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.)

L’Impératrice

“Men’s strengths go hand in hand with their weaknesses.
That is why there is no such thing as an invincible warrior, and why heroes die.”

― Shan Sa, Empress

November is here!

It’s cold, blustery, and the leaves and time have changed. Fall is set in deep.
That means Thanksgiving draws nigh. My favorite time to be busy cooking. I have prepared my menu and absolutely cannot wait to go home and be in a real kitchen with a real, fancy Wolf oven and a fridge that can actually maintain temperature. (Side eye @ my New York fridge. Sigh.)

Time has been flying with things being busy at work, and I haven’t gotten around to posting as much as I’ve wanted to. But! I have a few really great recipes I want to share before Thanksgiving, and I’ll also be doing a round-up of recipes from LPF and also other blogs in case you need some inspo!

Today, I’m sharing the world’s most perfect sour cream pound cake, studded with fuschia pink empress plums, tart and sweet and jammy, and rich, bitter dark chocolate and served warm with a scoop of creamy vanilla bean ice cream.
This is my new go-to recipe for pound cake. (!!!!)
It produces a cake with a tight, dense crumb that is remarkably moist without being heavy. The sour cream adds complexity and the cake isn’t overly sweet. It lends itself brilliantly to adaptations and different mix-ins.
Although plums + chocolate were nothing short of incredible, I’ll be adapting this same base recipe for Thanksgiving but with a caramel apple flavor. (~heart eyes~)
The possibilities are endless: chocolate, lemon, blood orange, etc. Tuck this recipe away in your back pocket for the next time you need a truly great pound cake!

Plum and Chocolate Sour Cream Pound Cake

adapted from Stella Parks, via Serious Eats
makes 1 loaf cake

ingredients:
250 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
142 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons, 10 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
215 grams (7.5 ounces, 1 2/3 cup fluffed and spooned) flour
140 grams (5 ounces, 2/3 cup) sour cream
4 finely chopped prune plums
1/3-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon flour

directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a loaf pan.
Place sugar, butter, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high speed for 4 full minutes, until light and fluffy with no graininess left.
Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each one to ensure they are incorporated fully.
Add in the flour in four portions and the sour cream in three; begin with the flour and alternate mixing the dry and wet.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix on low for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Toss the chopped plums and chocolate chips with a tablespoon of flour, then gently fold into the batter.
Spread batter into prepared pan; bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out mostly clean and the inside registers 200 degrees F.

 

Mêlé

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.”

Joan Didion

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

New York, New York.
The city that never sleeps: a proud acclamation even while most of its inhabitants are miserably dead tired.
Overgrown concrete jungle, deliciously bloated with opportunity, built of contradictions and false starts and dreams achieved.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I live-work-eat-sleep-breathe-watch New York.
As I settle in deeper, scenes swirl around me—little pieces of other people—dull and unremarkable, yet somehow thought-provoking.
There are soft, overripened edges amongst the city’s constitution.
I catch glimpses of them everywhere, curious (or nosy) as I am.

The subway is a microcosm of New York; ridership spans all walks of life. We all know this: we’ve seen the pictures of Meryl Streep, riding the train home after a failed audition (Meryl! Streep!); we have seen the dancers for whom riding the train is the audition.
A crowded subway full of diverse people is a great equalizer.
None of us can make it go faster and none of us can make it any less unpleasant.
Neither the man in the pressed suit and tie, nor the harried mother and her invariably crying baby, nor the bored looking model, and so on and so forth.
So I bide my time and I observe. Might as well.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

There is something disappointing and vaguely optimistic about the young, fashionable professional fishing a cigarette out from her bag while drinking a green juice at 9AM.
Something repellent and electrifying about the heady smell of freshly ground coffee, paint thinner, and body odor on the A train late on Sunday night.
Something disturbing and cutesy about the girl with an expensive-looking black and white calfskin bag that exactly coordinates with the pattern of her little pomeranian’s fur.
Something comforting and unsettling, no matter how bold you’re feeling, about accidentally meeting the same stranger’s gaze more than once, or, agonizingly, more than twice, as both your eyes dart around the car, tracing similar paths (ending at a woman and her bike, atop the handlebars of which perches a man’s bulky gym bag and, more precarious still, another woman’s very large Amazon Prime box).

