Cherry Cheesecake

cherry cheesecake zb 03

I started off thinking this was a Valentine’s post, with a heart-shaped sensuous cheesecake, topped with ruby-red cherry sauce. It still is, but I have to digress for a moment and talk about the Olympics. It is more connected and less random than you might think. When I was researching the origin of the cheesecake I found out, thanks the internet, that this favorite cake (which I think is really a custard, but now I digress in my digression) dates back to about 250 bc, where a Roman politician first wrote down the recipe. I am sharing it with you, because the translation is hysterical and I can only imagine the range in results with such crude instructions:

“Recipe for libum (cheesecake) – Bray 2 pounds of cheese thoroughly in a mortar; when it is thoroughly macerated, add 1 pound of wheat flour, or, if you wish the cake to be more dainty, ½ pound of fine flour, and mix thoroughly with the cheese. Add 1 egg, and work the whole well. Pat out a loaf, place on leaves, and bake slowly on a warm hearth under a crock.”

It goes on to talk about covering it in honey and poppy-seeds if you so desire. Even the “dainty” version sounds a bit severe to me. The editor who translated this couldn’t help themselves and added a note at the end that reads…”These recipes cannot be considered alluring.” They were, however, hearty and fed to the ancient Olympians during the games to keep them well fueled. Oh, how far we have come from the times when you had to “bray” (grind) cheese to get it soft enough. This rather utilitarian version of the cheesecake may have satisfied the ancient Romans, but today we are going for something a little bit sexier.

My cheesecake is made with ricotta and a touch of honey, as a nod to the original Romans, but that’s as far as the similarities go. Just a touch of flour is used as a slight binder, but not so much as to ruin the luxurious texture. I whipped the egg whites and folded them into the cheese batter to keep it lighter than some of my denser, custard-style cheesecakes. The crust is crushed ginger cookies and the cherry topping is made with a hint of vanilla, cardamom and ginger extracts. This cake would keep any Olympian going, but it’s romantic enough to serve to your sweetheart on Valentine’s day. (more…)

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Chocolate Fondue (No Special Pot Required)

chocolate fondue

In the 1970s I lived in Westport, Connecticut and my best friend’s aunt owned a fondue restaurant. It was the hot spot in town for people to go on dates and it all seemed terribly sophisticated and romantic to my 13 year old self. I have to admit I’m a little disappointed to have missed the era when everyone got a fondue pot, or two, as a wedding gift. By the time I got married in the 90s, fondue seemed dated and reminded us too much of our parents. Luckily, most things that are worth while enjoy a comeback and I predict that fondue is on its way. Traditionally, fondue was nothing more than melted chocolate that was kept warm in a pot called a Caquelon, which was set over a sterno or other source of fire. My version is a ganache, which is thick enough to cling to the variety of treats dipped into it, but thin enough to stay liquid without the fire. I poured the ganache into individual ramekins so each person has their own “pot” of chocolate to dip into. You can set out an assortment of cakes, cookies, meringues, fresh and dried fruits for a larger party or a romantic Valentine’s Day with someone special. (more…)

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Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Rice Treats for Valentine’s Day

heart rice treats zb 05

Need something quick and fun to make with your kids for Valentine’s Day? Really, the kids are just a foil for my own craving to make something silly and delicious. As you may remember, this is not the first crispy rice bar to appear on ZoeBakes, its a bit of a thing with me. I pretend I’m doing it for the kids, but I eat most of them. This version (my favorite so far) is inspired by the “compost” cookie at the Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC. I added everything but the kitchen sink: pretzels, oreos, milk chocolate and potato chips. All those sweet and salty snacks tossed with buttery marshmallows are seriously tasty. You can add any of your favorite snack foods to the recipe, just chop them up fairly small, so you can press the treats into a heart shaped cookie cutter.

The winners of last weeks giveaway are announced at the bottom of this post.


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Valentine Cookies and a Bright Red Scale!

Did you know that Saint Valentine’s Day dates back to Pope Gelasius in 500AD, not the Hallmark Cards of 1910? The original holiday was a religious one, with nothing to do with romance, flowers, chocolate or red royal icing. The modern Valentine’s Day must have been recreated by a pastry chef.  It is an excuse to make sweet, pretty, heart-shaped treats. There really isn’t another time of the year when heart-shaped desserts are permissible. Shame really, but Valentine’s Day owns the shape. So, we must take advantage of the opportunity.

These cookies are not only pretty, but most importantly they are delicious. They are made of a lemon shortbread and decorated with a lemon icing. Often these stylized cookies give way to aesthetics and forget that the flavor still rules supreme. These are both tasty and gorgeous!

As my Valentine’s gift to you I am giving away a Bright Red Baker’s Scale! Just leave me a comment about your favorite Valentine’s Day dessert and I will pick a random winner next week.* Contest Closed! (more…)

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