The Perfect Apple Pie

The Perfect Apple Pie | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

The apple pie is practically a national treasure and for good reason, it is just about the perfect dessert.

This time of year there are dozens of apples to choose from and I suggest you pick a variety for this pie. Having a mix of apples makes for a great pie, but be sure you pick apples that don’t turn to mush if you want a high, dramatic pie.

The Perfect Apple Pie is from Cenk Sönmezsoy’s The Artful Baker, and trust me, I don’t hand out that description without great consideration. It is made in an unusual process, which you can watch in my instagram video.

Sönmezsoy uses the ENTIRE apple (including skins & cores), so nothing is wasted and the taste and texture is brilliant. The pie is jammed packed with super thin slices of apples, so that it is dense. If you take the time to stack them, you’ll see the clean lines of apple when you cut into it. This pie takes a little longer to make, but the results are worth every second.

I topped the pie with a scoop of homemade rum raisin ice cream, because it is a family favorite.

Do you have pie questions or need to troubleshoot your recipe? Check out my guide on how to make pie crust.

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Best Ever Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This chocolate zucchini bundt cake recipe is from my book Zoë Bakes Cakes! It’s moist and sweet, but not overly so, and intensely chocolate-y.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake, dusted in cocoa powder, resting on a cooling rack.

For the first time, I understand why zucchinis are the butt of gardeners’ jokes. When I left town for my brother’s wedding in July, the zucchini plants were a spindly, weak vine with dozens of tender blossoms. Two weeks later I returned home to find it had turned into a savage beast that took over precious real estate in the garden. 

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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.

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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. The steps are not at all difficult, but they do require a bit of planning and some timing.

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Lavender Crème Brûlée

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

Crème Brûlée was the first French dessert I’d ever had in a restaurant. When I was in junior high school, I’d take the train into NYC from CT to visit my aunt. She was fashionable, impossibly sophisticated and took me to lavish meals at restaurants that were way over my head, at the age of 13. When I dipped into the creme brûlée I was instantly aware that this was an adult experience. I felt like I was playing grown up and was certainly aware that I was participating in something special.

The texture of crème brûlée like velvet, because it is made with egg yolks, which make it rich and creamy. Unlike it’s custard cousins, flan and creme caramel, the crème brûlée doesn’t get inverted, so it doesn’t need the strength of the egg whites to hold it’s shape. It is made in a shallow ramekin, so it can be partnered with just the right ratio of burnt sugar. The gossamer thin layer of caramel cracks like glass, but the contrast to the custard below is the perfect yin and yang of the pastry world. In truth creme brûlée is so simple to make, despite its reputation of the opposite. There are a couple of tricks to guarantee success and I show you them in my instagram video.

I bought a lavender plant for my kitchen and can think of no better place to use the perfumed plant, than in a custard. You want to use enough to scent the creme brûlée, but not so much that it tastes like the perfume counter at Bloomies (another stop on my trips into NYC). You can flavor your creme brûlée with lavender, tea, spices, coffee, or just about anything else you can steep in the cream. See my instagram video to see how I did this.

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François
Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François
Lavender Creme Brulee topped with blueberries

Lavender Crème Brûlée

The texture of crème brûlée is like velvet, because it is made with egg yolks, which make it rich and creamy. Unlike it's custard cousins, flan and creme caramel, the crème brûlée doesn't get inverted, so it doesn't need the strength of the egg whites to hold its shape. It is made in a shallow ramekin, so it can be partnered with just the right ratio of burnt sugar. The gossamer thin layer of caramel cracks like glass, but the contrast to the custard below is the perfect yin and yang of the pastry world. In truth creme brûlée is so simple to make, despite its reputation of the opposite.
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Ingredients

  • 1 qt heavy whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 10 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers or 12 fresh stems of flowers
  • Berries and lavender for garnish

Instructions

  • Heat the cream, vanilla bean, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, salt, and lavender over medium heat, until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes, but this can be done the day ahead (stored in the refrigerator) for a more intense flavor. Warm the cream again if you've chilled it.
  • Preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Liaison the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Strain the custard mixture into a measuring cup. Fill six 4-inch Crème Brûlée Dish. Bake the creme brûlées on a baking sheet filled with water, to create a water bath. Bake until the brûlées are just set, like set jello, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature of the custard going into the oven. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, but can be made a day or two ahead.
  • To brûlée the top, dust with sugar and caramelize the sugar with a Blow Torch or under a gas broiler (electric broilers don't work well for this). See my instagram video to watch me make, bake and brûlée the tops.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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.

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