I wonder what contradictions people see and feel when they look at me.
Is that terribly narcissistic or just some permutation of theory of mind?

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

I am aware that there are, in theory, seven universal emotions.
I am convinced that body language and etiquette on an extremely crowded subway in the summer is equally well understood.

We all try desperately not to touch each other, (particularly when one enters with a stroller, or suitcase, or child in tow) carefully shifting bags, shuffling feet, and averting eyes.
Every overheated, uncomfortable body moves in unison as the subway shudders and accelerates or grinds to a halt, waving together like so many ungainly stalks of grass.
We attempt to keep polite social space between us.
When one stumbles, bumping all their neighbors while grasping with sweaty hand for the pole, mumbling apologies and righting themselves, smoothing wrinkles and reinserting headphones, we imperceptibly nod with tightly pressed lips hinting at a familiar camaraderie. We’ve been there. 
Though we are all trying to willfully ignore everyone else, we are embarrassed for the person, just for a moment.
But by the time the doors open and hot, sticky air pours into the car, we have long forgotten and returned to our bubbles lit with a ubiquitous, faint blue glow.
Newcomers load in, and we make room and begin the sweaty shuffle anew without ever even looking up.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Alright, now for an important soapbox-y aside.

I titled this post “mêlé”—mixed—for the decoration of this cake, and I started composing it long before nightmares unfolded in Charlottesville and Barcelona and Cambrils and Alcanar.
Let me be clear as day: there is no room for mixed reactions to these events.
There is no excuse for mixed reactions to these attacks. Our president’s inability to condemn hatred and bigotry, his choice of wavering and mixed reactions, is astounding, even at this point when we thought he could sink no lower.
You cannot morally equivocate hate-filled terrorist groups with non-terrorist ones.
Murder and violence, while both reprehensible, are not equivalent.
I will not make space for Nazi-sympathizers or ISIS-sympathizers in my life or on my web page. It is a disappointment every day of my damn life that America put an incompetent white-supremacist-apologist in the White House.
By the way, if you think there is a difference between a White Christian group that wants annihilation of all others and a Muslim group that wants the same—that the former can have good people as its members and the latter cannot—your racism is showing.
(And for the record, I don’t think either has good people: there are no “good” Nazis. There are no good terrorists, period.)

My heart breaks. Over and over, into a million pieces, even as my resolve strengthens.
I am begging the universe to manifest a peaceful world.
In the meantime, be nice to everyone. Condemn hate, loudly, and often.
Count the days to 2018. Count the days to 2020.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Miguel-Anxo Murado wrote a mournful piece called “When Terror Came to Barcelona” in the NYT and quoted George Orwell:

“If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Here’s a cake best shared with friends, a cake that is good to the earth and kind to all living beings.
Especially kind to the living beings who get a taste…!
No animal products whatsoever, and they’re not missed in the least.

I’ve been baking quite a bit of vegan deliciousness up in my kitchen, because I don’t eat dairy and eggs day-to-day and therefore often don’t have them on hand. AKA I am lazy.
But hey, my laziness is forcing me to be innovative, so it is a good lazy. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Uh huh.

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

This vegan coconut cake is wonderfully moreish, with a texture that is dense and rich and studded with lots of shredded coconut.
Coconut oil provides the luxurious mouthfeel, and coconut milk keeps the whole cake extremely moist.
It is soft in the center, with a light, springy crumb. By baking it in a tart pan, I was able to get more slightly crisped edges, which are addictive and a perfect place for the glaze to well up!

The glaze is super simple: just coconut milk with a pinch of salt and powdered sugar, poured over the cake and allowed to drip down the edges. It doesn’t set rock-hard, but rather like a very soft royal icing, with a nice shine.

The showstopper aspect of this cake are the fresh fruits, most of which I got at the Union Square Greenmarket. I love supporting local farmers! And everything is so fresh at farmer’s markets.
Amazing summer fruit is so abundant right now—it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.
Here I used juicy red currants, the sweetest blueberries I have ever tasted, dark red cherries and strawberries, glossy blackberries, and a few fat smyrna figs for good measure.
The whole thing is topped with anise hyssop flowers, which provides a whisper of licorice and herb flavor to the cake.
You could easily sub a little thyme or lemon thyme, or even a tiny bit of rosemary or lemon zest. Anything that provides a contrast to the fruits without taking center stage!

