Cherry Semifreddo

Cherry Semifreddo | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The inspiration of a Cherry Semifreddo goes like this…I recently spent time in New York City and had the great fortune of meeting some of the wonderful people I otherwise only knew on social media. It still seems incredible to me that I can befriend people online, while working alone in my midwestern kitchen. These folks have been my inspiration, my support and my friends. However, it is even better to spend time with friends in person and that’s just what I did. One of the events I attended in NY gathered several of these folks and I had the opportunity to meet so many more, including Hetty Mckinnon, who writes about family, gatherings and delicious food. It just so happened that her newest book, FAMILY, was about to launch and she invited me to an intimate gathering at her Brooklyn photo studio to celebrate. Her food was EXACTLY how I choose to eat! Although I am not vegetarian, I go for clean, bright, bold flavors, in simple, but exciting preparation that don’t take me all day to make. Since I am baking all day and don’t often have time to cook. At her party she made an olive oil cake that blew my mind, which is in the book and I’d buy a copy just for that recipe. 

I made this cherry semifreddo based on her recipe, because I LOVE a semifreddo and it is one of those under appreciated desserts and because we met at the Cherry Bombe Jubilee, so it just felt fitting to celebrate that with a special treat. A semifreddo is a cross between ice cream and mousse, but doesn’t require any special equipment to prepare. The texture is smooth and luxurious when allowed to sit at room temperature until it just on the verge of melting, but still partially cold, hence the name. 

You can watch me make this semifreddo in my instagram video, recipe below.

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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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Chocolate Caramel Matzo for Passover (Updated!)

Chocolate Caramel Matzo with a Variety of Toppings | Photo by Zoë François

This year I added a little extra flavor power to classic chocolate caramel matzo. I made a triple batch to make sure I could send gift bags home after the seder. All the toppings were a hit, but the toasted sesame seeds with the milk or dark chocolate is my new favorite.

Every Passover I make this chocolate caramel matzo recipe from Marcy Goldman’s classic book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. When I was growing up I loved matzo with butter or my mother’s matzo brei, but as a dessert it never inspired me. Until my friend and co-author Jeff introduced me to Marcy Goldman’s recipe she calls: “My Trademark, most requested, absolutely magnificent caramel matzoh crunch!” Despite the main ingredient being matzo it satisfied my craving for a decadent dessert at Passover. The candy was met with rave reviews and is now part of our tradition along with the fruit pâtes. It really is magnificent and a bit addictive, which is why I save it for Passover! (more…)

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Flourless Chocolate-Almond Torte for Passover

Flourless Chocolate Torte Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Flourless chocolate torte is a long-standing tradition on Passover. I have made several variations, but this one is far and away the most popular. It is made of several layers of a flourless chocolate-almond cake and bittersweet ganache. I make the whole thing without dairy, for those who keep to kosher laws, and you’ll never know the difference. It is one of the few times I use margarine and cream substitute and I promise it is absolutely divine.

The cake can be prepared in advance, wrapped well and refrigerator for a few days or frozen for a couple of weeks. This leaves you with less work to be done on Passover. Just decorate with some fresh berries and enjoy a slice of rich, chocolaty goodness after your dinner. (more…)

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Matzoh Crack S’mores

Matzoh S'mores | ZoeBakes photo by Zoe Francois

Every year I make matzo crack at Passover, because I don’t think I’d be invited back to the Davis family seder if I didn’t. This year I am on a bit of a homemade marshmallow kick, so I thought why not combine two of my favorites into one CRAZY delicious and fun dessert, Matzoh Crack S’mores. Bang, it’s a new classic in my house.

You can watch me make both the matzoh crack and the homemade marshmallows in my instagram videos.

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7 Layer Cake for Passover (Matzo Sponge Cake with Poppyseed Buttercream)

7 Layer Cake | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Next week is the beginning of Passover. I love this holiday for the ritual, the gathering of wonderful people and the challenge to come up with new desserts worthy of the day. This 7 layercake was inspired by a conversation I had with Deb Perelman about Dobos Tortes, which is a cake made up of many layers (7 to be exact) of sponge cake, separated with chocolate buttercream and topped with a layer of caramel. It is a style of cake that is claimed by many cultures, each with a different name depending on heritage or the state you are standing in. Dobos Torte (Hungarian), Deberge Cake (New Orleans), Seven-Layer (I think of this as a Jewish cake from New York, but as soon as I write this, I’m sure I’ll hear from folks who will correct me) and Drum cake (I’ve never heard it called this before, but just read it on Wikipedia).

Purists beware, my cake is so loosely based on the cake I described above, that it will make some of you squirm. Stick with me, give it another name if you need to, but try this version, it is delicious. One of my very favorite Jewish desserts are poppy seed hamantashen, which I need to make for you soon. They are cookies stuffed with sweetened poppy seeds. I thought the poppy seeds would be a fantastic match for the layers of orange scented sponge cake and chocolate buttercream. It is also stunning to cut into the cake and see the speckled icing. I left off the caramel top and added chocolate shavings. But, if you want to add a bit of caramel, for tradition sake, then why not make a batch of my Caramel Matzo and use it to decorate the top.

Baking cakes without flour is something of a magic trick. The only saving grace to the baker during Passover is matzo cake meal, and it can be a touch overbearing if used all on its own. To create a sponge cake that is both delicious and light, adding a bit of potato starch to the recipe is key. (more…)

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