it.
Trouble is, I have so many damn post-its that I can’t remember what they mean!
Also, I can only find two- I don’t know where the others go.
Somehow, I still have notes for an orange-olive oil cake, and I swear I’ve thrown this very one out three times.
It keeps coming back.
But alas, the search for the maple-bacon-brown butter-brown sugar cookie post-it has been in vain.  I will update this if I find it!
 
Be back soon… With ice cream!