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 in 1993. 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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Outrageous Brownies

30 years ago my dear friend, Sally, gave me a copy of Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts. At the moment neither of us realized how significant that gift would be in my life. It was way before Instagram and the endless blogs filled with impossibly gorgeous recipes. Who am I kidding, it was before the internet. I had that one cookbook and a shitty student apartment kitchen to bake in. I made almost every recipe in the book and as a result learned how to make everything from cookies, cakes, pudding and even candy, but these outrageous brownies were the best thing in the whole book. I would splurge on really good chocolate, which meant something beyond Hershey’s. God only knows what brand it was back then, but I remember spending my entire food budget on chocolate, nuts and butter just to make them. I must have survived on rice cakes and peanut butter for the rest of the week.

30 years later these outrageous brownies are the only recipe I make. I’m pretty good about not eating a bowl of cake batter or cookie dough, but these brownies are a different story. I’m powerless to their seduction, so I can’t make them often. See my instagram video on making the brownies and recipe below. (more…)

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Caramelized White Chocolate Peach Scones

Caramelized White Chocolate Peach Scones from ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I rarely bake scones, since my son was deemed the scone expert in the family. But, I had a craving and he was busy being a teenager, so I set off to make these caramelized white chocolate and peach scones myself. He came home and told me I did a nice job, so that is really all the endorsement you should require to know these are worthy. 😉 The peaches sitting on my counter were ripe, but not busting open with juice, so they were just right for adding to the scone. You want them to have flavor and be ripe, but still have some body, so they don’t turn to mush when you mix them into the dough. Typically I’m not a huge white chocolate fan, but I’ve been on a white chocolate caramelizing kick and thought it would be a lovely match for the peaches. Caramelizing white chocolate give it a bit of a nutty edge that it otherwise lacks and makes it way more flavorful and interesting. Caramelizing the white chocolate is something that requires a touch of patience, so I recommend doing it with a glass of rose wine (not so much that you forget to stir the chocolate) and settle into the kitchen for a bit.

You can watch me caramelize the chocolate and make the scones in my instagram video(more…)

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Lavender Crème Brûlée

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

Crème Brûlée was the first French dessert I’d ever had in a restaurant. When I was in junior high school, I’d take the train into NYC from CT to visit my aunt. She was fashionable, impossibly sophisticated and took me to lavish meals at restaurants that were way over my head, at the age of 13. When I dipped into the creme brûlée I was instantly aware that this was an adult experience. I felt like I was playing grown up and was certainly aware that I was participating in something special.

The texture of crème brûlée like velvet, because it is made with egg yolks, which make it rich and creamy. Unlike it’s custard cousins, flan and creme caramel, the crème brûlée doesn’t get inverted, so it doesn’t need the strength of the egg whites to hold it’s shape. It is made in a shallow ramekin, so it can be partnered with just the right ratio of burnt sugar. The gossamer thin layer of caramel cracks like glass, but the contrast to the custard below is the perfect yin and yang of the pastry world. In truth creme brûlée is so simple to make, despite it’s reputation of the opposite. There are a couple of tricks to guarantee success and I show you them in my instagram video.

I bought a lavender plant for my kitchen and can think of no better place to use the perfumed plant, than in a custard. You want to use enough to scent the creme brûlée, but not so much that it tastes like the perfume counter at Bloomies (another stop on my trips into NYC). You can flavor your creme brûlée with lavender, tea, spices, coffee, or just about anything else you can steep in the cream. See my instagram video to see how I did this.

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

Lavender Crème Brûlée

1 quart heavy whipping cream

1 vanilla bean, scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch salt

10 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers or 12 fresh stems of flowers (see my instagram video)

Berries and lavender for garnish

Heat the cream, vanilla bean, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, salt, and lavender over medium heat, until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes, but this can be done the day ahead (stored in the refrigerator) for a more intense flavor. Warm the cream again if you’ve chilled it.

Preheat oven to 300°F

Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Liaison the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Strain the custard mixture into a measuring cup. Fill six 4-inch Crème Brûlée Dish. Bake the creme brûlées on a baking sheet filled with water, to create a water bath. Bake until the brûlées are just set, like set jello, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature of the custard going into the oven. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, but can be made a day or two ahead.

To brûlée the top, dust with sugar and caramelize the sugar with a Blow Torch or under a gas broiler (electric broilers don’t work well for this).

See my instagram video to watch me make, bake and brûlée the tops.

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

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