One That I Adore

I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else,
and never will love anyone else.

Jonathan Safran Foer

Happy lovers’ day, dear readers.

I do adore Valentine’s day.
How wonderful to have a day set aside expressly to celebrate love, especially in the doldrums of winter?
Even last year, after posting about what felt like my irreparable broken heart in late January, I was still happily baking for the holiday, and enthusiastically celebrating it.
As a child, Valentine’s was always exciting; I remember one year hand-carving linoleum stamps with my mama to print cards to give to my classmates alongside a little piece of candy.
Somehow v-day candy was more exciting than Halloween candy. I suppose I’ve always been a sucker for pink.

This year, my heart feels more full of love than ever. It is like a fat, happy cat lazing about in contentment within me, purring and basking in the warm glow of joy.
How lucky and blessed I feel for all the relationships around me.
I surely must have done something right in a past life.

Remember that today is not necessarily about romantic love, or even platonic. Self-love is an extra-good thing to practice today, whether you’re in a relationship or not.
Have a bath, or a glass of wine/whiskey/kombucha, or a Real Housewives marathon. Have an extra slice of delicious cake.
(The latter can only make your pants hug you even tighter, and they deserve love too, right?)

This sweet little cake has a base of buttery, vanilla-almond funfetti cake, soft and moist without being dense or heavy.
Sandwiched between each layer is a sliver of sweet, sugary marzipan, and the cake is frosted with a salted tahini icing.
The tahini provides a slight bitter nuttiness and the salt balances the sweetness handily.

I used large heart sprinkles inside the cake, and a Wilton cakes mold to create the bauble border.
I always use Americolor for red/pink food coloring.

I realize that I frequently use marzipan for my Valentine’s treats.
I’m not exactly sure why, but there’s something about a lightly sweet almond and vanilla dessert that is awfully romantic to me. It’s my answer to the chocolate overload of the holiday, I suppose.

Anyway, I hope you get the desserts you want (or don’t want) today. And if you don’t like the holiday, I assure you that this recipe is a cake for any celebration!

Valentine’s Day, previously:

2018:
Kawaii mini strawberry cakes with olive oil and balsamic chocolate cake, strawberry jam, and marzipan

2017:
Fluffy, ruffled princess layer cake with a cascade of marzipan roses
Thick, soft M&M cookies
Mocha cupcakes topped with fluffy swirls of vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream

2016:
Ginger, Malted Vanilla, and Hibiscus layer cake
Baby pink XO salty sugar cookies
Raspberry white chocolate and Nutella éclairs
Brown butter and vanilla bean teacakes

2015:
Fluffy, buttery copycat Lofthouse cookies
Chocolate covered strawberry cake with goat cheese frosting
Dolled-up red velvet cake
Mini pink princesstårta

2014:
Pink grapefruit possets with Ritz crunch and pistachios
Dark and white chocolate French mendiants
Strawberry pocky cake
Salty dark chocolate tarts

La la la la la la, la la la la la la
My cherie amour, lovely as a summer day
My cherie amour, distant as the milky way
My cherie amour, pretty little one that I adore
You’re the only girl my heart beats for
How I wish that you were mine…

Stevie Wonder

Funfetti Cake with Marzipan and Salted Tahini Frosting
makes 1 3×6-inch cake

ingredients:
for the funfetti cake:
180 grams (1.5 cups) AP flour
20 grams (3 tablespoons) cornstarch
260 grams (1 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
130 grams (4.5 ounces) butter, soft and cut into pieces
180 grams (3/4 cup) almond milk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
sprinkles, as desired

for the salted tahini buttercream:
200 grams (1 3/4 stick, 14 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
300 grams (just shy of 3 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
55 grams (1/4 cup) tahini
drop red food coloring, if desired

to assemble:
200 grams (7 ounces) marzipan
red food coloring
powdered sugar, as needed

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans.
Mix flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add in the softened, cubed butter one piece at a time at a low speed until the mixture looks like sand and the butter is fully incorporated.
Whisk the almond milk, eggs, and vanilla extract together, then slowly pour into the batter with the mixer running.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Stir in sprinkles gently.
Portion batter equally into the prepared pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cakes are golden and the tops spring back to the touch.
Cool completely on a rack.
Before assembling the cake, tint your marzipan red: using gloves or a sheet of plastic wrap, incorporate red food coloring by kneading and stretching the marzipan.
Add powdered sugar to your hands as needed to prevent sticking.
Shape the marzipan into a border (I used a mold) and letters for the top of the cake.
Use the remaining marzipan to roll into 2 5.5-inch diameter disks for between the layers.
Carefully and lightly cover with a sheet of fresh plastic wrap and set aside.
To make the frosting, whip butter and salt on high speed for at least 5 minutes, until super fluffy (doubled in volume) and shiny.
Sift in powdered sugar and slowly stir, increasing speed once the sugar is mostly incorporated.
Slowly drizzle in tahini, whipping on high speed, then allow mixer to whip for about 3 minutes, until the frosting is very light and fluffy.
Frosting will be a very pale beige.
Set aside a small amount (3 tablespoons) to add little stars to the top of the cake later.
Add a single drop of red food coloring (or pink) to the rest of the frosting to tint it a light shade of pink.
Place the first cake layer on a plate, then top with a small amount of frosting, one of the marzipan disks, and then the next cake layer.
Repeat with remaining layers.
Crumb coat with about 2/3 cup of frosting, then refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes.
Finish the cake with the remaining frosting, then refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Decorate the top with the red marzipan baubles and add little decorations on the top with the reserved white/beige frosting.
Serve cake at room temperature.

