Chocolate Cherry Cake with Marsala Cream and a Book Giveaway

Chocolate Cherry Cake | zoebakes 09

There has been lots of conversation about grains recently. Many opinions and theories and personal stories about whether or not they should be eaten, and if so, which ones, and by whom. One of the voices I trust the most on the topic is Maria Speck. She is endlessly thoughtful and has meticulously researched the subject. You will see both a passionate and intellectual pursuit of delicious grain filled recipes in her latest book “simply ancient grains.” A few years ago I would have warned you that some of these grains are a bit challenging to find, but thanks to folks like Maria, these grains can be found in most grocery stores and easily had online.

Instead of summarizing Maria’s words on the subject of grains, I invite you not only to take a look at her beautiful book, but also to read the words she recently wrote in the Washington Post on the importance of grains.

simply ancient grains | Maria Speck

As I flipped through Maria’s book I was struck by this photograph by Erin Kunkel. I just knew this was the recipe I’d start with. The chocolate cake looked absolutely perfect baked in a loaf pan, but I wanted a slightly more festive presentation, so I took Maria’s exact recipe, but just baked it in cake pans instead. Your friends and family will never know that this cake is made with whole grain Kamut flour (more about that in a minute), they’ll just know it is chocolatey and delicious.

Maria has generously offered to give a copy of her book, simply ancient grains, to a randomly chosen winner. Just leave a note in the comments for a chance to win.


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Cherry Cheesecake

cherry cheesecake zb 03

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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Rhubarb Pie – The Joy of Watching my Son Bake

Rhubarb Pie | ZoeBakes

Today my oldest son graduated from 8th Grade. It struck me yesterday as no biggie, just another last day of school. Today, I find myself thinking about him in a new way. He’s not a small child anymore. This was made clear when I saw him accepting his 8th grade diploma and he was taller than all of his teachers. What, when did that happen? He’s a high schooler now, and that is just plain crazy. Up until this moment, he was still my little boy, just barely able to function on his own. Today I am faced with the fact that he is charging toward manhood at a dizzying pace. I’m trying to be ready, but really I’m not sure yet. The up-side to this realization is that now I’ll have him do more laundry, cleaning, cooking and all the things we adults live for.

Yesterday, when he was still a little boy in my mind (oh, who am I kidding, he’ll always be my little boy) we baked a pie together. It was a gift, made even sweeter by the events that followed today. He made the dough, a filling of rhubarb and cherries and he created the lattice. I sat back, trying not to take over, and just watched in amazement as he figured it all out. It was a thing of beauty to see him moving so confidently in the kitchen and the pie, well you can see for yourself, the kid has skill. I was in heaven. Today I am a mess of emotions and I’m so happy to have a piece of his pie to make me smile.

Happy Graduation to all you seniors and 8th graders!

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Cherry Chocolate Cake

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This is a very tossed-together Black Forest Cake, or, as I like to say, when I am too lazy to bring out the piping bag and tips, it’s RUSTIC. All of the components of the classic German torte without the fuss. Layers of dark chocolate cake, fresh whipped cream and sweet cherries spiked with Kirschwasser (“cherry water,” or clear sour cherry brandy). These flavors are among the most celebrated combinations in the history of pastry making and yet this cake is often cloyingly sweet, overly fussy and conjures images from my 1070s childhood. Honestly, the version I remember was probably made with Cool Whip, Maraschino cherries and a cake from a box. Don’t get me wrong, that was just fine with me when I was 13. But, now my taste buds always cringe a bit at the thought of those Day-Glo-red cherries, a frozen whipped topping, that tastes like anything but cream, and the cake from a box just can’t compete with my Devil’s food recipe. The swoon worthy homemade version is super fast and easy to put together. (more…)

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Sneak Peek: Tilia’s Summer Dessert Menu!

Strawberry Fool with Frambois Lambic Foam

The moment has come to switch from the cool weather comfort-food dessert menu and embrace the heat of summer with some cool treats. Here is a teaser of what we’re working on, which we hope to launch next weekend! There will be a few flourishes (not captured in these photos), so you will have to come taste the final unveiling at Tilia! (more…)

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Ice Cream 101 – One Simple Custard Base, Several Flavors! (Roasted Banana and more…)

Last week I did a post on the tricks to creating Sorbet and it got me thinking about ice cream. I always tend to make a big batch and then mash other ingredients into it. This way I can tailor the flavor to the dessert I am serving it with or the mood I am in. You have to, start with a really great ice cream base, which for me means lusciously smooth, with a dense and silky texture. The flavor should be rich, but not too buttery (greasy) and I always start my “French custard” ice cream base with vanilla, there really isn’t a flavor that it doesn’t compliment.

When the first frozen dessert was created by the ancient Chinese, it was just a mixture of fruity syrups and snow, basically a sorbet. Not until the 18th century in England did you find the first ice cream made with milk, cream and eggs, no snow. Today homemade ice cream is still made this simple way. The secret to getting the perfect texture and flavor is not only the ingredients, but the technique of creating a custard and then freezing it.  You want to cook the cream, yolks, sugar and vanilla until the eggs thicken slightly, known as creme anglaise (English cream), and then chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator, about 6 to 12 hours. This last step is a bit of a mystery, but it works to create the best mouth feel. I have heard the overnight chill described as “maturing,” “ripening,” or “aging.” You get the picture, it gets better with age.  I find when I do this extra step my ice cream is smooth and less ice crystals form. The way big manufacturers get past this step is to add gums, starches, or gelatin. I’d rather not, so I just wait.

Once you have the base, you can freeze it as vanilla ice cream or add other flavors. For this recipe I am adding roasted bananas, which I just used in a banana bread post  I wrote for the Cooking Channel. Roasting the fruit not only concentrates the sugars, but it also expels some of the water in the bananas, which can cause the ice cream to be icy. I don’t stop there, I also mash in toasted maple-pecans, brandied cherries and chocolate ganache into the roasted banana ice cream, for a total of 4 flavors.  What can I say, I like variety! (more…)

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