Blackberry Opera Torte (Diva Cake)

Blackberry Opera Torte (Diva Cake) | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

I set out to bake a traditional Opera Torte, but I ended up getting distracted and took off in an entirely different flavor direction. In the end I created this Blackberry Opera Torte ( which I have named the Diva Cake). It has way more layers than a traditional opera torte, which is not a bad thing at all. Instead of coffee soaked Joconde ( almond sponge cake) and coffee buttercream, this one uses blackberry preserves to flavor the buttercream and then has a layer of fresh berries separating the cake from the spiky meringue. Those fresh berries turned out to be a brilliant layer of protection from the flamethrower I used to toast the meringue. Oh, that is no joke. I got ahold of one of Elon Musk’s Boring Company Flamethrowers and had a blast (see what I did there) torching the top of the cake. You can use a regular kitchen torch to get the job done too. You can watch me make the cake and wild a flamethrower in my instagram video.

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Pear Raspberry Upside-Down Cake

Pear Raspberry Upside-Down Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This weekend represents the transition between summer vacation and the start of the school year. It’s not the official change of seasons, but it might as well be. It is also when we switch from summer fruits to the fall harvest. Apples and pears are making their way onto the pages of instagram, but the summer fruits are still around too. This Pear Raspberry Upside-Down Cake is the gate between the seasons. It’s the best of summer and the celebration of what is to come this fall. You can certainly make this without the raspberries, but they really brighten up the flavor and add a pop of color, which will be so longed for in a couple of months.

I started by caramelizing the pears, as I would for a tart tatin. Slow and steady is the trick to getting the right flavor and texture. If you cook the pears too fast they turn to mush without absorbing the caramel. I added a few raspberries for color and acidity. The brown sugar cake base is one I use from Dorie Greenspan, but I folded raspberries into batter. The combination of the caramel pears, the bright raspberries and the rich cake is pretty close to perfection. You can watch me make this start to finish in my instagram video.

I need to give Stephani Bloomquist a shoutout and tell you all about the page she set up, so that all of the equipment I use in my posts is gathered in one spot. You asked for it and she made it happen. It takes a village to bake, blog, video and do all that goes with it. I am super grateful to have her on my team! And, here is the page she set up. ZoeBakes Favorite Equipment Page! We’ll be adding and organizing, but here’s the start:

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Best Ever Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Chocolate Zucchini Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This Best Ever Chocolate Zucchini Cake post is from 2011, but the sentiment still stands, so I am not updating it. (8/19/18)

For the first time I understand why zucchinis are the butt of gardeners’ jokes. When I left town for my brother’s wedding in July, the zucchini plants were a spindly, weak vine with dozens of tender blossoms.  Two weeks later I returned home to find it had turned into a savage beast that took over precious real estate in the garden. My neighbor had kindly taken care of my urban farm while I was away and now my kitchen counter was also filled with zucchinis. The excitement of seeing the fruits of my labor laying there ripe and ready to eat, quickly turned to shock and concern.  I have never seen a vegetable, organic mind you, which grew to this size. It was larger than my children at birth; actually neither of the boys was this big until they were walking.  I opened the refrigerator and she had stuffed more in there. I panicked and did what every zucchini grower does; I tried to give them away. My neighbor explained that she had already taken all that she wanted for herself and I was not welcome near her home with even a single baby squash.

That is when I realized I had to disguise the vegetable and get rid of it in the form of tasty baked goods. This chocolate zucchini cake was inspired by one I ate while in college in Burlington, Vermont. I worked as a photo assistant, after classes at UVM and before my shifts at Ben & Jerry’s. One day we were shooting a spread for a magazine about using up the plethora of zucchinis from your garden. (The foreshadowing is not lost on me today.) A chocolate cake sat on pedestal and became the centerpiece of the shot. After our work was done we ate the spread of food and that cake blew my mind.  Not in a million years would you guess there was zucchini in it, and the result was moist, sweet, but not overly so, and intensely chocolate. I was a starving student and the generous baker wrapped the rest of the cake for me to take back to my dorm, along with the recipe. During one of my several moves that recipe was lost and this is the closest I have come to recreating it from distant memories.

You can watch me make and decorate this cake in my instagram video. Recipe below.

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Strawberry Charlotte Royale

Strawberry Charlotte Royale | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The truth is the last time I made a Strawberry Charlotte Royale was in culinary school and that was a very long time ago. I have been meaning to make one, but just never got around to it. Then I bought a copy of Soulful Baker, by one of my favorite bakers, Julie Jones, and she had the most beautiful Charlotte Royale in the book. I took it as a sign that I needed to make this regal (it’s in the name) dessert. Julie was my muse, but being incapable of leaving things well enough alone, I wanted to make the filling in two separate flavors. I made a Grand Marnier Bavarian Cream and then added Strawberry coulis to it for the second layer. It’s not quite as simple as a banana bread, so I’ve made a video on instagram to walk you through the process. The steps are not at all difficult, but they do require a bit of planning and some timing. (more…)

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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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