Ambré

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

The evening sings in a voice of amber, the dawn is surely coming.

—Al Stewart

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m glad to no longer be living in the Midwest this week.
The last time the Polar Vortex flew through, ripping rents through cozy winter scenes, was in 2014, when I was a freshman at UChicago.
It was right after my grandfather had passed, and I remember the dark chill running deeper in my life than just the winds outdoors.
Back then, I made my first pavlova, light and lemony and so very sunny, to counteract the cold.
I actually wrote and created a lot, to keep myself busy.

These days, in New York, it’s been cold as well. Today, it’s 10 degrees F.
I won’t be too dramatic about that given that my friends back in Chicago are suffering -9 degrees F, which probably feels balmy compared to what they’ve had in the last stretch of days.
I rather like to stay inside, cozied up with a good TV show, a warmed up cinnamon scroll, and my love.

Alas, work has been calling, and calling, and calling.
I am so worn down from my job (remember a few months back, when I claimed everything was going to be happy-busy-busy-happy? Um… I was wrong. It’s more like busy-busy-busy-patently unhappy), I feel like my entire perspective on it has changed. It has taken so much of my mental energy, protruding further into my brain space that it has any wont to.

I haven’t been on this page in a long, long stretch, and it is almost entirely due to work.
Not that I don’t have time here and there to eke out a post, but that my fingers are weary of typing, and my eyes are tired of staring at blue screens.
My oven hasn’t been turned on in ages. A dark chill in my life, indeed.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

These craggy cookies are one of the best winter cookies I could ever imagine.

They are supremely chewy, thanks to a heavy hand of molasses and a slight underbaking; they stay soft for days due to these same methods.
No spices here—they’re not gingerbread cookies. They are truly pure molasses cookies.
They taste of browned butter, slightly nutty and very rich.
The molasses provides a deep, almost bitter caramel flavor, and a light touch of vanilla is really the only other flavor they need.

I implore you to make these. You don’t even have to wait for your butter to soften! Just throw it in a pan and watch it burble away happily.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

I will be back soon.
I can’t miss Valentine’s day. It’s one of my very favorite holidays for baking and creating.
x

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies
makes 16 large cookies

ingredients:
200 grams (14 tablespoons; 1 3/4 sticks) butter
450 grams (2 1/4 cup) sugar
100 grams (5 tablespoons) molasses
255 grams (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

directions:
Brown butter in a pan: melt butter over medium heat, then stir while cooking until the butter foams, the foam subsides, and then the bits at the bottom turn golden brown and the butter itself is deepening in color.
Pour butter into a bowl; allow to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir sugar with molasses vigorously until the mixture is uniformly caramel in color.
Set aside 1/2 cup of this mixture in a shallow bowl, pan, or rimmed plate.
Pour the rest of the sugar and molasses mixture into the cooled brown butter and whisk until combined.
Add the egg and the egg yolk and the vanilla; mix until lighter in color and fluffier, about 1 minute.
Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and stir together until homogeneous, about 1 minute.
Scoop out 1/3 cup balls and roll between your palms to create smooth balls.
Drop into the remaining sugar and roll around to coat.
Place onto prepared pans with about 2 inches between each one.
Bake for 11 minutes, until puffed and golden on edges.
Remove from oven, drop pan on stovetop or oven rack once to deflate the cookies, then allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Retrouvailles

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist anymore.
Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”

South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

In the throes of warm happiness; or the bleak confines of sadness; or the boiling, poisonous depths of anger, it is hard to imagine a stronger emotion than that which has caught you, in that moment, in a tight, isolating embrace.
But increasingly, I find myself believing that nostalgia is the strongest emotion.

When you think about it, of course it is. This revelation is indeed not one at all, for no other emotion so fluidly combines each of your senses, as likely to be triggered by the scent and taste of a food or someone’s neck as the sight of a landmark or beauty mark, or a chilled wind or brush of familiar fingers or the soundtrack of a particular time of your life.

The empty melancholy of nostalgia makes my brain vibrate with a painfully pleasurable resonance. I can feel it mushrooming through my body, as my chest walls and throat constrict, as if I am hugging myself ever closer, ever tighter.

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Wandering around the chilled campus of my alma mater for the first time since I gathered up all of my unknowns and heartbreaks and moved across the country, I felt that familiar emotion bubbling up aggressively, threatening to burst the tight seams that I have so much difficulty loosening.
I will admit to only a couple hot, confused tears borne of happiness and sadness.
Walking underneath the gates where we passed as first years, in our welcome ceremony, and then returned underneath to graduate into adulthood, I felt shivery and strange.
Always the students three years above seemed older, wiser, more ready. They left and I was temporarily sad, but the next year, life mostly just ticked onwards. It always felt far away.
In the end, I watched myself graduate into adulthood at essentially the same detached distance as I had all those who had gone before me, not because I wasn’t feeling intense emotions, but because it was simply a function of time passing, and naught can be done to stop that.
It happens whether you accept it willingly or not.

