Lemon Meringue Mother’s Day Cake – How-to Video: piping roses

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.

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Scones – My Son’s 1st Pop Up Bakery

scones 13

Last week my husband got a craving for scones. Instead of turning to me, or making them himself, he asked our 12 year old son to bake them. He challenged Charlie to have hot scones ready by the time he left for work the next morning. 7:30am is an hour my boys rarely see, because they are deep in REM sleep. Agreeing to this request was based on one thing, and one thing alone, money. My sons get an allowance, but it isn’t always enough to satisfy all the activities and toys they want, so the thought of a few extra bucks in his pocket was enough to get him out of bed. And, he loves to bake, so it wasn’t much of a hardship. The night before, he picked a recipe from Baking with Julia, set up his mise en place (a fancy way to say ingredients and equipment), then set his alarm for 5:30am. He woke me up at 6am, so I could sit in the kitchen, bleary eyed, with my coffee and answer any questions he had. It was quite something to watch him navigate the recipe. He didn’t know what a pastry blender was or what cornmeal looked like, so the instructions of “cutting the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until is resembles cornmeal” meant nothing to him. I showed him a jar of cornmeal, handed him the pastry tool and off he went. Scones are really quite easy to make, but it does require a gentle touch, so they don’t come out too tough. He did it perfectly.

My husband is a big fan of raisins, so Charlie folded them in during the last steps and added a bit of zest to the dough as well. He made an entire batch, which was way more than my husband could eat, so Charlie got the idea of texting our family members, who live near by, to tell them he had hot scones coming out of the oven and he was selling them. The price is fair, the product is amazing, the baker is adorable and he sold out for the day. By the time the scones were cooling on the racks and his costumers were showing up at the back door, he had crawled into my bed and fallen back to sleep. I was left to run the store, which was just fine with me. The scones were such a success that he’s now taking pre-orders for all kinds of baked goods and has a schedule of when he has to deliver the goods. It’s the best summer job I can think of and he’s going to be a skilled baker by the time he hits the 8th grade. Could I be any prouder of him, nope, not possible! He’s my fabulous baker boy. (more…)

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

It is a brand new year and I figured I should start 2012 with a fresh start; right at the pastry beginning. For me that’s vanilla extract, probably the most used ingredient in my kitchen after flour and sugar. I always have a stack of beans and bottles of extract. I admit I don’t always make my own, but it is something, like homemade yogurt, that once you make it, you’re ruined to the store bought version. It is easy to make, but to get the best result you have to be patient. The longer you let the vanilla beans sit in the vodka, the better and stronger the flavor. I let this bottle sit for 5 weeks before opening it, which was a test of will power I didn’t know I possessed. The result is like perfume, I want to add it to all of my recipes and dab a bit behind my ears. I’ll use it in everything from cakes to cocktails.

This year I have only made one work related resolution…to make more how-to videos on my ZoeBakes YouTube Channel. If you have any ideas for cake decorating, baking, pastry or any other sweets you’d like to see in more detail, please let me know. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all my new videos. Hope they are helpful. (more…)

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Biscuits and Bullets – Life on Masala Farm!

When I grow up I want my very own Masala Farm. The first time I visited Suvir and Charlie’s home I felt as though I belong there. They have created a home in the countryside made of magic, an impeccable sense of style and an art collection from their travels to every corner of the world. Not to mention a kitchen that makes me weak at the knees, as much for the equipment as for the sun light and views. Masala Farm is the perfect blend of The Selby and the city to farm show, Green Acres. Their 120+ chickens roost in a stylish hen house with ample sky lights, so they will lay the tastiest eggs on the planet. The alpacas, sheep and goats share a pasture with the domestic geese, all living in harmony. It inspires the body, heart and soul just to be there. It is not by chance that the place evokes such love, it is Charlie and Suvir who created such a utopia. They seem to have created this wonderland in order to gather their friends and family. The entire upstate NY community has dined with them, their friends travel thousands of miles, from city homes, to restore at Masala Farm. These two men are the most beautiful, creative, gracious, generous people I have ever met. This is reflected clearly in their home, their food and in their new book, Masala Farm.

