French Silk Pie

French Silk Pie | ZoeBakes Photo by Zoë François

When I moved to Minneapolis from Vermont, I hadn’t expected to experience culture shock. I was raised mostly in New England with stints in Northern California. Somehow, those places, as far from each other as they can get on a map, are more alike than the vast land in the middle. I understood the food of the coasts, including the pie, dominated by apple and pumpkin or even lemon meringue. But, the Midwest has a pie culture all its own. I first learned of French Silk Pie in the 1990s from a local Minneapolis newspaper’s people choice award. Every year Bakers’ Square would win “best dessert” in Minneapolis with their French Silk Pie. I was painfully aware of this because I was baking my heart out at a local restaurant and despite all my efforts, I could never touch this pie’s popularity. I did finally taste one, and IMHO, it was sweet and lacking in any real chocolate flavor, but the texture was certainly worthy of the name. Out of spite (I was young and sillier then), I never served a French Silk Pie in any restaurant I worked at and honestly, this is the VERY first one I have ever baked. It comes from the beautiful new baking book, Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, by Shauna Sever. Not only did Shauna change my heart about this pie, but has taught me so much about the culture of baking in my own backyard. This pie is everything people loved about the one from Bakers’ Square, but is all about the deep chocolate flavor. Be sure to use a high quality, bitter chocolate (70-75% cacao) or the pie can get very sweet, FAST! In her book the pie is topped with a homemade Cool Whip, which is 100% in keeping with the traditional pie. I left the cream unstabilized and unsweetened, because I like the contrast of the sweet filling to the clean, rich cream on top, you choose which way to go, I offer both ways below. This recipe uses raw eggs, which doesn’t bother Shauna or me in the least, but if you are at all worried about eating raw egg, then buy pasteurized ones. 

You can watch me make Shauna’s pie in my instagram video and she graciously shared the recipe, which is below.

French Silk Pie | ZoeBakes Photo by Zoë François (more…)

Read More

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The only thing better than a single peanut butter cookie, are two with chocolate and peanut butter mousse between them in the perfect Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies! My friend and business strategist extraordinaire, Stephani, is pregnant and manages to work peanut butter sandwich cookies into every conversation we have. There’s no stopping the cravings of a pregnant woman and I think they may be contagious. These cookies are from the pages of the newest baking book from Bake From Scratch, The Cookie Collection. The book is a compilation of many recipes from their magazine and special issue editions and even includes some recipes from yours truly. I had Stephani in mind when I chose to make these, instead of my Piñon Mexican Wedding Cookies or Caramelized White Chocolate Sables with Sea Salt, which are both terrific, but I’ve made them many times and well, cravings! In the recipe from The Cookie Collection, they made the sandwiches with jelly, which seems like the perfect lunch box treat, but I went with a ganache instead, both ways will satisfy.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François  

You can watch me make these Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies in my Instagram video and recipe below. (more…)

Read More

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers. It’s been several years, closer to two decades, since I worked in a professional kitchen as a pastry chef. After all those years, I still miss it. Every time I eat at a great restaurant, I wish I was in the kitchen to watch them create the magic. It is magical, but it’s also a crazy amount of work and a super-charged and stressful environment. I left that world shortly after my first son was born (yesterday was his 20th birthday), because it is a hard life on a young family. The hours are long and all the wrong times; nights, weekends and holidays are in high demand. To stay connected to the restaurant world, I’ve consulted on dessert menus. Creating the pastry program gives me all the joy of being a part of the action, without having to be on the line to create the food during the rush of service. The best of both worlds for me. I also stay connected by fawning over restaurant accounts on instagram. One chef I met on instagram, through a web of industry friends, is Neal Fraser. He has an acclaimed restaurant in LA called Redbird.

I just happened to be in NYC when Chef Fraser was going to be cooking, along with fellow LA chefs from The Strand House, at the James Beard House. He invited me to join them for the event (or perhaps I offered (begged him) to let me help and he graciously agreed.) Either way, I found myself in the most iconic kitchen in NYC, cooking with some of the most talented chefs of LA. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, this would be on it. Chef Fraser was in charge of dessert and together we made a chocolate fudge cake with strawberry sauce, chocolate cremeaux, candied violets, sugared pansies and a quenelle of ice cream. You can see pictures of the dinner, the dessert and meet the chefs in my instagram video and watch the James Beard Live Stream of the kitchen as we prepared the meal.

