Macarons – easier than you think, just watch the video!

macarons | ZoeBakes (2 of 4)

The first time I had a true French macaron was while sitting at the now shuttered WD50 in New York City. It was the wild child restaurant of chef Wylie Dufresne, who was one of the first American chefs to deconstruct ingredients and synthesize them into new forms. It was all very mysterious and pretty tasty, but the most memorable thing we ate that night came out of my cousin’s purse. Samira works in the fashion industry and lives an impossibly global and glamorous life, which includes frequent trips to Paris. She and her brother, Riad, who was sitting with us, had a tradition of sharing a particular pastry from Paris every time she went. She pulled out the box and nonchalantly pushed it to Riad. This was so normal to them, that they barely acknowledged the act or the beautiful box as anything special. I, on the other hand, was near crazy with anticipation and finally told them to “open the &%$#ing box.” Inside were perfect, and I do mean perfect, macarons. They were like jewels. All different colors. Pink, gold, lavender and jade. They were delicate to the point of brittle on the outside and like a cloud on the inside, with a layer of super rich ganache or buttercream. I’ve made macarons, but they were never as ethereal as the one’s Samira brought home from Ladurée. This is no surprise. I was happy enough with mine and they were cheaper than a trip to Paris, but still not perfect. Then I watched Colette Christian’s Craftsy class on miniature French pastries and I figured out the small tricks I’d been missing. Turns out they are much easier than I thought. I’ve been making them constantly ever since.

This last batch I made for Passover and colored them purple to honor Prince. His passing has struck me in a deep way, deeper than I would have ever expected. His music was the sound track to my entire high school life and that was long before I moved to his home town. Back in the day I choreographed a dance to Little Red Corvette to audition for the dance program at my school. I danced my heart out to that song and got into the group. We were hardly Alvin Ailey, but it was my whole life at the time. I remember that audition like it was yesterday. I just hope Prince had even an inkling of his profound influence over so many people, not just musicians, but all of us who loved his music. I wish he could see how the world has exploded into a party to honor his legacy. Purple macarons and dancing in my kitchen are what I have to offer the celebration.

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Burnt Sugar Soufflé with Chocolate Sauce

souffle | ZoeBakes (6 of 6)

This is such an elegant dessert, that is quite easy to make, but takes some timing to get it into the oven and puffed properly. Once you take it from the oven it will slowly start to deflate, so get it to the table as soon as possible. If it is properly made it will not collapse until you cut into it. The soufflé is rich in flavor and super light in texture. Enjoy! (more…)

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Homemade Marshmallows

marshmallows | ZoeBakes (2 of 4)

I really, really wanted to start this post by bitching about the weather. Something my poor family has to endure for much of the winter. But, I’ve decided to rise above the whining-chatter in my head and embrace the weather. It is easy today, at a balmy 42°F. A small, but welcome comfort after an epic freeze. Instead of complaining about the cold, I made hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows. It reminds me of being a kid, when I loved winter and playing outside. There is just something magical about the puff of a marshmallow and how it floats on top of hot chocolate, melting just a little to make a layer of sweet fluff. Totally comforting. Nothing beats that, except now I prefer my hot chocolate with a shot of whiskey and my marshmallows scented with a touch of mint or vanilla or even cardamom.

Last week I was gifted cardamom scented marshmallows by Lee, who owns l.c.finn’s Extracts. Homemade marshmallows are a brilliant idea and one I have never shared on the site. I’ve always made marshmallows by whipping egg whites and then suspending them with sugar syrup and gelatin until they are light as air and chewy. I adore the texture, but I can also detect the faintest taste of the egg white. This doesn’t bother me if I am layering the marshmallow with other bold flavors. But, when I am going for an adornment for hot chocolate, I prefer a recipe that has no egg. This recipe is just a combination of sugars and gelatin, simple as that. You can keep the marshmallows pure or play with flavored extracts and fun colors. They store for weeks in a dry spot, which is super easy this time of year in MN. Anytime you come home after braving the cold, just make up some hot cocoa and float a bit of happiness on top.

I am using sheet gelatin in my recipe, but I have also given the instructions for using the powdered variety. I got used to using sheets when I worked in restaurants and just find it easier to deal with. The sheets also have less of that kindergarten-glue flavor. You can find the gelatin sheets on Amazon if you want to give them a try. (more…)

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Poached Pear Ginger Cake

Pear Ginger Cake| ZoeBakes (1 of 6)

This is the quintessential fall cake.

Poached pears were the symbol of a sophisticated dessert when I was a kid. Not that we ever had them, but I saw them standing tall on the pages of Gourmet magazine and always thought how magical it would be to eat something so beautiful. They’re just so elegant and complex and generally boozed up with wine.  I poached these in a chai tea cider mixture and they are just as satisfying without the buzz. The cake is spicy with a kick of freshly grated ginger and tons of warm spice from cloves and cinnamon. It’s by no means an overly sweet cake, which is how I like them. The molasses gives it color and that edge of bitter that I love. I’ve made it using more molasses and I love it, but I mellowed it down by adding some brown sugar to the mix. I think this is a perfect Thanksgiving dessert!

Pear Ginger Cake| ZoeBakes (6 of 6) (more…)

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Almond Dacquoise Cake with Lemon Curd, Cream and Berries

Dacquoise | ZoeBakes (3 of 3)-2

The dacquoise is a delicate cake layer that is sadly under used by home bakers. It is a cousin to a pavlova, but has the richness of nuts. It is made of French meringue that has nuts (almond meal and coarsely crushed roasted almonds) folded into it and baked in a thin layer. The dacquoise is crisp and used to add a sweet, nuttiness to your cake layers or can be used all on its own. I’ve piled the layers high with whipped cream, lemon curd, mixed berries and topped the whole thing with shards of white chocolate painted with edible luster dust. Without the chocolate it is really a very simple dessert, but if you are going to a party its nice to fancy it up a bit.
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Chocolate Caramel Matzo for Passover (Updated!)

Chocolate Caramel Matzoh | ZoeBakes (1 of 1)-3

This year I added a little extra flavor power to this classic recipe. I made a triple batch to make sure I could send gift bags home after the seder. All the toppings were a hit, but the toasted sesame seeds with the milk or dark chocolate is my new favorite.

Every Passover I make this recipe from Marcy Goldman’s classic book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. When I was growing up I loved matzo with butter or my mother’s matzo brei, but as a dessert it never inspired me. Until my friend and co-author Jeff introduced me to Marcy Goldman’s recipe she calls: “My Trademark, most requested, absolutely magnificent caramel matzoh crunch!” Despite the main ingredient being matzo it satisfied my craving for a decadent dessert at Passover. The candy was met with rave reviews and is now part of our tradition along with the fruit pâtes. It really is magnificent and a bit addictive, which is why I save it for Passover! (more…)

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