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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Coconut Cream Cake with Toasted Meringue Frosting

This fall in the midst of my book tour was a François gathering. My husband’s family were all coming together in Vermont to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents. This is no easy feat for this group, they are spread far and wide. Relatives came from Paris, New York, Toronto, Trinidad and of course, Minneapolis. Because of an engagement on the book tour I had to miss the anniversary party, but got there in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with everyone. In the airport on my way to Vermont I stopped at the magazine rack and picked up an issue of Fine Cooking that had a spread on Party Cakes. I’d left this very magazine on my kitchen table at home, where I’d been meaning to flip it open. In the mad rush that had led up to this moment I failed to plan what I’d be making for dessert, which was my contribution to the meal. I wanted to make cakes for Anna and Ewart, whose party I’d missed and they had to be something a little bit over-the-top and creative. My mother-in-law is a potter and adds a sense of beauty and creativity to everything she does. Her art and home represent a life that has been rich in travel, culture, a sense of wonder and mostly joy. These are all things that I admire tremendously and hope to create in my own life. So these cakes had to be something a little out of the ordinary. (Did I happen to mention that Graham’s sisters and brothers are tremendous cooks and his cousin is the executive chef at Balthazar/Pastis and Minetta Tavern in NYC?) No pressure, but my cakes had to kick ass!

The cake in Fine Cooking with the meringue topping all done up like curls reminded me of my son Charlie and seemed to have just the whimsy and statement that I was looking for. I made my own coconut pastry cream and meringue, but loved the flavor combination and attitude of what Rebecca Rather created on those pages. I’ve made this cake several times since and as you will see at the end of the post I often use my Devil’s Food recipe in place of the white cake. In both forms it disappears quickly and with much ooohing and aaahing. (more…)

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Chocolate covered Coffee Toffee and my Birthday Cake!

Today is my birthday. I am a woman of a certain age and I think it is worthy of celebrating, so I made one of my favorite candies, chocolate covered toffee, with a hit of coffee. I never buy Health Heath Bars, but every year I manage to convince my boys to give me them from their Halloween bags. This year was no different. Then on my travels for the book tour I ended up with the ultimate version, which has completely ruined me to the Hershey’s product. Not so sweet, a powerful kick of coffee and really lovely bittersweet chocolate. The maker is Poco Dolce and Samantha at Omnivore Books in San Fran turned me onto them after our book signing there. I love her and hate her for that! I bought several varieties and all them were delicious, but the little bag of coffee toffee was like a bag of chips, you can’t eat just one. I brought them home and considered not sharing with my husband, but after leaving him at home for 9 days with the boys I figured it was the least I could do to share my candies. Big mistake, he ate them all, well not really, but they were gone. I had only one choice, make my own. It is surprisingly easy and perfect for wrapping up as holiday gifts or just hiding in your desk drawer, or both.

Every year my husband and my boys set off on the loving task of baking my birthday cake. This year my husband out did himself and made a devil’s food cake with cream cheese icing and a fresh raspberry filling. You can see his lovely work at the end of the post. (more…)

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