Still, the nostalgia I felt under Cobb Gate wracked me. My memories surprised me with their proximity. I yearned to be back in that time of my life, to be that person who I was when I first passed underneath the archway, or at least to be the person I was when I filed through for the last time.
I’m well past college at this point, emotionally and timewise.
Still, the nostalgia brought me back in an instant.

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

How lucky our species is, that possibly our keenest emotion is actually the dullest; the sharpest, clearest edges are smoothed by the blurriness of reminiscence.
I reckon perfect recollection would be a heavy burden indeed.

Instead, we sweep aside the boring and mundane entirely. We often view old flaming passions with bemusement. The trenches we trudged through seem much less deep and dark when looking backwards.
The gashes rent by grief, blessedly, are smoothed and filled in by fonder, treasured memories.
Even wild happiness is bridled in hindsight, as we shape it to fit what we know would come next; the magnitude of joy may stay the same, but there is little, if any, mystery or surprise to nostalgia.
Nostalgia is not an act of discovery. It is the opposite. It is an act of returning to a place—or a time, or a person—that feels like home.

RETROUVAILLES, subst. fém. plur. Fait, pour des personnes, de se revoir, en particulier après une longue séparation.

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The cake I’m sharing today is unexpectedly nostalgic; a bit of a surprise twist on a classic.

The base swaps carrots for parsnips, imparting an extra earthy softness to the flavor; it’s rounded out with nubbly coconut and a hearty hit of warming spices.
Miso caramel sauce, brought almost to the point of burning so that it retains a faint smokiness, is layered between the cake as well as mixed into the fluffy, creamy buttercream.
An extra pinch of salt here and there cuts the rich sweetness.

The frosting is swirled with extra caramel, and the cake is topped with the prettiest color-coordinated sprinkles.

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Thanks so much to Wilton Cakes for providing me with materials used to make this cake!
Speaking of nostalgic, I’ve been using Wilton products since I started baking from scratch—I literally bought all of my starter items from the AC Moore in Ithaca (before it closed!). They had 2 1/2 aisles of Wilton products, and whenever my mom would go to pick up scrapbooking supplies or frames, I would wander over and daydream about making fondant flowers, baking armies of cupcakes, and using every cookie cutter ever invented.

Below are some links to products I used for this project, and how they can help you create beautiful baked goods more easily.

First, this is a 6-inch round cake. It’s perfectly petite and my personal favorite size of cake to make. Here’s a link to the pans I used.
For the frosting, a drop of brown and a drop of yellow food coloring will help you get a beautifully even caramel color.
The easiest way to crumb coat the cake is using a large cake icer tip (Tip 789) and a turntable. You can get an even layer of frosting using the jumbo tip, and smoothing it out without disturbing the crumbs is easiest with long strokes—that’s where the turntable becomes so useful! (I also use these piping bags, and a new-to-me tool: piping bag ties!)
The sprinkles are a mix of these gorgeous pearlized gold sprinkles as well as these autumn sugar sprinkles.

Here are some other autumn ideas from Wilton, and be sure to check out their holiday ideas as well! 

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Parsnip and Miso Caramel Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the parsnip cake:
1 cup (120 grams) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (approximately 3 small-medium sized) parsnips
42 grams (1/2 cup) shredded sweetened coconut
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
112 grams (1/2 cup) canola oil
2 eggs

for the miso caramel frosting:
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons white (shiro) miso
big pinch salt, to taste

225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
650 grams (5 cups plus 3 tablespoons) powdered sugar, as needed
60-80 grams (1/4 – 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature, as needed
big pinch salt, to taste

to assemble:
Wilton sprinkles

directions:
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grate parsnips finely, using a cheese grater or a food processor with the shredding blade.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together.
Stir sugar and canola oil together, then whisk in the eggs one at a time.
Gently stir in the shredded parsnips and coconut, being sure to break up any large clumps.
Add the dry ingredients over the wet, and gently fold in, stirring firmly once or twice at the end to ensure homogeneity.
Portion out the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the cakes are golden and the tops springy to the touch.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Make the caramel for the frosting: place sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook the caramel until it reaches an amber color; immediately remove it from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream and butter.
Whisk vigorously until the mixture is homogeneous, then pour into a bowl and add the miso and a pinch of salt; whisk again until the miso has broken up and incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, then add salt to taste if needed.
Make the frosting: whip softened butter for at least 3 minutes, until light in color and fluffy and smooth.
Add 1/4 cup of the miso frosting and start mixing on low speed.
Add in 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar at a time, stopping regularly to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Once 4 cups of the sugar have been incorporated, add 1/4 cup of heavy cream one tablespoon at a time.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and whip on high for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Add the remaining amount of powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin; add an additional few tablespoons of heavy cream is the frosting is too thick.
Place 1/3 cup frosting on the first cake round; drizzle on about 2 tablespoons of caramel.
Repeat with the next round, then crumb coat the whole cake.
Frost the cake thickly, placing dots of caramel randomly around the cake to swirl into the frosting as you smooth the outside.
Pipe decorations on top as desired, then decorate with Wilton sprinkles!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!

