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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Tea Cup Rose Cakes – Paleo Sweets

Tea Cup Rose Cakes | ZoeBakes (3 of 21)

My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.

Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.

You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.

These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.

Tea Cup Rose Cakes | ZoeBakes (2 of 21) (more…)

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Ice Cream Cake – (Mother’s Day Giveaway: Lékué silicone springform pan)

Ice Cream Cake | ZoeBakes (3 of 10)

I was just looking back on some of my Mother’s Day posts and I realized how much I love meringue. I especially like the effect of spiking it into a Phillis Diller-esque topping. It works on cakes, pies, cheesecake and ice cream. Meringue is as light as air, playful, yet sophisticated and most importantly gives you an opportunity to whip out the blow torch. Unless you are a hard core meringue fan, you will want to pair it with something. Lemon is classic, and something sour makes sense, since the white pillowy topping is super sweet, but you can go with something a touch savory too. I made a Honey Saffron Chocolate Chip ice cream and then sweetened the meringue topping with honey and vanilla bean. There is actually NO SUGAR in this dessert. Okay, I know honey is a type of sugar, but I’m talking about the refined, granulated cane/beet sugar. The honey flavor is mellow and delicate with just a subtle hint of saffron in the ice cream. I didn’t tell my family what the flavors were before they dove in. Being pretty will get them to try it, but the flavor will clean the plate. They loved it.

As a Mother’s Day gift to all of you, I teamed up with Lékué* (Lee-quay) to give away FOUR of the rectangular silicone springform pans I made this cake in. I’ve used it for baking cheesecakes and breads, but it is also excellent for making chilled or frozen desserts. For a chance to win all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. You probably saw something pop up on your screen when you came to the site. If you passed by the pop up without filling it out, no worries, you can find it on the right hand side of the website, where it says SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER. I think you’ll enjoy getting updates about what I am up to and I’ll be using my newsletter to do giveaways, like the one today. If you’ve already joined my newsletter (many of you have, Thank YOU!), there is nothing else to do, you are automatically entered to win. Keep an eye out for my emails, since it is all very new, they may end up in folders you don’t expect. This giveaway is only available to folks in the USA and Canada.

Ice Cream Cake | ZoeBakes (1 of 2)-2

My sons taught me to use Snapchat and I am loving it. I just did a video series on making bread in a forming basket/brotform/banneton. And I’ll be doing other videos as people want to see certain techniques. Please join me if you’re on Snapchat or if you’ve been curious to try it. You can find me at zoebakes1

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Flaky Biscuits (plus, picking the right flour for all your recipes)

 

Flaky Biscuits | ZoeBakes (1 of 1)

Biscuits. Flaky biscuits. Nothing better!

There are three things that guarentee you will have tender, flaky biscuits every time. Flour, Fat and Folding. The type of flour you use will take your biscuits from tough to tender. I use a combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour, so that I have enough structure in my biscuits to create the flaky layers, but are tender when I break into them. I’ll talk more about flour in a minute. Then there is fat. You want it cold. It should be blended into the flour, but you also want some pieces to stay in tact to create the flakiness. This is just like making pie dough. Lastly there is folding. By folding the dough, you create even more layers and the biscuits are guaranteed to be flaky. (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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Paleo Stuffed Apples

Paleo Stuffed Apple | ZoeBakes 07

This is the perfect dessert for the week after Thanksgiving. I’ve personally vowed not to eat pie this week, although leftovers don’t seem to count. I doubt I’m alone in feeling like I may have overdone it a bit last week and my body is craving lighter fare. This feeling doesn’t hit me often; I often think my appetite for decadence is insatiable. So, I figure my body is telling me something and for once I’m eager to listen.

I have a wonderful mentor in all things Paleo. My friend and neighbor, Stephanie Meyer, of FreshTart, has been inspiring us all with her Autoimmune Protocol Diet for months. When she first went on this mind-bogglingly-restrictive diet I wept for her. She loves food and cooking more than just about anyone I know, and this diet seemed a cruel end to that love affair. Well, I was dead wrong. I found myself lusting after all of her AIP postings on Instagram and wishing I was eating that way too.  I am incredibly fortunate to be able to eat just about anything I want, although I had a bout of dairy intolerance, which has thankfully mostly passed. Giving up cheese, yogurt, ice cream and all things custardy was no easy task for me, but I managed and felt better for it. You don’t have to be on a Paleo diet to love these honey sweetened stuffed apples. I made them to bring to a dinner at Stephanie’s house and didn’t feel as if I was giving anything up. In fact, who cares that they happen to be Paleo, they’re freakin’ awesome and perfect for a week of eating cleaner.

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