Holiday Sugar Cookies

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This is an updated post from one of my very first blogging efforts back in 2007. The recipe is wonderful, but my photos were a bit rough back then. You can see them at the end of the post, I kept them, because they are sentimental. This Holiday Sugar Cookies recipe is perfect for simple cut out cookies and for building a more intricate house. I live in a big house that makes me think of a wedding cake or confection. I have been meaning to create it out of cookies since I moved in and I finally did it. I think it will become an annual tradition and I imagine I will get more and more detailed with every try. This one was so much fun. I am lucky to have the original blueprints for the house, so it made it easier to trace the outline of the house, but I just approximated where I to, since it didn’t have to be built to stand for very long! 😉

2007 Post: My aunt Kristin is a great collector of recipes. She sends me packages of them, often! The recipes come from magazines, books, cooking shows, gourmet grocery stores and various people she meets. They are far too numerous to try all of them, but I use them as a constant source of inspiration. This past week, just in time for Christmas she sent me a sugar cookie recipe by Dorie Greenspan she had clipped from Bon Appetit and a set of snow flake cookie cutters. I am always searching for the perfect sugar cookie. I’m not sure yet if this is THE ONE, but it is really great. The flavor is not too sweet, slightly lemony (because I added the lemon zest) and the texture is crisp but not at all tough.

I decorated the cookies and house with royal Icing made with lemon juice, which is tasty, quite stunning and strong enough to hold up as the glue for the house. I’ll admit that I love the fussy work of intricate decorations on sugar cookies. It is the closest I will come to ever using my BFA from college. If you don’t share my enthusiasm for precision piping then just sprinkle them with colored sugar like my boys did and they are delicious and festive!

Obviously this recipe and technique are great for Valentines Day, Easter and any other holiday or special occasion when you celebrate with sweets! Which means every day…

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Chocolate Chestnut Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chestnut Bread Pudding | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

I think this Chocolate Chestnut Bread Pudding may be the ultimate comfort food. I always have bread on the counter. Since my new book, Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day, came out, I have several loaves going at a time. What to do with all the partially eaten loaves? Cube it up, soak it in a rich custard and bake it. It could not be any easier and the results are warm and so satisfying. Bread pudding is one of the those desserts that also doubles as breakfast, like pie and cake! 🙂 No, really, it is full of eggs and toasty bread and this one just happens to have bits of chocolate and chunks of chestnuts. If you were to serve it with a dollop of creme fraiche instead of ice cream, it would be a simple and elegant Christmas breakfast. Add the ice cream and it is a homey, but decadent dessert.

When I worked in restaurants my bread pudding was always one of the most popular desserts on the menu. Hope you enjoy it!

Chocolate Chestnut Bread Pudding | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

You can watch me make this bread pudding in my instagram video. Recipe below. (more…)

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Christmas Croquembouche

Christmas Croquembouche | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

A croquembouche (kroke-em-boosh) is a tower of profiteroles (cream puffs) stuck together with a thin layer of crisp caramel, which gives the dessert its name, “crocque em bouche” or “crunches in the mouth.” This dramatic pile of puffs is typically served at weddings, but I’ve taken liberties and find it a worthy dessert for any big occasion. A Christmas Croquembouche seems like the perfect way to celebrate this holiday season. The puffs are made of choux paste and are filled with mango pastry cream, which isn’t a flavor you might think of for a Christmas dessert, but it is such a wonderful contrast to the sweet of the caramel. When you break into the cream puffs you’ll find the rich, creamy golden filling.  Just to jazz it up and to continue the holiday theme I added snowflake sugar cookies that I made with an olive oil sugar cookie recipe from my friend Sarah Kieffer’s book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. Then I spun some sugar into fine threads and wrapped it around the tower of puffs in a garland.

You can watch me make this Christmas Croquembouche in my Instagram video. (more…)

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The Gold Standard Devil’s Food Bundt Cake

The Gold Standard Devil's Food Bundt Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This week has been epic and nothing short of a cake draped in gold seemed right to celebrate all that it brought. It started with a trip to New York to join my friend, Kevin Masse, and the folks at TheFeedFeed, for two events. But, before the official business even started we gathered at Gramercy Tavern to visit with the pastry chef, Miro Uskokovic, and tour his extraordinary kitchen. It was a coming together of some of my favorite bakers on instagram: Erin McDowell (The Fearless Baker), Rebecca Firth (The Cookie Book), Brian Hart Hoffman (Bake from Scratch Magazine) and Erin Clarkson (The Cloudy Kitchen). We took over the pastry prep kitchen for a few minutes to try our hand at shaping the burger buns for service the next day. There was more laughing than rolling, but it was inspiring just to be in that space. I forget how thrilling a commercial kitchen can be. That evening was capped off by seeing David Lebovitz at his book signing for his book, L’Appart. He is the gold standard of writers, bakers and bloggers, this book is as smart and funny as he is.

