Super “Light” Cheesecake with Armagnac Prunes

prune cheesecake(15 of 8)

There are many styles of cheesecake. I often go for a super dense, silky smooth, custardy cheesecake, but other times I want something a bit lighter with more of a soufflé texture. This cheesecake falls into that second camp. There’s almost two pounds of cheese in this beauty, so to call it “light” is a bit of a stretch, but the texture honestly is. The trick is to whip the egg whites and fold it into the batter. The cake is then baked in a dry oven, as opposed to a water bath, which means the cake soufflés as it bakes, creating a more open and airy texture. As you’ll see in my instagram video, this cheesecake cracks like crazy and that’s just part of it’s rustic charm. I actually like that look, but I ended up topping it with whipped cream, so no one will be the wiser if you want something a bit more polished.

prune cheesecake(12 of 8)

I added a layer of prunes that are cooked in Armagnac and oranges to add a bit of depth to the flavor (you could also use dried cherries or apricots) and topped it with toasted almonds for a bit of texture.  (more…)

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Lemon Mascarpone Crêpe Cake

Lemon Mascarpone Crêpe Cake | photo by Zoë François

Crêpes are a beloved food group in my household. My boys have grown up eating them with everything from sweet to savory fillings, sometimes dozens at a time. When I couldn’t get them to eat as little kids I’d make a batch of crêpes and watch as they disappeared. Stacking them into a cake is an easy and elegant way to dress up what is really a humble street food in France. This version was made from a really sweet book called Simply Citrus by Marie Asselin. I “met” her on Instagram and she kindly sent me a copy of the book. I adore instagram for all the inspiration and for the space to create videos of the recipes I make. You can watch me make Marie’s cake in my instagram stories.

Marie’s lemon curd is unlike any I’ve made before. She cooks it like a pastry cream, which uses cornstarch and eggs to bind it and then finishes it with heavy cream. It is delightful. I suggest you double her recipe, so you can have some left over after the cake is filled. The combination of the tart lemon curd and rich mascarpone cream are a perfect marriage. Instead of topping with more cream, I went with the brûlée on top. I like the contrast of texture and you know how I feel about my blow torch, so any excuse to use it.  (more…)

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Profiteroles

Choux Paste | Zoe Bakes(11 of 5)

Pâte à choux translates from French to mean “cabbage” in English. It is a far less romantic word, so we stick to the French. The truth is the puffs look just like little cabbages when piped and baked. Pâte à choux is the dough used for cream puffs (profiteroles) and eclairs. It is rich with butter and lots of eggs, but made light when those eggs expand in the oven and create hollow cavities, which are meant to be filled with anything from lobster to ice cream. I pretty much only think in terms of sweets, so I’ve gone with the latter. The ice cream is made with sour cream and lemon, so it is tangy and refreshing. I top it with glossy chocolate ganache and call it classically perfect.

The texture of your Pâte à choux will depend on what liquid you use. In culinary school we used whole milk, skim milk and water to compare what the fat and sugars of the milk would do to the dough. I prefer the taste of the whole milk, but the crisp texture of the water, so the skim milk is a good compromise. You can do the same experiment and determine which you prefer.

You can watch me make these profiteroles in the videos on my Instagram page(more…)

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Valentine’s Day Chocolate Cake!

Valentine's Day Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Cream | Photo by Zoë François

This Valentine’s Day chocolate cake was designed by my 9-year old son (who is now 18). He even instructed me on how I should put it together. His plan was to bake a sheet of cake and cut the layers with a heart shaped cookie cutter. Then stack them together with raspberry cream and pour a glossy chocolate ganache over the top. I know I’m biased, but I think he is brilliant.

Happy Valentine’s to my two sons, Henri and Charlie, and my husband Graham. My 3 muses.

Here is Henri’s vision, I must say this Valentine’s Day chocolate cake is as delicious as it is pretty. (more…)

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How to Make Sorbet

How to make sorbet - Photo by Zoë François

One of the reasons I went to culinary school, after working in professional kitchens for a few years, was to have an understanding of why my recipes didn’t always work. Things would succeed if I followed the recipe to the letter, but if I played or strayed at all they would have as much chance of being a disaster as they did a winner. In culinary school I learned enough about food science to be able to play with recipes or create my own from scratch. I learned why eggs should be warm when you whip them and why you should use low protein flours for cakes and higher ones for breads. They taught me about Brix, Baume and other technical ways to measure sugar in sorbet solutions so they will freeze, but not become a solid brick of ice. After school, once I could afford it, I bought a Refractometer, which shows you the sugar content in a solution. This way I can mix up a batch of any kind of fruit sorbet, add some simple syrup and the sorbet will be a success. But, what if you are just making sorbet a couple times a year, do you really need such a geeky, expensive gadget? Not unless you are a kitchen equipment hoarder, like me.

So, then what? There is another way to have a greater chance at success than just praying for the best. You can use a method that involves floating an egg in your sorbet. Yep, I said FLOATING AN EGG, the whole thing, in the shell. It is also a very cool experiment to do with your kids. As the solution gets more saturated with sugar, the egg is buoyed to the surface. Once the egg is actually floating partially above the surface, the solution has enough sugar to prevent the sorbet from being too icy. Perhaps not as impressive as whipping out your refractometer, but pretty amazing in a Beakman’s World kind of way and it allows you to make sorbet from just about any juice. Obviously, this will not work with all fruits, banana puree tends to be too thick and the egg, no matter how sweet the solution, will float on the surface. But, for citrus and other thin juices, it is wonderful. (more…)

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Banana Pudding

banana pudding (2 of 5)

This quintessential southern dessert is found on the back of the box of Nilla wafers. You can certainly use Nilla brand wafers for this and there will be no judgment and it will taste just like you remember when you ate it as a kid. OR you can make your own vanilla wafer cookies and be so glad you did. They are super easy and fast to make and they don’t have any of that cardboard box flavor overtones. Wait, did that just come across as judgy? Either way you are going to love this recipe. I was inspired to make it after an old friend from high school (that’s a very old friend) made it for New Years Eve and posted pictures on Instagram. I found the Nilla wafer recipe in the BraveTart cookbook by Stella Parks.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram you probably have seen my pastry tutorial “stories.” I’m slightly obsessed with working through a recipe in 15 second intervals, often with eclectic baking music. You’ll find this banana pudding recipe made from start to finish on my Instagram page archived in my “highlights.” There are many other recipes and techniques you may want to check out.

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