Profiteroles

Pâte à choux translates from French to mean “cabbage” in English. It is a far less romantic word, so we stick to the French. The truth is the puffs look just like little cabbages when piped and baked. Pâte à choux is the dough used for cream puffs (profiteroles) and eclairs. It is rich with butter and lots of eggs but made light when those eggs expand in the oven and create hollow cavities, which are meant to be filled with anything from lobster to ice cream. I pretty much only think in terms of sweets, so I’ve gone with the latter. The ice cream is made with sour cream and lemon, so it is tangy and refreshing. I top it with glossy chocolate ganache and call it classically perfect.

The texture of your Pâte à choux will depend on what liquid you use. In culinary school, we used whole milk, skim milk, and water to compare what the fat and sugars of the milk would do to the dough. I prefer the taste of the whole milk, but the crisp texture of the water, so the skim milk is a good compromise. You can do the same experiment and determine which you prefer. You can also use wheat flour or a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix. If you go GF, you’ll need more eggs in the mix, which I note in the recipe. 

 

You can watch me make these profiteroles in the videos on my Instagram pageRead More

Macarons

Easy pink macarons | photo by Zoë François

The first time I had a true French macaron was while sitting at the now shuttered WD50 in New York City. It was the wild child restaurant of chef Wylie Dufresne, who was one of the first American chefs to deconstruct ingredients and synthesize them into new forms.

It was all very mysterious and pretty tasty, but the most memorable thing we ate that night came out of my cousin’s purse. Samira works in the fashion industry and lives an impossibly global and glamorous life, which includes frequent trips to Paris. She and her brother, Riad, who was sitting with us, had a tradition of sharing a particular pastry from Paris every time she went.

She pulled out the box and nonchalantly pushed it to Riad. This was so normal to them, that they barely acknowledged the act or the beautiful box as anything special. I, on the other hand, was near crazy with anticipation and finally told them to “open the &%$#ing box.”

Inside were perfect, and I do mean perfect, macarons. They were like jewels. All different colors. Pink, gold, lavender and jade. They were delicate to the point of brittle on the outside and like a cloud on the inside, with a layer of super rich ganache or buttercream.

I’ve made macarons, but they were never as ethereal as the one’s Samira brought home from Ladurée. This is no surprise. I was happy enough with mine and they were cheaper than a trip to Paris, but still not perfect. Then I watched Colette Christian’s Craftsy class on miniature French pastries and I figured out the small tricks I’d been missing. Turns out they are much easier than I thought. I’ve been making them constantly ever since.

This last batch I made for Passover and colored them purple to honor Prince. His passing has struck me in a deep way, deeper than I would have ever expected. His music was the soundtrack to my entire high school life and that was long before I moved to his hometown.

Back in the day I choreographed a dance to “Little Red Corvette” to audition for the dance program at my school. I danced my heart out to that song and got into the group. We were hardly Alvin Ailey, but it was my whole life at the time. I remember that audition like it was yesterday.

I just hope Prince had even an inkling of his profound influence over so many people, not just musicians, but all of us who loved his music. I wish he could see how the world has exploded into a party to honor his legacy. Purple macarons and dancing in my kitchen are what I have to offer the celebration.

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Almond Dacquoise Cake with Lemon Curd, Cream and Berries

Dacquoise | ZoeBakes (3 of 3)-2

The dacquoise is a delicate cake layer that is sadly under used by home bakers. It is a cousin to a pavlova, but has the richness of nuts. It is made of French meringue that has nuts (almond meal and coarsely crushed roasted almonds) folded into it and baked in a thin layer. The dacquoise is crisp and used to add a sweet, nuttiness to your cake layers or can be used all on its own. I’ve piled the layers high with whipped cream, lemon curd, mixed berries and topped the whole thing with shards of white chocolate painted with edible luster dust. Without the chocolate it is really a very simple dessert, but if you are going to a party it’s nice to fancy it up a bit.

