Homemade Yogurt (Plain and Fruit)

How to make homemade yogurt, plain or with fruit | photo by Zoë François

I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach, cheese blintzes from the Kiev restaurant (a childhood favorite) and fresh homemade yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into homemade yogurt, butter and cheese. The flavor of that homemade yogurt, made from fresh milk, was divine. 48 years later, in Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved urban dairy cows, so I just buy milk for making yogurt. Not as romantic, but still tasty.

How to make homemade yogurt, plain or with fruit | photo by Zoë François

Now that I have started making my own, I may never buy yogurt again. Homemade yogurt is so easy and has such an incredible flavor. Even my boys like it better. I happen to love it plain and tangy, but I’ll also put a layer of preserves on the bottom when I am in the mood for something a bit sweeter.

All you need is milk (you choose the fat content), a bit of heavy cream (if you’re feeling decadent) and some plain yogurt to get started.  Read More

Tres Leches

Tres Leches Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Tres Leches Cake is a light sponge cake that is soaked with three kinds of milk: sweetened condensed, evaporated and heavy cream (milk-ish enough to count), hence the name. Today is Cinco de Mayo and this cake seemed just the thing to celebrate with. It’s a rather simple cake, both in it’s presentation and in the making of it. Just bake a sheet cake, soak it and cover in whipped cream. I added a layer of cinnamon for the intensity of flavor and because I like how it looks. The recipe is from the newest cookbook by the America’s Test Kitchen folks, The Perfect Cake. As is suggested in their name, they test the living day lights out of every recipe they print, so I always trust they will work. The book is filled with the how’s and why’s of baking cakes, so you understand what you are up to while baking. You know how I love a good tutorial on baking, so this is right up my alley. It’s a great book and covers all the basics of cake baking.

The only place I went off script was in the whipped cream topping. I had a little bit of homemade creme fraiche left over from my Pot de Creme, so I added it to the whipping cream and made a slightly more decadent topping. I also wanted a slightly thicker layer of the cream, so the creme fraiche stretched it for me. Then I dusted with cinnamon, which is not required, but it’s delicious.

To watch me make the tres leches cake, check out my instagram video. Recipe is below.

Tres Leches Cake and The Perfect Cake cookbook | Photo by Zoë François

Read More

Lemon Meringue Cake for Mother’s Day – How-to Video: piping roses

Piped Meringue Roses | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

These meringue roses remind me of fine porcelain china, dainty and ultra feminine. Perfect on an occasion that requires something spectacular, even a bit over-the-top. Mother’s Day is one such time. It is the day when we give thanks to the women who raised us. I have been blessed with more than my fair share of extraordinary women, who have influenced how I walk through this world. They have shown me great generosity, shared their wisdom and loved me unconditionally. I only hope to possess these same qualities as I now raise my own children. I wanted to create something as unique and beautiful as these women, to reflect my deep appreciation, so lemon meringue cake it is.

Due to too many miles I can’t be with my mom on Mother’s Day, but if I were, this is the cake I would present to her. She would love the tart layers of lemon sponge cake and lemon curd, balanced with the sweet meringue icing; to toast or not to toast is the question? Who am I kidding, I always toast, if for no other reason, I love my blow torch.

Read More

Lemon-Raisin Scones – My Son’s 1st Pop Up Bakery

Lemon-Raisin Scones on a Cooling Rack | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Last week my husband got a craving for scones. Instead of turning to me, or making them himself, he asked our 12-year-old son to bake them. He challenged Charlie to have hot scones ready by the time he left for work the next morning. 7:30 a.m. is an hour my boys rarely see, because they are deep in REM sleep. Agreeing to this request was based on one thing, and one thing alone: money.

My sons get an allowance, but it isn’t always enough to satisfy all the activities and toys they want, so the thought of a few extra bucks in his pocket was enough to get him out of bed. And, he loves to bake, so it wasn’t much of a hardship.

The night before, he picked a recipe from Baking with Julia, set up his mise en place (a fancy way to say ingredients and equipment), then set his alarm for 5:30 a.m. He woke me up at 6 a.m., so I could sit in the kitchen, bleary eyed, with my coffee and answer any questions he had.

