Strawberry Mascarpone Cake with Raspberry Cream and a Fondant Crown

Pink Crown Cake | ZoeBakes (1 of 17)

A friend asked me to create a cake for a 6-year-old with a fondness for tiaras and all things sparkly. As the mother of two boys who were never that into sparkles, I jumped at the chance to play with rolled fondant and make something worthy of a princess party. I knew exactly which recipe would suit the occasion, since I’ve been reading through Abby Dodge’s newest book, the EVERYDAY BAKER. Abby has a gorgeous pink cake with layers of strawberry mascarpone icing and tender white cake, which struck me as a perfect base for a pink fondant crown, but also sophisticated enough for all the adults at the party.

20160115-Pink Crown Cake | ZoeBakes (2 of 17)

Abby Dodge has been sharing her knowledge of baking for years in her many books, in national magazines and in her Baking Boot Camp Craftsy class. The EVERYDAY BAKER is no ordinary baking book, it is a full education in the art of pastry making. Abby lovingly takes you through the techniques of baking wonderful cookies, cakes, breads, pies, and more. She’ll guide you through with such grace and joy that none of it will seem intimidating for even the novice bakers. She has been an inspiration to me as a baker and cookbook author and I am thrilled that she has joined me in a giveaway of her essential book. Please leave a note in the comments about what pastry you’d most like to learn for a chance to win a copy of her book. (The contest is open to US and Canadian addresses). (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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Strawberry Shortcake

strawberry shortcake zb 11

When I moved into our new house last year, the one thing I left behind at my old address, other than my amazing neighbors, was my garden. Some of you may remember Stefan and my “urban farm” project. I’d worked, or at least assisted, in the creation of a spectacular 14 x 14-foot farm. In my new house we have great big trees, that give us wonderful shade and privacy, but my chances of recreating my vegetable garden are zero. I’m lucky just to grow hostas. I studied the patterns of the sun on my new yard, in hopes that a small sliver of day light would present itself. The only spot is a little nook by my back door, but it is covered in concrete, so tilling the soil will never happen. On a trip to the farmers market I bought a potted patio tomato. Why not herbs and berries in pots too?

patio garden

Now I have a rather impressive (albeit small) crop of lavender, sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, mint, other herbs and

strawberries

two varieties of strawberries. It isn’t the lush mini-farm I once had, but at least I can step out my back door and “harvest” from the pots.

strawberries

Truth be told, I’ve only eaten a handful of strawberries from those pots. I’m not sure if it is the rabbits, which we have many, or my boys, who are eating them all? The few I have picked are sweet, a little tart and the most spectacular color red, throughout. The berries we buy in the store are often perfect looking, but when you cut into them they reveal a hollow, white interior, that resembles an empty shell, with a flavor to match.  The home grown variety are dense and lovely, just small in number. My new neighbor, who just happens to be an inspired food blogger, Stephanie Meyer of Fresh Tart, brought me a perfect summer gift of a couple pints of hand picked, locally grown strawberries. They were just like my little beauties from my pots, but a recipe’s worth. When she handed them to me, I knew I should do as little to them as possible, they just don’t need adorning. A tiny bit of sugar, a splash of a sweet wine, some herbs from my pots, paired with shortcake and whipped cream. That’s it. (more…)

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Homemade Fresh Strawberry Jello for Mother’s Day

strawberry jello

Jell-O always seemed a bit like magic to me. Add water to the brightly colored, sugary powder and in no time it’s solid and giggles like a good belly laugh. The problem is, the stuff in the box tastes like congealed, watered-down kool-aid. There is no actual fruit involved, just artificial color and flavor. Luckily gelatin desserts have earned more respect in the past decade with the popularization of panna cotta and other sophisticated, intense flavors, like wine and espresso. The best part of using gelatin is being able to create sexy shapes out of a liquid. Panna cotta just wouldn’t be the same if it was a puddle of custard on a plate. Knowing how to work with unflavored gelatin properly means you can set a liquid, without having it bounce like a rubber ball. You want to use just enough to keep its shape, but still have a smooth, luscious feel. This dessert is nothing but pure, ripe, sweet strawberries pureed and set with a bit of gelatin in a fun mold. A bowl of perfect strawberries and cream is nice, but when you present this regal dessert to your mom, it will take her breath away and she deserves that. (more…)

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Mother’s Day Meringues (light and simple summer desserts)

On mother’s day, I personally think there should be over-the-top displays of appreciation and beauty. This will come in the form of children helping their mom plant flowers in the garden, cleaning the garage, a foot massage, a favorite meal (basically anything cooked by someone else) and, of course, a gorgeous dessert. After eating the before mentioned  favorite meal, she may long for something light and ethereal. Meringues. This is one easy recipe, served three different ways. It can be made by children of all ages, maybe with a little help from dad. By adding flavors to the meringue, you can personalize the dessert. (more…)

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The Best Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream – roasting is the secret.

Last weekend my folks presented me with a container of fresh strawberries they picked up at an Amish Farmer’s Market. They were ruby red and absolutely gorgeous, in a not-from-the-supermarket way. Their shapes were slightly distorted, their sizes uneven, and yet, they smelled like pure strawberry, in a way Bonne Bell Lip Smackers can only wish for. The beauty of growing your own fruits and vegetables or buying local is that they have a certain ugly beauty, which is not an oxymoron at all. The Japanese call this gorgeous imperfection “Wabi-sabi” and it is what makes a piece of pottery (or fruit) special and clearly not mass produced.

My husband’s favorite ice cream is strawberry. In fact, it can be a point of frustration between us when we go to Convention Grill for dinner. We always split a malt, and it always has to be strawberry. Their malts, even a 1/2 order are fit for a family of 4, so I can never finish one on my own and prefer to share, but does it ALWAYS have to be strawberry? Yep, married for 20 years in August and that is what the man likes, so be it. When I saw the container of strawberries from the farmer’s market I knew instantly that I would use them in ice cream. The color was outrageous and they just begged to be dipped in cream, but not until I roasted them in a touch of balsamic to add even more character. I roasted them to concentrate the sugars and to get rid of the excess water content before mixing them in the vanilla custard ice cream base. This produced a more intense strawberry flavor and a much smoother, less icy consistency. I like to leave some chunks in my fruit ice cream to add texture and drive the favor home, but not if those chunks are hard as a rock. Roasting the fruit first created the perfect flavor and texture. I even made a malted milk shake for my husband with it, which was CRAZY good! (more…)

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