Vegan Summer Fruit and Coconut Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Vegan Coconut Cake
makes 1 9-inch cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
480 grams (2 cups) canned coconut milk
200 grams (1 cup) coconut oil, liquid
30 grams (2 tablespoons) vinegar
1 generous cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

for the glaze:
22 mL (1.5 tablespoons) coconut milk
pinch salt
115 grams (1 cup) confectioner’s sugar

to assemble:
fresh fruits
anise hyssop (or other herb of choice)
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a 9-inch tart pan or cake pan.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together, and make a well in the center.
Stir in coconut milk, coconut oil, and vinegar until the batter is smooth.
Fold the shredded coconut into the batter and pour into prepared pan.
Bake until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs, or about 20-25 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
When cooled, make the glaze: whisk coconut milk, salt, and confectioner’s sugar together and pour over the cake.
Allow to set for 5 minutes before piling on the fruits and sprinkling on the herbs.
Serve with a glass of non-dairy milk!

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Cinquième

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package.
I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances.
To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”

—Joan Didion, UC Riverside commencement address, 1975

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy birthday, La Pêche Fraîche!

This blog is five (count them, five) years old. I don’t quite know how, but it has survived through my last years of high school and all the way through college.
I will take LPF with me out into the real world now, I suppose. Daunting, but comforting, in some ways, to always find a steady refuge in my own creative space.
Blogging has been occasionally sporadic, but always a constant presence in my mind and being.
I don’t know what shape it will take in the future, but I hope it will retain its shape and I will retain my drive, inspiration, and desire.

The blogiversary run-down:
Four years.
Three years.
Two years.
One year (oof).

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

I didn’t predict or envision my fifth blogiversary coming the day before my last final as a student of the University of Chicago; by tomorrow at 10:20am, I will be irreversibly set on the path of becoming an alumnae.

I have to spend all day today studying—but I also want to fit in the new Sherlock episode, because duh!
This quarter went by so quickly; it’s strange to think that I’ve been taking this class for ten weeks. I already had my last class ever. Craziness.

The five years of writing this blog—half a decade!—have also gone by quickly. I started writing this blog when I was 16. I had recently gotten my driver’s license. Now, I’m 21 and about to graduate university and move to NYC.
Lots of milestones have been celebrated on this blog.

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

I want to share some places, people, and things that help me retain my inspiration for baking/photographing/learning/creating.

Nicole Franzen is a photographer I follow on ig; she’s in Míkonos right now and has been in Italy and every time she posts, I am filled with longing and wanderlust.

Courtney’s cookie study. Because I deeply respect this is the kind of dedication to the improvement of the finest thing humanity has arguably ever produced (chocolate chip cookies, duh).

Siddhartha Mukherjee (author of Emperor of All Maladies), wrote a fascinating piece on epigenetics in the New Yorker last year that I only recently discovered. Worth the read if you’re at all scientifically or medically inclined or interested.

“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” Toni Morrison doles out wisdom from her father in her most recent piece for the New Yorker (if you’re going to read the above piece, might as well give this one a peek too—it’s short).

This vanilla rhubarb pound cake from the Herriott Grace blog (Nikole Herriott adapted a Tartine recipe) is the single most beautiful rhubarb cake I have ever seen. Seriously.

Deb’s strawberry graham icebox cake has me dreaming of summery treats, and plotting what other types of thin, many layered cakes I can create, because they sound amazing.

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

This is a celebration cake, make no mistake, but it is very simple and not intimidating at all. It is 100% doable in an afternoon, or as a last-minute offering the night before a birthday.

The cake itself is my perfected chocolate cake recipe. It bakes up flat (no leveling needed), moist, and not-too-sweet. It’s not overly fudgy—it has a relatively delicate crumb, and it saves like a dream.
It’s covered in a classic American buttercream tinted the palest pink and given an extra dose of salt to balance the buttery sweetness.
A generous drizzle of white chocolate and a smattering of marshmallows and sprinkles gives it the happiest of vibes.
I topped it off with candles, but a cake topper or some extra piping would also look great!

