Lemon Meringue Mother’s Day Cake – How-to Video: piping roses

These meringue roses remind me of fine porcelain china, dainty and ultra feminine. Perfect on an occasion that requires something spectacular, even a bit over-the-top. Mother’s Day is one such time. It is the day when we give thanks to the women who have raised us. I have been blessed with more than my fair share of extraordinary women, who have influenced how I walk through this world. They have shown me great generosity, shared their wisdom and have loved me unconditionally. I only hope to possess these same qualities as I now raise my own children. I wanted to create something as unique and beautiful as these women, to reflect my deep appreciation.

Due to too many miles I can’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, but if I were, this is the cake I would present to her. She would love the tart layers of lemon sponge cake and lemon curd, balanced with the sweet meringue icing; to toast or not to toast is the question? Who am I kidding, I always toast, if for no other reason, I love my blow torch.

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Macarons – easier than you think!

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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Red, White & Blue Berry Cheesecake for 4th of July

4th cheesecake zb 16

I’m not sure anyone would describe me as a perfectionist? My house is neat enough, but it is clearly lived in.  I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who irons my sheets, my table clothes or even my clothes, but so far it’s just a fantasy. The only place I admit to being really obsessive is my work. I’ve been known to make a recipe over and over and over, until I am happy. It also has to pass the test of the François family, which can often feel like an episode of Chopped. They are neither shy, nor sparing with their criticism (and praise), but it seems they enjoy the criticism even more and I’ve come to trust and rely on their opinions. So, when I cut into the first round of this cheesecake, they didn’t hesitate to tell me it was “WAY TOO SWEET!” None of us are a big fans of cloyingly, teeth-on-edge, sweets.  We prefer to taste the vanilla, the berries and even a touch of sour cream in cheesecake.  After a bit of adjusting and a lot of testing, I’ve got it “Just right!”

Red (raspberry), white (vanilla bean) and blue (blueberry) layers of distinct flavors, all work beautifully together in this 4th of July Cheesecake. The fresh blueberry topping is held together with just enough gelatin to give it a gorgeous, glossy look and makes it easy to cut. In order to achieve the clean layers you’ll need to have some time to let each one set, so it isn’t a recipe for a last minute dinner party. It’s super easy and completely worth the extra time to present such a fun dessert at your holiday party. (more…)

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Rugelach – Raspberry, Nuts and Chocolate wrapped in Cream Cheese Dough

My maternal great great grandmother, Shirley Sierra (the name given to her at Ellis Island), had a bakery in Kiev, Russia (now part of Ukraine). She moved to Brooklyn, NY at the turn of the 20th century and continued her “bakery” there. It wasn’t a shop as we imagine now, it was just her, baking in her apartment. According to my 92 year old grandmother, Sarah Berkowitz, her Bubbe would make rugelach, challah, strudel and all kinds of Jewish baked goods for her family and neighbors. She described their small apartment kitchen as stacked high with goodies, which in the depression must have been a welcome sight.

This morning when I told my grandmother that I was baking rugelach with raspberry preserves and chocolate, she said that was “way too modern for her tastes.” She prefers hers stuffed with chopped prunes and raisins. None of Bubbe Shirley’s recipes exist today, no one even remembers if they were written down way back when. Until recently I got a steady supply of rugelach from a bakery in town, but when they shut their doors I was determined to create my own recipe. After several attempts, all of which were tasty, but not quite ready for prime time, I landed on this recipe. The dough is soft and tender, with just a slight zip from the cream cheese and zest, which is a perfect compliment to the sweet fillings. Eating them brings back great memories.  (more…)

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Raspberry, White Chocolate and Blueberry Tart!

The patriotic colors and summery flavors combine to make this the perfect 4th of July dessert.  Red raspberries, white chocolate pastry cream and blueberries top an almond shortbread crust. Add a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and you have an easy, yet elegant pastry. Given the holiday I made the tart in a rectangular pan to mimic the shape of the flag, but it also works well in a more traditional round pan or even as individual tartlettes. Later in the summer try this same dessert, but switch the berries for fresh peaches or plums.

Related post: Blueberry Cobbler with White Peach Ice Cream

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Linzer Torte – (aka Jam Biscuits in honor of the Royal Wedding!)

A layer of raspberry jam is spread between a rich, buttery, hazelnut cookie dough. The crisscrossed lattice top is the signature design of what may be the oldest recorded pastry; the Linzer Torte. It was developed in Linz, Austria around the year 1650 and has been made much the same way ever since. Why fix it, if it is perfect just as it is. However, I can rarely leave things as they are, so I made them in bite sized portions.

There is a version of this same dessert in England and they call them Jam Biscuits. Today, after watching the Royal Wedding I think it fitting that we bake something British, even if they originated elsewhere. Check out the Linzer Cookie I made for the Cooking Channel blog, same ingredients, different look!

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