Puffy Popover Pancake

puffy pancake zb 04

Last week, and the week before that, I got emails from my brother Carey, with pictures of puffy popover pancakes he’d made. One was stuffed with mulberries and the other with pear & apple compote. I adore that he makes stuff like this for himself and his wife. His emails reminded me that I hadn’t made one for my boys in a very long time, so I set to it. This recipe is both easy and tasty, and one of my boys’ most favorite breakfasts. It was also one of the very first recipes I ever posted on ZoeBakes, so some of you (mom and dad) may remember it, but most of you probably haven’t gone back that far. I was struck by the tiny hands of my boys in the pictures from way back in 2007.  One of them is now taller than me and the other is on his way. Time cruises on, but some recipes are tried and true and worth revisiting.  (more…)

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The Ultimate Blueberry Muffins

blueberry muffins

I had a forehead thumping moment recently when a friend asked me for a blueberry muffin recipe. In all the years I’ve been doing this site, I’ve never posted the most basic of breakfast treats. How did I get away with this, especially when they are one of my favorites. For me the perfect blueberry muffin is light, fluffy and bursting with blueberries. I added a touch of ginger because it perks up the flavor of the berries, but not so much that it’s overpowering. The topping is buttery, sweet and bakes into a lacy crust. I like to bake them in large “Texas-sized” muffin cups, so there is lots of muffin top and just as much of the berry center. They are great small, but I am always left wanting for more and for some reason I feel less guilty eating one big one, instead of two little ones.  (more…)

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Kitchen Basics – Homemade Crème Fraîche

creme fraiche

Crème fraîche is the sophisticated French cousin of sour cream.  Its texture is smoother and the flavor more subtle, not quite so sour, but still a bit sharp. It is simple to make and requires only two ingredients, so it is no wonder it is a staple in most French kitchens and a must have for pastry chefs. Fresh heavy cream is blended with just a splash of buttermilk and then left to sit, it does all the work on its own, and the result is luscious. I like to finish sweet desserts with the cultured cream; a thin layer on my butterscotch pot de crème, a dollop on top of a berry pie or stirred into chocolate ganache. It can be used in place of sour cream or most places you might use heavy cream. (more…)

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

It is a brand new year and I figured I should start 2012 with a fresh start; right at the pastry beginning. For me that’s vanilla extract, probably the most used ingredient in my kitchen after flour and sugar. I always have a stack of beans and bottles of extract. I admit I don’t always make my own, but it is something, like homemade yogurt, that once you make it, you’re ruined to the store bought version. It is easy to make, but to get the best result you have to be patient. The longer you let the vanilla beans sit in the vodka, the better and stronger the flavor. I let this bottle sit for 5 weeks before opening it, which was a test of will power I didn’t know I possessed. The result is like perfume, I want to add it to all of my recipes and dab a bit behind my ears. I’ll use it in everything from cakes to cocktails.

This year I have only made one work related resolution…to make more how-to videos on my ZoeBakes YouTube Channel. If you have any ideas for cake decorating, baking, pastry or any other sweets you’d like to see in more detail, please let me know. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all my new videos. Hope they are helpful. (more…)

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How to use a Vanilla Bean – updated

This is one of my favorite ingredients and essential in the pastry kitchen. Vanilla beans come from the fruit of an orchid and are not cheap, second only to saffron in costly spices. So, you want to pick a good one and use the whole thing, pod and seeds. The beans should be soft, oily and have an intense vanilla aroma. Avoid a bean that has no luster, is dry and brittle.

Here is an overview of a few different types of vanilla beans:

Mexican beans are the original and most highly prized beans. They have a mellow, smooth, quality and a spicy, woody fragrance.

Madagascar Bourbon beans are long and slender, with a very rich taste and smell, have thick, oily skin, contain an abundance of tiny seeds, and have a strong vanilla aroma. They are also considered high quality bean and reflect this in the cost. This is where most the worlds vanilla come from. The name refers to the region they are grown and is not at all related to the booze.

Tahitian beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Bourbon beans. The skin is thinner, they contain fewer seeds, and the aroma is fruity and floral. They are often described as smelling like licorice, cherry, prunes, or wine.

You will have to get your hands on them all and decide for yourself which is your favorite. There are others, but they are hard to come by, if this changes I will update the post.

You want to store your vanilla beans in a airtight container, in a cool, dark spot. If you buy them in bulk and won’t be using them all at once  you can throw them in the freezer to prevent them from drying out.

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Apple Blossom Blackberry Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry (two Le Creuset winners!)

I admit I enjoy the detailed work of an elaborate dessert or cake on occasion. I was a fine arts major who couldn’t paint or draw particularly well, but loved being in the midst of all that creativity in the art department. It wasn’t until I found myself in a pastry kitchen that I realized food was the medium that allowed me to express myself. So fussing over gum paste and fondant is relaxing to me. But, there are times I want to create something that is just pure and simple. When flavors are the end all and their natural beauty unadorned.

I’ve been reading A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis. The executive chef from Chez Panisse who has the most enviable career I’ve ever heard of. He spends 6 months of the year cooking at Alice Water’s acclaimed restaurant and the remainder of his time he is in France. Just one chapter in and you can’t help but hate him for having figured out the perfect life. He eloquently describes shopping in the morning at the outdoor produce market and then cooking with his friends while drinking local wines and nibbling on aged cheeses. His entire philosophy is simplicity. In fact, the book’s one downfall for me is that there is no challenge in any of his desserts, they are all simple to a fault. Gorgeous and as delicious as a fresh fig, but where is all of the fussy detail that I often crave. 😉

I want to be David Tanis when I grow up! (more…)

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