Macarons – easier than you think, just watch the video!

Macarons | ZoeBakes

The first time I had a true French macaron was while sitting at the now shuttered WD50 in New York City. It was the wild child restaurant of chef Wylie Dufresne, who was one of the first American chefs to deconstruct ingredients and synthesize them into new forms. It was all very mysterious and pretty tasty, but the most memorable thing we ate that night came out of my cousin’s purse. Samira works in the fashion industry and lives an impossibly global and glamorous life, which includes frequent trips to Paris. She and her brother, Riad, who was sitting with us, had a tradition of sharing a particular pastry from Paris every time she went. She pulled out the box and nonchalantly pushed it to Riad. This was so normal to them, that they barely acknowledged the act or the beautiful box as anything special. I, on the other hand, was near crazy with anticipation and finally told them to “open the &%$#ing box.” Inside were perfect, and I do mean perfect, macarons. They were like jewels. All different colors. Pink, gold, lavender and jade. They were delicate to the point of brittle on the outside and like a cloud on the inside, with a layer of super rich ganache or buttercream. I’ve made macarons, but they were never as ethereal as the one’s Samira brought home from Ladurée. This is no surprise. I was happy enough with mine and they were cheaper than a trip to Paris, but still not perfect. Then I watched Colette Christian’s Craftsy class on miniature French pastries and I figured out the small tricks I’d been missing. Turns out they are much easier than I thought. I’ve been making them constantly ever since.

This last batch I made for Passover and colored them purple to honor Prince. His passing has struck me in a deep way, deeper than I would have ever expected. His music was the sound track to my entire high school life and that was long before I moved to his home town. Back in the day I choreographed a dance to Little Red Corvette to audition for the dance program at my school. I danced my heart out to that song and got into the group. We were hardly Alvin Ailey, but it was my whole life at the time. I remember that audition like it was yesterday. I just hope Prince had even an inkling of his profound influence over so many people, not just musicians, but all of us who loved his music. I wish he could see how the world has exploded into a party to honor his legacy. Purple macarons and dancing in my kitchen are what I have to offer the celebration.

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Lemon Lavender Shortbread with Affogato

Affogato with Lemon Lavender Shortbread | ZoeBakes (1 of 2)-2

There is something so perfect and ageless about shortbread. Nothing trendy or hipster about it, just the most basic, easy recipe and yet it feels sophisticated and posh. There are only three ingredients in shortbread; butter, sugar and flour. I dolled these up with a bit of lavender and lemon, because that is what I had on hand and they are gorgeous together. Shortbread is a great canvas for other flavors. Try adding rosemary, chili powder, thyme, sage, star anise, rose water, or anything else you can dream up.

They are traditionally served with tea, but I just stopped by my friend’s new ice cream shop (Milkjam in Minneapolis) and brought home some outrageous ice cream that was begging to be made into an affogato. If you have never had an affogato, you need to run, not walk, to your coffee/espresso machine, brew up the darkest coffee you can muster and add a scoop of your favorite ice cream. The results are nothing short of miraculous. Add a couple shortbread cookies and you have heaven.

Lemon Lavender Shortbread | ZoeBakes (5 of 17) (more…)

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Gluten-Free Maple Oatmeal Cookies

gluten-free oatmeal cookies | ZoeBakes 05

One of the most interesting things about writing a book on gluten-free breads, was learning about what grains are gluten-free and which are not. Oats are considered by many to be on the fence. It would seem that it would be a hard, fast line, but there is actually some gray area when it comes to gluten-free ingredients. Oats are 100% gluten-free, BUT they can be contaminated during the processing. Many celiacs and people who are avoiding gluten for other health reasons often stay clear of oats because the equipment used to harvest and process the cereal is also used for wheat, barley and rye, all of which are full of gluten. So, it is important to buy oats that are labeled “gluten-free,” even though they don’t themselves contain any of the wheat protein that would make them dangerous to celiacs. (Best to check with your Dr. if you are unsure about what grains you can eat.) I used “Gluten-Free Chex Oatmeal,” as in the little, square breakfast cereal brand we all ate as kids, but this product is just pure whole grain oats, nothing else.

These cookies happen to be gluten-free, but you’ll never know it. No one in my family is gluten intolerant, so anything I bake without wheat has to pass their discerning (read critical) palate. My boys are very free with their opinions and my 13-year-old said “these are perfect! Soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, just how I like them.”  The flavor is all about the maple and oats.

