I first posted this Coconut Cake recipe 6 years ago and have made it several times since. It is always a crowd pleaser, partly because of the meringue topping, all done up like curls that remind me of Phyllis Diller and because it is just delicious. Decadent pastry cream full of coconut layered between coconut cake. It just seems to have the right balance of whimsy and sophistication. Liz Banfield is a photographer I have long admired on Instagram and she came over to capture the making and baking of the cake. I have the honor of using Liz’s gorgeous photos for this post. I first became familiar with her work when I did a wedding cake she photographed for Martha Stewart. Her work is stunning and she is a delight. (more…)
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.
These meringue roses remind me of fine porcelain china, dainty and ultra feminine. Perfect on an occasion that requires something spectacular, even a bit over-the-top. Mother’s Day is one such time. It is the day when we give thanks to the women who have raised us. I have been blessed with more than my fair share of extraordinary women, who have influenced how I walk through this world. They have shown me great generosity, shared their wisdom and have loved me unconditionally. I only hope to possess these same qualities as I now raise my own children. I wanted to create something as unique and beautiful as these women, to reflect my deep appreciation.
Due to too many miles I can’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, but if I were, this is the cake I would present to her. She would love the tart layers of lemon sponge cake and lemon curd, balanced with the sweet meringue icing; to toast or not to toast is the question? Who am I kidding, I always toast, if for no other reason, I love my blow torch.
I was just looking back on some of my Mother’s Day posts and I realized how much I love meringue. I especially like the effect of spiking it into a Phillis Diller-esque topping. It works on cakes, pies, cheesecake and ice cream. Meringue is as light as air, playful, yet sophisticated and most importantly gives you an opportunity to whip out the blow torch. Unless you are a hard core meringue fan, you will want to pair it with something. Lemon is classic, and something sour makes sense, since the white pillowy topping is super sweet, but you can go with something a touch savory too. I made a Honey Saffron Chocolate Chip ice cream and then sweetened the meringue topping with honey and vanilla bean. There is actually NO SUGAR in this dessert. Okay, I know honey is a type of sugar, but I’m talking about the refined, granulated cane/beet sugar. The honey flavor is mellow and delicate with just a subtle hint of saffron in the ice cream. I didn’t tell my family what the flavors were before they dove in. Being pretty will get them to try it, but the flavor will clean the plate. They loved it.
As a Mother’s Day gift to all of you, I teamed up with Lékué* (Lee-quay) to give away FOUR of the rectangular silicone springform pans I made this cake in. I’ve used it for baking cheesecakes and breads, but it is also excellent for making chilled or frozen desserts. For a chance to win all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. You probably saw something pop up on your screen when you came to the site. If you passed by the pop up without filling it out, no worries, you can find it on the right hand side of the website, where it says SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER. I think you’ll enjoy getting updates about what I am up to and I’ll be using my newsletter to do giveaways, like the one today. If you’ve already joined my newsletter (many of you have, Thank YOU!), there is nothing else to do, you are automatically entered to win. Keep an eye out for my emails, since it is all very new, they may end up in folders you don’t expect. This giveaway is only available to folks in the USA and Canada.
My sons taught me to use Snapchat and I am loving it. I just did a video series on making bread in a forming basket/brotform/banneton. And I’ll be doing other videos as people want to see certain techniques. Please join me if you’re on Snapchat or if you’ve been curious to try it. You can find me at zoebakes1
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.
Flourless chocolate cake is a long-standing tradition on Passover. I have made several variations, but this one is far and away the most popular. It is made of several layers of a flourless chocolate-almond cake and bittersweet ganache. I make the whole thing without dairy, for those who keep to kosher laws, and you’ll never know the difference. It is one of the few times I use margarine and cream substitute and I promise it is absolutely divine.
The cake can be prepared in advance, wrapped well and refrigerator for a few days or frozen for a couple of weeks. This leaves you with less work to be done on Passover. Just decorate with some fresh berries and enjoy a slice of rich, chocolaty goodness after your dinner. (more…)