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

― Angela DuckworthGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Fifth Blogiversary (and Chocolate Cake) | La Pêche Fraîche

Fifth Blogiversary (Simple Chocolate Cake)

ingredients:
for the cake:
330 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cornstarch
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
65 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) extra dark cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso
120 grams (1/2 cup) boiling water
85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) vegetable/canola oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
160 grams (2/3 cup) buttermilk OR 145 grams (2/3 cup less 1 tablespoon) milk plus 15 grams (1 tablespoon) apple cider vinegar

for the frosting:
225 grams (1 cup, 2 sticks) butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
460 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
45-90 grams (3-6 tablespoons) cream, as needed
1 drop pink food coloring

to assemble:
lucky charms, if desired
sprinkles
60 grams (2 ounces) white chocolate, chopped
60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
white food coloring, if desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 6×2 inch pans.
Place sugar in a large bowl, followed by salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cornstarch; whisk together briefly.
Add the flour on top of the mixture, then the cocoa powder, then the instant espresso on top of that.
Slowly stream the boiling water over the cocoa powder; once it’s all added, whisk vigorously while you add in the oil.
Add in both of the eggs and the vanilla extract, then stream in the buttermilk while whisking.
Scrape the bowl to ensure homogeneity, then portion evenly into the three pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, beat the softened butter for 3 minutes, until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume.
Add in the salt and sugar and mix on low speed until combined; add cream slowly (spoonful by spoonful, mixing after each one) if the frosting is too thick.
Tint to your desired color; here, I used only the tiniest drop to create an extremely pale pink frosting.
To decorate the cake, place one layer on a cake stand and top with 1/2 cup frosting.
Repeat until all 3 layers are stacked.
Crumb coat the cake and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Top with the remaining frosting and smooth with a large, warmed spatula.
Once smooth, place in the fridge to chill.
Melt the white chocolate and cream very gently in the microwave (about 45 seconds to 1 minute on medium power); pour or pipe over the edges of the chilled cake.
Finish the cake with lucky charms marshmallows (crush a few for powder), sprinkles, and candles, if desired.

La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes I see la vie en rose
When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose

—Louis Armstrong, La Vie En Rose

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My hope for today is that it serves as a reminder for all of us to be more open and loving every day, to everyone. I love the badass, irrepressible origins of V-day, but I don’t really buy into the modernized and commercialized part of it (ha, get it?!).
Hug and kiss your loved ones extra today, if you can, but also remember tomorrow how nice it can be when a stranger flashes a smile at you, or pays a coffee forward, etc. etc.
Now that I contemplate that, is it too late to add to my 2017 resolutions?!

I never turn down an opportunity to bake something whimsical and fun, however, so here we are with pink everywhere for the last three posts and I regret nothing. Pink is awesome.

As an aside: microbes are also f*&#ing awesome. Check out this adorable (OK, maybe only adorable to me) piece in the NYT about the microbiome, perfect for Valentine’s Day. I maintain my stance that it is one of the last great frontiers left to us as the human race.

Also, shoutout to my wonderful roommate Alexa, whose adorable pink polaroid camera is featured in these photos. How cute, right?!

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

For this cake, I really wanted to play on the Swedish Princesstårta, or princess cake, which consists of a sponge, whipped cream, (sometimes) pastry cream, jam, and marzipan.
I made mini ones two years ago (gag, how is that possible), as you might have spied on my Instagram just a few weeks ago.

I bought this cookie cutter a while back, which purports to be the “easiest rose” in the world. I started dreaming of making roses out of marzipan, which I love with a burning, fiery passion, because I am somewhat turned off by fondant and gum paste.
So I hunkered down with a half-pound of marzipan last Friday and got to work; you will need a roller set and a foam board to properly create the roses. I also got through an entire movie and two hour-long shows before I was completely satisfied. I’m sure it could be done in less time—there is a slight learning curve, however! If you want to make your own roses, I suggest two things.
First, google “FMM easiest rose cutter how-to” or something along those lines in order to find a video that you can watch and learn from!
Second, if you want perfect, lifelike roses, do NOT use marzipan—use half fondant, half gum paste, or some other similar mix, because this will allow you to get thinner, non-ragged petals. Marzipan requires a slightly thicker petal, which obviously looks less true to life. You also may want to pick up some powdered colors, to dust on the edges of the petals—this makes it look very realistic.
All in all, my experience with the easiest rose cutter in the world was very positive, and I will be experimenting more with a sturdier mix of medium to make more realistic roses in the future!