Proportion

Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

It’s Autumn.
The days are cool and bed is extra cozy.
Finally, even New York City is bearable.

It’s time to embrace pumpkin everything, Beloved!

Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Things in my life have been happy-crazy-busy, and will be for the foreseeable future.
Taking time to create can sometimes add extra scheduling stress, but when I make something I’m truly happy with, I’m reminded why I love blogging and baking so much.

I’ve been planning to make a hexagonal cake for ages now—but it’s remained on my ideas/to-make list, gathering dust.
When I finished the photos and stepped back, mouth full of a bite of cake, I was overcome with an indescribably proud and excited wave of emotion.
I love sharing things here, with you. I can’t imagine life any other way.

Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

I had my heart set on using dulcey chocolate here, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, frustratingly.
I decided I’d take the extra step and caramelize white chocolate myself, but I had inadvertently put time constraints on myself (this post had to be done today, to be part of the virtual pumpkin party!), and worried it wouldn’t come out perfectly.
I always worry when I try something new for the first time in the kitchen.

Luckily for me, I stopped at a different Whole Foods on my way home from work one night. The lines were all super long, and I resigned myself to one that didn’t quite seem interminable.
Much to my surprise, the side section of this line had many containers of dulcey fêves. I snatched one up and silently thanked the universe.
This serendipity made making this cake even more satisfying.

Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

This cake is a classic pumpkin base, soft and moist without being dense.
It’s carved into hexagonal shapes and briefly frozen to ensure crisp edges.
The cake is enrobed in spiced Italian meringue buttercream, silky smooth and redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, balanced with a hit of salt.
A modest drizzle of Valrhona dulcey chocolate ganache, which bewitchingly tastes like caramel and white chocolate at the same time.

Sliced and served with an extra swirl of dulcey chocolate, this is autumnal heaven.

Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Here’s the link to the 2018 virtual pumpkin party!

Big thanks to Sara (Cake Over Steak) for hosting this party again! It’s such a fun way to share with other food bloggers and our readers.

Last year, I made a No-Bake Checkerboard Pumpkin Cheesecake.
The year before that, I made Pumpkin and Condensed Milk Cakes.


Hexagonal Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream | La Pêche Fraîche

Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Meringue Buttercream
makes 1 3×8 inch round cake or 1 3×6-inch hexagonal cake

ingredients:
for the pumpkin cake:
170 grams (3/4 cup, 1 1/2 sticks) butter
42 grams (3 tablespoons) neutral oil
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
20 grams (1 tablespoon) molasses
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 eggs
300 grams (2 1/2 cups) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
400 grams (1 3/4 cup, ~1 can less 2 tablespoons) pumpkin puree

for the spiced meringue buttercream:
2 egg whites
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
226 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) butter

to assemble:
84 grams dulcey chocolate
70 grams (4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 8-inch round pans.
Whip butter and oil together until smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.
Add in sugar, molasses, salt, and spices and whip on high for 3 more minutes.
Scrape sides of bowl and add in one egg; beat for a full minute before scraping sides again and adding the next.
Repeat once more so that all the eggs have been fully incorporated, then scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda on top of the batter.
Add the pumpkin on top of the dry ingredients.
Slowly start to stir; mix on low until the pumpkin and dry ingredients are mostly incorporated.
Scrape the sides of the bowl once more and stir on medium speed to ensure that everything is homogeneous.
Portion out batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 30-40 minutes; a tester should come out with a few moist crumbs and the internal temperature of the cake should register around 210 degrees F.
Allow to cool completely.
If carving the cake, wrap and freeze the cakes for at least one night.
Carve the cakes into a hexagonal shape using a template and freeze again.
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.
Add the spices, then beat in 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, beating until the frosting comes together into a glossy, fluffy, light mixture.
Make the ganache: heat heavy cream until simmering, then pour over chopped chocolate.
Allow to sit for 3 minutes, then whisk quickly until the ganache comes together in a shiny, smooth, homogenous mixture.
Allow to cool while you frost the cake.
Frost the cake with a crumb coat, then chill for a few minutes.
Finish frosting the cake and chill for at least 15 minutes.
Pour the ganache over the cake as desired.
Decorate with edible flowers!

Sweetest Surrender

The sweetest surrender of winter
She put up a flag it is waving
The thunder of summer is rumbling in
And I haven’t seen you in days
And my how that feeling has changed.
I have been homesick for you since we met.

A Father’s First Spring, The Avett Brothers

Honestly, I feel seen by this satire piece. A little too seen.
Why is the universe trying to @ me?!

OKso… Scroll to the bottom for the recipe for this fabulous, no-bake, super easy summer strawberry tart. And ignore the rest of my babbling. Thankyou.

No prose today, no chopped up “poetic” lines.
Just things that make my heart go thump. That are mostly related to food.

