Red Velvet Cake with Basket Weave

Red Velvet Cake is a decidedly Southern treat. According to the NYTimes it originated in Texas in the 1940s, but red velvet cake spread to the rest of the south and then found it’s way north. I first heard about it from my stepmother, who is from Alabama. Her mom made it for her when she was young and now I make red velvet cake for her at her birthday. I think this recipe, which is adapted from Sarah Kieffer’s white cake recipe from her book The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, is the best one yet. It is not a traditional take, but the results are tender and tasty, with a beautiful color. I just added cocoa for flavor and color, red food coloring (otherwise the cake is not red velvet) and a bit of vinegar to keep the color as cheeky as possible. I always pair red velvet with cream cheese icing (which is one of the classics), but if you are going to attempt this basket weave finish (see my video on instagram to watch how I did it) I would suggest going with a buttercream icing, which is much easier to pipe and less temperamental in a warm kitchen.

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Chocolate Birthday Cake

Chocolate Birthday Cake | Photo by Zoë François

When the Sunday New York Times Magazine opened to Dorie Greenspan’s chocolate cake, I said out loud, “I guess I know what I’m baking next!” To say I am a fan of Dorie’s is such a gross understatement. I am generally not one to worship celebrities, but Dorie is an exception. I have been a fan of hers since she wrote the Baking with Julia book with Julia Child. That book came out around the same time I had gone off to the CIA and it was the first book I baked my way through. Well, I’d gotten pretty far through Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts several years earlier, but with mixed results. Dorie was writing books with other chefs at the time and I came across her again in a lecture hall at the CIA, when Pierre Hermes was there doing a demo from his pastry book, Desserts by Pierre Herme, also written by Dorie. She may not have been in the front of house, to use a restaurant metaphor, but I noticed that she was writing all the books I wanted to read. Later she stepped into the spotlight with her own books and, well, I need not explain what an impact she has had on the baking community ever since.

The article that accompanied her chocolate cake was about baking it for her son’s birthday. My son’s birthday is also in May and we were just about to celebrate it belatedly, so it just felt like a no brainer. You can watch me bake Dorie’s Chocolate Birthday Cake in my Instagram videos and below is the link to the recipe. I added a layer of dulce de leche cream to my cake, since I had some laying about and it seemed a nice pairing with the chocolate cake. (more…)

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Birthday Cake

Chocolate birthday cake with cream cheese frosting | photo by Zoë François

Tomorrow is my son’s birthday and this is the cake he requested. My kids have always been opinionated about their birthday cakes, because I encouraged it. I like the challenge of creating something special for them. Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting is a simple enough birthday cake, but he’s turning 17, so it needed to stand tall, just like him.

I LOVE my devil’s food cake and it will always be my go to, but in the name of research, I am always trying new recipes. I tried this one from Stella Parks, BRAVETART cookbook. She and I seem to have a similar philosophy about sweet. We want it to be there, because it’s a cake, but it shouldn’t hurt your teeth or be the dominant flavor. We also have a fondness for testing recipes and hers always work, which is something you’d think was a given in cookbooks, but sadly isn’t always the case. So far everything I’ve tried in this book has been spot on and delicious.

Her Devil’s Food cake is made in a saucepan. I was skeptical, but she nailed it. It’s dark, bitter (in a GREAT way) and moist. The milk chocolate whipped ganache is creamy and sweet, which pairs perfectly with the cake, just as she claims it will. Her cream cheese icing is made with pastry cream and has a rich, tangy taste and holds it’s shape WAY better than cream cheese icing made with powdered sugar. (more…)

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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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Trix Cake – A Fun Day Baking in the Betty Crocker Kitchen!

Trix Cake | ZoeBakes (7 of 10)

Nearly two years ago my friends at General Mills challenged me to do something fun and a little out of the box (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) with their cereals. I came up with a cake layered with all the flavors of Trix and decorated the outside with a mosaic of the colorful cereal. (You can see the original cake here) Since I created that cake, the General Mills cereal team has been busy changing the recipes of their cereals. They left everything we love about Trix and Cocoa Puffs and all the other cereals they make, but we as a nation are paying greater and greater attention to what we eat and especially what we feed our children. We’re trying to eat a bit less sugar and don’t want to feed our kids artificial flavors and synthetic dyes. Consumers have been telling General Mills that and they listened. Now they are working to take colors from artificial sources, artificial flavors and even some sugar out of their cereals. Proof that when people speak, even giant companies take heed.

Last week I was invited to the General Mills campus in Minneapolis to meet the cereal recipe developers who made this switch happen, learn how they did it (fruits and veggie concentrates and spice extracts are the answer), and taste the results. I also got a chance to bake with some of my favorite food bloggers. And I remade my mosaic cake with the new Trix cereal recipe free from artificial flavors and colors.  Still beautiful and the cake tasted even better.

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Pistachio Cake

pistachio cake | ZoeBakes (4 of 14)

Pistachio is my absolute favorite flavor of ice cream. When I traveled with my family to Italy, we did a whole lot of “research” on gelato. It was an informal, albeit thorough, study consisting of my sons trying every single flavor made in the country, while I stuck to a scoop of pistachio and one of espresso. Side by side, they are the perfect combination. I should know, because I ate it daily during our two weeks in Italy. This cake is based on that perfect marriage.

pistachio cake | ZoeBakes (2 of 14)

Pistachio cake, pistachio buttercream and a layer of espresso ganache.  (more…)

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