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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“Outrageous Brownies”

Brownies ZB 12

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 Pinterest 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 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 it is still the only brownie 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.  (more…)

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Matzo Crack S’mores

Matzo S'mores 02 | ZoeBakes

Every year I make matzo crack at Passover, because I don’t think I’d be invited back to the Davis family seder if I didn’t. This year I am on a bit of a homemade marshmallow kick, so I thought why not combine two of my favorites into one CRAZY delicious and fun dessert. Bang, it’s a new classic in my house.

Matzo S'mores 01 | ZoeBakes (more…)

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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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Nutella Swirled Banana Bread

nutellabananabread zb 15

The first time I tried nutella was in France, on my honeymoon. I thought French kids were the luckiest people on earth. There was no way my mom would have given me a chocolate hazelnut spread on anything. (For the record it was the 1960s, she was a hippy and didn’t allow any sugar at all. Hence my full on sugar rebellion and career as a pastry chef.)  French kids get nutella for breakfast, on their bread at lunch or as a late night snack. They all seemed healthy enough, so I think the French moms are on to something. My honeymoon was 23 years ago and in the meantime we Americans have had a hazelnut spread revolution of our own. Now you can find it on the shelves of costco and seven-eleven. My house is never without a jar.

I’ve spread nutella on just about everything, but one of my favorites is freshly baked banana bread. In an “aha! moment” I decided to swirl the nutella right into the batter and bake them together. I’m not claiming to have discovered this combo, but I believe this may be the tastiest pairing ever there was. I now always make two loaves, otherwise it disappears too quickly. One we eat while it is still warm and a bit gooey, the other sits for breakfast the next day. It is magnificent and super simple to make. (more…)

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