How to Not Be a Perfectionist
People are vivid
and don’t live
I say this with incredulity: happy 8th birthday to La Pêche Fraîche.
How to Not Be a Perfectionist
People are vivid
and don’t live
I say this with incredulity: happy 8th birthday to La Pêche Fraîche.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands above the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
On the banks of the Tokyo Bay moat in the Hamarikyu Gardens.
The Heian-jingu torii on the banks of the Lake Biwa canal, Kyoto.
Along the Kamo River, Kyoto.
Early morning stillness at Fushimi Inari. Kyoto.
The absolutely sublime Takase-gawa, Kyoto.
The courtyard of the silent patisserie, Zen Kashoin. Kyoto.
The light forest in Teamlab: Borderless. Tokyo.
An intricate pavilion in Biwon (Secret Garden) within Changdeokgung Palace. Seoul.
Flashing lights and late-night shoppers of Myeongdong, Seoul.
Oh, the wonderful sounds
Mr. Brown can do!
He can sound like a cow.
He can go MOO MOO
Happy Pi Day. 3.14!
I hope you are all safe and well today.
“Times certainly are sad and mad and from a scientific point of view so utterly unnecessary.”
“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.
We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.
Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction—one last midnight—brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”
—Rust Cole, True Detective
I suppose spring isn’t the right time to be referencing Rust Cole’s doom and gloom, but forgive for today my moody melodrama.
It comes alongside an excellent cookie recipe, so I daresay it’s worth it.
And besides, it doesn’t really feel like the season has changed yet. Winds are still whipping, snow is still falling upstate and in Chicago, blooms are still only mere suggestions of buds, and the sun’s warmth is not yet fully baked.
I, um, think we might need a reiteration of our stage directions here.
Exeunt March, in the manner of a lamb.
On the first day of spring, a nor’easter hit NYC. It was m i s erable.
The day after, a finger of spring light, so faint that it might have been mistaken for an indoor flood lamp slipped out in the early morning and later opened up into a jubilant and blinding day.
I had to go to the NYU hospital for volunteer orientation; it’s a fair hike from my office and requires a long-ish subway ride.
As I have mentioned here before, I do my best people watching when on the subway, particularly when I’m a bit moody and would like to be out walking in the sun rather than hurtling away in damp underground tunnels.
My favorite scene of the day was of two elderly deaf ladies, seated across from one another on the uptown 6, silently gabbing at the speed of light. They paused only when Spring St. shoppers shuffled through their path, craning their necks around skinny teenage-d legs and crisply creased shopping bags to recommence their discussion as quickly as possible.
I also took note of and rolled my eyes at the baseless optimism of the two men who stepped, one in a sweatshirt and other in a proper-looking ivy cap, lockstep onto the subway as they loudly answered phone calls. Both expressed only the mildest annoyance when their signals inevitably dropped. Resigned, they pocketed their iPhones, and the rest of the car sighed in relief.
Today’s day started with a dripping, grey smear of a morning, with a forecast that threatened rain. I was up and out of my apartment earlier than usual—sneakers hitting the pavement at 6:05AM.
It was cold and the sun hadn’t yet bothered to rise, so I hustled towards the gym with my fingers jammed into jacket pockets and shoulders hunched over to ward off the chill.
There are only two people in all of New York City who are fully aware of my comings and goings, of the early trudges to the gym and the exhausted late night slogs home from the office (and, in all honestly, the occasional stumble home on boozy nights).
I have never spoken a word to either.
They are the men who run the coffee/pastry and halal carts on my corner, daily bookends so constant that I’m sure many of my neighbors think they can’t possibly move shop every day.
But I have seen the coffee cart open and the halal cart close.
This morning, through admittedly bleary eyes, I saw someone on the pavement laying out cardboard underneath the bright lights of the coffee cart. I thought, at first, that it was one of the two (friendly) homeless men who frequent the corner, but as I neared, I realized it was the man who runs the cart.
He took careful pains to straighten out the cardboard just-so, and smoothed the corners with the flat of his hand a final time before standing, then bowing and kneeling. He was praying.
I was struck by this intimate moment of humanity; prayers directed towards Mecca on a raft of cardboard in the middle of the dirty, slick sidewalk of 14th St. on a drizzling, cold April morning.
In a jaded way, I have been asking myself lately how much of my observation of others is not exposition, but self-centered projection.
How many of these brief moments of presumed humanness are really nothing worth a second glance—just my nosiness taking over?
I wonder if I only take note and mark them as special in order to feel a rush of omniscience, a weak inflation of my ego. How aware and poignant and poetic am I.
