Outrageous Mocha Buttercream!

chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (1 of 3)

This post is updated to include a Peanut Butter version of the original Mocha buttercream. You’ll find the variation at the end of the post.
This may be the most delicious buttercream I’ve ever made. I wish I could take all of the credit for it, but it is from Carol Bloom’s The Essential Baker. As many of you know I have been baking through the book for the past month or so. On Memorial Day I went to a party and offered to bring dessert. As you can imagine I rarely go anywhere without bringing desserts and/or bread. It is what I love to do and people rarely complain. I decided to make something chocolaty and my husband begged me to make the carrot cake again. (more…)

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake (4 of 7)

I’ve known my husband and his family for 30+ years and in all those decades there is a story about a cake that has been the heart of my career goals. Just to be clear, this is not the cake. This chocolate hazelnut cake is AWESOME and I’m very pleased with it, but it’s not the cake my husband wistfully remembers from his childhood. Today is my husband’s birthday and I had hoped to finally create his favorite cake for him, but he’s getting this one instead.  I have never had the mythical cake, which is my excuse for not being able to recreate it. The joke in my house is that the day I am able to bake that one (hazelnut sponge with whipped cream and canned peaches) I can retire. So, maybe there is part of me that just isn’t ready to nail it.

Okay, let’s talk about this chocolate hazelnut cake. It was inspired by the before mentioned favorite of my husband and a flourless chocolate cake in the book, bake from scratch, by Brian Hart Hoffman. For those of you not familiar with this book or Brian, he is the talent behind @TheBakeFeed on Instagram. You should be following them and me for that matter! You can find my feed at @zoebakes where you can keep up with what I am working on every day and watch my video stories, which is my newest playground.

This is like the most elegant brownie-cake you’ve ever had. That really doesn’t do it justice, but you know that fudge texture of a perfectly baked brownie, where the top has a nice crust and the inside is smooth and rich. This is that, but even better and somehow lighter. I gilded the lily with the candied hazelnuts, because it is my favorite man’s birthday and he deserves to have all the fancy bits. (more…)

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

macarons | ZoeBakes (2 of 4)

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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Pear Almond Tart

pear tart (2 of 5)

I think tarts are an under appreciated art form. The sweet, tender crust is the perfect frame for just about any filling. This one has poached pears laying in a bed of almond cream and surrounded by toasted almonds. The flavor combination is classically French and looks sophisticated enough to be served at any special occasion. But, it’s really quite simple to create and there’s no reason not to have it on a Tuesday or for breakfast or as an after school snack.  (more…)

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Caramel Apple & Pumpkin Pie

Caramel Apple & Pumpkin Pie | ZoeBakes

Here is a twofer for those of us who love both apple and pumpkin pies. Both great flavors layered together in a flaky, rich crust. I used apples that kept their shape when I caramelized them, so they would add a bit of texture to the pie. Go with Granny Smith and Braeburn or a local apple that you know stays firm when cooked. These days all grocery stores have sugar pumpkins stacked up in the produce aisle, so you can roast your own. It is seriously easy and the taste is heavenly. Having said that, you can also use your favorite canned pumpkin puree.

I am about to give up some of my chef cred with this next statement, but I did a blind taste test of canned pumpkin and I was very surprised by my taste buds. Out of 5 different brands, the hands down winner was Libby’s. They are not paying me to say that, nor did they send me any product. Not only did Libby’s have the sweetest, most “pumpkin” tasting canned pumpkin, but when I looked at them all side by side, it was the most gorgeous color. It claims not to have any color added, in fact, it’s just 100% pumpkin, just like the organic versions. I won’t mention the other brands to avoid, but some were dull, yellow, tasted more like water and had a grainy texture, not good.  (more…)

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Burnt Sugar Soufflé with Chocolate Sauce

souffle | ZoeBakes (6 of 6)

This is such an elegant dessert, that is quite easy to make, but takes some timing to get it into the oven and puffed properly. Once you take it from the oven it will slowly start to deflate, so get it to the table as soon as possible. If it is properly made it will not collapse until you cut into it. The soufflé is rich in flavor and super light in texture. Enjoy! (more…)

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