This past summer I created cake recipes for the Holiday issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Once I baked, tested and ate dozens of cakes, I went to Iowa, home of the magazine, and created the final cakes for the issue. It was about 99°F and the midwest sun was beaming straight down on us, but we were in the Christmas spirit or at least creating the illusion of the holidays with cake. I had such a blast baking in the Better Homes test kitchens, working with the photographers, writers, food stylists, art directors and everyone else at Meredith publishing who make these magazines come to life. It was pure JOY to create these cakes and I hope you enjoy making them as much as I did.
Below you can see the cakes I sent them when I was developing the recipes and then the final images we created together for the magazine. You’ll also find all the recipes. Visit my instagram account to see some behind the scenes photos and videos of our photo shoot this summer. What a blast! Read More
My Ultimate Carrot Cake first made an appearance on ZoëBakes in 2008, and it has remained one of my most popular posts. I have made this carrot cake many, many times since then and tweaked the recipe, as I am apt to do, every time I make it. After all the experiments, this is the recipe I have come to like the best. The changes are subtle, because the original was pretty spot on, but this version wins.
In 2013 my husband and I bought a house. It’s a gob-smacking piece of 1902 architecture with ornate woodwork, the likes of which I’d never seen before. It was built by T.P. Healy, who made a name for himself in Minneapolis building homes for the flour barons and other folks making it big in the milling town. Our house was once a grand gesture of a time of wheat prosperity, but it fell on hard times, as did the country, when the depression hit and it eventually became a boarding house and then apartments. Luckily for us and for the preservation of history, the house was kept in pretty good condition, considering the number of people who ended up owning it and living there. By the time we bought the house it was broken up into 4 apartments, which was honestly part of the appeal. Not that we intended to rent the apartments out, in fact, it is only zoned as a duplex, so two of them were illegal. The draw was the 4 kitchens that came with all those apartments. I had visions of having a “family” kitchen and then using one of the others as a studio to work in. For the first several months that is exactly what I did. At first it was awesome, I cooked meals on the first floor where I had a great gas range, ran up to the second floor, which had the best oven in the house to bake and then to the third floor kitchen to photograph, because the light is AWESOME up there. This was all good fun, then I realized that I was doing about 12 trips up and down the stairs per recipe. Quite a workout plan, but not exactly efficient for my work day. None of the apartment kitchens really fit the bill, but as a combined effort they were proving less effective than I’d fantasized. This became abundantly clear while a team of 6 people tried to shoot the photos for The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We all jogged up and down, which I’d come to think as normal, but they moaned as they baked on one floor and shot on another. The photo shoot also took days longer than expected as a result. The next week I had an architect, Gregg Hackett, drawing up plans for one kitchen that would satisfy all the needs. A few months later Blue construction moved in and built it.
We were really lucky to have the original blueprints (above) from 1902 to work from and we tried to put the kitchen back to where it had been originally. This meant taking out a bedroom and bathroom to make space. The pictures below are a before and after of that renovation.
This photograph of me was taken by Susan Powers, while we sat at Tilia and sampled ALL the desserts. Our day together began baking Linzer cookies, carrot cake cupcakes and a gluten-free pizza for lunch, at my house. Being a food blogger and writing cookbooks is, for the most part, a solitary profession. It was such a treat for me to share the kitchen with Susan and her partner in Shoot The Kitchen, Stephanie Meyer.
This season is bittersweet as far as fresh produce goes. On one hand my backyard urban farm is just a ghost of its lush summer self and I miss it. But, there are the apples, pears, persimmons, quince and the versatile sugar pumpkin, which are at the height of their season. I also associate the smell of sweet spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamom with cool weather. The mixture of the fruits and spices is baked up in quintessential American classics like apple and pumpkin pies, poached pears and some across-the-pond desserts like persimmon pudding and quince tarts. All of these combinations are pure comfort warm, sweet and hearty. Another classic pairing that fits this description are prunes & Armagnac. So when thinking about the ultimate fall pudding I layered together pumpkin, spices, the prune combo, caramelized the crust and topped the whole thing with maple spiced walnuts. It is outrageous and something you can eat for dessert, brunch or an after school snack. It was equally tasty hot and served cold.
I used cubes of slightly stale bread, something I always have around, but I have also done this pudding with vanilla pound cake or gingerbread.
(Bret, Suvir Saran, Me and some of the wonderful students at the last class we taught at Bret’s Table)
Come to Bret’s Table on June 11th and roll your sleeves up. We’ll be making dough and baking bread. It is a wonderfully intimate kitchen, decked out with great equipment and a glass of wine. Bring your ideas and questions and we’ll tailor the night to what you want to learn. This is the beauty of a class with only 10 students. If you bring your own 6 quart bucket you can fill it with dough to bring home and continue baking. Read More