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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Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream)

Up until very recently my father has been a beekeeper. He had bee hives at our home in Vermont and then drove them, full of bees to Minnesota. Due to a city ordinance he was not allowed to keep bees in his Edina yard and had to set them up at a friend’s house farther out of the city. My dad would drive out on the weekends to tend to them. His love for bees was made more complicated by the fact that he is very allergic to their sting. He swells up like a balloon when stung, but this never deterred him, even though it seemed to happen with some regularity. As a result of his love for bees I have always had a fondness for them and the delicious nectar they produce. Growing up we ate the precious honey he collected on everything from homemade granola to freshly baked bread. In fact, I never knew any sweetener other than honey and maple syrup before I was about 6. Sugar, in any form, didn’t exist in our house.

This cake is a tribute to both the elegance and ingenuity of honeybees, which are in terrifying danger of disappearing. Hopefully more folks like my dad will step up and continue the tradition. The shape of this cake is based on an ancient beehive called a skep, which was made of a coiled basket. My dad’s bees were kept in a box hive, but that isn’t nearly as romantic. Under the hovering marzipan bees are layers of brown-butter banana cake, walnuts and honey scented buttercream. (more…)

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Honey Whiskey Apple Cake

Honey Whiskey Apple Cake | ZoeBakes 05

I think the title says everything necessary to make you want to bake this simply gorgeous cake. I really can’t take any credit for this beauty, I snatched the recipe from my friend Jamie over at Life’s a Feast for tonight’s Rosh Hashana celebration. I just added some apples, because I never show up to Rosh Hashana without an apple cake. I’m sure it is just as good without them, but we’re right smack in the middle of apple harvest, so why not.

Happy New Year to those who are celebrating today and a very wonderful apple season to those who will make this cake just because it is irresistible.  (more…)

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Corn Bread and Peaches Baked on the Grill

grilled cornbread & peaches zb 12

Last Friday our electricity went out. It wasn’t out long, thanks to an incredible effort by the electric company, but it really made me appreciate how attached I am to the grid. No lights, no AC, not even fans, but the worst of all, no refrigeration. The lack of refrigeration had me in a slight panic, since I have 3 very full refrigerators. As I type that number, it sounds completely ridiculous. Now I feel compelled to justify them…one is for the family, one for my dough buckets (I’m testing recipes for a new book) and the other is a beer fridge that houses more butter, than beer.  Once we realized there was no storm damage to our house, it was kind of romantic to be in the dark. Our home was built in 1902 and I imagine there were many, if not most, nights spent in the glow of candlelight back then. For one night there were no computers, no TV, not even the radio, which is my constant companion, just quiet.


The next morning my husband and I walked for 3 hours around our neighborhood with our jaws dropped. The storm, which was being called a “rain event” by the weather types, didn’t seem that violent, but there were trees down all over town and most of the city was without power. Our neighbors, who just moved into their house, had a 60-foot tree laying in their driveway. Thank goodness it missed the house, but it was mind bending to see it stretched out in their yard. That rain event left cars crushed, roofs damaged, basements flooded and roads closed. A week later the city has power again and life, for most of us, is back to normal, but it still takes my breath away to drive through my neighborhood and see all of the old trees knocked to the ground. Nature is quite something.

During the storm a friend and fellow MN food blogger, Shaina of Food For My Family, tweeted that she was going to empty her powerless refrigerator and have a giant BBQ. The grill was to be the salvation for all those meat filled freezers. As some of you know, I rarely have anything but carbs in my house, so I wasn’t in fear of losing lots of grill-ables. Instead the grill was my saving grace when there was no electricity to crank my oven on, because I could still bake. Grill baking. Even when there is no storm, it is my oven of choice in the summer, so as not to heat up my house.

I’ve baked everything on the grill from bread, buns, pita, pizza, fruit crisps, galettes and this week corn bread and peaches. This is a sweet corn bread, almost a cake, which is perfectly suited for breakfast or dessert, but could certainly match up with a rich, savory meat you’ve just grilled up. (more…)

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Honey-Rhubarb Ice Cream

rhubarb ice cream

Rhubarb is one of those ingredients that people either adore or avoid. I fall into the former, and use it as much as possible during its rather short growing season. I’ve made it into crisps, pies and even eaten it raw, dipped in sugar (which is admittedly hard core). Combining the mouth-puckering sour flavor of rhubarb with sweet, creamy, honey ice cream base may just be the perfect marriage. I think this may have the power to turn even the most ardent rhubarb haters, into its biggest fans.  (more…)

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Homemade Yogurt

I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach, cheese blintzes from the Kiev, and now fresh yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into butter, yogurt and cheese. The flavor of that yogurt, made from fresh milk, must have been divine. In Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved dairy cows, so I buy local organic milk from the co-op for making yogurt.

I have come to yogurt making by the way of a proof box. Seems random, but I was recently asked to test a prototype counter-top proofer suited for home bakers. I was intrigued by the concept, because I always love a new gadget for bread baking. It works wonderfully for dough, but I’ve ended up using it even more as a perfect warm spot for making yogurt. Back in the day my mom simply warmed her oven and left the yogurt to culture in it overnight, which is probably the simplest and cheapest way to go, but I may never have been inspired to make yogurt had this proofer not arrived. Now that I have started making my own, I will never buy yogurt again. The homemade version is so easy and has such an incredible flavor. Even my boys like it better. We are a family that eats yogurt on waffles, in smoothies, in lunch boxes, for snacks and as a garnish for curries. I like it thin for chilled soups or thick (Greek style) for dips and desserts. I happen to love it plain and tangy, but I also swirl preserves, honey or marmelade into it as a sweet midnight snack. Now that my raspberry patch is heavy with fruit, I toss those in too.

All you need is milk (you choose the fat content) and some plain yogurt to get started.  (more…)

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