Blueberry Muffins

There is nothing more quintessentially breakfast than a blueberry muffin. For me a blueberry muffin has to be chock full of contrasts. It should have enough sweetness to feel decadent, but balanced by the tartness of the blueberries and lemon zest. A perfect muffin also has a top that has a thin crust of spiced streusel and under it is the tender muffin, stuffed with fruit. I tried to put as many blueberries in this muffin as it could possibly hold without losing its structure. Blueberries alone have a subtle flavor, so they are there to add some flavor, but even more moisture to the muffin.

Blueberry Muffins | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë Francois

Muffins are super easy to make, but to have a tender crumb, that doesn’t become tough, you need to mix it just enough to incorporate everything evenly, but stop before you develop too much gluten. You can watch me make them in my instagram video. I baked the BIG blueberry muffins in 7 tulip muffin papers and used individual, straight sided, molds, but they are just as good in regular papers baked in traditional muffin pans.  (more…)

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Almond Cake with Buttercream Roses

Almond Cake with Buttercream Roses | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François 

At the core this is a pound cake that has a perfectly dense crumb and is rich with almond paste, but it is also a tribute to spring, which is on its way. The decoration came to me after I made the blood orange glaze, that is the prettiest pink you can find in nature. The color is from the red fruit, without use of any food color (the season is short, so you can recreate this color with all natural food color that I link to below). The pink got me to thinking about Easter, Mother’s Day, Bridal Showers, Wedding Cakes and the Couture Dresses at the Oscars, which are tonight. That’s a lot of inspiration for one little bundt cake, but this cake can handle the pressure. The almond cake under all the fancy is good enough to serve with nothing more than the glaze or a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar, so don’t skip this one even if you aren’t up for piping roses, which I show you how to do in my instagram video of this cake. (more…)

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Perfect Popovers

Perfect Popovers | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François   

When I was in middle school I lived in Westport, CT and would take the train into NYC to spend the weekend with my late aunt, Melissa. She worked in the film industry and seemed impossibly sophisticated in her fashion and food. A favorite tradition was having breakfast at Sarabeth’s. We’d order perfect popovers, which were puffed to the heavens and slathered in her homemade marmalade and/or honey butter. They reminded me of the puffy pancakes my friend Sasha and I had made (when we were just tiny kids) in our commune kitchen, but so much more delicious and light. The perfect popover is crisp on the outside, tender and airy on the inside and at its very best when served right from the oven. This is a super easy and yet very impressive recipe, that even a first time baker can master and feel like they’ve made magic.

The short video I made for these popovers is my first YouTube video in quite some time. When you go to my YouTube channel you will find some vintage Zoë, feel free to ignore those, unless you need a good laugh or want some earnest cake decorating advice. The short video was filmed by Charlie at Lilacs Media(more…)

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Valentine’s Day Cinnamon Rolls

Valentine's Day Cinnamon Rolls | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

There is really nothing more loving or romantic than baking for the ones you love. And, if it happens to be Valentine’s Day Cinnamon Rolls in the shape of a heart, they are the perfect holiday treat for everyone. These buns are based on our most popular, super easy and fast cinnamon roll recipe from Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is the perfect way to celebrate just about any day, no special occasion necessary. I added crushed fresh raspberries to the cream cheese icing to add a bit of pink and sweeten the deal even more. 

Happy Galentine’s and Valentine’s Day to you all!  (more…)

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Chocolate Chip Cookies 101

Chocolate Chip Cookies 101 | Everything you need to make the best chocolate chip cookies ever. | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

When I was at the University of Vermont studying theater, studio art, English lit, philosophy, photography, Latin, art history and everything else a Liberal Arts Degree offers, I decided to throw a business class into the mix. Truth is, I was just fulfilling a math credit requirement. I learned how to balance a checkbook and some basic—very basic—accounting, which went something like this … don’t spend more than you make! Then the professor had us write a business plan. It was the mid-1980s and I grew up eating Mrs Field’s, David’s and Famous Amos cookies, which were the “gourmet” cookies of the day. While in college I was also the “baker” at a favorite breakfast joint in Winooski, VT and spent my free time baking to relax after classes. So, I wrote my business plan based on a fictitious cookie company called Zoë’s Cookies. I can’t remember how I did in the class, but six months later I was standing on Church Street in Burlington, VT, selling my cookies from a hand pushed cart.

This post is your chocolate chip cookie primer: the result of what I learned making those cookies and the countless batches I’ve baked in the 32 years since then. This post offers a really great chocolate chip cookie recipe, but it is also a Chocolate Chip Cookies 101. I want to explain what the ingredients do to a cookie and how baking can change them. You can tweak your cookies to be just how you like them using my cookie guide towards the bottom of the post. (more…)

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Apple Tarte Tatin

Apple Tarte Tatin | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

The Apple Tarte Tatin is a quintessentially French dessert. There are really two styles of french pastry, the super fussy, Marie Antoinette style creations that are almost too beautiful to eat and look nearly impossible to create and then the country-side, rustic sweets that are more delicious than beautiful. I say this falls into the second category, but I think it is stunningly beautiful with it’s rich caramel apples and flaky pastry peaking out from under them. Rustic yes, but no less sophisticated than a Croquembouche or Paris-Brest, in my mind. 

I was inspired to make this Apple Tarte Tatin when the latest issue of Bake From Scratch Magazine arrived and Susan Spungen‘s Tarte was on the cover. Before I even opened the magazine I was preparing it in my head. The weather here in MN is news worthy and we are expecting the temperature to fall below -60, so I have to make the Apple Tarte Tatin with the ingredients I have on hand, since I will NOT be leaving the house to shop. I don’t have puff pastry made and although Susan’s extra flaky dough is faster than the traditional dough, it still requires more time than I have today, so I got creative and made a very non-traditional baklava-like crust. I simply layered phyllo dough with honey, butter, vanilla and walnuts until I had a crust worthy of the caramelized apples. It is just as flaky and adds a bit of depth and character. Both ways are terrific and Susan’s article in the magazine is all about the classic and the reinvented (she made gorgeous pineapple and savory tomato versions as well) , so I think she’ll approve! 

You can watch me make the tarte in my instagram videos (along with homemade vanilla extract) and the recipe is below:  (more…)

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