Thin Mint Cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day

mint cupcakes

‘Tis the season of Girl Scout cookies and there is none more famous and beloved than the thin mint, at least in my house. I love Girl Scout cookies, both for the memories of being a scout and for what they represent; empowering kids is always a good thing. Sadly, the days of my 13-year-old metabolism are long gone, when I was capable of eating an entire box at a sitting. Now just a couple cookies will do me and the thin mints are still my favorites. They just seemed to have the perfect ratio of chocolate to mint, and go down easy with a glass of milk. I have to act quickly, because my boys are still at the age when they can polish off an entire box, even though mom would never allow such a thing. 😉

This cupcake recipe manages to be light, fluffy and moist, all at the same time. It starts with a true all-American white birthday cake. The recipe is made with whipped egg whites and no yolks, so the color is bright white. It’s perfect for adding color, but this time I left that to the mint icing. A thin layer of ganache between the cake and icing makes these just a touch more sophisticated, in case you are looking for a St. Patrick’s Day treat to bring to work. The super creamy icing is one that I made from Vintage Cakes, an adorable addition to my cookbook collection. It is made by thickening milk and flour together into a smooth paste, then adding it to creamed, sweetened butter. The thickened milk and flour gives the icing body and a luxurious texture. Despite the extra step, it is an easy recipe, my 11-year-old made it start to finish with perfect results. The basic icing takes flavors really well, so a bit of mint extract and a few caps full of Crème de menthe and these cupcakes taste just like a thin mint. Read More

4th of July Sweets!

4th of July cake | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I seem to make big life changes on the 4th of July. I moved the Minnesota 19 years ago on this holiday, and this year I am moving again. Luckily it is just down the street, but it might as well be across the world with all the work involved. We’ve been packing for weeks and today I start to dismantle my kitchen. This is exciting and stressful in equal measures. I am happy to be moving to our new home, but there are so many memories in this old house. Not to mention throwing the contents of my kitchen into boxes is going to test the strength of my character.  Wish me luck. Think of me as you are grilling and picnicking.

Here are some 4th of July sweets I recently created for the Cooking Channel. Read More

Mother’s Day Meringues (light and simple summer desserts)

On mother’s day, I personally think there should be over-the-top displays of appreciation and beauty. This will come in the form of children helping their mom plant flowers in the garden, cleaning the garage, a foot massage, a favorite meal (basically anything cooked by someone else) and, of course, a gorgeous dessert. After eating the before mentioned  favorite meal, she may long for something light and ethereal. Meringues. This is one easy recipe, served three different ways. It can be made by children of all ages, maybe with a little help from dad. By adding flavors to the meringue, you can personalize the dessert. Read More

Icebox Cake (homemade chocolate wafers with caramel cream)

icebox cake with homemade chocolate wafers and caramel cream | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Icebox cake, is really not a cake at all; it’s layers of chocolate wafer cookies and whip cream. So, what’s up with the name? Once the cookies and the cream have a chance to sit together, in their little rows, the cookies soften and in a blind taste test you’d never know you weren’t eating cake. I am sure the version I ate as a child was made with Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, which are still available (and still satisfy), plus Cool Whip. I loved it as a kid, but now my taste buds crave more flavor and a LOT less sweet. I added burnt sugar to the fresh whipping cream and baked my own bittersweet chocolate wafers. The homemade chocolate wafers make a big difference. They are intensely chocolate and less sweet, which gives the icebox cake so much more personality. Something old is new again and much tastier.

When you slice into the icebox cake you reveal the beautiful stripes of caramel and chocolate. You can simply spread the top with the caramel whip cream, but for Easter or other holidays you might want to use a pastry bag and pipe a fancier design. As you can see I went a little Downton Abbey with my decorating, but either way this is one of the easiest and tastiest desserts I have ever made. Read More

Russian Tea Cakes (Mexican Wedding Cookies)

Russian Tea Cakes (Mexican wedding cakes) packed in a holiday tin

It is a slight mystery why these are called Russian tea cakes and not cookies, but no matter the name, they are delicious. How can you go wrong with toasted pecans, brown butter and sugar? The texture is like a shortbread cookie that is taken to new heights by the richness of the nuts. They are typically served at the holidays, maybe because they look like little snow balls, and at special occasions, like weddings, as the name suggests. This holiday my aunt Kristin, who is my pastry muse, requested them. It is ridiculous that my house isn’t stocked with them all year round. The recipe is so simple and the results so incredible. Thanks to Kristin my cookie jar is now full. They make a great gift because they pack up well and actually improve with a bit of time, which can’t be said for many cookies.

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Rugelach – Raspberry, Nuts and Chocolate wrapped in Cream Cheese Dough

Rugelach - Raspberry, Nuts and Chocolate wrapped in Cream Cheese Dough | Photo by Zoë François

My maternal great great grandmother, Shirley Sierra (the name given to her at Ellis Island), had a bakery in Kiev, Russia (now part of Ukraine). She moved to Brooklyn, NY at the turn of the 20th century and continued her “bakery” there. It wasn’t a shop as we imagine now, it was just her, baking in her apartment. According to my 92 year old grandmother, Sarah Berkowitz, her Bubbe would make rugelach, challah, strudel and all kinds of Jewish baked goods for her family and neighbors. She described their small apartment kitchen as stacked high with goodies, which in the depression must have been a welcome sight.

This morning when I told my grandmother that I was baking rugelach with raspberry preserves and chocolate, she said that was “way too modern for her tastes.” She prefers hers stuffed with chopped prunes and raisins. None of Bubbe Shirley’s recipes exist today, no one even remembers if they were written down way back when. Until recently I got a steady supply of rugelach from a bakery in town, but when they shut their doors I was determined to create my own recipe. After several attempts, all of which were tasty, but not quite ready for prime time, I landed on this recipe. The dough is soft and tender, with just a slight zip from the cream cheese and zest, which is a perfect compliment to the sweet fillings. Eating them brings back great memories. 

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