Chocolate Caramel Matzo for Passover (Updated!)

Chocolate Caramel Matzoh | ZoeBakes (1 of 1)-3

This year I added a little extra flavor power to this classic recipe. I made a triple batch to make sure I could send gift bags home after the seder. All the toppings were a hit, but the toasted sesame seeds with the milk or dark chocolate is my new favorite.

Every Passover I make this recipe from Marcy Goldman’s classic book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. When I was growing up I loved matzo with butter or my mother’s matzo brei, but as a dessert it never inspired me. Until my friend and co-author Jeff introduced me to Marcy Goldman’s recipe she calls: “My Trademark, most requested, absolutely magnificent caramel matzoh crunch!” Despite the main ingredient being matzo it satisfied my craving for a decadent dessert at Passover. The candy was met with rave reviews and is now part of our tradition along with the fruit pâtes. It really is magnificent and a bit addictive, which is why I save it for Passover! (more…)

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Banana Bread

banana bread

Here in Minnesota there is a timeless tradition of going to the “cabin.” During the summer everyone heads out of the city on the weekend to fish and during the winter they still fish, but on frozen lakes. I am not originally from around here and have not quite embraced this weekend exodus, but I have a friend who is and she lures me to her cabin, not with the prospect of fishing, but with her banana bread. She always bakes the loaf in the early morning while I am sleeping; I wake to the fabulous smell of the bread and fresh coffee. It is sweet and cakey, much lighter than this fruity bread has the reputation for. After 17 years in Minnesota I still don’t have a cabin, but I am grateful for the 5-hour drive to my friend’s, just to have her banana bread.

I also keep a stash of overly ripe bananas in my freezer, so I can make it at home. The flavor of this recipe depends on the sweetness of the fruit. Those black spotted bananas your kids don’t want to eat in their lunch are perfect. If you don’t have any overly ripe ones on hand, you can roast the fruit to bring out the sweetness. Just throw your yellow bananas; the green ones won’t work, on to a cookie sheet, peels and all. Pierce the skins and bake them at 350°F for about 45 minutes. Let the bananas cool and then peel and mash. (more…)

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S’mores – rainy days can bring sweet inspiration!


Sometimes great ideas can come from the strangest places. Who would have imagined that spending my birthday, in the rain, making S’mores with people I didn’t know, could have been so much fun and such creative inspiration. In November my good friend, and partner in many culinary adventures, Jen, treated me to a luxurious night at a resort. As bad luck would have it, it was pissing rain all night, which may have stopped the average souls from sharing a bottle of wine by the beach. Jen and I bundled up, grabbed blankets, umbrellas and sat in the rain by the fire. Apparently this scene was odd enough to attract the attention of a lovely, adventure seeking couple (Sue and Anton), who pulled up a soaking wet bench and joined us. The only thing missing in this rather bizzarre setting were sticks with marshmallows. Not for long! Sue disappeared and came back with a “S’more kit.” It seemed perfectly right at the moment to be drinking a lovely bottle of red wine and singeing marshmallows in the fire, while balancing an umbrella. They were perfection, albeit too sweet and not as good as I remember them from childhood. The concept of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers and toasted puffs of whipped sugar is brilliant, but once you hit 40, one’s taste-buds crave a little more complexity and less unadorned SWEET.

This moment deserved remembering and the S’more begged to be reinvented. This small bite of homemade cinnamon graham cookies, chocolate ganache and toasted almond meringue is my take on the classic. But, I added a hidden treasure. Under the cloud of meringue lies coconut and a candied pecan. The texture and richness of the nut are just what the S’more was always missing for me. I suggest you bring them to a superbowl party, but leave a few at home to snack on later. (more…)

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Russian Tea Cakes (Mexican Wedding Cakes) – Great Holiday Gift Idea

Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cakes

Cakes? It is a slight mystery why these are called cakes and not cookies, but no matter the name, they are delicious. How can you go wrong with toasted pecans, brown butter and sugar? The texture is like a shortbread cookie that is taken to new heights by the richness of the nuts. They are typically served at the holidays, maybe because they look like little snow balls, and at special occasions, like weddings, as the name suggests. This holiday my aunt Kristin, who is my pastry muse, requested them. It is ridiculous that my house isn’t stocked with them all year round. The recipe is so simple and the results so incredible. Thanks to Kristin my cookie jar is now full. They make a great gift because they pack up well and actually improve with a bit of time, which can’t be said for many cookies. (more…)

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Coconut Caramel Cake – Not Quite German!

This is a “German Chocolate Cake,” but instead of the layers of chocolate cake I used a coconut sponge. For the longest time I thought the original version was invented in Germany, hence the name. But, it was actually discovered in Dallas, Texas around 1957. A woman shared the recipe with a local newspaper and it became an instant success. The mystery doesn’t end there, because the cake wasn’t named for her either. Her recipe called for “German’s Baking Chocolate” from the Baker’s Chocolate Company. The name of the cake gave credit to Sam German, who created the chocolate. Eventually the possessive apostrophe was dropped from the name, and all the confusion began.

The sticky, gooey, caramel-coconut topping is rich and filled with pecans. Traditionally the cake was served topped with maraschino cherries, but I use chopped dried cherries in the coconut filling instead. The bittersweet chocolate ganache between the layers gives this cake a distinct “Almond Joy” candy flavor. If you are a traditionalist you should try this with my dark devil’s food cake, it is not the same as the milk chocolate “German’s Chocolate Cake” recipe, it’s BETTER! (more…)

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