Perfect Lemon Bundt Cake from Sarabeth’s

Lemon Pound Cake | ZoeBakes 04

There are a few basic recipes you can try in a cookbook to get a sense of the quality of the book. I always go for the banana bread, pound cakes or a classic Bundt. I know they sound too simple to give any indication of a chef’s worth, but the simple recipes are the hardest. They can’t hide behind icing or sauces. If they don’t stand perfect as they are, then chances are the rest of the recipes won’t either.

I recently got a copy of Sarabeth Levine’s newest book, Sarabeth’s Good Morning Cookbook. For those of you who don’t know Sarabeth, she is a pastry chef who has had an acclaimed restaurant in NYC for decades. I first visited Sarabeth’s when I was in high school in the 1980s. My aunt, Melissa, lived in Manhattan and I’d go into the city from Connecticut to visit her. Brunch at Sarabeth’s became our tradition. I remember having a popover and marmalade for the first time and I was in love. Both the popovers and a Mandarin Orange spread are in her cookbook, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.

The lemon Bundt cake is perfect. It is the most delicate texture and rich flavor. I had rather small lemons and wanted it to be an intense flavor, so I added more zest. I also had a chunk of ginger on hand, so I added it to the lemon soaking syrup, but otherwise the recipe is all Sarabeth.  (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

Pavlova

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

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Scones – My Son’s 1st Pop Up Bakery

scones 13

Last week my husband got a craving for scones. Instead of turning to me, or making them himself, he asked our 12 year old son to bake them. He challenged Charlie to have hot scones ready by the time he left for work the next morning. 7:30am is an hour my boys rarely see, because they are deep in REM sleep. Agreeing to this request was based on one thing, and one thing alone, money. My sons get an allowance, but it isn’t always enough to satisfy all the activities and toys they want, so the thought of a few extra bucks in his pocket was enough to get him out of bed. And, he loves to bake, so it wasn’t much of a hardship. The night before, he picked a recipe from Baking with Julia, set up his mise en place (a fancy way to say ingredients and equipment), then set his alarm for 5:30am. He woke me up at 6am, so I could sit in the kitchen, bleary eyed, with my coffee and answer any questions he had. It was quite something to watch him navigate the recipe. He didn’t know what a pastry blender was or what cornmeal looked like, so the instructions of “cutting the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until is resembles cornmeal” meant nothing to him. I showed him a jar of cornmeal, handed him the pastry tool and off he went. Scones are really quite easy to make, but it does require a gentle touch, so they don’t come out too tough. He did it perfectly.

My husband is a big fan of raisins, so Charlie folded them in during the last steps and added a bit of zest to the dough as well. He made an entire batch, which was way more than my husband could eat, so Charlie got the idea of texting our family members, who live near by, to tell them he had hot scones coming out of the oven and he was selling them. The price is fair, the product is amazing, the baker is adorable and he sold out for the day. By the time the scones were cooling on the racks and his costumers were showing up at the back door, he had crawled into my bed and fallen back to sleep. I was left to run the store, which was just fine with me. The scones were such a success that he’s now taking pre-orders for all kinds of baked goods and has a schedule of when he has to deliver the goods. It’s the best summer job I can think of and he’s going to be a skilled baker by the time he hits the 8th grade. Could I be any prouder of him, nope, not possible! He’s my fabulous baker boy. (more…)

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Lemon-Lavender Meringue Tarts (The difference between French, Swiss and Italian Meringues)

lemon meringue

These may seem a little upside down, we usually think of the meringue piled high above the lemon filling, not the other way around. This is a simpler twist on the classic, but all the same tangy-sweet allure. The best part is there is no crust to deal with, which makes them lighter and faster to make. The meringue shell is whipped until it is as light as air, spooned into little clouds and baked just until they are set, but still slightly soft in the middle. Once cooled they’re topped with lavender scented lemon curd. The tartness of the curd is always a perfect match for the sweet meringue, and a bit of lavender creates a gentle floral touch, without going overboard. It tastes like spring, which I am desperately in need of on this April day, when we’re anticipating a snow storm.

A brief meringue primer…because so many desserts call for them and it can be just a touch confusing which type to use. There are three different types of meringue, with three distinct characteristics and three countries laying claim to them:meringue tarts 01

1. The simplest is the French meringue, which is just egg whites with sugar sprinkled over them as you whip them to peaks. If consuming raw egg whites makes you nervous, the French meringue needs to be baked to make the egg whites perfectly safe and keeps them from deflating. There are also pasteurized eggs whites on the market that eliminate any fear, but I find they don’t whip up quite as well. It is the least stable and most likely to be over whipped, but the fastest and easiest to prepare of the three types. It helps to create a lofty, shiny French meringue by starting with room temperature egg whites.

2. The Swiss meringue is made by heating the egg whites and sugar together over a double boiler until all the sugar melts. This process cooks the eggs enough to make them edible without having to bake them and gives the meringue great strength. It CAN be baked (its what I used for these tartlettes) or used to make buttercream, mousse or toasted meringue topping.

3. An Italian meringue is the most stable of the three types, but also requires the most effort to create. A sugar syrup is heated to about 242°F on a candy thermometer and then very carefully poured over whipping egg whites. This creates a very stable meringue, which will hold up in a buttercream, toppings for pies and folded into mousses or Baked Alaska.

You could make these tart shells using any of the three techniques, and it may be interesting to try them each way. For this particular go of it, I chose a Swiss meringue and here’s how… (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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Lemon-Lime Mousse with Fresh Strawberries

lemon mouses

I adore Key Lime Pie and order it as often as it appears on a dessert menu. Most of the time I’m disappointed. It is usually too sweet, not tart enough and the texture just screams gelatin. When I took a bite of this mousse it reminded me of a super light key lime pie filling. The best part is that it doesn’t actually require key limes, which have a short growing season and the bottled stuff just leaves me flat. The mousse is tangy, just a touch sweet, and it is so light, it melts on your tongue. The fresh strawberries lend a perfect balance of flavor and texture to the dessert. I put them in glass jars because the lemon-yellow mousse and lipstick-red strawberries are so pretty together I wanted to be able so see them. It is also the best way to bring dessert along to a pot luck or picnic. These jars are probably familiar to many of you who eat Bonne Maman French preserves that come in them. I save the jars and pretty checkered lids to reuse. (more…)

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