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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Pear Almond Tart

pear tart (2 of 5)

I think tarts are an under appreciated art form. The sweet, tender crust is the perfect frame for just about any filling. This one has poached pears laying in a bed of almond cream and surrounded by toasted almonds. The flavor combination is classically French and looks sophisticated enough to be served at any special occasion. But, it’s really quite simple to create and there’s no reason not to have it on a Tuesday or for breakfast or as an after school snack.  (more…)

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Caramel Apple & Pumpkin Pie

Caramel Apple & Pumpkin Pie | ZoeBakes

Here is a twofer for those of us who love both apple and pumpkin pies. Both great flavors layered together in a flaky, rich crust. I used apples that kept their shape when I caramelized them, so they would add a bit of texture to the pie. Go with Granny Smith and Braeburn or a local apple that you know stays firm when cooked. These days all grocery stores have sugar pumpkins stacked up in the produce aisle, so you can roast your own. It is seriously easy and the taste is heavenly. Having said that, you can also use your favorite canned pumpkin puree.

I am about to give up some of my chef cred with this next statement, but I did a blind taste test of canned pumpkin and I was very surprised by my taste buds. Out of 5 different brands, the hands down winner was Libby’s. They are not paying me to say that, nor did they send me any product. Not only did Libby’s have the sweetest, most “pumpkin” tasting canned pumpkin, but when I looked at them all side by side, it was the most gorgeous color. It claims not to have any color added, in fact, it’s just 100% pumpkin, just like the organic versions. I won’t mention the other brands to avoid, but some were dull, yellow, tasted more like water and had a grainy texture, not good.  (more…)

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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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Cheese Blintzes

Blintzes | ZoeBakes (4 of 4)

When I was a kid, in the 70s, my mom, my uncle, Jay, and I would go to a tiny Ukrainian restaurant on 2nd Ave in NYC called the Kiev.  Finding a table was nearly impossible; I remember it being so crowded that we’d climb over people to get to our seats. Once we were situated, the waiter brought bread to the table. When the tower of challah came we could no longer see each other, which forced us to crane our bodies around this centerpiece to talk to one another. The crazy pile of delicious bread wasn’t even the main event. We were there for the blintzes. The slightly sweet, farmer cheese stuffed crepes. By the time they hit the table I was stuffed with challah, but I managed to eat everything in front of me. I loved that place and the feeling of leaving full, really full.

I just googled the Kiev to see if it is still there and I am sad to report that only a glossy reproduction exist. To me it was the tight, atmosphere-free dining room, stuffed to the rafters with blintz-eating patrons that made it special. I am disappointed that I will never get to take my boys. Instead I’ll make them blintzes at home. All that’s missing is a tower of challah (I’ll save that for another day) and the slightly surly servers, but my blintzes are well loved. The key is finding fresh farmers’ cheese, not the dry crumbly version. I use a crepe recipe from my sister-in-law, Maxine, who spent her high school and college years in France. Top the creamy blintzes with whatever you like or just eat them plain with a brush of butter, and maybe some sour cream.

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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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