Fruit Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry

Fruit Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This fruit tart with homemade puff pastry is made with nothing more than ripe pluots (apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, any other stone fruit or berries will also do), lemon zested sugar and a sheet of puff pastry. Super elegant in its simplicity. The tart is from Rory O’Connell’s new book, Cook Well Eat Well. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting him during my epic tour of Ireland last week, hosted by Kerrygold butter. More to come about that trip, but let me back up a minute to 1998, when I was working at an Irish restaurant in Minneapolis, The Local. It was an Irish pub on one side and fine dining on the other, with a kitchen run by the James Beard Nominated chef, Steven Brown. I was the pastry chef and knew a lot about baking, but nothing of Irish food. I went to the book store and bought The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen, published in 1977. That cookbook was by my salvation and influenced nearly every dessert I created in the kitchen that year. Last week I went to Ballymaloe and met Myrtle Allen’s children, Fern and Darina, who took over the restaurant and created a cookery school with Darina’s brother, Rory. I am not typically one to fan-girl over celebrities, but being in the presence of these folks was a dream come true. You can see pictures from my visit to the Ballymaloe cookery school, where Darina gave us a spirited and brisk (meaning I couldn’t keep up with her) tour of the exquisite gardens, farm and school. Darina is like the Alice Waters of Ireland and has created the Irish food scene, by educating just about every chef in the country and beyond. If you are at all interested in taking cooking classes as an enthusiast of home cooking or potential professional, I couldn’t recommend this experience more highly. Here is a link to the school!

After our tour of Ballymaloe, we settled in for a cooking class with Rory. Not only is he an accomplished chef, a TV personality and a terrific teacher, but he is one of the most charming and lovely people I have ever met. This happens to be true for everyone we met on our journey through the countryside of Ireland and in Dublin. What a welcoming and generous people. Rory made us several dishes, all quite simple, made with local, fresh ingredients and absolutely delicious. He also gave us a copy of his new book, which is where I found this Fruit Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry. I don’t always make my own puff pastry, but it really is worlds above the store bought and not difficult to make, if you have a decent amount of time to devote to it. I will show you how in my Instagram video or you can attend the cookery school in Ballymaloe! Rory would have walked through the gorgeous gardens to pick perfectly ripe fruit, but I had to settle for what’s available in my local farmers market or at the grocery. I went with pluots, because they were beautiful and ripe. They are a combination of plums and apricots; the flavor is sweet, but also tangy, and they are JUICY. Depending on the fruit you use, you can increase or decrease the sugar.

The puff pastry was made with Kerrygold Unsalted Butter. This is a recipe that is four ingredients, flour, salt, water and lots of butter, so use a butter you’re in love with. I walked in the emerald fields, over looking the sea with the cows who produce the milk that goes into Kerrygold. The grass and the dairy cows are revered above all else in Ireland. I heard this from the farmers, but also the taxi driver who took me to the airport. I commented about how lucky we were it didn’t rain the entire time we were there and he said, “but we need the rain for our grasses. Without it we wouldn’t have the beautiful green lands and the milk wouldn’t taste so good.” Seriously, it couldn’t have been better scripted. The cows grazing on those green fields produces a golden butter that tastes good enough to eat alone. The butter in Ireland (and all of Europe) has a higher fat content than the butter made here in the states, so the texture is creamy and luscious. It truly makes for a superior puff pastry, so I highly recommend you find some. This is one of those recipes where it will make a big impact. 

You can watch me make this tart in my Instagram video. (more…)

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Apple Butter Rose Tart

Apple Butter Rose Tart | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François  

This apple butter rose tart was inspired by Rory MacDonald’s new cookbook, bake. His book is full sweets, from flaky morning pastries to intricate plated desserts. It’s a book about a pastry chef taking you through the process of a restaurant kitchen, but he made the recipes accessible for the home cook. It is a beautiful book and his apple tart recipe intrigued me the second I turned to the page. His apple design is a super sleek spiral, where as mine went a bit more girly and romantic. I used a vegetable turner, as he suggested, to slice the apples as thin as possible and rolled them tight into rosettes. The ruffles that formed as the apples passed through the turner reminded me of fabric and I loved the effect so much that I just gathered the apple as it fell and piled it into the center of the tart. This tart has so few ingredients and yet the finished dessert is quite striking and intricate looking, perfect for a special occasion. You can watch me put together the apple butter rose tart in my instagram video and recipe is below. 

