Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Bars

There seem to be two schools of thought about Thanksgiving desserts. Those who must have pumpkin pie and those who avoid anything pumpkin, other than the spice mix. I am squarely in the pumpkin camp and so is my whole family, but if you or someone you love is not, these Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Bars are the perfect way to ease into using the Thanksgiving essential and give a loving gesture to those who adore pumpkin.

The base of these bars comes from Michelle Lopez’s new book Weeknight Baking, which is made up of great recipes that are quick and easy enough to fit into everyone’s busy schedule, even at the holidays. I added the swirl of pumpkin, which is also super easy and fast, but makes them just right for this week. Michelle has lots of great ideas for jazzing up the cheesecake bars and once you see my technique for swirling, you can add your own flair. You can easily make these in time for the big Turkey Day and I suggest making a double batch, so you have leftovers to snack on and stick into school lunches. 

Watch me make these cheesecake bars on my Instagram.

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Pear Panna Cotta Cake

Pear Panna Cotta Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

When I was growing up my paternal grandmother made a dessert she called “Swedish Cream” on Christmas day. It was rich beyond imagining (at least when I was a child) and its arrival meant the festivities were coming to a close, because we’d all slip into a Christmas Swedish Cream dream state and the adults dozing off usually followed. Much, much later in life, while at culinary school, I realized it was a sour cream panna cotta that she’d been making all those years. My Pear Panna Cotta Cake is inspired by my Granny’s dessert, but I went a little pastry chef with it. I combined Swedish Cream with a poached pear puree and then topped it with a layer of the poaching liquid delicately set into a Jelly with gelatin and put it on a base of almond joconde sponge cake. The dessert is multiple layers and it takes a wee bit of time, but it is actually super easy to make. You can also stop with one or two layers if that’s all time allows. To decorate the sides I sliced pears on a mandoline and dried them in the oven, which couldn’t be easier and they look so stunning. In her memory I will carry on my Granny’s tradition of ending the holiday meal with a smooth, rich, delicate Pear Panna Cotta Cake. 

You can watch me make the Pear Panna Cotta Cake in my instagram video

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Cherry Blossom Cake

Cherry Blossom Cake | zoebakes photo by Zoë François 

The magic trick of cake decorating was revealed to me 16 years ago when I attended a week long class at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Art outside of Chicago. Anyone who loves cake and piping icing knows the Wilton name and reaches for their products to get the job done. I was beyond thrilled and honored when they asked me to try out their new line of products, Texturra Performance Bakeware and Versa-Tools, and create a signature dessert using them. This Cherry Blossom Cake came to me instantly, because I wanted to utilize the piping skills I learned from their classes all those years ago. I had just been on a trip to NYC and the cherry trees were in full bloom with their sweet, delicate blossoms. The inside of the cake is a spiral of sponge cake, which I baked in the new Texturra Performance baking sheet. Since they claim it is truly non-stick, I tested it by skipping the parchment paper. This is not something I would usually do, since parchment is the insurance policy, I rely on to make sure my cakes don’t glue themselves to the pan. The Wilton promise was spot on, the cake released from the unlined Texturra pan with ease, rendering the extra parchment unnecessary. For avid bakers, you know how exciting this is. 

I filled the sponge cake with a simple whipped cream and cherry sauce. This is where the new multi-functional Versa-Tools came in handy. I used them to make the filling, spread it, roll the cake and even decorate the sides. They are flexible, useful and multipurpose, which is everything you want in a kitchen tool. 

For the flowers I piped a simple cherry blossom with lemon royal icing and stuck them to the buttercream covered cake. There are a few steps to this Cherry Blossom Cake, but it is such a fun project and the results are stunning. 

You can watch me make this cake start to finish in my Instagram video and the recipe below.

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Silver Ombre Cake (banana & chocolate layer cake)

Silver Ombre Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This Silver Ombre Cake was inspired by the arrival of Tessa Huff’s new book, Icing on the Cake. I’ve always been intrigued by cakes with the gradient shades of frosting, otherwise known as ombre. In her new book, Tessa shows us how it’s done, along with ALL her tricks of the trade she used in her California bakery. I made my ombre cake for Mother’s Day and was inspired by the silver hair I have developed from raising two fantastic boys! Hahaha. I’ve earned every strand and celebrate my grey hair with tremendous pride and honor at having lived a life that was full of challenge and joy. So, the cake is a reflection of my love of being a mom and celebrating being a woman of a certain age. And, it’s just so pretty! 

I had the great fortune of meeting Tessa while I was in LA last week. She is so lovely and it was a joy to meet the woman who creates the beautiful cakes. You can see a picture of us below. We were also joined by Adam and Ryan, who also have a new book, Husbands That Cook, which I’ll dive into next! 

Silver Ombre Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The decorating is the real star on this cake and in Tessa’s book, but she provides her tried and true recipes for cakes, pies, cookies and anything else you can decorate. I used layers of my banana and devil’s food cakes, separated by a layer of a chocolate icing as the foundation. You can watch me create the ombre finish for the cake in my instagram video and recipes below.  Read More

Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake

Chocolate Microwave Mug Cakes topped with ice cream

I purposely waited until after April 1st to post this little Disco Party of a Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake, because I didn’t think you’d take it seriously enough. It’s very serious! 😉

The recipe was inspired by one of the most celebrated pastry chefs of our time, Christina Tosi. Her new Milk Bar book, all about cake, is full of playful, but delicious cakes. Her molten chocolate microwave mug cake is in the same chapter as crock-pot cakes and there are 50 pages dedicated to cake pops, sans the stick.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Fool Cheesecake

Strawberry Rhubarb Fool Cheesecake | ZoëBakes photo by Zoë François

This Strawberry Rhubarb Fool Cheesecake was a happy mistake. You know how they say you learn from your failures? Well, I was going for a tourteau fromage and it went wrong in a big way.

I wanted to make the classic French cheesecake that is baked in a rounded pan, is lightened with whipped egg whites and has a top crust that is burnt, black as night, and is domed. Mine came out a lovely caramel color and sank like a bowl. So, instead of feeling defeated, I used it as a bowl. I was going to just make a traditional strawberry New York cheesecake topping, but it’s almost spring and the rhubarb is popping up all over instagram, so I added a rhubarb fool as well. What started out as a mistake turned into a family favorite. There was lots of joy and praise leveled at this delicious weeble of a dessert. 

The tourteau fromage I was trying for is made with a young goat cheese, but my family preferred the version I made with a combination of cream cheese and mascarpone. I figured since I’d failed at the traditional one, it wouldn’t matter if I really took it off the rails and just developed my very own thing. It has a subtle flavor that is the perfect vessel for the tart fool and sweet strawberries.

The rhubarb fool is nothing more than roasted rhubarb folded into barely sweetened whipped cream. This simple preparation of the fruit (we all know rhubarb is a vegetable that passes as a fruit) is very British and there are many ways to make a fool, but this is the simplest and most fool proof. Oh, come on, you knew that pun was coming. The strawberry sauce is just the berries, a bit of sugar and a touch of starch to hold the juices together. 

I decorated it to look like a jester’s hat, because the whole fool theme. Actually, I realized what I had done after I took the photo, it was just a happy accident. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Fool Cheesecake | ZoëBakes photo by Zoë François

You can watch me make this Strawberry Rhubarb Fool Cheesecake in my instagram video and the recipe is below.

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