Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies

Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Sometimes you come upon greatness from the oddest paths. When I opened Rebecca Firth’s The Cookie Book, I landed on this Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies recipe, not because of the gorgeous photo (or my absolute love of meringue), which are both strong enough reasons, but for the chapter title, called Jazz Hands. For anyone who knows my instagram stories, you may have seen me dancing around my kitchen. What you may not know is that I grew up in a dance studio. My mom has had the studio in VT since I was two years old. Jazz Hands were a real thing in my world. Something I associate with my childhood and trips to NYC to see A Chorus Line, no less than 5 times. So, when I saw the chapter and the photo of these Meringue Cookies, I really had no choice but to make them. They are a delight and hit the flavor and texture profiles just right. They are just the right balance of sweet and salty, like a peanut butter cup candy, but with the ethereal quality I love about meringue.

You can see me create these cookies and maybe see my Jazz Hands in my Instagram video(more…)

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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.

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

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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:

Pear Raspberry Upside-Down Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François (more…)

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Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

Inspiration can come from the craziest of places, including a nail salon. My friend and I were having our nails done when a man carrying stacks and stacks of baskets filled with Rambutan (see the pictures of the fruit and my sassy pedicure on instagram), a tropical fruit related to Lychee, walked in to sell them. Apparently he drives in from Florida with a truck full of fruit on a monthly basis and we just happened to hit it right this time. So, we walked out with sassy toes and 10 pounds of Rambutan. What was I to do with 10 pounds of this unusual fruit? I headed straight to Instagram and asked my community there what they would do. Sorbet and panna cotta came up several times, so, here you go, my interpretation of those suggestions, Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet.

I added the caramel spiral to the top when I heard that Aretha Franklin passed away. During my very first job in catering, back in the 1990s, we catered a charity event at the Viking’s Stadium for 3000 people and Aretha Franklin was performing. It was the one and only time I saw her and I will never, ever, ever forget it. I have no idea what the dessert was, likely an opera torte or something equally regal to serve such a legend, but I do remember with painful clarity that we had to make 3000 sugar spirals to balance on top. They are not hard to make (you can watch me do it in the instagram video), but they are a tricky dance of timing and they’re as delicate as paper thin crystal. And, don’t get me started on sugar decor and humidity. It was a level of stress that only the craziest of people thrive on. After we put down the last plate of dessert we ran to watch Aretha in her fur coat sing to the angels and all the stress of that event melted away!

To watch me put this all together head over to my instagram videos. (more…)

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Blueberry Bars for Back to School!

Blueberry Bars | ZoeBakes photo by Zoe Francois

This post is originally from 2011 and it is hilarious for me to read it, since my boys are now 17 and 19 years old and no longer have little fingers, because they’re 6-feet tall. The only thing that remains the same 7 years later; they still love these Blueberry Bars!

2011: Yesterday was the official end of summer in my house. Back to school for both boys, and I spent the day wishing they were home again. “Seriously?” You may ask. I spent the past several weeks anticipating the beginning of school with a certain glee, which may have bordered on unhealthy. I couldn’t wait to have peace and quiet in my house, for hours at a time. I looked forward to doing my work without interruption, sans little fingers dipping into the bowl. But, when it came to the actual day, I missed them and couldn’t wait for them to get off the bus.* Instead of pathetically staring out the window waiting, I decided to bake them some Blueberry Bars. Every MN kid loves bars.

For those of you from the coasts, I am referring to a layered dessert baked in a pan resembling a brownie/cookie/pie, but can be made with fruit, caramel, chocolate or anything else your pantry contains. Then they are cut into neat bars. I was first introduced to this concept when I moved to Minneapolis 18 years ago. Bars are generally served on a buffet table with lots of crock pots filled with “hot dish.” Every family has their own recipe, usually a tightly held secret, mostly kept from the neighbors.

To watch me make these bars and for tips on easy lattice and stable fillings, watch 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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