Apple Butter Rose Tart | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François   (more…)

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Peanut Butter Cookies

peanut butter cookie 05

As you may know, my son (The Fabulous Baker Boy, as I call him on Instagram) baked his way to the bank this summer. You can read all about his baking adventures here. One of his customers requested peanut butter cookies and they turned out to be one of the most popular treats of the summer. The recipe he chose came from David Lebovitz’s book Ready for Dessert. They are magnificent and easy, easy, easy to make. David has you refrigerate the cookie dough, which really does improve the texture and they don’t spread out or lose the crosshatch pattern. The Fabulous Baker Boy used Skippy peanut butter, per David’s request not to use a natural, freshly ground version. I couldn’t agree more, even though I prefer to eat the all natural kind. Peanut butter made with hydrogenated vegetable oils will hold their shape better and won’t be as greasy or dense. One thing we found is that the texture changed considerably with the amount of baking. If you want a softer cookie, as David describes, you want to err on the side of under baking slightly. Our cookies were more like peanut butter shortbread, because we made the cookies way bigger and baked them several minutes more, but we LOVED them like this. Maybe try a tray each way and decide which style you like better. (more…)

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Honey Madeleines

Honey Madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Nearly twenty two years ago I got married, and as a gift I was given a copy of Patricia Wells’ book about the cuisine of Joël Robuchon. It was a heady book for a 23-year-old with Vermont commune roots. The book, and its recipes, stepped me directly into the intimidating world of French food. Patricia Wells promised to explain the techniques I’d need to make Robuchon’s Foie Gras and Creamy Scallop and Caviar Pillows, but at that age I could hardly afford to buy the ingredients, let alone all the equipment I’d need to make them. So, as is true to my nature, I flipped to the back of the book, to all the sweets and landed on the recipe for Madeleines. I’d read about these sexy, little, shell-shaped cakes in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, when I was in college. Proust would have been an amazing food blogger with words like these:

“She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine…”

But, Proust neglected to provide the recipe, so over the years people have made up their own versions. Some based on a genoise, some a pound cake batter, but Patricia Wells and Robuchon have created what I think is the ultimate Madeleine. It’s a combination of browned butter, honey, lemon zest and almond meal, which combines to make an incredibly rich cake that’s soft on the inside, crisp on the outside and worthy of the shuddering Proust describes. The key to the success of this recipe is to use really flavorful honey, chill the batter before baking and make sure your scalloped Madeleine pans are really well buttered. Whenever theres a special occasion or I want to do something particularly sweet for my husband, I bake him Madeleines. (more…)

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Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

Vanilla bean pound cake | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

There may be no better dessert than a well crafted pound cake. It is perfect in its simplicity and purity of flavor. This vanilla bean pound cake gets its name from the recipe’s old-fashion formula; 1 pound butter, 1 pound flour, 1 pound eggs and 1 pound sugar. Very few modern recipes follow these exact proportions anymore, but the name stuck. Despite the richness of all that creamy butter and eggs the cake is actually quite delicate. I cream the life out of the butter to incorporate lots of air into it, whip the eggs until they are light and fluffy and add just a touch of baking powder to guarantee the texture I love. This is an excellent place to try out a European-style butter, which is made with less water and whey than American butters. It creates a melt in your mouth cake that is like eating vanilla flavored velvet. I use 1 1/2 vanilla beans to make sure the flavor is as intense as possible, but even made with a single bean this cake will knock your socks off. You can shake some confectioner’s sugar over the top or create this vanilla bean icing that accentuates the flavor and seals in the moisture of the cake. (more…)

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