Apple Blossom Blackberry Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry (two Le Creuset winners!)

Apple Blossom Berry Tart Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I admit I enjoy the detailed work of an elaborate dessert or cake on occasion. I was a fine arts major who couldn’t paint or draw particularly well, but loved being in the midst of all that creativity in the art department. It wasn’t until I found myself in a pastry kitchen that I realized food was the medium that allowed me to express myself. Fussing over gum paste and fondant is relaxing to me. But, there are times I want to create something that is just pure and simple. When flavors are the end all and their natural beauty unadorned.

I’ve been reading A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis. The executive chef from Chez Panisse who has the most enviable career I’ve ever heard of. He spends 6 months of the year cooking at Alice Water’s acclaimed restaurant and the remainder of his time in France. Just one chapter in and you can’t help but hate him for having figured out the perfect life. He eloquently describes shopping in the morning at the outdoor produce market and then cooking with his friends while drinking local wines and nibbling on aged cheeses. His entire philosophy is simplicity. In fact, the book’s one downfall for me is that there is no challenge in any of his desserts, they are all simple to a fault. Gorgeous and as delicious as a fresh fig, but where is all of the fussy detail that I often crave. 😉

I want to be David Tanis when I grow up! Read More

Springtime Flower Cake

A closeup of the springtime flower cake | Photo by Zoë François

This weekend was my neighbor’s birthday. Her husband asked me to bake her a decadent chocolate cake and decorate it with “Spring Flowers.” Here in MN it isn’t exactly bursting with flora yet. In fact, as I was working on this flower cake it started to snow. But Easter is right around the corner and the tulips and rhubarb are promising to come out of the ground soon. We hold our breath and hope for a greener time, soon. Her cake, like Kathy herself, had to be over the top and fantastic! I wanted it to be bright and full of life to compensate for the snow!

The chocolate layers were made up of Devil’s Food, Chocolate Pastry Cream, Bittersweet Ganache, White Chocolate Buttercream and the flowers were made from gum paste.

Happy Birthday Kathy!

Last week I was in such a rush to get my Daring Baker Challenge done in time that I forgot to give away another Le Creuset Stoneware Heart Ramekin with Cover, Red. This week I will give away 2 to make up for it. Just leave me a note below and tell me what you are making for Passover*, Easter** or whatever you are craving now that it is spring. I will pick 2 random winners next week.

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Coconut Macaroons (Haystack Cookies)

Coconut Macaroon Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

There are a few desserts that are ubiquitous for Passover. Coconut macaroons, “fruit slices” and caramel covered matzo are my favorites. All of them can be found wrapped tight in the “kosher” section of the grocery stores, usually sealed to sit there for months, if not years. When you peel the plastic off you are left with overly sweet, dense and utterly flavorless versions of these wonderful treats. So I make my own! None of them are particularly complicated and after making them yourself you will be forever ruined to the Manischewitz versions.

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Chicken Pot Pie with Homemade Puff Pastry

Chicken Pot Pie with Homemade Puff Pastry Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

There are very few things that say comfort food like a chicken pot pie. I go for the classic combination with chicken, peas, carrots and a parsnip for flare, in a rich creamy white sauce that is made with fresh thyme and parsley. The whole thing is draped in a crust of homemade puff pastry. It is this last detail that transforms this bastion of Americana into something utterly sublime. The mille feuilles (thousand leaves) of pastry are baked as a golden brown crown that adds the flaky contrast to the creamy stew below. Seriously folks, it got me mother of the year status in my house! 😉

Puff pastry is the ultimate dough in any home or professional kitchen. One that is not at all difficult to make, but it requires some of your time and a bit of your patience. The store bought version may be convenient but it will leave you feeling lackluster, while the homemade dough will make you weep. In order to get the flaky puff that gives this dough its name, you must diligently “laminate” layers of dough with layers of butter, about one thousand in all. It is the butter that create steam as the dough bakes, which causes all the layers to separate into a flaky crust. Once you work with and taste the pastry you will understand why it is worth every moment that goes into its preparation. I make a batch that will easily prepare pot pie for dinner, a napoleon for dessert and flaky caramelized palmier to dip into my morning coffee. Or, the dough can be frozen for a month.

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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Chocolate Charlotte

Chocolate Charlotte Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Happy Birthday Charlie! You are the best sous chef a mom could ever ask for!

Not to be outdone by his brother’s Valentine’s dessert, Charlie designed these little cakes for his 8th birthday. Complete with layers of different chocolate mousse, a drizzle of caramel and topped with cream and berries. He instructed me to put strips of cake around the outside to hold it all in. Voila, he had built a chocolate charlotte in his mind! The kid is a genius! (in my humble, unbiased opinion ;))

Charlie has helped me in the kitchen ever since he could drag a stool over to the counter. He cracks eggs like pro, knows how to use a kitchen scale and is going to have better knife skills than I do someday soon. He already makes his own crepes, aebleskivers and bread, of course! He has passion in the kitchen and that special touch it takes to be a great chef! And a proud mom!

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Poppy Seed Angel Food Cake with Açai Sorbet and Berries!

Poppy Seed Angel Food Cake with Açai Sorbet and Berries | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Last weekend I partnered with Cooks of Crocus Hill and Kare11 news to promote the Go Red For Woman Campaign. A wonderful organization committed to wiping out heart disease. I know it seems an odd message from a pastry chef, but actually I practice what I preach. I may not always bake or eat low fat meals, but I keep my portions to a reasonable size. And, as some of you know I’ve been dragging myself to kettlebell class. (Yes, despite the complaining I am getting stronger!)

I will never eliminate butter from my diet, but it isn’t always a necessity in making an outstanding dessert. This poppy seed angel food cake is 100% fat free. Not only that, it is full of egg whites which have lots of protein. I paired the cakes with Açai sorbet and a berry soup, both high in antioxidants and other vitamins. Seriously, this is nearly health food. Okay, I know there is still sugar and cake flour. I baked them in muffin tins so a single recipe makes up to 36 servings. Absolutely delicious and gorgeous, you’ll never miss the fat and you’ll be satisfied. If you are on a heart healthy diet you should not be made to suffer, nor should you give up dessert. For other Heart Healthy Desserts check out my Chocolate Poached Pears, English Breakfast Angel Food, Saffron Scented Pannacotta, Chocolate Biscotti and I’ll continue to come up with others. Read More