Date and Tamarind Loaf

Date and Tamarind Loaf | ZoeBakes photos by Zoë François

When I flipped through Nik Sharma’s new cookbook, Season, the Date and Tamarind Loaf struck me with an air of comfortable familiarity. I’d never had this particular dessert before, but the exotic ingredients are some that I adore. I was introduced to tamarind from my husband, whose family is from Trinidad, where this fruit appears in many foods. Tamarind is sticky and sour and used in all kinds of dishes from sweet desserts to savory Indian chutneys and stews. If you have never seen or used tamarind before, you can see them below. You can always use the paste or even pureed tamarind, but it is always fun to start with the real fruit. When I read that Nik’s inspiration for this cake was a sweet chutney, I had to make it and that my family would find it comforting.

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Banana Bread Roll from Smitten Kitchen’s New Book

Banana bread roll cake filled with cream cheese frosting and covered in Swiss meringue | Photo by Zoë François

There’s nothing more satisfying than cutting into a rolled cake to reveal the swirl in the middle. It’s just fun. This banana bread roll is filled with a cream cheese frosting and it is delicious. The recipe is from one of my favorite bloggers and cookbook authors, Deb Perelman from the Smitten Kitchen (as if she needs introducing). In her new book Smitten Kitchen Every Day she dusts the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar and it’s perfectly elegant. I decided to use meringue, because I just did a video series on Instagram about the 3 types of meringues, so I’m a little obsessed with it right now and figured this cake would be super fun topped with a Phyllis Diller-esque hairdo. You can watch me make many of my recipes on Instagram in my stories (they will also live in my “highlights” archive). I’ve been teaching baking and pastry for 20 years (wow, just added that up!) and I love the new challenge of fitting these recipe lessons into 15 second segments. If you haven’t checked them out, I hope you will, I’m having a ball creating them.

Deb was kind enough to allow me to share her Banana Bread Roll recipe with you here. I highly recommend her book for other desserts and her always amazing savory recipes.

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Nutella Swirled Banana Bread

Nutella Swirled Banana Bread recipe | photo by Zoë François

The first time I tried nutella was in France, on my honeymoon. I thought French kids were the luckiest people on earth. There was no way my mom would have given me a chocolate hazelnut spread on anything. (For the record it was the 1960s, she was a hippy and didn’t allow any sugar at all. Hence my full on sugar rebellion and career as a pastry chef.) French kids get nutella for breakfast, on their bread at lunch or as a late night snack. They all seemed healthy enough, so I think the French moms are on to something. My honeymoon was 23 years ago and in the meantime we Americans have had a hazelnut spread revolution of our own. Now you can find it on the shelves of Costco and 7-eleven. My house is never without a jar.

I’ve spread nutella on just about everything, but one of my favorites is freshly baked banana bread. In an “aha! moment” I decided to swirl the nutella right into the batter and bake them together. I’m not claiming to have discovered this combo, but I believe this may be the tastiest pairing ever there was. I now always make two loaves of nutella swirled banana bread, otherwise it disappears too quickly. One we eat while it is still warm and a bit gooey, the other sits for breakfast the next day. It is magnificent and super simple to make.

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Molly on the Range Marzipan Mandel Bread

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Mandelbrot is the Jewish or Eastern European version of biscotti. I grew up avoiding it at Jewish holidays, because it always struck me as stale and tasteless. Many years later I fell in love with Italian biscotti, probably around the time I discovered that drinking coffee was the key to my existence as a professional pastry chef. I often made biscotti to serve at the end of meals and jammed it full of almonds and lots of other tasty sweets. Not at all boring, stale or tasteless. It seemed utterly unrelated to the mandelbrot of my youth. Then last weekend I went to a brunch to celebrate the Molly Yeh’s new book, Molly on the Range, and there were lovely platters of Mandel Bread. The cookies were studded with chocolate and topped with colorful sprinkles. The brunch was perfectly prepared from her book and I tried everything. The Dukkah Donuts, Caramelized Challah Waffles with Brisket, Token Salad and Spinach Feta Rugelach were all super familiar foods to me, but Molly put her mark on them and elevated each one. They have all the comfort of my grandmother’s recipes, but a twist that makes them…better.  At the end of the meal I got a cup of coffee and I realized I hadn’t tried the Mandel Bread yet. Here goes, 30+ years of avoiding these cookies and I decided to trust (reluctantly) that Molly wouldn’t disappoint. Not only were they not disappointing, I loved them! Three of them. I am a complete sucker for marzipan and that was my first bite. It is such a lovely texture in the midst of this crunchy cookie. “Mandel” means almond in Yiddish, so they have to be in there, but how freakin’ clever to use marzipan instead of whole almonds. I wanted to dump them in my purse for later, but got the book instead and made them the very next day.

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Molly is as lovely and generous as she seems on her site. It was such a pleasure to meet her and to eat all of the amazing food from her book. 

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Tender & Flaky Homemade Biscuits

Flaky Biscuits with jam | photo by Zoë François

There’s nothing better than tender, flaky biscuits.

There are three things that guarantee tender, flaky biscuits every time: flour, fat and folding. The type of flour you use will take your biscuits from tough to tender. I use a combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour, so that I have enough structure in my biscuits to create the flaky layers, but they are tender when I break into them. Then there is fat. You want it cold. It should be blended into the flour, but you also want some pieces to stay in tact to create the flakiness. This is just like making pie dough. Lastly there is folding. By folding the dough, you create even more layers and the biscuits are guaranteed to be flaky.

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Corn Bread and Peaches Baked on the Grill

grilled cornbread & peaches zb 12

Last Friday our electricity went out. It wasn’t out long, thanks to an incredible effort by the electric company, but it really made me appreciate how attached I am to the grid. No lights, no AC, not even fans, but the worst of all, no refrigeration. The lack of refrigeration had me in a slight panic, since I have 3 very full refrigerators. As I type that number, it sounds completely ridiculous. Now I feel compelled to justify them … one is for the family, one for my dough buckets (I’m testing recipes for a new book) and the other is a beer fridge that houses more butter than beer. Once we realized there was no storm damage to our house, it was kind of romantic to be in the dark. Our home was built in 1902 and I imagine there were many, if not most, nights spent in the glow of candlelight back then. For one night there were no computers, no TV, not even the radio, which is my constant companion, just quiet.

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