Are we not all just people leading our daily lives? And isn’t my daily life bland and beige from the inside?
By attempting to extract meaning from my examination of perfect strangers, I am selfishly wondering who around me is doing the same to the figment of myself that exists within their view.
Mostly, I think, because it is so hard to accept the routine boringness of everyday life; this has become increasingly true in the age of social media, where highlight reels are curated over days and months, so you can post a perfect throwback of a cake while sitting in your desk chair drinking your fifth black cherry seltzer.
It’s not dishonesty, exactly. It’s something else entirely, and the purpose is not only to impress our followers, but to fool ourselves.
And so I make up backstories in my head and curate my instagram. Hmm.
This cookie recipe is a bit of a throwback, itself.
I developed it for the Feed Feed/Bob’s Red Mill winter cookie giveaway way back in December, which was an altogether excellent time.
(Some cookies that were memorable: Patti’s always intricate decorated sugar cookies, which came in the shape of twee penguins with neck-scarves, ice-skates, and earmuffs; Rachel’s milk masala shortbread cookies; Erin’s vanilla sandwich cookies with vanilla bean marshmallow; Sarah’s pan-banging chocolate chip cookies (!!!), and others. Also, someone made soft gingerbread cookies with a cracklingly tart lemon glaze, and the memory of the cookies apparently has outlasted my good manners/memory of their creator. Oops.)
These little gems have a base of fragrant nutmeg shortbread, which is buttery and rich but not so short that it crumbles before you can get it to your mouth; it provides a sturdy enough base for transport or gifting.
Lashed to the butter cookie with a drop of good dark chocolate are ultra light, melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues. These are so crunchy and crisp and delicate; they really reminded me why meringue is one of my top three favorite desserts.
A dusting of powdered sugar gives them an (un)seasonally appropriate finish (ha, ha, ha, yes this everlasting winter is very funny) and provides nice color contrast to the shades of beige underneath.
These are really a special little cookie, elegant and understated, but with a flavor profile that will pleasantly surprise you, even in its subtlety. Oh, and the French word for nutmeg was too poetic not to provide you a translation of the full title:
Des sablés à la noix de muscade avec des meringues au sirop d’érable. Le sigh.
Nutmeg Shortbread with Maple Meringues
makes 50-60 1.5″ cookies
for the cookies:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
360 grams (3 cups) flour
for the meringues:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
60 grams (3 tablespoons) maple syrup
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar (can sub up to 50 grams (1/4 cup) maple sugar)
30 grams (1 ounce) dark chocolate, melted
Powdered sugar, as needed for dusting
Make the shortbread: beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add the salt, sugar, and nutmeg and beat on high speed for another 3 minutes; mixture should be lightened in color and not grainy.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla; beat for 3 full minutes.
Scrape the bowl again and add the flour; fold a few times and then stir on low speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together in a ball.
Turn out the dough and knead into a ball; refrigerate for 15 minutes (and up to 2 days).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut out 1.5 inch rounds and place on prepared pans.
Re-roll dough until all has been used up (I filled 3 baking sheets and baked them 1 sheet at a time).
Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Bake straight from the freezer for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the meringues: Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place maple syrup, water, and sugar in a small pot and place over medium heat.
Begin to whisk the egg whites, carefully watching the syrup.
The syrup needs to reach 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) when the egg whites are at soft peaks; adjust speed of your stand mixer or heat under the pot accordingly.
Carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running, avoiding the whisk so that hot syrup does not splash.
Whip on high speed for 3-5 minutes, or until the meringue is fluffy, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a jumbo French tip and pipe small dollops on the prepared pans.
If you’re struggling with the parchment paper flying up and sticking to the meringue, just place small smears of meringue on the baking sheet at the corners as “glue” and stick the parchment down.
Once you have piped out your meringues, place them in the oven.
Bake at 275 for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 degrees and dry for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and lift up off the parchment cleanly.
This can take much longer than 2 hours—it depends on the humidity in your home.
If need be, you can leave the meringues in the oven overnight (I left mine for a full 18 hours…!) at 200 degrees.
To assemble, use a small smear of dark chocolate to affix the meringue onto the shortbread and dust with a little powdered sugar for a snowy finish.
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
Happy pi day, party people! Here are 1000
pieces places of pi, to celebrate:
And yes, this is being posted at 1:59 GMT. It’s the little things that make me happy, ok?
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.
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.
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).
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!
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
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?
Logarithm, biorhythm, entropy, kinetics,
MPC, GNP, bioenergetics!