If you do decide to use marzipan, rest assured that no matter how the roses look, they will be delicious: an advantage of marzipan is that it maintains its delightful chew even if prepared ahead, and it actually tastes good, unlike gum paste.

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The base of the cake is a simple milky white cake. It’s not too eggy, which is my main problem with many sponge cakes. It has a soft, fine crumb and doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.
An almond simple syrup is amply brushed over the cake, in order to retain moisture: another problem I have with many traditional white/yellow/sponge cakes is that they tend towards dryness.
Over that, I spread a thin layer of all-fruit apricot preserves—I use an all-fruit, no-sugar version because 1) it’s what I always have on hand and 2) there is a lot of sugar going on in this cake, so it provides a nice, slightly tart contrast.
The frosting is an incredibly fluffy salted mascarpone buttercream, which is creamy just like the traditional whipped cream and which provides another type of contrast to the sweetness. I really wanted a big ruffly cake, so I laid an extremely thin crumb coat down and then piped big shells with a star tip to create a thick layer of frosting without overloading the cake itself. (Pro tip: fill in any small spots with a mini star tip and leftover frosting. The cake is very busy, so no one will notice any little patchwork you do.)
Finally, the chewy, sweet, and fragrant marzipan roses adorn the cake as the perfect accompaniment.

This cake takes all the classic flavors present in princess cake and updates the components. I’m thoroughly pleased with the results. It makes a stunning centerpiece to any celebration. I think this would be SO cute for a tea party or Galentine’s day or any princess’s party.

Sending love to all of you! xx

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Valentine’s Day, previously:

2017:
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

Princess Layer Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Princess Layer Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch layer cake

ingredients:
for the cake:
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 eggs
35 grams (1/3 cup) milk powder
300 grams (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

for the frosting:
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, soft
400 grams (3 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 grams (8 ounces, 1 cup) mascarpone, room temperature
60 to 80 grams (1/4 to 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature

100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
drop almond extract
80 grams (1/3 cup) water
apricot or raspberry or strawberry preserves
8 ounces marzipan, tinted and rolled as desired

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch baking pans.
Make the cake: cream butter, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy; add in each of the eggs and beat on high until doubled in volume.
Add in the milk powder and buttermilk and stir until batter is homogeneous; it will thin out.
Add in the flour and baking powder and stir to combine.
Portion out into prepared pans and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: cream butter on high speed for 5 full minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar and stir slowly until combined; it will be very thick.
Add in the salt and mascarpone cheese and beat until homogenous.
Add in the heavy cream 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed in between each addition, until frosting is thin enough to be pipeable but thick enough to hold a peak,
Make the syrup: place sugar and water in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds, or until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in the almond extract and set aside.
Trim the cake as needed to level it; brush each side with ample sugar syrup.
Layer the cake, placing plenty of syrup on each layer; spread 2 tablespoons of apricot preserves on top of each layer, then 1/4 cup of frosting on top of the preserves.
After adding the final layer, add a very thin crumb coat of frosting all over the cake and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Using the rest of the frosting, pipe ruffles or flowers as desired.
Decorate with marzipan shapes!

Softie II

Soft M&M Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

“Love wins. Every time.”

—Taraji P. Henson, SAG Awards Speech

Soft M&M Cookies | La Pêche Fraîche

One of the greatest loves of my life was a blanket named Softie.
She was orange-yellow patterned fleece blanket (really just a piece of fleece), with bright blue, purple, and fuchsia flowers and spots all over. She was soft, once, but became ragged and pilly as she was loved. I slept with her in my bed every night and cried into her just as often. She was rough, and less-than-clean, and not all that fleecy.
My parents bought me a Softie II (really just another piece of fleece) as a gift, maybe for a birthday, and I was totally surprised. I still called it Softie, because it was not a replacement for me—the first Softie still lived in my closet—and I sought just as much comfort from the second blanket as the first. I loved it as much, and cherished it as much, if not more. It was just a bit softer.
A new form of my old friend.

