Cake Baker’s Apprentice (Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Cake and Pavlovas)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 10

It’s really not that unusual for someone to leave a panicked comment saying they have offered to make the cake for their best friend’s wedding. I salute them and hope their BFF knows exactly what a loving gesture it is. My friend Molly asked me to help her come up with a dessert for her best friend’s big day. Molly is a gifted writer, a brilliant adventurer and has the wit and wisdom to keep Andrew Zimmern in line on their shared podcast, Go Fork Yourself, but she is NOT a baker. So, this request was done in a tone of slight trepidation. Besides working with Andrew she also has a blog called Hey Eleanor, where she chronicles overcoming of her greatest fears. She’s jumped out of a plane, bungeed off a bridge, she did stand up comedy (that’s what my nightmares are made of), quit her job and got married (her husband is awesome, so not much risk there). We’d always talked about baking together for her blog, but why not up the ante by trying to create something extra special for her friend’s most important day. No pressure there. We settled on a rather ambitious menu of individual chocolate pretzel crunch cakes and a rose scented pavlova with lemon curd and berries. She did an absolutely fantastic job, as she does with everything.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 09

Our journey in the kitchen was captured by Matt Lien. I spotted his photos on Facebook after he shot Sameh Wadi’s cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. I immediately contacted Matt to gush over his gorgeous work and figure out a way to work together on something, anything.  That was just weeks ago and he was game to come over and play in the kitchen with Molly and me. These images perfectly capture how much fun we had and how easily Molly conquered her fear of baking. (Matt had to leave before we were finished, so the pictures of the final desserts are mine, which will be painfully obvious.)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake | ZoeBakes (photo Matt Lien) 01

Chocolate Pretzel Cakes

pavlova | ZoeBakes 01

Pavlova

Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.

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Chocolate Marble Cake

marble cake | ZoeBakes 04

My 15-year-old is not one to spend time cooking, so when he does I watch with delight. Turns out he’s been paying attention. He moved with confidence and ease as he made this cake, so there is hope he’ll leave home someday with at least a few skills in the kitchen. Truth be told, on this occasion I’d asked him to bake me a cake, because he owed me one. That, by the way, is a euphemism for the fact that he’d done something I wasn’t entirely thrilled with. He invited his friend over to help and they set out to bake me a cake with all the intensity and focus of real pastry chefs. It was awesome and tasty!

Henri and Sophie | ZoeBakes 02

Henri and Sophie wanted to make a marble cake, so I helped them find a recipe they could do without a lot of input from me. (more…)

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Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie | ZoeBakes 01

I had to bake this pie twice before I could get these few shots. Not because I was fighting with the winter light, lack there of, or because I just couldn’t work out the recipe, which happens. No, this was because I couldn’t keep my sons from eating it before I had a chance to photograph it. They know the drill…NEVER eat anything before mom takes pictures. They’ve grown up with this and consider it totally normal, even though it’s clearly not. But, this pie inspired a mutiny of the François kitchen etiquette. They said they couldn’t help themselves because Key Lime Pie is their favorite. The first pie came and went without a single picture. The second one I got these few, but when I realized the picture of the slice was out of focus and went to take another picture, the pie was gone. This time my kids had friends over to help them eat it, in case you think they ate two pies in as many days, by themselves. Do I bake a third pie just for another photo? Maybe. Actually, I think I’ll get the boys to make it this time.

I hope you enjoy it as much as they did! (more…)

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My new Bread Baking Class on Craftsy!

Craftsy | Breadin5 titleCard

I am super excited to announce my new Craftsy bread baking video class. We’ve made a video of the most popular breads from our books with lots of tips and techniques for getting a professional loaf every time you bake with very little time or effort! It is the perfect companion to all of our books. In the video I’ll use a single dough to create the various breads, but the techniques are useful for all the doughs from any of our books.

Craftsy Bread Class | Breadin5 01

To see some pictures from my video shoot in Denver and to get 50% off the Craftsy video, visit my bread site Breadin5.com!

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Gluten-Free Maple Oatmeal Cookies

gluten-free oatmeal cookies | ZoeBakes 05

One of the most interesting things about writing a book on gluten-free breads, was learning about what grains are gluten-free and which are not. Oats are considered by many to be on the fence. It would seem that it would be a hard, fast line, but there is actually some gray area when it comes to gluten-free ingredients. Oats are 100% gluten-free, BUT they can be contaminated during the processing. Many celiacs and people who are avoiding gluten for other health reasons often stay clear of oats because the equipment used to harvest and process the cereal is also used for wheat, barley and rye, all of which are full of gluten. So, it is important to buy oats that are labeled “gluten-free,” even though they don’t themselves contain any of the wheat protein that would make them dangerous to celiacs. (Best to check with your Dr. if you are unsure about what grains you can eat.) I used “Gluten-Free Chex Oatmeal,” as in the little, square breakfast cereal brand we all ate as kids, but this product is just pure whole grain oats, nothing else.

These cookies happen to be gluten-free, but you’ll never know it. No one in my family is gluten intolerant, so anything I bake without wheat has to pass their discerning (read critical) palate. My boys are very free with their opinions and my 13-year-old said “these are perfect! Soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, just how I like them.”  The flavor is all about the maple and oats.

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Paleo Stuffed Apples

Paleo Stuffed Apple | ZoeBakes 07

This is the perfect dessert for the week after Thanksgiving. I’ve personally vowed not to eat pie this week, although leftovers don’t seem to count. I doubt I’m alone in feeling like I may have overdone it a bit last week and my body is craving lighter fare. This feeling doesn’t hit me often; I often think my appetite for decadence is insatiable. So, I figure my body is telling me something and for once I’m eager to listen.

I have a wonderful mentor in all things Paleo. My friend and neighbor, Stephanie Meyer, of FreshTart, has been inspiring us all with her Autoimmune Protocol Diet for months. When she first went on this mind-bogglingly-restrictive diet I wept for her. She loves food and cooking more than just about anyone I know, and this diet seemed a cruel end to that love affair. Well, I was dead wrong. I found myself lusting after all of her AIP postings on Instagram and wishing I was eating that way too.  I am incredibly fortunate to be able to eat just about anything I want, although I had a bout of dairy intolerance, which has thankfully mostly passed. Giving up cheese, yogurt, ice cream and all things custardy was no easy task for me, but I managed and felt better for it. You don’t have to be on a Paleo diet to love these honey sweetened stuffed apples. I made them to bring to a dinner at Stephanie’s house and didn’t feel as if I was giving anything up. In fact, who cares that they happen to be Paleo, they’re freakin’ awesome and perfect for a week of eating cleaner.

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