Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches

Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches. I’ve met so many incredibly talented and lovely people through Instagram. That’s where I first found Giulia Scarpaleggia (and her website Jul’s Kitchen), who lives and cooks in Tuscany. Her food is gorgeous and when she told me she had a cookbook coming out, I couldn’t wait to see it. The book is a beautiful guide to the Markets of Tuscany and the recipes they inspire, including this fresh ricotta tart (I added the peaches for a summer twist). The flavors are a classic combination from this region. I adore the food, the people, the terrain, the wine and the sweets of Tuscany. I’ve often fantasized about moving abroad and the Italian countryside is always first on the list.

This ricotta tart, caught my eye when I was flipping through the pages of Giulia’s book. Her tart, which she calls, Torta Squisita “exquisite cake”, is made with ricotta (I made it from scratch, which is so easy), chocolate, candied orange peel and a star anise flavored liqueur. It is quintessentially Italian. I happen to have some juicy, perfectly ripe peaches sitting on the counter, so I decided to top the tart with them. It is super tasty and an ode to summer, but it would be just as good without the peaches, served with a strong cup of coffee.

I made homemade ricotta for this tart and you can watch me make the super simple cheese and the whole tart in my instagram videos.

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Ultimate Carrot Cake!

carrot cake (12 of 10)

My Ultimate Carrot Cake first made an appearance on ZoëBakes in 2008, and it has remained one of my most popular posts. I have made this carrot cake many, many times since then and tweaked the recipe, as I am apt to do, every time I make it. After all the experiments, this is the recipe I have come to like the best. The changes are subtle, because the original was pretty spot on, but this version wins.

You can watch me make, bake and decorate this carrot cake in my Instagram video.
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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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Cherry Cheesecake

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I started off thinking this was a Valentine’s post, with a heart-shaped sensuous cheesecake, topped with ruby-red cherry sauce. It still is, but I have to digress for a moment and talk about the Olympics. It is more connected and less random than you might think. When I was researching the origin of the cheesecake I found out, thanks the internet, that this favorite cake (which I think is really a custard, but now I digress in my digression) dates back to about 250 bc, where a Roman politician first wrote down the recipe. I am sharing it with you, because the translation is hysterical and I can only imagine the range in results with such crude instructions:

“Recipe for libum (cheesecake) – Bray 2 pounds of cheese thoroughly in a mortar; when it is thoroughly macerated, add 1 pound of wheat flour, or, if you wish the cake to be more dainty, ½ pound of fine flour, and mix thoroughly with the cheese. Add 1 egg, and work the whole well. Pat out a loaf, place on leaves, and bake slowly on a warm hearth under a crock.”

It goes on to talk about covering it in honey and poppy-seeds if you so desire. Even the “dainty” version sounds a bit severe to me. The editor who translated this couldn’t help themselves and added a note at the end that reads…”These recipes cannot be considered alluring.” They were, however, hearty and fed to the ancient Olympians during the games to keep them well fueled. Oh, how far we have come from the times when you had to “bray” (grind) cheese to get it soft enough. This rather utilitarian version of the cheesecake may have satisfied the ancient Romans, but today we are going for something a little bit sexier.

My cheesecake is made with ricotta and a touch of honey, as a nod to the original Romans, but that’s as far as the similarities go. Just a touch of flour is used as a slight binder, but not so much as to ruin the luxurious texture. I whipped the egg whites and folded them into the cheese batter to keep it lighter than some of my denser, custard-style cheesecakes. The crust is crushed ginger cookies and the cherry topping is made with a hint of vanilla, cardamom and ginger extracts. This cake would keep any Olympian going, but it’s romantic enough to serve to your sweetheart on Valentine’s day. (more…)

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Onion Tarts

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On FB a fellow food blogger commented that by 5pm she’s so exhausted by her day in the kitchen that she can barely come up with a single thing for dinner. Oh, the irony. Truth be told, at my house there are typically 3 (or more) desserts on the counter, along with several loaves of homemade bread, but when it comes time to eat dinner I am scrambling around to cook something, anything. On any given night I would not call my meals inspired. I love to cook, but after a day of “working” (baking all the desserts and breads that are sitting on the counter cooling), I don’t always leave myself enough time to make something creative, tasty, and healthy. I have vowed in the past to widen my savory repertoire and as a result have made Julia‘s Beef Bourguignon, The Smitten Kitchen‘s meatloaf and short ribs, American Masala‘s lamb burgers and The Splendid Table‘s lasagna to wild raves from my family, but I mostly find myself trying to answer my kids’ hungry requests for dinner, with a blank stare. I tell them we have a “European” eating schedule, since I usually manage to get a meal on the table by 8pm, ok usually later. I know this isn’t ideal and I am saying it in front of all of you, “I will try at least one NEW savory recipe a week (this is so doable) AND I’ll get it on the table by 7pm (8pm at the latest).

Here I go, a tasty beginning to a more savory life. I admit, this isn’t exactly a meal, but we have to start somewhere and appetizers are a great way to keep my kids happy until I can get the rest of the meal figured out. A sheet of puff pastry, an onion, some herbs, cherry tomatoes, French olives, and a very soft feta all happened to be in my refrigerator and came together in a beautiful little treat. Try this combination, but really these tarts are a quick and easy way to clean out the little jars of yummy morsels in your cupboards. (more…)

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Pineapple Quesito (Puerto Rican Breakfast Pastry)

Pineapple Quesitos | ZoeBakes

This is a Quesito (Ke-see-toe) and it is delicious. Seriously, it is so perfect in its simplicity; flaky puff pastry wrapped around sweetened cream cheese and buttery pineapple. And it’s beautiful, in a shabby chic kind of way, nothing fussy, just rustic goodness with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. The best thing is that you can whip this together in about 5 minutes and instantly satisfy your craving for something sweet. I’ve made them three times for breakfast since I returned from Puerto Rico. You see, I am desperately grasping to my memories of being there. I just returned, less than a week ago, and already I miss it. It was paradise, which is enough to make one long for its sandy shores, perfect weather, gorgeous waters, friendly people, and the discovery of Puerto Rican pastries like Mallorca and the quesitos. But, returning to Minnesota and having to shovel my car out from the snow, in APRIL, was frankly, more than I was mentally prepared to handle. So, I make quesitos, shut my eyes, hold a shell to my ear and pretend I am still lying on the beach.

Puerto Rico | ZoeBakes

You can too!  (more…)

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