I was finally sitting still earlier this week, alternating between laying on the couch in the apartment and staring at the ceiling, drinking rosé and flipping through stacks of old Bon Appétit magazines I’ve been moving around for years. And, while staring at the ceiling can work wonders to clear out your brain and organize your thoughts, it was the recipes and flavors and ideas in those old issues that gave me clarity: it’s been nearly 10 months since I moved in, and a lot has changed since then.
Those first afternoons here were spent color-coordinating my extensive cookbook collection above the cabinets in the kitchen, and making special space for those stacks of back issues…because there were so many good ideas in there and I couldn’t stand to part with them. That same first week of apartment life, I promised myself that I would document all the recipes that I was cooking — as a single person— for a year. I would use this space (and a little collection of notebooks) to do so, and it would be through those recipes that I would go back and be able to recount how I pulled myself up on my own after being half of a whole relationship for 10 years. I would go back through all those old magazines, using them as a guide and cooking my way along, learning new tips and tricks and flavors that would expand my horizons as a chef, and as a person in the world.
I wasn’t diligent at documenting or journaling recipes and ideas like I promised. Instead, there were far too many occasions when I was reaching into the fridge to pull something together for a last-minute cocktail hour, for that friend who could use a pie delivery, on a weekend morning when we there was no cereal for breakfast, or, (in the case of this absolutely unforgettable shortcake) for an impromptu summer picnic in the park where arriving without dessert would be out of the question. I would cook, and eat, and enjoy, and move on, embracing that something delicious as just another part of the day. As it ought to be.
I hadn’t cracked those back issues, or even pulled them from their resting place above the cabinets, until I was laying on the couch flipping through them, and it was then realized that without following the recipes – I HAVE been cooking through them. I have been internalizing new flavors of the season, I have been experimenting with new ingredients, and I have been learning new tips and tricks as a chef and as a person….because there wasn’t a recipe for how to deal with those new moments in front of me, and because I had to make do with what I – alone – had on hand.
I’ve cooked + baked some tried and true favorites, many of which are posted on this site. (This, this and this for example.) But most of the time, I was flying by the seat of my pants, shooting from the hip on something intrinsically simple that I knew would probably pretty darn good. A teeny sense of accomplishment washed over me then as I turned the pages; I ripped out a couple of gem recipes from the thigh-high stack of magazines, and once the bottle of wine was (mostly) empty I toddled to the recycle bin around the corner with armloads of issues – happy not to hoard the knowledge any more, happy not to be grasping for inspiration, happy to be letting go of the past and very excited to see what I could whip up from the fridge for dinner.
This whirlwind of cooking, eating, sharing and enjoying feels like a rehabilitation of sorts. It was in this way that I came to know that I could be on my own in the world; I came to trust that I could make ends meet, that I had something to offer others, and that the dreams I had “before” weren’t going to disappear just because life as I knew it was changing. I suppose that being wrapped up in the “living it” was far more valuable than being alone and having all the time in the world to document the transformation as it happened. When I think about the book of recipes I was imagining (“Recipes from the Clean Slate” as I’ve affectionately called the compilation ) it seems like a rather lonely proposition; a collection of all the things I was cooking for one person instead of two. Instead, the story I have to tell about these 10 months, and all the months to come, is one about all the people I unexpectedly met because I cooked something new, about the love I got to pour out in my kitchen for the community that surrounded me, about how I fueled this beautiful new start with whatever happened to be in the fridge, founded in the knowledge that I’ve had as a chef, and as a person in the world, for as long as I can remember. Feeding others, with whatever I had, fed me.
In these 10 months, I’ve come to know what “my food” is, and there’s still an endless amount of time for me to document recipes from these life-changing months, and all the life changing months that are to come. The idea that feeding others feeds me likely won’t change, but you never know – maybe “my food” will change again.
So, let’s talk about this shortcake, because the recipe is one I’m just in love with and no matter what happens to “my food,” I’m not going to be changing it anytime soon. It’s a combination of old knowledge, new knowledge, and the exact ingredients I had on hand last weekend for an impromptu picnic. Amidst those stacks of magazines, I found a ripped page from an ancient cookbook with a recipe for shortcake. It tipped me off to a trick about adding protein (in the form of cooled, cooked egg yolks) to biscuits to add shape and a flaky texture to the finished product. This is the type of trick that your grandmother likely knew about but never told you, and she may turn over in her grave if she learned that coconut butter (instead of egg yolk) is also pretty good at adding shape, flaky texture, protein AND a subtle coconut flavor to shortcakes, and also happens to be the most perfect foundation in a bowl of shortcake as I’ve ever imagined.
Let’s also talk about this whipped mascarpone-yogurt, which came to be because I was completely out of whipped cream, but had yogurt, and milk, and a little bit of mascarpone. When you mix them all together with a bit of powdered sugar, you get a sweet, tart and perfect creamy topping for shortcake and a great alternative to whipped cream. Voila.
A few notes, here: I haven’t yet pulled together a gluten-free version of this recipe but I am sure you could do so with your favorite gluten-free flour mix. I don’t at all recommend substituting the butter here, and actually suggest using Irish butter if possible because it makes for the most flavorful biscuits. If you don’t have peaches bursting out of your market doors, you could use strawberries, or nectarines, or a wonderful mishmash of stone fruits atop your biscuits.
Whip this one up with whatever you have on hand, and serve it proudly, friends. – xo L
Peach Shortcakes w/Whipped Mascarpone Yogurt
for the shortcakes
- 2 rounded tablespoons coconut butter (or coconut manna)
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons fine-grind cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- ⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Sanding or granulated sugar (for sprinkling)
- 1½ pounds fresh peaches, chopped or sliced
- 1/8 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
- 8 oz mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 cup greek full-fat greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- ½ vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
- Pulse coconut butter, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and granulated sugar in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse just until only pea-size pieces remain. Next, drizzle in the ⅔ cup cream, pulsing to barely incorporate. Transfer dough to a very lightly floured work surface and fold the dough on top of itself several times just to bring it together and work in any dry spots.
- Using a 2-oz. ice cream scoop, make 6 balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Do not flatten. (Or measure out mounded scoops with a ¼-cup measuring cup.) Cover and chill until cold, 20–25 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Brush tops of shortcakes with remaining 2 Tbsp. cream and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake the shortcakes until golden and sides are firm to the touch, 28–32 minutes. Let cool.
- (The shortcakes can be baked 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. Reheat briefly in the oven before serving.)
- Toss the peaches, granulated sugar, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl to combine. Transfer half of the peach mixture to a large saucepan and add 1 Tbsp. water; let remaining peaches macerate while you bring peaches in the saucepan to a gentle simmer over medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if needed to keep at a low simmer, until fruit is starting to break down and become jammy and liquid is syrupy, roughly 12–18 minutes. Let the peaches cool slighly, then stir in 1 tsp. lemon juice. Stir remaining 1 tsp. lemon juice into macerated strawberries.
- Combine mascarpone, powdered sugar, yogurt with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; reserve pod for another use. Whip the mixture until its well combined and congruently creamy, then add milk to loosen one tablespoon at a time until desired texture is reached. If you have little lumps of powdered sugar in your whipped yogurt, you can use an immersion blender to make the yogurt smooth.
- Split shortcakes and divide peach compote, mascerated peaches, and whipped mascarpone yogurt. Close with shortcake tops, eat and enjoy!