This cake, nothing short of glorious, from Michelle, who made it from Lyndsay’s new book Coco Cake Land stopped me in my tracks as I scrolled through instagram, enough so to make me immediately open up her blog on my computer so I could see it full screen.
While the oven is off, I’ve been making salads on salads, but mostly the same ones on repeat. This spicy sweet slaw with peaches may have to be entered into the rotation, because the combination of ingredients seems delightful.
This! Picnic! Has! Me! Inspired! Courtney’s posts always bring a smile to my face, and this one was no different. So dreamy and aesthetically pleasing: and that cherry clafoutis looks like a recipe I need to try stat.
In the same cherry vein, Scott’s rustic cherry galettes “kissed with cognac and floral orange” are simply divine, no? I haven’t made a single cherry thing this summer, which is sad indeed.
Jamie Beck of Ann Street Studio has to be one of the most brilliant creatives out there right now. Her photos make me want to say fuck it and pack up all my things and leave New York for the French countryside. Consider this a warning that they may do the same to you when you see them.
I’ve picked yoga back up and have been thoroughly enjoying the Y7 in my neighborhood. It’s a cracking good workout, and sweatier than you can believe.
Ariana Grande’s new album… (I didn’t particularly want to like it! But I can’t stop listening to the title track! Help-me-I-am-stuck-in-an-endless-pop-earworm.)
Quinoa tabbouleh with tons of lemon juice.
In season cherry tomatoes (the little orange ones, especially).
Raw walnuts straight from the freezer for snacks. I don’t know why I love this one so much.
Strawberriessssssssss.

Since Miss Summer’s tyrannical reign still grips New York City in sweaty, vice-like jaws, I have absolutely zero desire to even LOOK at my oven, let alone turn it on. I mean, yech.
This tart is thus happily no-bake. I made it in honor of dear Miss Naomi, who recently ditched me and broke my heart switched jobs to a fabulous new workplace. Hurrah!

Nilla wafers, with their sandy vanilla sweetness, are crumbled up and mixed with a hefty pinch or two of salt and plenty of melted butter. Pressed firmly into the pan, it’s just a titch different from a graham cracker crust—a little less nubbly, and with a stronger buttery profile.
It’s delicious and somewhat unexpected, and it’s a blank canvas for the fruity fillings.
Next, tart, lush lemon cream is spread thickly over the crust. It’s like a lemon curd that has been emulsified further with extra butter, rendering it super silky and smooth without losing the true, clean citrus profile.
Thinly sliced strawberries, brimming with juice and summer tidings, are carefully arranged on top and brushed with the thinnest layer of jam to keep them shiny.

This is a simple, easy-to-make tart, but it showcases the best of summer baking sans oven. I hope you love it as much as my friends did!

No-Bake Strawberry and Lemon Cream Tart
makes 1 9-inch tart

ingredients:
for the crust:
336 grams (12 ounces) Nilla wafers (or other dry vanilla cookie)
25 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter

for the filling:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 grams) lemon juice
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
pinch salt
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, cut up

to assemble:
1 pint strawberries
marmalade or jam, for brushing, optional

directions:
Make the crust: pulverize cookies into crumbs.
Mix in sugar and salt, then drizzle in the butter until texture is like wet sand and forms clumps when pinched (depending on the humidity of your kitchen, you may not need all of it. If things are still dry after 1 stick of butter, you can add a tablespoon of heavy cream).
Press into 9-inch tart pan and refrigerate.
Make the filling: place lemon juice, sugar, salt, eggs, and egg yolk in a bain-marie (a bowl over a simmering pot of water).
Whisk vigorously over medium-low heat until combined; whisk every 30 seconds or so to prevent lumps from forming.
Cook for 7-10 minutes, until thickened and at a low boil.
Remove from heat and pour into a blender canister or another bowl if you have an immersion blender.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then add the pieces of butter in and blend on high speed until light in color and thick.
Allow to cool completely before spreading into tart shell.
Slice strawberries very thinly (about 1/8 thickness) and group by size.
Starting with the largest slices, ring the edge of the tart, points facing outward.
Repeat, making concentric circles with smaller and smaller sized berries.
In the center, place a strawberry cut into a heart.
Gently brush with warmed marmalade or jam, if desired (this will lock in the juices).
Tart best served the day it’s assembled, although it will last in the fridge overnight.

Laberinto

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day,
and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going,
but you never do it.
You just use the future to escape the present.

—John Green, Looking for Alaska

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I think about the labyrinth of the present, of my mind in its current state, constantly. Impossible to escape, despite all attempts to invent oneself out of now and into another time. I do it all the time.
I look backwards, wistfully, elevating everything into bliss and wiping away traces of messy, imperfect reality.
The best days are always behind me.
I look forward, greedily, skimming over the years until I land on a future fantasia, where the disordered threads of my life have converged and become a disciplined ensemble.
The tidiest days are always ahead of me.

Living in the moment is something I often declare as a goal. It is an intention I have set, deliberately, at the outset of most inflection points during my time on Earth. I tell myself I will:

Spend more time with myself as I am right at this instant, and learn to feel comfortable in that state, one of constant evolution, yes, but also one of acceptance. Embrace all my past and future selves, real or invented or embellished, as they fold up into an origami soul.

Spend more time with real, live people. Friends, family, lovers. Admire them more for all their flaws. Hold their hands, feel their skin, covet their smiles and tears, kiss faces and foreheads, and look at them. Really look: even the harshest stare is softened into a misty gaze when directed at those about whom you truly care. Waste more time with them. Let pointless moments collect like droplets, with the full knowledge that the heart and mind can never overflow with happy, vague, little memories like these.

