Lemon Curd Fool with Summer Berry Salsa

Lemon Curd Fool with Summer Berry Salsa

I went to LA and met someone I have admired for years on instagram, not only for his beautiful photos of delicious food, but also his generosity and quickness to laugh and enjoy himself while he works. Donal and Sofie Skehan are even more delightful, funny and inviting in person than they appear on instagram, which is a nearly impossible statement. We chatted like old friends as their adorable son, Noah, smashed strawberry, after strawberry into his eager mouth. We then set out to create a Lemon Curd Fool with Summer Berry Salsa. First we went into his yard to pick the lemons off the tree, as one does in LA. I had so much fun and at the end we got to eat our delicious dessert together. Such a wonderful visit and you can watch Donal and I FOOLing around in the kitchen on his incredible YouTube channel (video below) and I’ve shared the recipe there as well. 

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Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers. It’s been several years, closer to two decades, since I worked in a professional kitchen as a pastry chef. After all those years, I still miss it. Every time I eat at a great restaurant, I wish I was in the kitchen to watch them create the magic. It is magical, but it’s also a crazy amount of work and a super-charged and stressful environment. I left that world shortly after my first son was born (yesterday was his 20th birthday), because it is a hard life on a young family. The hours are long and all the wrong times; nights, weekends and holidays are in high demand. To stay connected to the restaurant world, I’ve consulted on dessert menus. Creating the pastry program gives me all the joy of being a part of the action, without having to be on the line to create the food during the rush of service. The best of both worlds for me. I also stay connected by fawning over restaurant accounts on instagram. One chef I met on instagram, through a web of industry friends, is Neal Fraser. He has an acclaimed restaurant in LA called Redbird.

I just happened to be in NYC when Chef Fraser was going to be cooking, along with fellow LA chefs from The Strand House, at the James Beard House. He invited me to join them for the event (or perhaps I offered (begged him) to let me help and he graciously agreed.) Either way, I found myself in the most iconic kitchen in NYC, cooking with some of the most talented chefs of LA. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, this would be on it. Chef Fraser was in charge of dessert and together we made a chocolate fudge cake with strawberry sauce, chocolate cremeaux, candied violets, sugared pansies and a quenelle of ice cream. You can see pictures of the dinner, the dessert and meet the chefs in my instagram video and watch the James Beard Live Stream of the kitchen as we prepared the meal.

I created this abbreviated version of Chef Fraser’s dessert to share with you. He graciously shared his warm, super fudgy, chocolate cake recipe and I added a fresh strawberry salsa and lavender ice cream to it, all of which you can watch me make Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberry Salsa and Candied Flowers in my instagram video. (more…)

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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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Cake Baker’s Apprentice (Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Cake and Pavlovas)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 10

It’s really not that unusual for someone to leave a panicked comment saying they have offered to make the cake for their best friend’s wedding. I salute them and hope their BFF knows exactly what a loving gesture it is. My friend Molly asked me to help her come up with a dessert for her best friend’s big day. Molly is a gifted writer, a brilliant adventurer and has the wit and wisdom to keep Andrew Zimmern in line on their shared podcast, Go Fork Yourself, but she is NOT a baker. So, this request was done in a tone of slight trepidation. Besides working with Andrew she also has a blog called Hey Eleanor, where she chronicles overcoming of her greatest fears. She’s jumped out of a plane, bungeed off a bridge, she did stand up comedy (that’s what my nightmares are made of), quit her job and got married (her husband is awesome, so not much risk there). We’d always talked about baking together for her blog, but why not up the ante by trying to create something extra special for her friend’s most important day. No pressure there. We settled on a rather ambitious menu of individual chocolate pretzel crunch cakes and a rose scented pavlova with lemon curd and berries. She did an absolutely fantastic job, as she does with everything.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 09

Our journey in the kitchen was captured by Matt Lien. I spotted his photos on Facebook after he shot Sameh Wadi’s cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. I immediately contacted Matt to gush over his gorgeous work and figure out a way to work together on something, anything.  That was just weeks ago and he was game to come over and play in the kitchen with Molly and me. These images perfectly capture how much fun we had and how easily Molly conquered her fear of baking. (Matt had to leave before we were finished, so the pictures of the final desserts are mine, which will be painfully obvious.)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake | ZoeBakes (photo Matt Lien) 01

Chocolate Pretzel Cakes

pavlova | ZoeBakes 01

Pavlova

Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.

(more…)

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