The next day I sat on a panel of cookie bakers at TheFeedFeed studio and we discussed our love of all things cookies. This is my life! Pinch me. Spending time with folks who love to bake was such a joy. Rebecca Firth and Erin Clarkson baked us all cookies and I got to visit with Jessie Sheehan, whose angel food cake I made several months ago and it remains one of my favorite posts. It is the yang to this Devil’s food’s ying.

The Gold Standard Devil's Food Bundt Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The next day my greatest baking wish came true. I am getting choked up as I write this. I baked with Dorie Greenspan. We each made a recipe from our new books for a Live IG event at Thefeedfeed (you can watch it here). This date was organized by Kevin Masse and it was the most satisfying and joyous event of my career. Dorie’s work is what I hold as the highest mark of cookbooks and her newest is no exception. She made a Salmon Rillettes from Everyday Dorie and I made a cracker lavash and round braided challah from Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We baked, laughed and ate; I left that studio beaming. Dorie is humble, kind, generous, and exudes joy, the baking date of my dreams.

Mauviel Copper Pan Giveaway:

As if this week wasn’t glorious enough, I also hit a milestone on Instagram that is worth a celebration of its own. As of yesterday I have 100,000 Instagram followers and as a GIANT thank you, I am partnering with Mauviel to do a giveaway of TWO Mauviel Copper Round Pan, 8″ Bronze Handle. This is an instagram giveaway, so please go to my instagram page and find The Gold Standard Devil’s Food Bundt Cake photo for more details on how to enter.

And, last, but not least, it’s my Birthday!! The Gold Standard Devil’s Food Bundt Cake is simple, but one of my very favorites. I usually pair the cake with cream cheese frosting, but I wanted something a bit more elegant to mark these occasions, so I poured a shiny ganache over the top and draped the top with gold. You can watch me make this cake and enter to win on my instagram account(more…)

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Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Chocolate Mousse was one of the very first recipes I tried to make, way back when I was a middle schooler. Making a quintessentially French dish was an assignment for my French class, so I set off with a copy of Time Life Books: classic French cooking and did my best. Which wasn’t very good. Actually, it was terrible. The recipe called for coffee, which at the time, before I became an avid consumer of the beverage, was a confusing ingredient. Did they mean coffee grounds or brewed coffee. Well, I chose very wrong and went with the grounds, probably because I didn’t know how to brew coffee. It was like eating chocolate with sand in it. Not good. I made it again with brewed coffee and it was a revelation. The texture was like silk, the taste of the chocolate was so rich and luscious, unlike anything I’d every eaten. It was like a very distant cousin to chocolate pudding, but altogether superior. I was so proud that I’d made something this delicious. It was one of the first times I was excited about a school assignment and it set me off on more baking adventures.

When Fanny sent me her book, I flipped through it, saw her Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake and I knew it was the one I would make. This recipe is traditional in that it uses uncooked eggs; whipping both the whites and the yolks separately and folding them into the chocolate. The result is glorious. For those who are squeamish about using raw eggs in a recipe, you can find pasteurized eggs, which are deemed safe to eat without cooking. I used fresh eggs from my neighbor’s chickens and it was not only exquisite, but I am also still here to talk about it.

Fanny’s recipe was pure and simple, which is a lovely thing in a day of over complicated recipes, but I decided to add a bit of coffee flavor to the Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake, to recreate the flavor of my childhood memory.

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

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Raspberry Paris Brest

Raspberry Paris Brest | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This Raspberry Paris Brest is a beautifully nontraditional take on a very traditional French pastry. The name, Paris Brest, comes from a bicycle race that happens in France between (you guessed it) Paris and the town of Brest. According to Larousse Gastronomique, a pastry-cook, whose shop was along the route of the race, got it in his head to make a pastry shaped like the wheel of a bike from choux paste (the same pastry used for eclairs and profiteroles). He filled it with a butter-rich, praline flavored pastry cream. My take on this classic involves lots of Driscoll’s Raspberries to lighten up the dessert and make it even more beautiful. Instead of stirring praline into the pastry cream, I made an easy raspberry quick jam out of fresh berries and then mixed it in. The result is fresh and light, which will be a welcome end to your holiday dinner. What makes Driscoll’s Organic Raspberries the perfect choice for this is that Driscoll’s has spent years carefully breeding Raspberries, and with thousands of berry varieties they select the top 1% to sell under the Driscoll’s name.

You can watch me make this raspberry pastry in my instagram video.

#BerryTogether GIVEAWAY: For the past few years, Driscoll’s has been championing this belief that life is better spent around the table, over food, with friends and family – #berrytogether, in other words.  Things don’t have to be fussy or complicated to have a good time and to get in the mood for the holidays you can enter to win some sweet prizes from Driscoll’s – (a KitchenAid® Artisan Stand Mixer, a Williams Sonoma Stoneware Pie Dish, Set of 3, and Berries for a Year); see the bottom of the post for details.* (more…)

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