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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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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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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Mango Curd Tart

Mango Curd Tart | photo by Zoë François

In a quest to create the perfect mango cheesecake, I discovered mango puree from the Indian market. I’ve tried making my own with fresh mangos, but the flavor was much too subtle and disappeared in most recipes. I even tried cooking it, to reduce the fruit, which usually works to intensify the flavor. But, it just made the mango taste like squash. So, I asked the internet and my community taught me the ways of tinned (canned) mango puree, which is apparently a known and beloved ingredient in India. There are many types of mangos and the Indian market had them all in puree, so I tried them all. They are mostly sweetened, but I did manage to find one that wasn’t and it was amazing. If all you can find is the sweetened version, you can reduce the sugar in the recipe by a bit.

The mango cheesecake was a big hit (I’ll post that recipe soon too) and I had lots of the puree left over, so I went to work creating more desserts with it. This mango curd tart is the lucky result of that abundance of tinned mango. The curd is made just as you would a lemon curd, but I used a combination of mango and lime. It makes very little sense, but the lime makes the mango taste more like mango and not just cloyingly sweet. Slow cooking the curd over a double boiler is the key to the satiny texture.

You can watch my video of this mango curd tart on my Instagram page. (more…)

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Raspberry Rose Angel Food Dream Cake

Raspberry Rose Angel Food Dream Cake Recipe | Photo by Zoë François

For Mother’s Day I always bake something I’d like my beloved children to bake for me, as a not-so-subtle hint to them. This website is basically a reference for my boys to use whenever they are looking for ideas of what to make me. (If only they ever read my blog!) I think Angel Food is perfect. The name alone is fitting for us moms, considering what we do to keep our darling children alive, well fed and mostly happy. I received a lovely new cookbook yesterday and it fell open to the angel food cake recipe. Jessie Sheehan’s The Vintage Baker is a wonderful book, full of classic desserts with her twist on them. She made the perfect angel food cake, split it in half, then filled and topped it with a beautiful blueberry whipped cream. It really is a dream. I was completely smitten. I didn’t have any blueberries, but did have raspberries. Here in MN we’re just hitting spring and the very start of a growing season, so I rely on Driscoll’s to deliver perfect CA berries. I need the bright color and dose of summer.

The ethereal texture of this dream cake is created by whipping a dozen egg whites to meringue perfection, then gently folding cake flour into it. I added some zest and rose water to make this beautiful cake even more festive. That’s the beauty of angel food cake, it is easy to play with different flavors. The secret to keeping the lightness of the cake is to cool it upside down. I have an old, super cheap, pan that I got at a garage sale in college, which doesn’t benefit from having feet on it, so I have to balance it over a wine bottle to cool. You can watch my instagram videos to see me bake this dream cake and many more. (more…)

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Lemon Mascarpone Crêpe Cake

Lemon Mascarpone Crêpe Cake | photo by Zoë François

Crêpes are a beloved food group in my household. My boys have grown up eating them with everything from sweet to savory fillings, sometimes dozens at a time. When I couldn’t get them to eat as little kids I’d make a batch of crêpes and watch as they disappeared. Stacking them into a cake is an easy and elegant way to dress up what is really a humble street food in France. This version was made from a really sweet book called Simply Citrus by Marie Asselin. I “met” her on Instagram and she kindly sent me a copy of the book. I adore instagram for all the inspiration and for the space to create videos of the recipes I make. You can watch me make Marie’s cake in my instagram stories.

Marie’s lemon curd is unlike any I’ve made before. She cooks it like a pastry cream, which uses cornstarch and eggs to bind it and then finishes it with heavy cream. It is delightful. I suggest you double her recipe, so you can have some left over after the cake is filled. The combination of the tart lemon curd and rich mascarpone cream are a perfect marriage. Instead of topping with more cream, I went with the brûlée on top. I like the contrast of texture and you know how I feel about my blow torch, so any excuse to use it.  (more…)

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