I created this abbreviated version of Chef Fraser’s dessert to share with you. He graciously shared his warm, super fudgy, chocolate cake recipe and I added a fresh strawberry salsa and lavender ice cream to it, all of which you can watch me make Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers in my instagram video. (more…)

Read More

Maida Heatter Bull’s Eye Cheesecake

Maida Heatter Bull's Eye Cheesecake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The title of Maida Heatter’s new book sums up why I love my job, Happiness is Baking. When I am sad, I bake! When I am celebrating, I bake! No matter where my mood starts out, I’m always carried to a place of joy as I make my way through a recipe. Maida Heatter has lead me on so many journeys in the kitchen that they are literally countless. I have nearly all of her books and was so thrilled to find out that at the happy age of 102, she has a new one for all of us bakers to enjoy. I went to a classic recipe, the Maida Heatter Bull’s Eye Cheesecake, because it is so striking and delicious. I believe she developed this recipe for one of her first books in 1974. The recipe stands alone and needs nothing but a plate and fork, but sometimes I just can’t leave well enough alone and I draped the whole thing in a glossy ganache. 

Maida Heatter Bull's Eye Cheesecake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François  

You can watch me make the Maida Heatter Bull’s Eye Cheesecake and pour the ganache over the top for a perfectly smooth finish in my instagram videos. Maida Heatter and her publisher have graciously allowed me to share the recipe, which is below. She is also partnering with me to give away 3 copies of her book. You can enter to win here on my website, by leaving a comment below or on my instagram account (just look for this cheesecake for another chance to win). I will pick the 3 winners randomly next week. 

You can also find my Show Stopping Cheesecake Class on Craftsy (Now BluePrint), where I show this technique and all kinds of other simple and fancy cheesecakes. 

(more…)

Read More

Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake

Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

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 comes from 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. This 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.

Cake truffles are a catering trick we used to do in professional kitchens to use up the cake scraps and make truffles that were quick and delicious. Christina has lots of fun flavors. I generally go for a recipe in a new book that introduces a technique I’ve not tried before, so baking in a microwave seemed like a good challenge. I was late to buying a microwave, but my boys begged me for it. Now, I am the only one in the house that uses it, mostly to melt butter, but that keeps it pretty busy. Well, as you’ll see from my instagram video, I mastered it.

It’s a cheeky recipe, but I promise, it is one of those cakes you’ll rely on when you need to indulge at midnight. Just you, Donna Summer and a crazy satisfying mug of chocolate cake. I added Caramel-Peanut ice cream to the top, because who eats chocolate cake at midnight without ice cream? Watch me make this cake and disco my hair in my instagram video.

(more…)

Read More

Simple Chocolate Cake

Simple Chocolate Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Oh, you know me, I love a flourish. Sometimes it’s a rose crown on a bundt cake or a ruffle of gossamer apples topping a tart or maybe, just maybe a crazy swirl of toasted meringue on anything! But, sometimes simple is best. A summer snack at the lake, a slice of cake in a lunchbox or a midnight treat with a glass of milk. Those are the cakes we’ll make at the last minute, after a long day of work, just because we want a treat and cake makes everything good. Odette Williams wrote Simple Cake, a book about those cakes; the simple ones that are pure joy. Her book is filled with lots of delicious cakes and simple toppings that are great for a special occasion, but just as good if nothing in particular is going on. This simple chocolate cake is elegant and warm and makes me want to eat all the cake. 

I baked Odette’s Simple Chocolate Cake in a pullman pan, because I like the clean shape of the slices. I combined two of the whipped cream flavors she suggested for the cake to create a Vietnamese coffee cream, which was just the right balance of sweet and bitter. I went at the cake with a giant star tipped piping bag and then backed away and realized it needed something quiet and sleek. I just spread the whipped cream over the cake and smoothed the edges. I’m in love with this cake, it calms me. The dusting of cocoa was for drama (I just can’t help myself) and more contrast of flavor.

I’m very excited about this book and Odette has generously partnered with me to do a GIVEAWAY of Simple Cake. You will find the giveaway details on my instagram post. Recipe below. (more…)

Read More