Macarons – easier than you think, just watch the video!

Macarons | ZoeBakes

The first time I had a true French macaron was while sitting at the now shuttered WD50 in New York City. It was the wild child restaurant of chef Wylie Dufresne, who was one of the first American chefs to deconstruct ingredients and synthesize them into new forms. It was all very mysterious and pretty tasty, but the most memorable thing we ate that night came out of my cousin’s purse. Samira works in the fashion industry and lives an impossibly global and glamorous life, which includes frequent trips to Paris. She and her brother, Riad, who was sitting with us, had a tradition of sharing a particular pastry from Paris every time she went. She pulled out the box and nonchalantly pushed it to Riad. This was so normal to them, that they barely acknowledged the act or the beautiful box as anything special. I, on the other hand, was near crazy with anticipation and finally told them to “open the &%$#ing box.” Inside were perfect, and I do mean perfect, macarons. They were like jewels. All different colors. Pink, gold, lavender and jade. They were delicate to the point of brittle on the outside and like a cloud on the inside, with a layer of super rich ganache or buttercream. I’ve made macarons, but they were never as ethereal as the one’s Samira brought home from Ladurée. This is no surprise. I was happy enough with mine and they were cheaper than a trip to Paris, but still not perfect. Then I watched Colette Christian’s Craftsy class on miniature French pastries and I figured out the small tricks I’d been missing. Turns out they are much easier than I thought. I’ve been making them constantly ever since.

This last batch I made for Passover and colored them purple to honor Prince. His passing has struck me in a deep way, deeper than I would have ever expected. His music was the sound track to my entire high school life and that was long before I moved to his home town. Back in the day I choreographed a dance to Little Red Corvette to audition for the dance program at my school. I danced my heart out to that song and got into the group. We were hardly Alvin Ailey, but it was my whole life at the time. I remember that audition like it was yesterday. I just hope Prince had even an inkling of his profound influence over so many people, not just musicians, but all of us who loved his music. I wish he could see how the world has exploded into a party to honor his legacy. Purple macarons and dancing in my kitchen are what I have to offer the celebration.

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No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake!

This is my homemade version of a 1960s dessert. The original recipe could have been found on Strawberry Jell-O package or CoolWhip containers. I thought it was brilliant, despite the fact that it was overly sweet, too stiff from the Jell-O and, if one were being picky, they may point out the slight chemical after taste. But, in its defense it was fast and very pretty. My version is made with nothing but fresh sweet strawberries, cream cheese, real whipped cream, and just the slightest bit of gelatin to keep it standing tall until you bite into it, then it melts in your mouth. No oven required, which makes it ideal for the sultry summer days.

Watch my quick video on how to make and assemble the cheesecake.  (more…)

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Banoffee Pie Topped with Toasted Meringue from The Farmette Cookbook

Banoffee Pie | ZoeBakes (3 of 7)

There are many beautiful cookbooks coming out of this rich world of food blogging, but The Farmette Cookbook is special. It isn’t at all surprising considering Imen is one of those people who lives a life full of passion, creativity and grace. It isn’t luck exactly, it is a fierce curiosity about food and farming and Ireland and photography and being a mom and a friend and a student of life. She has created a magical life in Ireland, which is nothing short of a real life fairytale. Her book speaks to all those things and is absolutely gorgeous. (more…)

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Raspberry, White Chocolate and Blueberry Tart!

The patriotic colors and summery flavors combine to make this the perfect 4th of July dessert.  Red raspberries, white chocolate pastry cream and blueberries top an almond shortbread crust. Add a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and you have an easy, yet elegant pastry. Given the holiday I made the tart in a rectangular pan to mimic the shape of the flag, but it also works well in a more traditional round pan or even as individual tartlettes. Later in the summer try this same dessert, but switch the berries for fresh peaches or plums.

Related post: Blueberry Cobbler with White Peach Ice Cream

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Tea Cup Rose Cakes – Paleo Sweets

Tea Cup Rose Cakes | ZoeBakes (3 of 21)

My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.

Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.

You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.

These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.

Tea Cup Rose Cakes | ZoeBakes (2 of 21) (more…)

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Lemon Meringue Mother’s Day Cake – How-to Video: piping roses

These meringue roses remind me of fine porcelain china, dainty and ultra feminine. Perfect on an occasion that requires something spectacular, even a bit over-the-top. Mother’s Day is one such time. It is the day when we give thanks to the women who have raised us. I have been blessed with more than my fair share of extraordinary women, who have influenced how I walk through this world. They have shown me great generosity, shared their wisdom and have loved me unconditionally. I only hope to possess these same qualities as I now raise my own children. I wanted to create something as unique and beautiful as these women, to reflect my deep appreciation.

Due to too many miles I can’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, but if I were, this is the cake I would present to her. She would love the tart layers of lemon sponge cake and lemon curd, balanced with the sweet meringue icing; to toast or not to toast is the question? Who am I kidding, I always toast, if for no other reason, I love my blow torch.

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