Most importantly, spend less time in raptured jealousy on the internet, poring over curated existences. This is the most difficult aspect of appreciating the moment, because it’s what sucks me out of the present most often. To divorce myself from technology, even for a few hours a day, is nearly unfeasible. Anything less than ultimate determination, and I find myself scrolling, absorbed but not absorbing. And without this final aspect, the first two fail with certainty.

I will, I will, I will. I promise. I try. I fail. Repeat.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

All this begets a larger question:
How do you determine your self worth? How do you self-actualize and self-conceptualize in a super-saturated, 4K world, sodden with content and people and their highlight reels?
Is it such a wonder that so many struggle with it?

You hear it over and over again, that connecting with people is different now, in our online world. We simultaneously feel present in thousands of people’s lives, and can share intimate details of our own, from the comfort of our bedroom, but spend little time—if that—physically with others.
When we do, we are all nose-to-screen.
Pantone has it wrong. The color zeitgeist of this entire generation won’t change year to year, and it isn’t Ultra Violet or Radiant Orchid. It’s a pulsating, pale blue, the glowing whisper of an LCD.
It already has a Pantone-like name: Liquid Crystal, weakly illuminating—and connecting—the entire world.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

If finding yourself among the superabundance of the internet is difficult, sourcing inspiration that allows you to be individually creative without being iterative can feel nigh impossible.
What hasn’t been created before? Where is your voice? And what is your signature?

Is it worth it to expend so much energy fighting algorithms? Competing to carve out your niche while millions do the same is invariably exhausting, but laughably easy to obsess over.
Most of us accept likes, clicks, comments as engagement. We chase it. Is there a better way for us creators to measure how much we make people feel? Is that not what we’re supposed to care about when we create?
I have to actively remind myself that it doesn’t matter whether people like my art or not. But I have the advantage of separation; this blog is an outlet, not an occupation. I am lucky. I sympathize with and admire those who have to learn how to exploit social media algorithms, or avoid their cold, ruthless chopping blocks.

Today, I am inspired by Serena Garcia Dalla Venezia, a Chilean artist who creates beautiful sculptures composed of tiny, undulating balls of fabric. Her work is mesmerizing, organic, and utterly unique.
One of the most popular cake artists on Instagram, Tortik Annushka, creates some cakes inspired by Serena that just blow my mind.
The mythical algorithm delivered this inspiration to me, and I couldn’t help but accept it and try to recreate it in my own kitchen, derivative or not.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

So I’m sharing, today, this cake. It has my signature, but isn’t my invention.
It isn’t perfect, but I won’t let comparison, that thief of joy, in for even a minute.
Anyways, she’s not too special in flavor or make, in all honesty. A sturdy, trustworthy cake, with a time-tested frosting.
But gussy this simple almond and lemon cake, with a light crumb and subtle flavor, enrobed in a lemon Italian meringue buttercream, with pearls of marzipan covered in gold leaf, and suddenly it is not only striking, but a piece of art.

I hope we can all continue to be inspired, rather than overwhelmed, by the digital world. There’s so much out there to explore—more than ever before—as long as we’re careful not to lose ourselves.

Lemon and Almond Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Lemon and Almond Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
60 grams (1/2 cup) flour
25 grams (1/4 cup) almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
60 grams (1/4 cup) yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk (save the white for the frosting)
40 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) neutral-flavored oil

for the frosting:
2 egg whites
200 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
15 grams (1 tablespoon) lemon or lime juice
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
1/4 teaspoon salt
212 grams (1/2 cup, 2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces

to decorate:
marzipan
gel food coloring
gold leaf

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease two 6-inch rounds.
Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together.
Rub the lemon zest and sugar in a bowl with your fingers until it becomes fragrant; add to the flour mixture. Add the yogurt, eggs, and oil, and mix together.
Bake for 22-27 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch and is golden.

Make the frosting: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, citrus juice, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To assemble the cake, stack layers with 1/3-1/2 cup frosting between them.
Use about 1 cup of frosting to crumb coat and level out the cake; freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Finish the cake with the remaining frosting as desired, leveling out as best you can.

To decorate: divide marzipan into a few pieces.
Knead each piece with a varying amount of food coloring.
To achieve greys and purply-blues, I used white food coloring (titanium dioxide), black food coloring, and a little bit of purple.
Roll into different sized balls.
Cover some with gold leaf, using a brush or your fingers (careful not to breathe too hard!).
Smush the marzipan together into a cohesive shape, a tiny bit taller than your cake (measure it!).
You can use a little bit of water to make sure that the sculpture is stuck together.
Place it on the cake, then use any extra balls you have to decorate the top of the cake and add embellishments around the main part of the sculpture.

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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.

