Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies

Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Sometimes you come upon greatness from the oddest paths. When I opened Rebecca Firth’s The Cookie Book, I landed on this Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies recipe, not because of the gorgeous photo (or my absolute love of meringue), which are both strong enough reasons, but for the chapter title, called Jazz Hands. For anyone who knows my instagram stories, you may have seen me dancing around my kitchen. What you may not know is that I grew up in a dance studio. My mom has had the studio in VT since I was two years old. Jazz Hands were a real thing in my world. Something I associate with my childhood and trips to NYC to see A Chorus Line, no less than 5 times. So, when I saw the chapter and the photo of these Meringue Cookies, I really had no choice but to make them. They are a delight and hit the flavor and texture profiles just right. They are just the right balance of sweet and salty, like a peanut butter cup candy, but with the ethereal quality I love about meringue.

You can see me create these cookies and maybe see my Jazz Hands in my Instagram video(more…)

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Blueberry Bars for Back to School!

Blueberry Bars | ZoeBakes photo by Zoe Francois

This post is originally from 2011 and it is hilarious for me to read it, since my boys are now 17 and 19 years old and no longer have little fingers, because they’re 6-feet tall. The only thing that remains the same 7 years later; they still love these Blueberry Bars!

2011: Yesterday was the official end of summer in my house. Back to school for both boys, and I spent the day wishing they were home again. “Seriously?” You may ask. I spent the past several weeks anticipating the beginning of school with a certain glee, which may have bordered on unhealthy. I couldn’t wait to have peace and quiet in my house, for hours at a time. I looked forward to doing my work without interruption, sans little fingers dipping into the bowl. But, when it came to the actual day, I missed them and couldn’t wait for them to get off the bus.* Instead of pathetically staring out the window waiting, I decided to bake them some Blueberry Bars. Every MN kid loves bars.

For those of you from the coasts, I am referring to a layered dessert baked in a pan resembling a brownie/cookie/pie, but can be made with fruit, caramel, chocolate or anything else your pantry contains. Then they are cut into neat bars. I was first introduced to this concept when I moved to Minneapolis in 1993. Bars are generally served on a buffet table with lots of crock pots filled with “hot dish.” Every family has their own recipe, usually a tightly held secret, mostly kept from the neighbors.

To watch me make these bars and for tips on easy lattice and stable fillings, watch my instagram video. Recipe below.

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Coffee No-Churn Ice Cream Sandwiches

Coffee No-Churn Ice Cream Sandwiches | Photo by Zoë François

We went from 16″ of snow to 80 degrees in two weeks. My mind spun into summer mode in about 10 seconds flat. We Minnesotans can’t adjust to the warm slowly or we may miss it. So, in my mind it’s summer and that means ice cream season. My friend, Sarah Kieffer, from the Vanilla Bean Blog and the fabulous The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, has been talking about no-churn ice cream for years. She’s one of my favorites (baker, blogger, book creator, photographer and human) and yet, I wasn’t listening when she said it was SO easy and delicious. Ugh, sometimes I’m just too wedded to the traditional ways. Well, I’m here to tell you that I should have paid attention earlier, but at least I am on board now. I won’t give up my ice cream maker, just because it’s super fun, but Sarah’s no-churn ice cream will play a major roll in this summer’s desserts.

I also made her deep, dark, chocolate sugar cookies to sandwich the coffee ice cream between, which made for the perfect ice cream sandwiches. The cookies are incredible all on their own, but with the intense coffee flavor of the ice cream they are sophisticated, a touch edgy and a perfect grown-up dessert that kids will love too, but make it with decaf! The cookies have enough body to hold up to the ice cream, but they don’t turn to stone when they are frozen, so they are perfect for this marriage.

You can watch me make no-churn coffee ice cream and the cookies in my instagram videos.

Coffee No-Churn Ice Cream Sandwiches | Photo by Zoë François (more…)

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Banana Pudding

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This quintessential southern dessert is found on the back of the box of Nilla wafers. You can certainly use Nilla brand wafers for this and there will be no judgment and it will taste just like you remember when you ate it as a kid. OR you can make your own vanilla wafer cookies and be so glad you did. They are super easy and fast to make and they don’t have any of that cardboard box flavor overtones. Wait, did that just come across as judgy? Either way you are going to love this recipe. I was inspired to make it after an old friend from high school (that’s a very old friend) made it for New Years Eve and posted pictures on Instagram. I found the Nilla wafer recipe in the BraveTart cookbook by Stella Parks.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram you probably have seen my pastry tutorial “stories.” I’m slightly obsessed with working through a recipe in 15 second intervals, often with eclectic baking music. You’ll find this banana pudding recipe made from start to finish on my Instagram page archived in my “highlights.” There are many other recipes and techniques you may want to check out.

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

Easy pink macarons | photo by Zoë François

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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Molly on the Range Marzipan Mandel Bread

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Mandelbrot is the Jewish or Eastern European version of biscotti. I grew up avoiding it at Jewish holidays, because it always struck me as stale and tasteless. Many years later I fell in love with Italian biscotti, probably around the time I discovered that drinking coffee was the key to my existence as a professional pastry chef. I often made biscotti to serve at the end of meals and jammed it full of almonds and lots of other tasty sweets. Not at all boring, stale or tasteless. It seemed utterly unrelated to the mandelbrot of my youth. Then last weekend I went to a brunch to celebrate the Molly Yeh’s new book, Molly on the Range, and there were lovely platters of Mandel Bread. The cookies were studded with chocolate and topped with colorful sprinkles. The brunch was perfectly prepared from her book and I tried everything. The Dukkah Donuts, Caramelized Challah Waffles with Brisket, Token Salad and Spinach Feta Rugelach were all super familiar foods to me, but Molly put her mark on them and elevated each one. They have all the comfort of my grandmother’s recipes, but a twist that makes them…better.  At the end of the meal I got a cup of coffee and I realized I hadn’t tried the Mandel Bread yet. Here goes, 30+ years of avoiding these cookies and I decided to trust (reluctantly) that Molly wouldn’t disappoint. Not only were they not disappointing, I loved them! Three of them. I am a complete sucker for marzipan and that was my first bite. It is such a lovely texture in the midst of this crunchy cookie. “Mandel” means almond in Yiddish, so they have to be in there, but how freakin’ clever to use marzipan instead of whole almonds. I wanted to dump them in my purse for later, but got the book instead and made them the very next day.

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Molly is as lovely and generous as she seems on her site. It was such a pleasure to meet her and to eat all of the amazing food from her book.  (more…)

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