Coffee, Bourbon & Chocolate Baked Alaska

baked alaska | ZoeBakes(4 of 7)

This weekend I fulfilled a dream, (one I didn’t know I had until I did it), to be a radio talk show host. That’s a generous description of what I was doing on the Weekly Dish, but it was the kind job title Stephanie March offered when she invited me to sit in for her co-host (Stephanie Hansen), who was busy being on vacation. Luckily, I was not filling this role alone, our friend Stephanie Meyer, was also on the air for the 2 hour show. I had a ball, but what I learned is that the “Stephanies,” as they are lovingly known, make this job seem so easy and effortless. They are hilarious, smart, quick and have an endless knowledge of what is going on in the Mpls food community (and a fair bit about the rest of the country too). I loved every second of it, but don’t think I’ll be giving up my day job.

After the show we went across the street to a neighborhood bar with a long list of coffee drinks, it was only 11am, so booze should be served with caffeine. Stephanie March ordered a coffee, bourbon and black walnut drink, because…bourbon. I took one sip and said “Baked Alaska!” We were due for a snow storm that night, and all the predictions were that we’d be trapped inside. A baked Alaska made with ice cream of espresso bean, chocolate shavings, a splash of bourbon, sitting on a layer of devil’s food and then covered with toasted meringue seemed the perfect way to weather the storm.

For the recipe.


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Coconut Cream Cake with Toasted Meringue Frosting


I first posted this Coconut Cake recipe 6 years ago and have made it several times since. It is always a crowd pleaser, partly because of the meringue topping, all done up like curls that remind me of Phyllis Diller and because it is just delicious. Decadent pastry cream full of coconut layered between coconut cake. It just seems to have the right balance of whimsy and sophistication. Liz Banfield is a photographer I have long admired on Instagram and she came over to capture the making and baking of the cake. I have the honor of using Liz’s gorgeous photos for this post. I first became familiar with her work when I did a wedding cake she photographed for Martha Stewart. Her work is stunning and she is a delight.  (more…)

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Coffee Caramel Tres Leches

coffee caramel tres leches | ZoeBakes 11

This is a mashup of a classic Mexican cake and the Vietnamese ice coffee I am so addicted to. The connection is the sweetened condensed milk that is the foundation for both. Tres Leches (three milks) is a cake soaked with cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Vietnamese ice coffee is made with the strongest coffee on earth mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice.

I made a coffee caramel milk syrup to soak the cake with and then topped it with a coffee whipped cream. Tres Leches by nature can be a bit sweet, but the coffee cream toned down the sugar and added a slight bitterness, which I found to be perfection. My family ate half the cake while I was at pottery class and then polished it off for breakfast the next morning, which just happened to me Cinco de Mayo.

coffee caramel tres leches | ZoeBakes 13 (more…)

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tiramisu | ZoeBakes

By the time I became a pastry chef in the mid 1990s tiramisu, the decadent Italian dessert that defined the 80s, was banned from all high-end restaurants. It was a matter of bad PR, not because it wasn’t well liked or frequently requested. In fact, it was its very popularity that took it down. We pastry chef types just got bored with making it all the time to satisfy the demand. The same fate took down the molten lava cake and flourless chocolate torte. But, as happens with all good things, they find their way back in fashion. I predict the humble tiramisu will find its way onto a menu near you. If I happen to be wrong about this, we can have our own revolution and make it at home.  This version was inspired by a recipe from  Joanne Chang’s book, Flour. Yes, she apologizes for making it. I stand proud and layer espresso sponge cake, soaked with coffee and booze with rich mascarpone mousse, then top it all with chocolate ganache and raspberries. The trick is to soak the layers just enough to impart flavor and make them delicate, but not so much that they become soggy mush. The bite of the coffee and liqueur is perfectly mellowed by the custard, but none of it is overly sweet. I built them as individuals, using PVC pipe that I had cut to the right size (super cheap), but you can buy circular pastry molds (kind of expensive) or even washed out cans (sweetened condensed milk is just the right size). You can do this exact same recipe in a small trifle bowl or in short water glasses.

Andrew Zimmern was my very first boss out of culinary school –  in the 1990s high-end restaurant I mentioned earlier. It was a wild and creative time in my life. He wasn’t eating freaky things, but he was pushing the culinary palate in Minneapolis, and I was lucky enough to be part of that ride. Last week he invited me to visit with him on his podcast Go Fork Yourself. We talked about baking bread in a crock pot, cooking in a dishwasher, vegan egg replacer that is changing the world, to be, or not to be gluten-free and the merits of a sexy index (my new book has one), plus the first time I told him to go fork himself! You can here the podcast here. (more…)

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Plum Cake – a fall affair

plum cake

As the weather gets chillier, at least here in the upper Midwest, we turn our attention over to apples and pears. The summer fruits and berries are no longer available, with the exception of the Italian plum. It has a short little season, which gives one hope and the ability to make it through a winter without stone fruits. ACT NOW, they don’t last long. These little gems are good to eat, but even better to bake with. They aren’t quite as juicy or sweet as their American cousins (of course, once the Italian plums are dried into prunes, and the sugars concentrated, they are the sweetest of all), but they keep their shape well and their skin adds a gorgeous purple color to tarts and cakes.

The brown sugar cake batter and sweet crumb topping are a perfect compliment to the not-too-sweet fruit. It is great for breakfast with a cup of tea and/or with ice cream after dinner. This is a cake that also seems to get better the second day, if there is any left.

Italian plums (more…)

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Vietnamese Ice Coffee Panna Cotta

panna cotta

I fell in love with a little Vietnamese restaurant when I was pregnant with my first son. I craved salty, spicy, big, fat flavorful foods and Quang delivered on all of it. I would have eaten every meal for the nine months there, but I knew my husband just couldn’t take it, so I limited myself to 3 days a week. Once my son was born I’d bring him in to the restaurant and the servers would carry him around, so I could have 2 minutes to slurp up my pho (soup) and suck down a Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese ice coffee with sweetened condensed milk). The coffee was a bit of a ritual in those days. They poured hot water over coffee grounds in a little metal filter, which fit perfectly over a glass with sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. It was like sweet torture waiting for the slow drip to finish and yet I loved the anticipation. Once the hot coffee was done dripping over the milk I’d stir it all together and pour it over ice. The first sip, because I was too impatient to wait another second, was the slightest bit warm and cloyingly sweet. As the ice melted and the coffee chilled the flavor was perfection. Sadly, Quang now brings the Ca Phe Sua Da to the table already made and in sealed plastic cups, which is hardly as romantic, but it is still delicious and I manage to drink at least one, or two, or three a week. They don’t come in decaf, so unless you are planning to be up late, you may want to save this for lunchtime.

The strong bite of the coffee, mixed with the sweet creaminess of the condensed milk is like a perfectly balanced dessert, so I hardly worked to get this one right. I like my panna cotta with as little gelatin as possible, just enough to keep it together. This version requires even less, because I leave it right in the glass. I suppose you could invert it, but the stripes are so lovely, and it would be hard to get it to look so crisp and clean as it wiggled on the plate.


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