Moyamoya

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Light-winged Smoke! Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight;
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou, my incense, upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

—Henry David Thoreau

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy pi day, party people! Here are 1000 pieces places of pi, to celebrate:

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640
62862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284
81117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233
786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606
31558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194
15116094330572703657595919530921861173819326117931051185480744623799627495673518857
527248912279381830119491298336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798609437
027705392171762931767523846748184676694051320005681271452635608277857713427577896
091736371787214684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235420199561121290219
60864034418159813629774771309960518707211349999998372978049951059731732816
096318595024459455346908302642522308253344685035261931188171010003137838752
8865875332083814206171776691473035982534904287554687311595628638823537875937
519577818577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989…

And yes, this is being posted at 1:59 GMT. It’s the little things that make me happy, ok?

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pi day is pretty much as close to a universally celebrated holiday in the food blogosphere as you can get.
This is especially true given that pies are currently in vogue on Instagram.

I often marvel at the virality of Instagram trends, and food trends in general.
They burst in very quickly—due to the low barrier of entry: read a recipe, get some ingredients, voilà—and then slowly trickle down, normalizing after some time.
We’ve had cupcakes. Macarons. Funfetti. Marzipan. Salted chocolate chunk shortbread. Pan-banging cookies. Intricately decorated pies. Fruit roses. Drip cakes. Unicorn cakes. Ice cream (à la Katherine Sabbath) cakes.

I don’t particularly dislike trendy foods. In my opinion, they are distinct from fashion trends, because it is very rare that they ever go completely “out of style.” Good, delicious food is always welcome.
I happily read recipes for cupcakes and drip cakes, use marzipan and sprinkles liberally, and regularly ask myself why I don’t have a stash of Alison’s or Sarah’s cookies in my freezer for, um, emergencies.
I, however, don’t frankly want to buy a Chanel fanny pack to fit in in 2018. They may have come back from their heyday in the 80s, but in between now and then, they were considered ugly.
TBH, they just are ugly. Even when they’re trending and “considered” fashionable. Can we just, like, cut it with the freaking fanny packs? Topshop is literally calling them bumbags. Nordstrom calls them bag belts. SERENITY NOW!
I am sorry if you own a Chanel/Gucci fanny pack. Mostly because you own an overpriced wallet-belt, but secondarily because I may be offending you.
Clearly, I had to get that off my chest. Were we talking about pie?

Anyways, even when I’m on the tail end of a food trend and everyone and their mother has already done the damn thing before me, I still find myself inspired by the plethora of pictures that I see on ig.
I’ve been meaning to bake more pies, and pi day is as good of an excuse as any.

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I want to share some amazing pie recipes, new and old, that have been said inspo for me:

Chocolate pies like WHOA:
Katie’s chocolate chess pie. That! Chocolate! Whipped! Cream! Cloud!
Cindy’s chocolate mudslide pie. I need all my pies to be spiked with Irish cream and Kahlua from now on, nnnkay?
Ashlae’s vegan chocolate mousse pie. Chocolate mousse, peanut butter whip, pretzel crust… Ooooof.

Uniquely flavored/hella creative pies:
Michelle’s purple sweet potato pie. Level up your sweet potato pie game, friends. And, can we talk about the color….?! Wig snatched.
Amy’s blueberry, peach, and basil pie. Turns out the queen of cakes makes ridiculously aesthetic pies, too (but of course she does!).
Naomi’s lemon meringue pie pops. These are SO twee and fun. I think I could eat 7 of them.
Linda’s apple pie with a purple blueberry crust. This pie spawned a whole new generation of insta-worthy pies, with gorgeous naturally colored and flavored crusts. The forefront of pie-nnovation!
Also, any mention of pie trends necessitates a mention of Lauren of the instagram Loko Kitchen, whose meteoric rise is owed solely to her crazy beautiful, ridiculously perfect pies. Respect.

Apple pies that have me feeling like November can’t come soon enough:
Erin’s apple and blackberry pie. You guys, this chick makes the most incredible pies. The level of detail is beyond what I can even dream of and I can truly get lost in her mesmerizing designs. The best part? Her crust is still flaky flaky flaky AF.
Courtney’s caramel apple pie v3.0. I would like to faceplant into that caramel puddle, please and thank you.
Deb’s apple pie cookies. No recipe from SK ever really goes wrong, does it? This one is no exception. These have a crust to filling ratio that I can get behind. I’ve made ’em multiple times, and I can’t wait until apple season is back and I can make them again.

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m beyond excited to share today’s recipe. It honestly rivals all the pies I’ve ever made.
It is an adaptation of a very popular recipe from the NYC pie shop, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

This is a brown butter smoked salted honey pie. YAH. I know.

The pie starts with a sturdy all-butter pie crust, shatteringly crispy and layered.
To make the filling, butter is browned until nutty and freckled; liberal amounts of smoked salt, vanilla bean seeds, and clover honey are added while it’s warm, so they melt into a glossy, flecked puddle.
The smoked alderwood salt weaves its way into the pie with sexy subtlety, adding saltiness and a kiss of je ne sais quoi that plays altogether too nicely with the vanilla bean and honey.
Eggs and a pinch of white cornmeal provide body, apple cider vinegar balance, and an unctuous stream of heavy cream is stirred in for smoothness.

The mixture is strained into the chilled shell and baked until it puffs into a golden dome, then delicate decorations slicked with cream are laid on top and baked until the pie is deep brown and barely jiggly.
It’s finished with a haphazard scattering of jagged salt flakes that up the saltiness in every other bite and provide the occasional unexpected soft crunch.