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Éclairs

Eclairs | Photo by Zoë François

“Lightning!” That’s the literal translation from French I got when I put éclair into google translate. I’ve read a couple of explanations for this name, but only one makes any sense to me. “They disappear in a flash, quicker than a bolt of lightning.” This is the absolute truth. Eclairs are a formula for deliciousness.

Starting with delicate pâte à choux (which has a rather indelicate translation of “paste of cabbage.” Representative of the cabbage shape, when piped into a profiterole (cream puff) and baked, not at all indicative of its lovely, buttery, rich flavor and light texture). The choux is piped into the shape of a small log. Once baked and cooled the log is filled with Crème pâtissière, “pastry cream,” which is simply custard that is thickened with both eggs and a starch, usually corn starch and flavored in this case with vanilla and white chocolate.

The custard-filled pastry is traditionally decorated with fondant, the shiny poured variety, not the rolled one we use for cakes. I find poured fondant, which translates as “melting,” (probably because it melts in your mouth or melts away your teeth with its sugary cloying-ness), much too sweet, so I use ganache.

Ganache is a smooth mixture of chocolate and something else (cream, butter, coffee, water, booze, crème fraîche and/or anything else you can think of). There is no translation for ganache, but it stems from the word “jowl,” which I can’t even begin to ponder.

I hope you all know that despite my very French name, Zoë François, meaning “Life Frenchman,” I don’t speak the language at all and therefore I will most likely be corrected by my French-speaking readers. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. Despite the odd names of all these things, they are quite sensational and will be consumed at lightning speed.

You can watch me make these eclairs in my Instagram stories/highlights.

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Lemon-Lavender Meringue Tarts

Lemon-Lavender Meringue Tarts | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

These lemon-lavender meringue tarts may seem a little upside down, we usually think of the meringue piled high above the lemon filling, not the other way around. This is a simpler twist on the classic, but all the same tangy-sweet allure. The best part is there is no crust to deal with, which makes them lighter and faster to make. The meringue shell is whipped until it is as light as air, spooned into little clouds and baked just until they are set, but still slightly soft in the middle. Once cooled they’re topped with lavender scented lemon curd. The tartness of the curd is always a perfect match for the sweet meringue, and a bit of lavender creates a gentle floral touch, without going overboard. It tastes like spring, which I am desperately in need of on this April day, when we’re anticipating a snow storm.

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Honey Madeleines

Honey Madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Nearly 22 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.

Honey Madeleines from Simply French by Patricia Wells and Joël Robuchon (I rarely make a recipe without improvising, but this one is perfect in my mind and needs no changes.)

Unsalted butter, softened, for greasing the pans

13 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely ground almonds (almond meal)

6 large egg whites

1 tablespoon strong-flavored honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 lemons, zested – optional

To make the Madeleines:

Heating brown butter | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium-high heat. It will bubble,

Making brown butter | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

then foam and finally the solids in the butter will brown and smell nutty.

Making brown butter | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Strain the browned butter into a bowl and allow it to cool. It shouldn’t be solid, but no longer hot.

Sifting flour, sugar and almond meal | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Sift together the sugar, flour and almond meal.

Mixing brown butter and flour | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Beat the egg whites until foamy, but still very soft, so they run off the beater when it is lifted. Whisk in the dry ingredients. Add the brown butter, honey and vanilla. If you want a lemon scented cake, then stir in the zest.

Honey madeleine dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Place the batter into a container, cover and chill for at least 2 hours, but this can be done a day or two ahead.

To bake the Madeleines:

Preheat the oven to 375°F

Spooning madeleine dough into pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Generously grease the pan with butter. (I highly recommend getting a Nonstick Madeleine Pan)

Madeleine dough in a pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Fill the pans about 3/4 of the way with the chilled batter. This may require you to wet your finger tips to spread the sticky batter evenly in the pan.

Baked honey madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes or until they are golden brown on the edges and pale, but firm on the top.

Baked honey madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

The cakes will dome on the top and that is part of their signature look.

Dusting honey madeleines with sugar | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Dust with a little confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or allow to cool.