It was quite something to watch him navigate the recipe. He didn’t know what a pastry blender was or what cornmeal looked like, so the instructions of “cutting the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until is resembles cornmeal” meant nothing to him. I showed him a jar of cornmeal, handed him the pastry tool and off he went.

Scones are really quite easy to make, but it does require a gentle touch, so they don’t come out too tough. He did it perfectly.

My husband is a big fan of raisins, so Charlie folded them in during the last steps and added a bit of zest to the dough as well. He made an entire batch, which was way more than my husband could eat, so Charlie got the idea of texting our family members, who live nearby, to tell them he had hot scones coming out of the oven and he was selling them.

The price is fair, the product is amazing, the baker is adorable and he sold out for the day. By the time the scones were cooling on the racks and his customers were showing up at the back door, he had crawled into my bed and fallen back to sleep. I was left to run the store, which was just fine with me.

The scones were such a success that he’s now taking pre-orders for all kinds of baked goods and has a schedule of when he has to deliver the goods. It’s the best summer job I can think of and he’s going to be a skilled baker by the time he hits 8th grade. Could I be any prouder of him? Nope! Not possible. He’s my fabulous baker boy. Read More

Homemade Vanilla Extract

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract | Photo by Zoë François

It is a brand new year and I figured I should start 2012 with a fresh start—right at the pastry beginning. For me that’s homemade vanilla extract, probably the most-used ingredient in my kitchen after flour and sugar.

I always have a stack of beans and bottles of extract. I admit I don’t always make my own, but it is something, like homemade yogurt, that once you make it, you’re ruined to the store-bought version.

It is easy to make, but to get the best result you have to be patient. The longer you let the vanilla beans sit in the vodka, the better and stronger the flavor. I let this bottle sit for 5 weeks before opening it, which was a test of willpower I didn’t know I possessed. The result is like perfume, I want to add this homemade vanilla extract to all of my recipes and dab a bit behind my ears. I’ll use it in everything from cakes to cocktails.

Here you can see me make my homemade vanilla extract on The Drew Barrymore Show!

Read More

Biscuits and Bullets – Life on Masala Farm!

When I grow up I want my very own Masala Farm. The first time I visited Suvir and Charlie’s home I felt as though I belong there. They have created a home in the countryside made of magic, an impeccable sense of style and an art collection from their travels to every corner of the world. Not to mention a kitchen that makes me weak at the knees, as much for the equipment as for the sun light and views. Masala Farm is the perfect blend of The Selby and the city to farm show, Green Acres. Their 120+ chickens roost in a stylish hen house with ample sky lights, so they will lay the tastiest eggs on the planet. The alpacas, sheep and goats share a pasture with the domestic geese, all living in harmony. It inspires the body, heart and soul just to be there. It is not by chance that the place evokes such love, it is Charlie and Suvir who created such a utopia. They seem to have created this wonderland in order to gather their friends and family. The entire upstate NY community has dined with them, their friends travel thousands of miles, from city homes, to restore at Masala Farm. These two men are the most beautiful, creative, gracious, generous people I have ever met. This is reflected clearly in their home, their food and in their new book, Masala Farm.

This past summer my family stopped at Masala Farm after attending my brother’s wedding. We arrived just as the animals were being fed and my boys, who have grown up in the city, jumped right in to help. I realized they know nothing about this kind of life; farming is a theoretical concept, but not a part of their experience. It was a joy to see them fearless in the task of collecting eggs from the chickens to eat for breakfast. What a gift to show them where their food comes from.

Biscuits

Suvir cooked them fresh eggs, with yolks the color of marigolds, and baked biscuits that made us swoon. I believe my exact words were “Holy &%$#, these are good!” They are like nothing I have had before. Suvir made them with Rose Levy Bernanbaum and she had the same reaction, so you know they are something crazy special. The recipe was a gift to Suvir from our mutual friend Bret Bannon, who grew up eating his grandmother’s biscuits for breakfast. Lucky, lucky man. Bret was kind enough to share with Suvir and I am grateful that the recipe found its way into Masala Farm. Suvir said I can share the recipe with you, so I had Bret, the expert, come over and bake them with me.

The bullets come later. Read More