Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

Inspiration can come from the craziest of places, including a nail salon. My friend and I were having our nails done when a man carrying stacks and stacks of baskets filled with Rambutan (see the pictures of the fruit and my sassy pedicure on instagram), a tropical fruit related to Lychee, walked in to sell them. Apparently he drives in from Florida with a truck full of fruit on a monthly basis and we just happened to hit it right this time. So, we walked out with sassy toes and 10 pounds of Rambutan. What was I to do with 10 pounds of this unusual fruit? I headed straight to Instagram and asked my community there what they would do. Sorbet and panna cotta came up several times, so, here you go, my interpretation of those suggestions, Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Sorbet.

I added the caramel spiral to the top when I heard that Aretha Franklin passed away. During my very first job in catering, back in the 1990s, we catered a charity event at the Viking’s Stadium for 3000 people and Aretha Franklin was performing. It was the one and only time I saw her and I will never, ever, ever forget it. I have no idea what the dessert was, likely an opera torte or something equally regal to serve such a legend, but I do remember with painful clarity that we had to make 3000 sugar spirals to balance on top. They are not hard to make (you can watch me do it in the instagram video), but they are a tricky dance of timing and they’re as delicate as paper thin crystal. And, don’t get me started on sugar decor and humidity. It was a level of stress that only the craziest of people thrive on. After we put down the last plate of dessert we ran to watch Aretha in her fur coat sing to the angels and all the stress of that event melted away!

To watch me put this all together head over to my instagram videos. (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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Strawberry Charlotte Royale

Strawberry Charlotte Royale | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The truth is the last time I made a Strawberry Charlotte Royale was in culinary school and that was a very long time ago. I have been meaning to make one, but just never got around to it. Then I bought a copy of Soulful Baker, by one of my favorite bakers, Julie Jones, and she had the most beautiful Charlotte Royale in the book. I took it as a sign that I needed to make this regal (it’s in the name) dessert. Julie was my muse, but being incapable of leaving things well enough alone, I wanted to make the filling in two separate flavors. I made a Grand Marnier Bavarian Cream and then added Strawberry coulis to it for the second layer. It’s not quite as simple as a banana bread, so I’ve made a video on instagram to walk you through the process. The steps are not at all difficult, but they do require a bit of planning and some timing. (more…)

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Outrageous Brownies

30 years ago my dear friend, Sally, gave me a copy of Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts. At the moment neither of us realized how significant that gift would be in my life. It was way before Instagram and the endless blogs filled with impossibly gorgeous recipes. Who am I kidding, it was before the internet. I had that one cookbook and a shitty student apartment kitchen to bake in. I made almost every recipe in the book and as a result learned how to make everything from cookies, cakes, pudding and even candy, but these outrageous brownies were the best thing in the whole book. I would splurge on really good chocolate, which meant something beyond Hershey’s. God only knows what brand it was back then, but I remember spending my entire food budget on chocolate, nuts and butter just to make them. I must have survived on rice cakes and peanut butter for the rest of the week.

30 years later these outrageous brownies are the only recipe I make. I’m pretty good about not eating a bowl of cake batter or cookie dough, but these brownies are a different story. I’m powerless to their seduction, so I can’t make them often. See my instagram video on making the brownies and recipe below. (more…)

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Pavlova

This ethereal crown of meringue, filled with cream and berries is a Pavlova. The name comes from the ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was performing around the world in 1926 and made a stop in the land down under. From there the details get a little fuzzy and no one is quite sure if it was a pastry chef from Australia or New Zealand who first made this dessert for her. It causes a heated debate amongst them if you declare it one way or the other, so I am staying vague on the origin. This is one of my favorite desserts, because I am a huge fan of meringue in just about any form. I love how it looks, how it tastes and the texture it lends. Pavlova, unlike other meringues, is made with vinegar and cornstarch, so the end result is crisp on the outside, but still has some tooth (chew) on the inside. Traditionally it is served with fruit, such as berries and passionfruit (that’s what is dripping off the edge) and whipped cream. I also added lemon curd, but there are no rules and you can fill this with whatever moves you.

To watch me make, shape and bake this Pavlova see my instagram video. 

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Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches

Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches. I’ve met so many incredibly talented and lovely people through Instagram. That’s where I first found Giulia Scarpaleggia (and her website Jul’s Kitchen), who lives and cooks in Tuscany. Her food is gorgeous and when she told me she had a cookbook coming out, I couldn’t wait to see it. The book is a beautiful guide to the Markets of Tuscany and the recipes they inspire, including this fresh ricotta tart (I added the peaches for a summer twist). The flavors are a classic combination from this region. I adore the food, the people, the terrain, the wine and the sweets of Tuscany. I’ve often fantasized about moving abroad and the Italian countryside is always first on the list.

This ricotta tart, caught my eye when I was flipping through the pages of Giulia’s book. Her tart, which she calls, Torta Squisita “exquisite cake”, is made with ricotta (I made it from scratch, which is so easy), chocolate, candied orange peel and a star anise flavored liqueur. It is quintessentially Italian. I happen to have some juicy, perfectly ripe peaches sitting on the counter, so I decided to top the tart with them. It is super tasty and an ode to summer, but it would be just as good without the peaches, served with a strong cup of coffee.

I made homemade ricotta for this tart and you can watch me make the super simple cheese and the whole tart in my instagram videos.

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