This past summer my family stopped at Masala Farm after attending my brother’s wedding. We arrived just as the animals were being fed and my boys, who have grown up in the city, jumped right in to help. I realized they know nothing about this kind of life; farming is a theoretical concept, but not a part of their experience. It was a joy to see them fearless in the task of collecting eggs from the chickens to eat for breakfast. What a gift to show them where their food comes from.

Biscuits

Suvir cooked them fresh eggs, with yolks the color of marigolds, and baked biscuits that made us swoon. I believe my exact words were “Holy &%$#, these are good!” They are like nothing I have had before. Suvir made them with Rose Levy Bernanbaum and she had the same reaction, so you know they are something crazy special. The recipe was a gift to Suvir from our mutual friend Bret Bannon, who grew up eating his grandmother’s biscuits for breakfast. Lucky, lucky man. Bret was kind enough to share with Suvir and I am grateful that the recipe found its way into Masala Farm. Suvir said I can share the recipe with you, so I had Bret, the expert, come over and bake them with me.

The bullets come later. (more…)

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Homemade Yogurt

I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach, cheese blintzes from the Kiev, and now fresh yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into butter, yogurt and cheese. The flavor of that yogurt, made from fresh milk, must have been divine. In Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved dairy cows, so I buy local organic milk from the co-op for making yogurt.

I have come to yogurt making by the way of a proof box. Seems random, but I was recently asked to test a prototype counter-top proofer suited for home bakers. I was intrigued by the concept, because I always love a new gadget for bread baking. It works wonderfully for dough, but I’ve ended up using it even more as a perfect warm spot for making yogurt. Back in the day my mom simply warmed her oven and left the yogurt to culture in it overnight, which is probably the simplest and cheapest way to go, but I may never have been inspired to make yogurt had this proofer not arrived. Now that I have started making my own, I will never buy yogurt again. The homemade version is so easy and has such an incredible flavor. Even my boys like it better. We are a family that eats yogurt on waffles, in smoothies, in lunch boxes, for snacks and as a garnish for curries. I like it thin for chilled soups or thick (Greek style) for dips and desserts. I happen to love it plain and tangy, but I also swirl preserves, honey or marmelade into it as a sweet midnight snack. Now that my raspberry patch is heavy with fruit, I toss those in too.

All you need is milk (you choose the fat content) and some plain yogurt to get started.  (more…)

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Canning Fresh Blueberries at Masala Farm with Suvir Saran

Canning seems to be one of those skills that you are born into. Most canners can’t remember the first time they saw their mom or granny doing it, it was just always there. I imagine them sitting in a bouncy seat on the kitchen counter watching as jars got filled with the season’s crops. Next thing they knew they were in the process of washing fruit, brewing simple syrup and dunking jars in caldrons of hot water. Then there are folks like me, who are completely enamored with the notion of “putting up” food, but find it a daunting mystery, too big to take on as an adult. Either your born with it, or you’re not, was how I thought. I imagine it is similar to how many folks feel about baking bread. Too time consuming, difficult and rife with stories of disaster. Knowing full well that this doesn’t have to be the case with bread, doesn’t it stand to reason that I could have faced canning as well? It took a visit to Suvir Saran’s American Masala Farm to show me the way. He gave me the gift of canning!

In the amount of time it took me to make a cup of coffee he’d set himself up to preserve a batch of fresh berries he’d bought at a local farmer’s stand. He was so nonchalant about it all. I grabbed my camera and in the following 45 minutes he rocked my world. I asked Suvir how he learned this art and he confirmed my suspicions…“I first saw canning when watching my mother can jams, jellies, ketchup and squash in Nagpur, India. My mom sowed the seeds when I was in 1st grade.” Those of you born into canning families may think my discovery is as obvious as breathing air, but for those of you who have avoided it, I hope you, like me, will be inspired to “put up” everything you can get your hands on*. My only issue now is getting enough jars. (more…)

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