Chocolate Orange Cake

Special Chocolate Orange Cake | Photo by Zoë François

One of my dreams is to travel to Chinon, France and stay at the Hotel Diderot, where the proprietor makes homemade marmalade. It’s owner is one of my favorite food bloggers, Jamie Schler, who is an amazing baker, cook and the writer I want to be. Basically, she has crafted my ideal life. I first “met” her online while we were baking from each other’s websites. Her recipes always work, they are always delicious and they always have a story that make eating them all the more enjoyable. This cake is from her new cookbook, Orange Appeal and is no different. It’s outrageously chocolatey with a hint of orange, which just gives it a depth and balance of flavor. It also comes with a delightful story. This recipe was passed to Jamie by her father, who worked at NASA. Let me unpack that last sentence for you. Her dad bakes cakes, which is the sweetest, coolest thing for a dad to do and pretty unusual for a man of his generation. My father, who has many, many talents, has never baked a cake in all of my days. I’m not sure he’d even make it through a box of Duncan Hines? And, her dad worked as an engineer at NASA, how cool is that? It pretty much makes him a rock star in my mind. His original recipe, which you can find on Jamie’s blog, was equally chocolatey, but used coffee to add the essential acidity to the recipe. Jamie has swapped the coffee with orange zest and juice. Both versions are brilliant!

Special Chocolate Orange Cake from Orange Appeal by Jamie Schler | Photo by Zoë François
Special Chocolate Orange Cake | Photo by Zoë François
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Tea Cup Rose Cakes – Paleo Sweets

Tea Cup Rose Cakes

My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.

Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.

You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.

These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.

Tea Cup Rose Cakes
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Chocolate Caramel Matzo for Passover

This year I added a little extra flavor power to classic chocolate caramel matzo. I made a triple batch to make sure I could send gift bags home after the seder. All the toppings were a hit, but the toasted sesame seeds with the milk or dark chocolate is my new favorite.

Every Passover I make this chocolate caramel matzo recipe from Marcy Goldman’s classic book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. When I was growing up I loved matzo with butter or my mother’s matzo brei, but as a dessert, it never inspired me. Until my friend and co-author, Jeff introduced me to Marcy Goldman’s recipe she calls: “My Trademark, most requested, absolutely magnificent caramel matzoh crunch!” Despite the main ingredient being matzo, it satisfied my craving for a decadent dessert at Passover. The candy was met with rave reviews and is now part of our tradition along with the fruit pâtes. It really is magnificent and a bit addictive, which is why I save it for Passover!

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Chocolate Fondue (No Special Pot Required)

Chocolate fondue recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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, chocolate fondue seemed dated and reminded us too much of our parents. Luckily, most things that are worthwhile 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. Read More

Icebox Cake (homemade chocolate wafers with caramel cream)

icebox cake with homemade chocolate wafers and caramel cream | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Icebox cake, is really not a cake at all; it’s layers of chocolate wafer cookies and whip cream. So, what’s up with the name? Once the cookies and the cream have a chance to sit together, in their little rows, the cookies soften and in a blind taste test you’d never know you weren’t eating cake. I am sure the version I ate as a child was made with Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, which are still available (and still satisfy), plus Cool Whip. I loved it as a kid, but now my taste buds crave more flavor and a LOT less sweet. I added burnt sugar to the fresh whipping cream and baked my own bittersweet chocolate wafers. The homemade chocolate wafers make a big difference. They are intensely chocolate and less sweet, which gives the icebox cake so much more personality. Something old is new again and much tastier.

When you slice into the icebox cake you reveal the beautiful stripes of caramel and chocolate. You can simply spread the top with the caramel whipped cream, but for Easter or other holidays you might want to use a pastry bag and pipe a fancier design. As you can see I went a little Downton Abbey with my decorating, but either way this is one of the easiest and tastiest desserts I have ever made.

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