Baklava

Baklava Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Thanks to Peter of kalofagas.ca (I follow his culinary journey on Twitter), I’ve been craving Greek food, and baklava in particular. For some crazy reason I haven’t made it since I was in college, about 20 years ago. I love the crisp phyllo, which is layered with ground nuts, sweet spices, bathed in butter and honey with just a touch of rose water. It is this last ingredient that gives the recipe its magic. The rose water should be so quiet as to be undetectable, but make people wonder why this baklava is so much better than any other!

Too much and you cross the line into a Crabtree & Evelyn fragrance, so take it easy!

I decided to make the baklava as individual desserts instead of the traditional diamond shape pieces. I thought it would be more elegant to serve. It may take a few more minutes to assemble this way, but the presentation is worth the effort!

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Pineapple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

Polenta Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Recently I participated in a benefit auction for one of my favorite charities, the Children’s Heartlink. We auctioned off a “celebrity” chef bake-off to be held at General Mills test kitchen. Assembled were a team of my favorite pastry chefs in the Twin Cities as the coaches and some heavy hitting celebrity judges. Dr. Jim Rice bought the event and invited 20 of his friends to join him for a great evening. The pastry chef coaches came up with recipes, were allowed to talk the team through the process, but weren’t allowed to touch anything. My team was a blast, they had a great time and produced a gorgeous dessert, which got them second prize!

My friend and exquisite pastry chef, Michelle Gayer’s dessert won the gold! She is the chef/owner of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis (co-author of Charlie Trotter’s Desserts) and her dessert kicked A–! It was a pineapple polenta upside-down cake with caramelized macadamia nuts. I meant to ask her for the recipe, but she was off to Disney World with her family. Well, great minds think alike and it turns out that Johnny Iuzzini has a dessert that is just like it in his new book Dessert FourPlay. While I wait to get Michelle’s recipe I decided to give Johnny’s a go. Two world class pastry chefs’ version of a classic!

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Black and White Sesame Tuile

Black and white sesame tuile on top of coconut ice cream | photo by Zoë François

Last summer Graham and I went to NYC to eat, take in a few museums, visit with cousins and eat some more. Graham’s cousin Riad is the executive chef at Pastis and Balthazar (and the author of the The Balthazar Cookbook).  It goes without saying that Riad is an amazing culinary guide. I’ve never eaten so well and so much in my entire life!

After a 12-course meal at Devi (you must eat Suvir Saran’s food at least once in your life), Riad took us to meet Johnny Iuzzini, the extraordinary pastry chef at Jean Georges. They worked together at Daniel and Riad wanted to show off Johnny’s talents. We arrived at 11pm and Johnny marched through the dining room carrying 24 desserts. Twenty Four exquisitely plated desserts, plus truffles and other small delicacies he whipped up. They were absolutely gorgeous, so despite the 12 courses we had just consumed, we tasted them all! The perfect evening.

For this month’s Daring Baker Challenge I made White and Black Sesame Tuile perched on Coconut Ice Cream, all inspired by recipes from Johnny’s new book Dessert FourPlay.

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Saffron Panna Cotta (From one of my favorite new books!)

Saffron Panna Cotta Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

My husband is going to have a fit when he realizes that I’m talking about his diet on my website. It really does have some relevance to this post, so I hope he will forgive me! He went to the doctor recently and was basically told he needed to cut back on butter, cream and puff pastry. Hahaha. Can you imagine how a request like that goes over in my house. We both stared at the contents of our refrigerator and sighed. After the shock wore off we decided to approach his doctor’s advice as a challenge. How can we continue to satisfy our love of eating and cooking, but do it in a way that fits his new diet. I immediately saw it as an opportunity to buy more cookbooks.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift from the Splendid Table just came out with a fantastic book How to Eat Supper. It has encouraged us to try new things and rethink some of our classic recipes. Much like the philosophy Jeff and I have written about in our book about bread, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, they use for cooking. The food we cook should be fresh, made with great ingredients, fit into our busy schedules and above all else taste great! They deliver on all fronts and I just love this book!

One of the desserts I’ve tried from it is Lynne’s saffron panna cotta recipe. Read More

Butterscotch Pudding with Coffee-Caramel Bananas, and a Trifle!

Butterscotch Pudding Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Butterscotch is one of those flavors that can make you travel through time. I remember eating it, still warm off the stove, when I was just a kid. It was straight from the box of Jell-o instant pudding and it was fabulous to my 7-year-old taste buds. Today I’d probably have a very different reaction to that product and my poor kids have never even tried it. I’d be horrified by its overly sweet and gelatinous taste and they would probably love it! Instead I made them some from scratch, so they would have the same romantic memory, but this one they can take into adulthood.

I got David Lebovitz’s Ripe for Dessert book this year from my aunt Kris, the same one I sent the cake to FL for. It is a lovely book about all kinds of tasty desserts made with fresh fruit. As I was flipping through it fell to the page with butterscotch pudding. He paired it with bananas, which at first seemed like a match that would be far too sweet. But the banana’s are caramelized in coffee, which perfectly balances the sugar with the bite of coffee. Sweet enough to satisfy my sons and yet not at all cloying like the Jell-o of my childhood. Read More

My Aunt’s Birthday Cake flies to Florida!

Birthday Cake Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Many of you may have read about my aunt Kristin in past posts. She is a true lover of food and cookbooks. In fact, she supplies me with a great number of the books that fill my shelves. That is saying a lot considering I own hundreds of them.

In addition to the books, she sends me articles and pictures of food, mostly pastry. She has been a constant source of inspiration. Her birthday is coming up and because she lives in FL I can’t be at the party. In my stead I sent a cake to the party. My father, who lives just blocks from me, carried the cake on his lap during his flight to see her. When I handed over the cake, all nestled safely in a cake box, my dad said “can’t you pack it with pop corn or bubble wrap?” I took a deep breath and said “No, dad you can’t pack a cake with bubble wrap!” LOL!

Happy Birthday Kristin! I love you bunches and hope the cake got to you in one piece and everyone enjoyed it!

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