The most difficult part of this whole baking endeavor is waiting for the pie to chill completely. This is key to setting the custard properly, but the smell of the pie is so intoxicating that it’s tempting to cut into it right away. Trust me, the wait is worth it.

This pie is quite similar in texture to a crack pie, or a chess pie, or a vinegar pie (if you’ve never had any of these, think of a pecan pie without any pecans).

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

People really, really liked this pie.
Luca said, and I quote, “[this] puts the YUM in daYUM.”
Naomi said it was the best pie eating experience of her life, and she’s had my peach pie and I even made her a crack pie for her birthday in December! She actually preferred this to crack pie, and so did I.
Here’s why: I think that the pairing of a sweet filling with a traditional pie crust is better than the oat cookie crust of crack pie, which is a lot of sugar, to the point that it gets a bit cloying. Additionally, the oat cookie crust tends to be more stodgy, especially when chilled. This crust stays crisp and thin, even after the cooling period.
(Another tester described the all butter crust as “unreal.” Four & Twenty know their ish, y’all.)

I also prefer this recipe to standard chess pies: the honey adds a more complex flavor than straight up sugar does. The addition of smoked salt and vanilla beans rounds out the complexity. (Do note that you could easily swap the smoked salt for non-smoked varietals and still have an outstanding pie.)
I also like the addition of a couple tablespoons of cornmeal: it is utterly indiscernible, except that the filling has more body that a simple custard. I’m interested in subbing oats or toasted breadcrumbs for the cornmeal.

In fact, I am quite sure I will be returning to this base recipe to test out other flavors, textures, etc. It is an excellent pie.
I fully understand why it has been so popular.
Here’s to [brown butter smoked] salted honey pie being a lasting trend!

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Pi day, previously:
2017: vegan campfire pie
2016: brûléed citrus and lime pie

Pie, previously:
2017: perfect peach pie
2016: pumpkin meringue tart
2015: apple, pear, butterscotch, and cheddar pie
2015: fig, rosemary, and lemon tart
2014: coconut buttermilk chess pie
2014: peach slab pie
2014: American pie
2013: Pumpkin spice brown butter chocolate pecan pie

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

P.S. Because I vowed to share this silliness every year on this day:

Cosine, secant, tangent, sine,
Three point one four one five nine,
Square root, cube root, BTU,
Sequence, series, limits too.
Themistocles, Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared, H2SO4.
Who for? What for? Who we gonna yell for?
Go, Maroons.
Logarithm, biorhythm, entropy, kinetics,
MPC, GNP, bioenergetics!
Maximize and integrate, titrate and equilibrate—
Go, Maroons.

—Very Unofficial UChicago football cheer
(And apparently also shared among other famously nerdy schools? Who knows where this even came from?)

P.P.S. For the curious, moyamoya means puff of smoke in Japanese.
It’s also a rare cerebrovascular disorder. And, uh, on that note, here’s a pie recipe?

Brown Butter Smoked Salty Honey Pie | La Pêche Fraîche

Brown Butter Smoked Salted Honey Pie
makes 1 9-inch pie
adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

ingredients:
for the pie crust:
150 grams (1 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
120 grams (1/2 cup) cold water
30 grams (2 tablespoons) apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice cubes

for the filling:
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons white cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon smoked salt
seeds from 2 vanilla beans
(3/4 cup) honey
3 large eggs, at room temperature
120 grams (1/2 cup) heavy cream, plus an extra tablespoon for decorating
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1-2 teaspoons soft sea salt flakes (for finishing)

directions:
Make the crust: whisk flour, salt, and sugar together.
Add water, vinegar, and ice cubes into a bowl together.
Cut and mix the butter into the flour mixture until the largest piece is pea-sized.
Sprinkle on the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time so that you can gather the dough into a cohesive mass. (I used ~4 tablespoons, but this is highly variable! Use your hands and eyes to judge this.)
Divide dough into two unequal disks: one that is ~3/4 of the dough and one that is a little less than 1/4 and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the large disk into a 10 1/2 inch round and drape over the pie plate, crimping the edges, then refrigerate.
Roll the other disk out and cut out shapes as desired; freeze the shapes while you make the filling and preheat the oven.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
To make the filling: brown butter in a large saucepan until it is darkened and nutty-smelling.
Pour over granulated sugar.
Whisk in cornmeal, smoked salt, vanilla beans, and honey (mixture may not homogenize at this point due to the large amount of fat).
Whisk in eggs one at a time, making sure that they fully incorporate before adding the next.
Whisk in the heavy cream and apple cider vinegar.
Strain the mixture through a sieve directly into the pie crust.
Place pie on a baking sheet and place in oven.
When the filling has partially set (still wobbly and jiggly in the center, but not runny at all), about 35 minutes, brush the extra tablespoon of cream over your frozen decorative shapes.
Remove pie from the oven, and arrange shapes (carefully!) how you desire.
Return pie to the oven on the top rack to encourage browning of the decorations and bake for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the center is barely jiggly and the pie has puffed on the edges and the decorations are browned.
Allow to cool completely, then ideally chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (The texture will be better if allowed to chill down, but serving from room temperature is also good! Don’t sweat it too much.)

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.