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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Cherry Olive Oil Cake

Cherry Olive Oil Cake | photo by Zoë François

A family friend is Greek and sent me a honey from Ikaria. It is a little smoky and tastes of caramel. Bees never cease to amaze me in what they create. I wanted to bake it into a cake and decided to go with other flavors you might find on that Greek island. Olive oil, of course. It is best known for savory dishes, but I think it is beautiful in desserts. I like a fruity oil, but you can use an extra virgin if you don’t want anything too over powering. Lastly, but not least, cherries. Apparently they abound in Ikaria and they pair beautifully with honey and olive oil, so they were the natural pick. I used sweet cherries, but I think sour cherries would be even better and they are in season at the moment. You could use any other fruit you like and add them in the same way.

Watch the cherry olive oil cake come together in a video on my instagram page.

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Ultimate Carrot Cake!

carrot cake (12 of 10)

My Ultimate Carrot Cake first made an appearance on ZoëBakes in 2008, and it has remained one of my most popular posts. I have made this carrot cake many, many times since then and tweaked the recipe, as I am apt to do, every time I make it. After all the experiments, this is the recipe I have come to like the best. The changes are subtle, because the original was pretty spot on, but this version wins.

You can watch me make, bake and decorate this carrot cake in my Instagram video.
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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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Tres Leches

Tres Leches Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Tres Leches Cake is a light sponge cake that is soaked with three kinds of milk: sweetened condensed, evaporated and heavy cream (milk-ish enough to count), hence the name. Today is Cinco de Mayo and this cake seemed just the thing to celebrate with. It’s a rather simple cake, both in it’s presentation and in the making of it. Just bake a sheet cake, soak it and cover in whipped cream. I added a layer of cinnamon for the intensity of flavor and because I like how it looks. The recipe is from the newest cookbook by the America’s Test Kitchen folks, The Perfect Cake. As is suggested in their name, they test the living day lights out of every recipe they print, so I always trust they will work. The book is filled with the how’s and why’s of baking cakes, so you understand what you are up to while baking. You know how I love a good tutorial on baking, so this is right up my alley. It’s a great book and covers all the basics of cake baking.

The only place I went off script was in the whipped cream topping. I had a little bit of homemade creme fraiche left over from my Pot de Creme, so I added it to the whipping cream and made a slightly more decadent topping. I also wanted a slightly thicker layer of the cream, so the creme fraiche stretched it for me. Then I dusted with cinnamon, which is not required, but it’s delicious.

To watch me make the tres leches cake, check out my instagram video. Recipe is below.

Tres Leches Cake and The Perfect Cake cookbook | Photo by Zoë François

GIVEAWAY: The America’s Test Kitchen said I could give away a copy of their wonderful book to my readers, so I am going to do just that. Leave me a comment below about your favorite cake and you will be entered to win. The giveaway is limited to the USA only.

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Cajeta Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream

cajeta cake (10 of 3)

This week I finished the second round of edits on my new book. That’s about halfway through the process, but it still felt like a reason to celebrate. I like to celebrate, even the small stuff. Why wait? Celebrate along the way, since the process is the whole reason I do this. Cake seemed the right way to mark the moment. A slightly-over-the-top cajeta cake at that. Piping icing into flowers is a zen moment for me, it’s how I relax and the results are so satisfying.

The inside of this cajeta cake is a collection of things I had stocked up in my freezer, because I always feel a little more secure knowing there is a cake just a thaw away. I typically bake extra cake layers and make more buttercream than I need for a single cake, then I freeze them. This may be a result of years in the catering world, when a rush order would come in and we’d have to create something in minutes, not hours. Cake and buttercream freeze like a dream.

cajeta cake slice (9 of 2)

The cake is chocolate, the buttercream I flavored with cinnamon and for the filling I made cajeta flavored mascarpone cream. Cajeta is often called “Mexican Caramel,” even though it’s not really caramel at all, but a reduction of goat milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and baking soda. You cook it low and slow for a couple of hours until it is both the color and consistency of caramel. The baking soda (an alkaline) reacts with the milk (slightly acidic) and it quickly darkens. Without the addition of baking soda the milk/sugar would have to actually caramelize (burn) to darken and that’s not what we want. You can watch me make the cajeta cake in my instagram stories.

Cajeta has an earthy flavor that I love, but it definitely tastes of goat milk. It is related to the dulce de leche and is made in the exact same way, so you can swap out the cajeta for the cow milk version if you’re not a fan of goat milk. Or, you can combine the two types of milk to mellow out the flavor a bit. You decide.

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