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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Strawberry Mascarpone Cake with Raspberry Cream and a Fondant Crown

Pink Crown Cake | ZoeBakes (1 of 17)

A friend asked me to create a cake for a 6-year-old with a fondness for tiaras and all things sparkly. As the mother of two boys who were never that into sparkles, I jumped at the chance to play with rolled fondant and make something worthy of a princess party. I knew exactly which recipe would suit the occasion, since I’ve been reading through Abby Dodge’s newest book, the EVERYDAY BAKER. Abby has a gorgeous pink cake with layers of strawberry mascarpone icing and tender white cake, which struck me as a perfect base for a pink fondant crown, but also sophisticated enough for all the adults at the party.

20160115-Pink Crown Cake | ZoeBakes (2 of 17)

Abby Dodge has been sharing her knowledge of baking for years in her many books, in national magazines and in her Baking Boot Camp Craftsy class. The EVERYDAY BAKER is no ordinary baking book, it is a full education in the art of pastry making. Abby lovingly takes you through the techniques of baking wonderful cookies, cakes, breads, pies, and more. She’ll guide you through with such grace and joy that none of it will seem intimidating for even the novice bakers. She has been an inspiration to me as a baker and cookbook author and I am thrilled that she has joined me in a giveaway of her essential book. Please leave a note in the comments about what pastry you’d most like to learn for a chance to win a copy of her book. (The contest is open to US and Canadian addresses). (more…)

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Rainbow Chip Cake!

Rainbow Chip Cake 08

It just takes a tweet to get a company like General Mills to realize they’ve made a big mistake. Ok, the tweet has to come from Katy Perry and then be backed up by the frosting evangelist, Benjamin Johnson, who started a change.org campaign and got 7,000 Rainbow Chip Frosting fans to petition its return. Betty Crocker heard the call and is bringing back the well missed confection, after removing it from the shelves 2 years ago. I got to be a part of this historic frosting moment. I was invited to a surprise party for Benjamin at the Betty Crocker test kitchen to celebrate his victory.

I didn’t grow up with this frosting, but Katy Perry and Benjamin did. (My folks were trying to pass off raisins as candy during those formative years.) However, based on the outcry for the frosting’s return, (people were actually paying hundreds of dollars for cans of it on ebay), I suspect many of you remember it too. Well, you’re in luck, (more…)

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Cake Baker’s Apprentice (Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Cake and Pavlovas)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 10

It’s really not that unusual for someone to leave a panicked comment saying they have offered to make the cake for their best friend’s wedding. I salute them and hope their BFF knows exactly what a loving gesture it is. My friend Molly asked me to help her come up with a dessert for her best friend’s big day. Molly is a gifted writer, a brilliant adventurer and has the wit and wisdom to keep Andrew Zimmern in line on their shared podcast, Go Fork Yourself, but she is NOT a baker. So, this request was done in a tone of slight trepidation. Besides working with Andrew she also has a blog called Hey Eleanor, where she chronicles overcoming of her greatest fears. She’s jumped out of a plane, bungeed off a bridge, she did stand up comedy (that’s what my nightmares are made of), quit her job and got married (her husband is awesome, so not much risk there). We’d always talked about baking together for her blog, but why not up the ante by trying to create something extra special for her friend’s most important day. No pressure there. We settled on a rather ambitious menu of individual chocolate pretzel crunch cakes and a rose scented pavlova with lemon curd and berries. She did an absolutely fantastic job, as she does with everything.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 09

Our journey in the kitchen was captured by Matt Lien. I spotted his photos on Facebook after he shot Sameh Wadi’s cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. I immediately contacted Matt to gush over his gorgeous work and figure out a way to work together on something, anything.  That was just weeks ago and he was game to come over and play in the kitchen with Molly and me. These images perfectly capture how much fun we had and how easily Molly conquered her fear of baking. (Matt had to leave before we were finished, so the pictures of the final desserts are mine, which will be painfully obvious.)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake | ZoeBakes (photo Matt Lien) 01

Chocolate Pretzel Cakes

pavlova | ZoeBakes 01

Pavlova

Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.

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