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Peanut Butter Cookies

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As you may know, my son (The Fabulous Baker Boy, as I call him on Instagram) baked his way to the bank this summer. You can read all about his baking adventures here. One of his customers requested peanut butter cookies and they turned out to be one of the most popular treats of the summer. The recipe he chose came from David Lebovitz’s book Ready for Dessert. They are magnificent and easy, easy, easy to make. David has you refrigerate the cookie dough, which really does improve the texture and they don’t spread out or lose the crosshatch pattern. The Fabulous Baker Boy used Skippy peanut butter, per David’s request not to use a natural, freshly ground version. I couldn’t agree more, even though I prefer to eat the all natural kind. Peanut butter made with hydrogenated vegetable oils will hold their shape better and won’t be as greasy or dense. One thing we found is that the texture changed considerably with the amount of baking. If you want a softer cookie, as David describes, you want to err on the side of underbaking slightly. Our cookies were more like peanut butter shortbread, because we made the cookies way bigger and baked them several minutes more, but we LOVED them like this. Maybe try a tray each way and decide which style you like better. (more…)

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Hamantaschen

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Before I moved to Minnesota, my husband and I lived in Burlington, VT, which we considered a suburb of Montreal. When our small college town felt as if it would pop at the seams, we’d jump in the car and drive to Canada. We’d make the rounds of foods we couldn’t find in Vermont, like Montreal bagels at Fairmont, smoked meat at Schwartz’s and hamantaschen at a Jewish bakery, the name of which, I am sorry to say, has escaped me. The bagels and smoked meat are specialties of the city, and reason enough to visit Montreal. Hamantaschen can be found in any city, at most Jewish delis and bakeries, especially during the holiday of Purim. Making these triangular cookies is easy and in my humble opinion, better than most that I’ve sampled, including those in Montreal. The dough I use is the soft, rich, tender variety, the same one I use for rugelach, as opposed to the firm, crumbly, shortbread style dough, which is also common with this cookie. This dough is simple to work with and has a lovely texture and lemony flavor, which is a great partner to the poppy seed filling. Just like a rugelach, there are as many fillings as there are ovens, but the most traditional are poppy seed and prune. I went traditional here, but added some other dried fruits to the mix. If my fillings are not to your liking the cookies are fantastic with raspberry preserves, chocolate, apricot, lemon curd or anything else you are craving.

The shape of these cookies is said to represent the three-cornered hat of Haman, the diabolical villain who tried to take down the Jews in ancient Persia. Other stories say that hamantaschen (which translates “Haman’s pouch”) symbolizes his purse, which he tried to use as a payoff for permission to destroy the Jews. Haman’s sinister plans were thwarted and the story ends well with the celebration of Purim, where these tasty pastries are normally served. But, I think you should enjoy them way more often than that. (more…)

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Honey Madeleines

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Nearly twenty two years ago I got married, and as a gift I was given a copy of Patricia Wells’ book about the cuisine of Joël Robuchon. It was a heady book for a 23-year-old with Vermont commune roots. The book, and its recipes, stepped me directly into the intimidating world of French food. Patricia Wells promised to explain the techniques I’d need to make Robuchon’s Foie Gras and Creamy Scallop and Caviar Pillows, but at that age I could hardly afford to buy the ingredients, let alone all the equipment I’d need to make them. So, as is true to my nature, I flipped to the back of the book, to all the sweets and landed on the recipe for Madeleines. I’d read about these sexy, little, shell-shaped cakes in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, when I was in college. Proust would have been an amazing food blogger with words like these:

“She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine…”

But, Proust neglected to provide the recipe, so over the years people have made up their own versions. Some based on a genoise, some a pound cake batter, but Patricia Wells and Robuchon have created what I think is the ultimate Madeleine. It’s a combination of browned butter, honey, lemon zest and almond meal, which combines to make an incredibly rich cake that’s soft on the inside, crisp on the outside and worthy of the shuddering Proust describes. The key to the success of this recipe is to use really flavorful honey, chill the batter before baking and make sure your scalloped Madeleine pans are really well buttered. Whenever theres a special occasion or I want to do something particularly sweet for my husband, I bake him Madeleines. (more…)

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