Contest Winning Coconut Cookies

Contest Winning Coconut Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

These Contest Winning Coconut Cookies are from the Great Minnesota Cookie Book by Rick Nelson and Lee Svitak Dean. I often bake from books written by other bakers I admire, but sometimes inspiration comes, not from the professionals, but from our neighbors.  The recipes they grew up baking, from their family traditions, have been time tested and in this case, have won first prize in the Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest. That is what this book is all about; real people, baking their hearts out and winning prizes. I love Mounds Bar candies (one of my favorite Halloween candy), which this cookie was inspired by, so this one grabbed my attention. I have a coconut macaroon recipe that is in constant rotation at the holidays, but I am always looking for something new to add to my repertoire. This recipe is super simple and full of coconut goodness. Rick Nelson graciously gave me permission to share the recipe from the book (Snowball Clippers recipe submitted by Becky Varone) with you and you can watch me make them in my instagram video.

I’ve had lots of requests for vegan recipes and I thought this one would be a perfect and easy one to make both gluten-free and vegan, so I have added my notes on how to do that.  (more…)

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No-Bake Chocolate Pepita Crunch Bars

No-bake Chocolate Pepita Crunch Bars | Zoe Bakes photos by Zoë François

These No-bake Chocolate Pepita Crunch Bars are a candy and a brownie all in one. There is no baking, so they are a perfect holiday treat to go along with all the cookies you’ll be trading at your cookie swaps this season. I created this recipe for the wedding of a chef, Jorge Guzman, who wanted a Mexican inspired dessert plate to be served to his guests, in addition to a cake. I kind of fell in love with them and when Bake From Scratch invited me to create some cookies for their Holiday Cookie Issue, I knew instantly that this would be in the mix. The crunch comes from both the toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and feuilletine flakes (which are paper thin cookies that are broken up into what can best be described as dessert-cereal). The pepitas and feuilletine flakes are folded into a chocolate and hazelnut mixture, set firm, covered with ganache and then decorated with more pepitas and edible gold leaf. The result is a sophisticated chocolate bar that is regal enough for a wedding, a holiday party or just a midnight snack. You can watch me make these bars in my instagram video.

Scroll to the bottom of the post to see the Pinon Mexican Wedding Cookies, Chestnut and Honey Madeleines, Caramelized White Chocolate Sables with Sea Salt and and Hazelnut Spice Speculaas I developed for this Special Holiday Cookie Issue.

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Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies

Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Sometimes you come upon greatness from the oddest paths. When I opened Rebecca Firth’s The Cookie Book, I landed on this Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies recipe, not because of the gorgeous photo (or my absolute love of meringue), which are both strong enough reasons, but for the chapter title, called Jazz Hands. For anyone who knows my instagram stories, you may have seen me dancing around my kitchen. What you may not know is that I grew up in a dance studio. My mom has had the studio in VT since I was two years old. Jazz Hands were a real thing in my world. Something I associate with my childhood and trips to NYC to see A Chorus Line, no less than 5 times. So, when I saw the chapter and the photo of these Meringue Cookies, I really had no choice but to make them. They are a delight and hit the flavor and texture profiles just right. They are just the right balance of sweet and salty, like a peanut butter cup candy, but with the ethereal quality I love about meringue.

You can see me create these cookies and maybe see my Jazz Hands in my Instagram video(more…)

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Blueberry Bars for Back to School!

Blueberry Bars | ZoeBakes photo by Zoe Francois

This post is originally from 2011 and it is hilarious for me to read it, since my boys are now 17 and 19 years old and no longer have little fingers, because they’re 6-feet tall. The only thing that remains the same 7 years later; they still love these Blueberry Bars!

2011: Yesterday was the official end of summer in my house. Back to school for both boys, and I spent the day wishing they were home again. “Seriously?” You may ask. I spent the past several weeks anticipating the beginning of school with a certain glee, which may have bordered on unhealthy. I couldn’t wait to have peace and quiet in my house, for hours at a time. I looked forward to doing my work without interruption, sans little fingers dipping into the bowl. But, when it came to the actual day, I missed them and couldn’t wait for them to get off the bus.* Instead of pathetically staring out the window waiting, I decided to bake them some Blueberry Bars. Every MN kid loves bars.