Maximize and integrate, titrate and equilibrate—
—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 Salted Honey Pie
makes 1 9-inch pie
adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
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
255 grams (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)
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.)
If an intelligence, at a given instant, knew all the forces that animate nature and the position of each constituent being;
if, moreover, this intelligence were sufficiently great to submit these data to analysis, it could embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the smallest atoms:
to this intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.
I took a class this past quarter called History of Statistics.
It was taught by a professor who knew my grandfather well. Additionally, in an amazing twist of small-world fate, his father taught MY father in a class called History of Economics, when my dad was getting his PhD at UChicago. It was an excellent class to cap off my stat minor, and I recommend it to anyone who can get in off the competitive waitlist.
At the beginning of the quarter, we had a question on a homework that stumped (I think) everyone in the class. The question that was posed was: what was the sweet that Pierre-Simon invented?
Don’t even try to google it, guys. Been there, done that. It is thoroughly un-googleable.
The answer: in 1826 there was a landmark two volume book about gastronomy published by Brillat-Savarin (as in the Savarin cake). In it, a dessert was attributed to the statistician.
Strawberries ********* **** ****** *****.
Literally, that’s the whole of it.
Anyways, the other day I found myself with a bunch of spring strawberries and some aging oranges that needed to be used or eaten. I thought back to Laplace’s dessert, and how I could modify it and make it… more, um, interesting.
These dairy free strawberry shortcakes are what I came up with, because I’ve been eating dairy free a lot lately and want to challenge myself to bake dairy free as well.
The cake itself is a dairy free pound cake, made with vegan butter, cashew yogurt (I like Forager), and a hint of orange zest; it is moist and dense and bakes up perfectly golden.
I brushed the cut cakes with an orange simple syrup to infuse them with stronger flavor.
The strawberries are treated as Laplace would have demanded: sprinkled with the juice of an orange (and a little hit of sugar), but then I roasted them in the oven to bring out a toasty, caramelized flavor that is absolutely divine.
The cakes are layered with the roasted strawberries, topped with lightly sweetened coconut cream, confectioner’s sugar, and more orange zest.
Overall, they’re not too sweet and preserve a true strawberry and orange flavor; they store very well as the syrup helps retain their moisture. The serving size is just right for one person, although I know for a fact that some of my testers ate two…
They would be perfect for any summer event, from a BBQ to a tea party.
Note that you can substitute dairy items and still have very happy results: butter for the vegan butter, sour cream or full-fat yogurt for the cashew yogurt, and whipped cream or ice cream for the coconut cream.
Happy summer, friends! Here’s to strawberry season.
Dairy Free Strawberry Orange Shortcakes
makes 6 large, 12 small shortcakes
for the cakes:
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) vegan/dairy free butter, softened (can substitute regular butter)
250 grams (1 1/4 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) cashew yogurt (can substitute sour cream or yogurt)
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
zest of 1/2 an orange
for the strawberries:
15-20 large strawberries, sliced thinly (about 2-3 cups)
juice of 1 large orange
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
15 grams (1 tablespoon) orange juice
50 grams (4 tablespoons) sugar
zest of 1/2 an orange
coconut cream (see here for a tutorial) (can substitute whipped cream or ice cream)
zest of 1/2 an orange
Make the cakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 6 extra-large muffin tins, or 12 regular sized muffin tins.
Whip vegan butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat for another full 2 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the eggs; beat for another 3-4 minutes until fluffy and not gritty.
Stir in the cashew yogurt.
Add the flour, baking soda, and orange zest.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (small cakes will likely need shorter baking, check them around 15 minutes).
Allow to cool completely before cutting in half.
To make the strawberries, lay the slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with the orange juice and sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until softened, juicy, and fragrant.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the orange syrup: stir water, sugar, orange juice, and orange zest together and bring to a boil.
To assemble, brush the cut halves of the cakes with the orange syrup.
Sandwich a few strawberries with the cakes.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar, orange zest, and serve with coconut cream or ice cream on the side.
“You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.”
I am trying to luxuriate in my last few weeks here at the University of Chicago; I get extremely choked up when I think about graduating. I have often struggled with feeling too deeply and getting lost in my emotions. I hate goodbyes more than anything.
My dad used to commute to Dartmouth to teach at the business school; he had to leave home at 5 in the morning to make his flight on Monday mornings. I would often wake up when he was leaving and pad downstairs, crying, behind him. I never wanted him to leave.
It’s similar now, only I am padding around campus, feeling lost and lonely. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the jumble of emotions that come with goodbye. I’m nostalgic, introspective, frightened, excited, dragging my feet while trying to lean in, etc., etc.
