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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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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Matzo Crack S’mores

Matzo S'mores 02 | ZoeBakes

Every year I make matzo crack at Passover, because I don’t think I’d be invited back to the Davis family seder if I didn’t. This year I am on a bit of a homemade marshmallow kick, so I thought why not combine two of my favorites into one CRAZY delicious and fun dessert. Bang, it’s a new classic in my house.

Matzo S'mores 01 | ZoeBakes (more…)

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Easter Cheesecake

Easter Cheesecake | ZoeBakes

Easter is the holiday that ushers in spring. The tulips are starting to make their way out of the frozen earth and the trees are hinting at color. It has been a long winter and all of these little changes are so very welcome. It seems fitting to make a cake that is full of color and blooms. But, as a nod of respect to this past winter and all of its fury, I created an all white blanket of roses over a swirl of wild color within.  (more…)

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7 Layer Cake for Passover (Matzo Sponge Cake with Poppyseed Buttercream)

Passover Cake

Next week is the beginning of Passover. I love this holiday for the ritual, the gathering of wonderful people and the challenge to come up with new desserts worthy of the day. This cake was inspired by a conversation I had with Deb Perelman about Dobos Tortes, which is a cake made up of many layers (7 to be exact) of sponge cake, separated with chocolate buttercream and topped with a layer of caramel. It is a style of cake that is claimed by many cultures, each with a different name depending on heritage or the state you are standing in. Dobos Torte (Hungarian), Deberge Cake (New Orleans), Seven-Layer (I think of this as a Jewish cake from New York, but as soon as I write this, I’m sure I’ll hear from folks who will correct me) and Drum cake (I’ve never heard it called this before, but just read it on Wikipedia).

Purists beware, my cake is so loosely based on the cake I described above, that it will make some of you squirm. Stick with me, give it another name if you need to, but try this version, it is delicious. One of my very favorite Jewish desserts are poppy seed hamantashen, which I need to make for you soon. They are cookies stuffed with sweetened poppy seeds. I thought the poppy seeds would be a fantastic match for the layers of orange scented sponge cake and chocolate buttercream. It is also stunning to cut into the cake and see the speckled icing. I left off the caramel top and added chocolate shavings. But, if you want to add a bit of caramel, for tradition sake, then why not make a batch of my Caramel Matzo and use it to decorate the top.

Baking cakes without flour is something of a magic trick. The only saving grace to the baker during Passover is matzo cake meal, and it can be a touch overbearing if used all on its own. To create a sponge cake that is both delicious and light, adding a bit of potato starch to the recipe is key. (more…)

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Flourless Chocolate Lava Cake for Passover

The chocolate lava cake has got to be one of the most popular desserts to ever hit American dessert menus. The story goes that Jean-George Vongerichten created it in New York, sometime in the 80s. Others claim it goes farther back in history and should be credited to the French. Whoever was the first to pull a chocolate cake from the oven too soon, to discover that it was thoroughly baked on the outside and still warm and gooey on the inside, was a genius. Since the 80s nearly all restaurants have created a version of this cake. Some of the recipes, including Vongerichten’s, are not actually flourless, but for Passover it must be. The version I have created is made with bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, butter and egg whites. It is just a touch lighter in texture than many recipes, due to the whipped egg whites. If you need to make the dessert parve (no dairy), you can replace the butter with your favorite margarine or butter substitute, but not oil. These can be prepared a few days ahead, refrigerated and baked just before serving. (more…)

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