Birthday Cake

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Tomorrow is my son’s birthday and this is the cake he requested. My kids have always been opinionated about their birthday cakes, because I encouraged it. I like the challenge of creating something special for them. Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting is a simple enough cake, but he’s turning 17, so it needed to stand tall, just like him.

I LOVE my devil’s food cake and it will always be my go to, but in the name of research, I am always trying new recipes. I tried this one from Stella Parks, BRAVETART cookbook. She and I seem to have a similar philosophy about sweet. We want it to be there, because it’s a cake, but it shouldn’t hurt your teeth or be the dominant flavor. We also have a fondness for testing recipes and her’s always work, which is something you’d think was a given in cookbooks, but sadly isn’t always the case. So far everything I’ve tried in this book have been spot on and delicious.

Her Devil’s Food cake is made in a saucepan. I was skeptical, but she nailed it. It’s dark, bitter (in a GREAT way) and moist. The milk chocolate whipped ganache is creamy and sweet, which pairs perfectly with the cake, just as she claims it will. Her cream cheese icing is made with pastry cream and has a rich, tangy taste and holds it’s shape WAY better than cream cheese icing made with powdered sugar. (more…)

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Bûche de Noël ~ Christmas Yule Log

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This is a classic French dessert that is served at Christmas time. Bûche de Noël translates as the “Christmas Log” and is meant to look like the piece of wood you are about to toss into the fireplace. It is a rather odd tradition and yet I find myself making one every year. It always reminds me of the TV station that plays Christmas music and shows nothing but a burning log in a fireplace. I thought those were just memories of my long ago childhood, but I was amazed to see that the burning log still finds its place on YouTube even today.

Despite my unglamorous association there is something quite elegant and beautiful about the Bûche de Noël. According to Larousse Gastronomique the yule log cake tradition started in the 1870s when Parisian pastry chefs decided to replace the less elaborate brioche style fruit loaf with this more festive confection. Although I am quite partial to the Panettone style breads, I can see why pastry chefs created something a little more fussy to work on, that is just how we are!

If you came to this post through Instagram, you will see that this cake is slightly different than the one in my video, but the process is the same.


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Flourless Chocolate-Almond Torte for Passover

Flourless chocolate cake is a long-standing tradition on Passover. I have made several variations, but this one is far and away the most popular. It is made of several layers of a flourless chocolate-almond cake and bittersweet ganache. I make the whole thing without dairy, for those who keep to kosher laws, and you’ll never know the difference. It is one of the few times I use margarine and cream substitute and I promise it is absolutely divine.

The cake can be prepared in advance, wrapped well and refrigerator for a few days or frozen for a couple of weeks. This leaves you with less work to be done on Passover. Just decorate with some fresh berries and enjoy a slice of rich, chocolaty goodness after your dinner. (more…)

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Pistachio Cake

pistachio cake | ZoeBakes (4 of 14)

Pistachio is my absolute favorite flavor of ice cream. When I traveled with my family to Italy, we did a whole lot of “research” on gelato. It was an informal, albeit thorough, study consisting of my sons trying every single flavor made in the country, while I stuck to a scoop of pistachio and one of espresso. Side by side, they are the perfect combination. I should know, because I ate it daily during our two weeks in Italy. This cake is based on that perfect marriage.

pistachio cake | ZoeBakes (2 of 14)

Pistachio cake, pistachio buttercream and a layer of espresso ganache.  (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


Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.


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Super Bowl Bars

Bars | ZoeBakes

I can’t wait to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. I don’t want you to get the false impression that I follow any team in particular, or even the sport as a whole. I can safely avoid upsetting anyone by picking a side, since I have no idea who’s even in the game this year. I do love the clever ads and I’m a big fan of Bruno Mars. As is the case with most occasions like this, I’m totally in it for the food. My husband  will make buffalo and “mahogany” chicken wings (recipes he only whips out for this event). My sons explained to me, in no uncertain terms, that I need to make bars, and they are not to be “too fancy.” They Fear I’ll show up with some girly, frilly, lacy dessert and be a humiliation to their dude-ness. Granted they are teens, so I am almost always an embarrassment. So, I layered up all the things I could think might be appropriate at a party dedicated to football, including potato chips, coffee, peanuts, and much, much more. Everything but beer. These treats are a bit inspired by the Momofuko Milk Bar Compost Cookies, but I took it to a whole new level with a rich chocolate topping. When my youngest son taste tested them he asked, suspiciously and with a full mouth, if I’d put a layer of mousse on top, which would have placed them in the realm of “fancy.” I did not, but the nutella ganache is very mousse-like and completely awesome. He had another one just to make sure.

A fact about me that not many people know, until now…I was a cheerleader in highschool (and middle school) for the football team. I had two qualifications that made this a more obvious fit than you might think, given my indifference to the game. I was a loud mouth and I was pretty coordinated, having grown up with a mom who owns a dance studio. I had no idea what was going on behind on the field and quite frankly I never really cared. But, when it came to the bake sale to raise money for the team, I was all about it.

Here are my “Not Too Fancy for the Super Bowl, but just fancy enough to make ME happy, Bars”. They are really simple to make, so if you need a last minute treat to bring to your Super Bowl Fête, these are perfect and decadent. Go Bars! (more…)

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