I am clinging to anything, right now, just like I used to cling to my dad.
(Truth: I still cling to him. I will always be his remora, can’t change that. I can feel my mom and dad shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at that, and that makes me smile.)
What a strange, out-of-body experience growing up is turning out to be. I wonder at how quickly time passes. It brings me to tears, frequently, and shakes me to my core. I am a confident, stubborn, perseverant person, but I am oft reduced to a puddle of quivering jelly when I realize that I can never get back what’s gone.
Not only the boundless energy and carefree schedule of a child, not only people and pets, but also emotions, like the sheer, unbridled joy I used to feel when the seasons were changing—each one felt brand new and just as exciting, with no jaded cynic inside me to put a damper on those feelings, yet.
How many wistful words have been written by those who come face to face with time’s fleet feet? I rarely feel that it would be of much use to anyone for me to write my own, infinitesimal terror out on this page.
But here is where I repeatedly find myself, cursor blinking, as these thoughts storm in my mind.
Other things (other than self-indulgent moping, that is) with which I’ve been occupying myself:
Nati got a Nintendo Switch! And Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to go along with it. Oh my goodness, y’all, it is the most gorgeous game. I could watch him play for hours. It is 100% absorbing. So fun!
I (finally) read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A quick read, but chilling, and a classic. Maybe I’ll watch the Hulu series now, who knows.
Speaking of T.V., Nati finally watched Game of Thrones with me (this is now my 5th? 6th? time watching the show); he enjoyed it, although is not as obsessed as I am. Then again, is anyone? It just made me even more excited for season 7! I can hardly wait!
Catch me in UChicago’s newspaper, The Maroon, in a style feature (whaaat). Big thanks to MJ Chen, Chris D’Angelo, and Christian Hill for making me seem like a cohesive human being. It takes a village, people. But seriously, they were a dream to work with and I’m so flattered and grateful! So go check it out, heh.
Also, I’ve been baking more dairy-free treats lately. But more on that soon!
This matcha and black sesame cake had been on my to-make list/I’ve been dreaming of the combination of these flavors for a while now.
The cake itself is a close-textured, moist butter cake, sweet and rich with grassy, bright notes from the matcha. The cake is brushed with a honey syrup to keep it moist, then topped with black sesame Italian meringue buttercream, which is silky soft and nutty in a delightfully unexpected way; it was almost like a peanut-butter frosting, with a little more depth and bitterness from the sesame. I finished the cake up with some gold leaf, which is, like, the biggest pain in the ass to work with, and is most certainly not necessary to make this cake a showstopper.
Seriously, all you have to do is breathe and the stuff goes everywhere. Next time any of you see me pinning or liking photos of gold leaf, knock me upside the head. I always get suckered in.
It’s actually quite a simple cake, but the decoration + the surprisingly beautiful and vibrant interior make it gorgeous.
The matcha for this cake was kindly sent to me from Happy Matcha, which is a small Australian start up selling organic matcha powder.
The tea is a lovely green and finely milled; it maintained its bright, strong flavor even when baked, which was what I was hoping for. I think it’s a bonus that it’s organic; honestly, when buying this type of powdered tea (and face masks, for that matter), I like to be able to completely trust it to be safe and from a good distributor.
If you haven’t tried good matcha before (i.e. not Starbucks, which is mixed with sugar, I think), I do recommend Happy Matcha. At this point, they only ship within Australia (but they do it in a carbon-neutral fashion, which is dooope), but we can all hope for worldwide shipping in the future!
As for the black sesame paste, I used this paste. Note that it isn’t black sesame tahini, which is made with raw sesame seeds and has a different flavor profile.
Black Sesame and Matcha Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake, or 1 2×8-inch layer cake
for the matcha cake:
225 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter
400 grams (2 cups) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 egg yolks
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk (or milk with 2 teaspoons vinegar)
360 grams (3 cups) flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons matcha powder
for the salted and black sesame Italian meringue buttercream:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
45 grams (45 mL, 3 tablespoons) water
336 grams (1 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons roasted black sesame paste
25 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons honey
20 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) water
gold leaf, if desired
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch cake pans; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter on high speed for 3 full minutes, until light in color and fluffy.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat on high for 2 more minutes; scrape the bowl.
Add in the eggs and egg yolks and beat on high for a full 3 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk or curdled milk.
Add the flour, baking powder, and matcha powder and beat until combined, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Portion out evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the honey syrup: place sugar, honey and water in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, or until the sugar is just dissolved.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, 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 5 minutes.
