Blueberry Muffins

There is nothing more quintessentially breakfast than a blueberry muffin. For me a blueberry muffin has to be chock full of contrasts. It should have enough sweetness to feel decadent, but balanced by the tartness of the blueberries and lemon zest. A perfect muffin also has a top that has a thin crust of spiced streusel and under it is the tender muffin, stuffed with fruit. I tried to put as many blueberries in this muffin as it could possibly hold without losing its structure. Blueberries alone have a subtle flavor, so they are there to add some flavor, but even more moisture to the muffin.

Blueberry Muffins | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë Francois

Muffins are super easy to make, but to have a tender crumb, that doesn’t become tough, you need to mix it just enough to incorporate everything evenly, but stop before you develop too much gluten. You can watch me make them in my instagram video. I baked the BIG blueberry muffins in 7 tulip muffin papers and used individual, straight sided, molds, but they are just as good in regular papers baked in traditional muffin pans.  (more…)

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Chocolate Chip Cookies 101

Chocolate Chip Cookies 101 | Everything you need to make the best chocolate chip cookies ever. | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

When I was at the University of Vermont studying theater, studio art, English lit, philosophy, photography, Latin, art history and everything else a Liberal Arts Degree offers, I decided to throw a business class into the mix. Truth is, I was just fulfilling a math credit requirement. I learned how to balance a checkbook and some basic—very basic—accounting, which went something like this … don’t spend more than you make! Then the professor had us write a business plan. It was the mid-1980s and I grew up eating Mrs Field’s, David’s and Famous Amos cookies, which were the “gourmet” cookies of the day. While in college I was also the “baker” at a favorite breakfast joint in Winooski, VT and spent my free time baking to relax after classes. So, I wrote my business plan based on a fictitious cookie company called Zoë’s Cookies. I can’t remember how I did in the class, but six months later I was standing on Church Street in Burlington, VT, selling my cookies from a hand pushed cart.

This post is your chocolate chip cookie primer: the result of what I learned making those cookies and the countless batches I’ve baked in the 32 years since then. This post offers a really great chocolate chip cookie recipe, but it is also a Chocolate Chip Cookies 101. I want to explain what the ingredients do to a cookie and how baking can change them. You can tweak your cookies to be just how you like them using my cookie guide towards the bottom of the post. (more…)

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Chocolate Croissant (Pain au Chocolat)

chocolate croissant | ZoeBakes(1 of 5)

The only thing better than a buttery croissant, is one stuffed with chocolate. These are made with the same dough as the plain croissants, but are rolled differently. You will find my video on how to make them and the dough on Instagram.

When I studied dance in Westport, CT, there was a bakery conveniently located next door to the dance studio. I was way more obsessed with the flakiness of their perfect croissants, than I was with mastering my grand jete or pirouettes, which is why I became a pastry chef and not a dancer. As much as I still love to dance, I think I made the right decision.

chocolate croissant | ZoeBakes(3 of 5)

Chocolate Croissant (Pain au Chocolat)

1 batch croissant dough

12 ounces chocolate (I used bittersweet, but I suppose you can use any chocolate you like)

Follow these directions for making the croissant dough. Follow the directions for rolling and baking the croissants in the “Pain au Chocolat” video on my Instagram page.

chocolate croissant | ZoeBakes(5 of 5)

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Croissants 101

Croissants cooling on a wire rack | Photo by Zoë François

There are very few things as satisfying as a perfect croissant. Flaky, tender, just the right amount of pull and give, and BUTTERY. Have you ever made one? Probably not, because they’re labor intensive and require a bit of skill to “laminate” the dough. This is an industry term for layering the butter within the dough. It’s not hard, but it requires some patience and a good amount of time to do it right. I’ve had more requests on my instagram account for a video on how to make them than anything else. So, that’s what I’ve done. I learned this technique at the CIA and I’ve changed nothing (well, I cut them differently, so as not to waste a bit of dough). If you haven’t visited my Instagram stories, you’ll find tutorials (set to the music in my head) for everything from macarons to meringue (because I love using my blow torch) and I take requests for things people are having troubles with in their own kitchens.

Here is the recipe for the croissants, but the instructions are basically useless without the visuals, so come to my Instagram account (you’ll find the video on my homepage in the “highlights” archive. Just look for croissants 101.

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Rhubarb-Orange Jam with Ball Canning Jars

Rhubarb-Orange Jam | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

It may come as a surprise to you that I have never made jam before. I’ll give you a moment to absorb that fact…. It is sad, but true. I have been in the presence of many friends and colleagues who have made jam, but I hid behind my camera. I’ve had the Blue Ribbon Queen of Preserves, Barb Schaller, take me by the hand and show me the ropes, but I was slow to follow, and that is how, all these years later, I’d never gotten around to making my own. So, when the Ball jar company wrote to me and asked if I’d participate in their CAN-IT-FORWARD event, I said YES. I knew if I didn’t do it now, it may never happen. They were willing to send me everything I’d need, and more, to make jam. No more excuses.

Well, I am happy to tell you that it was WAY easier than I could have ever imagined. I feel even more ridiculous for putting this off for so long. I simply followed the instructions in the Ball Blue Book for rhubarb-orange jam. Next time I will go my own way, but for my virgin run I wanted to do it exactly as they suggested and I wasn’t disappointed. Ok, maybe I added a bit more zest than they said, because I adore it, but that was my only modification. I’m hooked.

If you’ve never canned before, or if you’ve been doing it for years, here is a giveaway from Ball that you’ll love. See the bottom of this post for more details… The giveaway is finished, but recipe to follow. (more…)

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The Ultimate Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins in a Muffin Tin | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I had a forehead thumping moment recently when a friend asked me for a blueberry muffin recipe. In all the years I’ve been doing this site, I’ve never posted the most basic of breakfast treats. How did I get away with this, especially when they are one of my favorites. For me the perfect blueberry muffins are light, fluffy and bursting with blueberries. I added a touch of ginger because it perks up the flavor of the berries, but not so much that it’s overpowering. The topping is buttery, sweet and bakes into a lacy crust. I like to bake them in large “Texas-sized” muffin cups, so there is lots of muffin top and just as much of the berry center. They are great small, but I am always left wanting for more and for some reason I feel less guilty eating one big one, instead of two little ones.  (more…)

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