Love lasts through change. Don’t ever be afraid that you cannot carry its thread through transformations that feel scary or surprising.
True love will always be a familiar friend.

These soft, pillowy cookies are like being hugged—enveloped in a blanket of irresistibly salty-sweet, buttery molasses dough.
They are so easy to make, and they are legitimately the most fail-proof, dependable, trustworthy recipe for chocolate chip cookies I have ever encountered.

One bowl—no mixer required—10 minutes, and 9 very simple ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry are all you need to make these incredible cookies!
I freeze mine so that they don’t spread too much, but you don’t really even need to do that; if you’re in a rush, you can skip that step and bake them right off after mixing the dough together.
The cookies that emerge after a short stint in the oven are soft and thick, tinged with a little salt and a lot of butter and molasses goodness, pocked with crunchy, milky M&Ms, and have golden, slightly crispy edges. I promise that not only will you reach for more than one cookie in the batch, you will continue to reach for the recipe whenever the occasion calls.

I probably don’t need to say this, but these can be made into any type of chip cookie you want—add chocolate chips, or butterscotch, or peanut butter chips, or add some chopped walnuts or toasted coconut or chopped heath bars or sprinkles—they will be good no matter what the mix-ins are.

Soft M&M Cookies
adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

ingredients:
170 grams (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, almost entirely melted
235 grams (1 1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon molasses
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
280 grams (2 1/4 cups) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons tapioca or corn starch
1 cup M&Ms or other chocolate/nut mix-ins

directions:
Line 2 sheet pans with parchment.
Place butter, sugar, salt, and molasses in a bowl and whisk until combined.
Add in egg and egg yolk and whisk until lightened in color and fully emulsified.
Add flour on top, followed by baking soda and tapioca starch, and stir until dough comes together.
Stir in the M&Ms or chocolate.
Portion out with a 1/4 or 1/3 ice cream or cookie scoop and place on prepared pans about 2 inches apart.
Freeze; meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
When oven is at temperature, bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, until the tops are barely set and the edges are golden brown.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Burning

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

My blood is a rushing river.
My heart is a burning bridge.

—Pavana

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

February, how did you come so quickly?
And how is it so warm? It is freaking everyone out. I don’t want to enjoy too much, given that we’re supposedly guaranteed another six weeks of winter (although we haven’t truly had any winter here in the Windy City).
Today, it’s 50 degrees and raining, and all I wanted this grey morning, what with the soft patter of rain on my windows, was the pull the covers back over my head and sleep for the entire day.

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I am going to keep is short here, today.
My theme of the month is humble and grateful love.

I want to share it with those who matter the most to me, but also with everyone in the orbit of my life.
We could all do with more widespread love. Share some with your partner, your neighbor, your friends and your frenemies.
Show someone that you are thankful for everything they have given you—their energy, their attention, their love and affection—and give it back in kind.
Put some effort into an unexpected act of kindness. No need to brag or tell anyone about it.
It will make you feel amazing too.

Humble. Grateful. Love.


Today’s treats are these simple mocha and vanilla bean cupcakes.
They’re cheekily festive, with their pastel pink frosting and bright sprinkles on top, but you could leave out the food coloring and come away with a very elegant black and white cupcake.

The base of the cupcakes is my go-to: one bowl, one whisk, comes together in 15 minutes and bakes in just 10. The cake is moist and fluffy, and it is the perfect base for a big swirl of frosting.

The frosting is an Italian meringue buttercream: like a cloud of light, whipped buttery goodness. Its flecked with the seeds of two full vanilla bean pods and a big pinch of salt—dreamy.

These cupcakes are simple but adaptable—swirl different flavors into the frosting to customize it, and top with whatever sprinkles or chopped bits you so desire.