Divide buttercream into two portions (about 60-40), leaving the larger portion in the bowl of the stand mixer.
Add in the black sesame paste to the larger portion and whip on high until completely homogeneous.
To decorate, first level the cakes and cut off the brown cooked portions; brush with the honey syrup.
Pipe a border of white buttercream around the edge of the cakes, then fill with the black sesame buttercream.
Frost the bottom (plain) half first, keeping an approximate line in the middle of the cake, then stick in the fridge until completely hardened.
Frost the top half with the black sesame buttercream, being careful not to go too much over the white buttercream edge.
Cover the edge with gold leaf and decorate the top with piping as desired!
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!
The little Flopsy Bunnies slept delightfully in the warm sun.
From the lawn beyond the garden came the distant clacketty sound of the mowing machine.
The blue-bottles buzzed about the wall, and a little old mouse picked over the rubbish among the jam pots.
—Beatrix Potter, The Flopsy Bunnies
It is irrevocably spring here in Chicago, finally.
It’s lovely and warm and sunny, and the cold grey drizzles and wind have, for the most part, stopped their daily doldrums. Of course, the 48 hours in which I am posting this have been very stormy. Typical.
We’re planning on doing a little gardening in Psi U’s front lawn this week—nothing sounds better to me than being out in the sunshiny weather.
This past weekend, we jetted off to Portugal for my brother’s wedding. It was indescribably amazing (though the traveling itself was a nightmare—a story too long and too full of annoyances to recount). We flew into Lisbon and spent Saturday on Mariana’s family’s ranch (Herdade do Amendoiera) in Arraiolos. The wedding was beautiful, and I cried a lot. You couldn’t have asked for better weather or a lovelier location. Really. We were so lucky.
Sunday, Nati and I explored Lisbon on our own. Oh my gosh! There was so much we left unseen, and what we did see was fascinating. The city is beautiful, and has so many historical sites to see. We had a fabulous dinner at the Time Out market in Baixa, which was like a beefed up Eataly or like Chelsea Market (lots of restaurants and market stands). I cannot recommend it enough—the prices were good, the food was delicious, and the available variety was breathtaking.
Monday, we flew home—48 short hours in European paradise. I can’t wait to go back.
How cute are these little carrot cake petit fours?
I shared them on Instagram the day before Easter and people went crazy for them! I was all intent on getting the recipe up in time for Easter, but here we are, friends.
I think these are perfect for any spring occasion, though. I personally love carrot cake so I wouldn’t complain to see these bite-sized pieces at any time of year.
They’re moist, two-bite wonders, slightly sweet and chewy from the carrot and topped with a generous swirl of tangy cream cheese whipped cream. The best part, in my opinion, are the little marzipan and lime zest carrots on top—they add a nutty sweetness and a tiny citrus-y kick that really perks up the cake.
Too often, carrot cake is dense and heavy—by miniaturizing it, you avoid some of this, and by using a non-traditional cream cheese frosting (no butter, light on the sugar), you lighten the dessert up even further.
To bake these, I actually used an oven-safe ice cube mold. You could use a mini brownie pan or just bake them in a square 8×8 pan and cut them into shapes.
The marzipan carrots are easier than you think—just have a little patience and add the food coloring extremely slowly! I use Wilton and Americolor. For the lime zest leaves, I actually just zested a lime onto a plate and used tweezers to drop it onto the cake. That way, I had a little more control. You could also just sprinkle it on or make leaves out of marzipan.
Carrot Cake Bites
makes 12 petit-fours or 1 8×8 cake
60 grams (2 ounces, 1/4 cup) butter
50 grams (1/4 cup) packed brown sugar
50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) neutral oil
75 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 medium sized carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
for the frosting:
120 grams (120 mL, 1/2 cup) heavy cream
140 grams (5 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
90 grams (3/4 cup) powdered sugar
30-60 grams (1-2 ounces) marzipan
orange food coloring
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour your baking dish.
Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and egg together on high speed until doubled in volume and lightened in color.
Add in the oil and mix on low speed until homogeneous.
Add in the flour, baking powder and soda, spices, and salt and mix until batter just starts to come together.
Stir in the carrots and portion out into baking dish.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the baking dish—a cake tester should come out clean.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, shape the marzipan carrots and zest the lime.
To make the frosting, whip the cream cheese and powdered sugar together until fully mixed; whip the cream separately and then slowly mix the two together, being careful not to knock all the air out of the cream.
Frost the petit fours however you desire, and top with a marzipan carrot and a dusting of lime zest for the leaves.