For those of you from the coasts, I am referring to a layered dessert baked in a pan resembling a brownie/cookie/pie, but can be made with fruit, caramel, chocolate or anything else your pantry contains. Then they are cut into neat bars. I was first introduced to this concept when I moved to Minneapolis in 1993. Bars are generally served on a buffet table with lots of crock pots filled with “hot dish.” Every family has their own recipe, usually a tightly held secret, mostly kept from the neighbors.

To watch me make these bars and for tips on easy lattice and stable fillings, watch my instagram video. Recipe below.

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Coffee No-Churn Ice Cream Sandwiches

Coffee No-Churn Ice Cream Sandwiches | Photo by Zoë François

We went from 16″ of snow to 80 degrees in two weeks. My mind spun into summer mode in about 10 seconds flat. We Minnesotans can’t adjust to the warm slowly or we may miss it. So, in my mind it’s summer and that means ice cream season. My friend, Sarah Kieffer, from the Vanilla Bean Blog and the fabulous The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, has been talking about no-churn ice cream for years. She’s one of my favorites (baker, blogger, book creator, photographer and human) and yet, I wasn’t listening when she said it was SO easy and delicious. Ugh, sometimes I’m just too wedded to the traditional ways. Well, I’m here to tell you that I should have paid attention earlier, but at least I am on board now. I won’t give up my ice cream maker, just because it’s super fun, but Sarah’s no-churn ice cream will play a major roll in this summer’s desserts.

I also made her deep, dark, chocolate sugar cookies to sandwich the coffee ice cream between, which made for the perfect ice cream sandwiches. The cookies are incredible all on their own, but with the intense coffee flavor of the ice cream they are sophisticated, a touch edgy and a perfect grown-up dessert that kids will love too, but make it with decaf! The cookies have enough body to hold up to the ice cream, but they don’t turn to stone when they are frozen, so they are perfect for this marriage.

You can watch me make no-churn coffee ice cream and the cookies in my instagram videos.

Coffee No-Churn Ice Cream Sandwiches | Photo by Zoë François (more…)

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Macarons – easier than you think, just watch the video!

Easy pink macarons | photo by Zoë François

The first time I had a true French macaron was while sitting at the now shuttered WD50 in New York City. It was the wild child restaurant of chef Wylie Dufresne, who was one of the first American chefs to deconstruct ingredients and synthesize them into new forms. It was all very mysterious and pretty tasty, but the most memorable thing we ate that night came out of my cousin’s purse. Samira works in the fashion industry and lives an impossibly global and glamorous life, which includes frequent trips to Paris. She and her brother, Riad, who was sitting with us, had a tradition of sharing a particular pastry from Paris every time she went. She pulled out the box and nonchalantly pushed it to Riad. This was so normal to them, that they barely acknowledged the act or the beautiful box as anything special. I, on the other hand, was near crazy with anticipation and finally told them to “open the &%$#ing box.” Inside were perfect, and I do mean perfect, macarons. They were like jewels. All different colors. Pink, gold, lavender and jade. They were delicate to the point of brittle on the outside and like a cloud on the inside, with a layer of super rich ganache or buttercream. I’ve made macarons, but they were never as ethereal as the one’s Samira brought home from Ladurée. This is no surprise. I was happy enough with mine and they were cheaper than a trip to Paris, but still not perfect. Then I watched Colette Christian’s Craftsy class on miniature French pastries and I figured out the small tricks I’d been missing. Turns out they are much easier than I thought. I’ve been making them constantly ever since.

This last batch I made for Passover and colored them purple to honor Prince. His passing has struck me in a deep way, deeper than I would have ever expected. His music was the sound track to my entire high school life and that was long before I moved to his home town. Back in the day I choreographed a dance to Little Red Corvette to audition for the dance program at my school. I danced my heart out to that song and got into the group. We were hardly Alvin Ailey, but it was my whole life at the time. I remember that audition like it was yesterday. I just hope Prince had even an inkling of his profound influence over so many people, not just musicians, but all of us who loved his music. I wish he could see how the world has exploded into a party to honor his legacy. Purple macarons and dancing in my kitchen are what I have to offer the celebration.

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