“You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

—Warsan Shire

Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
cake portion lightly adapted from Sweetapolita

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
95 grams (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine sugar
60 grams (1/2 cup) dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
80 grams (1/3 cup) coffee, hot
42 grams (3 tablespoons) vegetable oil
1 egg

for the frosting:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
335 grams (3 sticks, 1 1/2 cups) butter, softened
scrapings of 2 vanilla beans
few drops pink food coloring

directions:
Make the cupcakes: line 1 cupcake tin with liners and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
Pour in the buttermilk, coffee, and vegetable oil and whisk until half incorporated; add in the egg and whisk until the batter is all combined.
Portion out into the liners (about 1/4-1/3 cup per cupcake), and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: 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 4 minutes, then beat in vanilla bean and pink food coloring until tint is as desired.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Decorate cupcakes as desired, and top with sprinkles!

Vingt-Et-Un

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

“Strange is our situation here upon earth.
Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose.
From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”
― Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Three years ago, on the cusp of adulthood—18 starry-eyed years come and gone—I was packing up to come to UChicago.
Growing up in two big ways, simultaneously.
I was scared and melancholy to say goodbye to my so-called childhood and my home, my whole body jangly with nerves.

Things are very different this time around: I’m turning 21, about to start my last year of college—comfortable in my home away from home.
I’m supposed to already be an adult, but I’m not at all sure if I’m more confident in where my life seems to be heading. The only thing I’m certain of is that time has, miraculously, begun passing much, much faster.
I always feel this way on my birthdays (but it’s not a feeling exclusive to my b-day. Because, neuroses and all).

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

This is the first birthday that I will not spend in Ithaca, in the home I grew up in.
It feels a little strange, to be sure, to not be sitting at the kitchen counter writing this and eating cake.
It’s also the first birthday I will spend away from my amazing parents, who have given me everything and more over the years.
When I’m not with them, I never don’t miss them. But I’m indulging in a ~little~ extra pining today. It is the first, after all!

Luckily for me, I got to FaceTime them this morning and this afternoon, Nati surprised me with flowers, so I know I won’t feel too discomfited today.

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Pavlova is my favorite dessert, which is why I like to have it for my birthday cake!

I kept this one simple and classic, with three layers of crisp meringue, marshmallow-y on the inside, fluffy whipped cream, tart, luscious lemon curd, and strawberries and raspberries.

They almost inevitably crack and begin to slide and crumple when you try to cut a slice, so I usually go the loser route and stick the whole thing in a bowl when this happens.
Voilà, Eton mess!
If the prospect of your lovely pastry ending up a wonky mess in a bowl makes you nervous, take a couple shots and just cut the damn thing. With determination, I think it can be done.

Otherwise, pavlova taste just as good when scooped with a spoon.
Take it from me.

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche

Birthday pavlovas, previously:
18 years old
20 years old

(…And a New Year’s pavlova, for good measure.)

Birthday Pavlova | La Pêche Fraîche
Lemon Berry Pavlova
makes 1 3-layer 8-inch cake

ingredients:
for the meringue:
8 egg whites
1 tablespoon vinegar
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of salt

for the lemon curd:
5 egg yolks
480 grams (2 cups) water
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
56 grams (1/2 cup) cornstarch
55 grams (1/4 cup, 4 tablespoons) butter
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 3 lemons (approximately 1/2 to 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to assemble:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 punnet raspberries
10-15 strawberries
powdered sugar, optional

directions:
Make the meringue: preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment; draw 3 8-inch circles on the paper.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the vinegar and start to whip.
Stir the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
As the egg whites become frothy, add the sugar mixture in tablespoons, until the meringue is glossy and shiny and all of the sugar is incorporated.
Using a piping bag fitted with a French or star tip, pipe the meringue into circles on the parchment.
Bake for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and allow to cool inside the   oven to prevent cracks.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd: place water in a pot over high heat; bring to a boil.
Stir in the cornstarch and sugar and bring back to a boil while stirring constantly; mixture will be quite thick and opaque.
Remove mixture from heat and, whisking vigorously, add the egg yolks.
Return to heat and bring back to a boil while whisking the entire time.
Remove from the heat and stir in the butter; whisk until an emulsion forms.
Add in the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, pressing plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming.
To assemble, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then stir in the starch and sugar.
Layer the meringue disks with lemon curd, then whipped cream, then a few berries in between; pile the rest of the berries on top and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.