Chocolate Brownies with Mint Ice Cream

Chocolate brownie topped with blackberries | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

These brownies have secrets! I baked them, passed them out to my family, my neighbors and my friends to see what they thought. I didn’t say anything, just asked for their honest opinions and this is what I got… “they are so RICH,” “beyond decadent,” “Amazing,” “Great, can I have another one?” (he is 9) and on and on. Not a bad review in the bunch. No one guessed that they were gluten free and from a King Arthur Flour mix.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp with Creamy Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry rhubarb crips topped with strawberry ice cream | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

The gift of spring every year in my garden is the rhubarb. I didn’t plant it, I don’t care for it, but every spring it pops up and provides me with such a thrill. As soon as the stalks are thick enough to hold the weight of their leaves I start to pluck them out of the ground. I really should wait, but those first tender stalks are the best of the year and I can’t resist. They usually just get dipped in sugar and eaten as is.

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Chocolate Torte for Passover!

Chocolate torte | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I baked this cake for my dear friend Jen’s 40th Birthday. Just a private little torte for one, or 5 if she decided to share with her family. She’d had a lavish soiree at D’Amico Kitchen and phenomenal cupcakes from my favorite Minneapolis bakery, The Salty Tart. On the quiet Tuesday of Jen’s actual birthday she needed a cake. Her favorite sweet combination is chocolate and peanut butter. I decided to combine my devil’s food with a peanut butter buttercream icing. Because Passover is on my mind I tried my devil’s food recipe with matzo meal and it is a revelation, I may even prefer it and that is saying something! Matzo meal is something I usually only have on hand this time of year, but I may start to keep it in my pantry just for this recipe.

To get the evenly spaced stripes on the cake I used a cake decorating comb, which allows you to fancify your torte quickly and easily.

Other Favorite Passover Desserts:

Chocolate Caramel Matzo

Haystack Macaroons

Fruit Jellies

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Blackberry Ricotta Tarts, a wee bit of summer in the dead of winter!

Blackberry ricotta tarts | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

This past weekend I NEEDED summer. The weather was vacillating between rain and sleet, my boys couldn’t even go ice skating because the rink was just a pool of slush. The Midwestern sky, that I can usually count on for an endless blue sunny backdrop to winter, was gray. It was all too much to take, especially after the Vikings gave up the big game. When I saw the flat of blackberries at the store, I had to have them. It was a gift from a land far, far away that is in their growing months. I am usually dedicated to eating seasonally and as local as possible, but once in a while we Minnesotans have to cheat. It worked. My family and I were much happier after eating these tarts. The fresh berries were lovely with the rich creamy ricotta custard that has the slightest hint of nutmeg. Be sure to use a whole milk ricotta to get the silky texture.

This morning we woke up to snow, which is at least beautiful, albeit a reminder that our summer is still far away. I suppose it just means we have a longer baking season than most! Read More

Chiffon Cake with a Tuscan Twist!

Chiffon Cake | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

What an exciting year 2009 was. Towards the end it got a little too exciting and I was forced to take a break from posting. Now that the schedule of promoting Healthy Bread in Five has slowed down and the fevered pitch of the holidays has subsided I can get back to what I love. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but when it all comes at once it can feel like too much of a good thing. Baking cake is a pure comfort. It is how I got started in this career in the first place — I needed a way to calm down after work, so I baked. After a particularly stressful day at work I whipped up a pile of cakes and my husband suggested I go to culinary school. I think I quit my job the next day and enrolled in the culinary program at the local technical college. It didn’t take long to figure out that I LOVED the study, but not the school. After much consideration I packed my bags, left my husband and dog behind (just for a while) and headed off to the CIA in NY. I was in heaven. Even after serving my time in restaurant kitchens, delivering wedding cakes to psycho brides and having to make 3000 spun sugar curls for a benefit dinner in the sweaty month of August, I love my job. So, despite being exhausted at the end of 2009 and needing a rest, I head into 2010 with a whole lot of gratitude and excitement about what this year brings.

As some of you may know from my facebook page my husband/web designer/IT guru is in the processes of revamping ZoëBakes, so stay tuned for those changes soon. I am also working on a 3rd book with Jeff, about Pizzas and Flatbreads from around the world. The project has me obsessed with Italy and other points on the map where these breads are eaten. This summer my family will embark on a journey to find, taste and bake some of them. We’ll start in Italy, so I’ve been gearing up, which in my world means cooking Italian foods. Hence the Tuscan Twist on chiffon cake. Traditionally it is like a super luscious angel food cake that is made with oil and egg yolks in addition to lots and lots of whites whipped and folded in. Instead of using a neutral flavored oil, which only adds to the texture, but not much in the way of flavor, I used a fruity olive oil. Bellissimo! Read More

Vegan Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

Vegan triple chocolate cupcakes | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I’m a sucker for a chocolate cake and so it seemed the perfect place for me to dive into Robin’s newest book. This one caught my eye for another reason as well — it is vegan. No, I’m not a vegan, but I’ve been looking for this very recipe since the day my brother and his girlfriend announced to the family that they were. I’d been experimenting with vegan cakes to serve them, but honestly I hadn’t gotten very far. I’m too wedded to butter, eggs and cream. Robin came to the rescue. I gave the recipe a test run for Katherine’s (the aforementioned girlfriend of my brother) Birthday. Truth be told I never actually gave them to Katherine, not for lack of desire, but because they are in Copenhagen at the Climate Change March, where they are preparing to display their artwork to affect change in the world. What a memorable birthday she will have and I will gladly make these cupcakes again once she returns. A perfect way to celebrate.

Robin manages to achieve a rich chocolate cake with a moist (but not dense) crumb without the benefit of eggs or dairy. Mystifying! The filling is remarkably reminiscent of mocha pastry cream and the ganache is chocolaty and glossy. It all defies classic baking and yet it works wonderfully.

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