Black Velvet Apricot Upside Down Cake (Gluten Full and Gluten-Free Versions)

Black Velvet Apricot Upside Down Cake (Gluten-Free Version included) | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Recently I stopped at Whole Foods to pick up some stinky cheese and taste-test all their gluten-free crackers, for research. On the way to the cheese counter these velvety little apricots shouted across the room at me and I was powerless over their beauty. I am a little embarrasses to say that I wasn’t familiar with Black Velvet Apricots, which have the deep color of plums, the lusciously soft skin of a peach and the glorious flavor or an apricot. What will nature think of next? I have seen them in other stores recently, but none are as deep in color or as juicy as the ones that Whole Foods is sourcing. These came from California, because nothing this gorgeous, ripe and flavorful is being grown locally, yet. The growing season here in Minnesota is just in its first days. Maybe come August we’ll be plucking fruit from trees.

I am not gluten-free, as you may have guessed from the content of this blog, but I am doing more and more g-f baking. I have several friends who are celiac or have gluten sensitivities, so I’ve been experimenting with making tasty treats for them. I dove into the mysterious world of g-f baking when we decided to add gluten-free breads to our books. As a baker it was like being blind folded and set into a pantry of products I ‘d never used before. Just the kind of challenge I love. Once the terror subsided I realized that this stuff can be just as easy and tasty as baking with wheat. I have been passing off breads, cakes, cookies and more to my family, none of whom need to eat a gluten-free diet. If they can’t tell the difference, then I know I’ve got this down, because they are super critical of everything I make. I’ve spoiled them.

The cake is inspired by one of my favorite pastry chefs, Karen DeMasco. The upside-down cake is a classic for good reason, but she has made it even richer with almond flour and lots of brown sugar. I’ve made some changes to her recipe, but the essence is still hers. This is one of the few recipes I’ve made, so far, that is an easy switch from gluten full to gluten-free, in fact it is exactly the same recipe. I used the Thomas Keller product Cup 4 Cup All-purpose Flour for this cake. I really like this product for this cake, but find it doesn’t work so well in many of my bread recipes. The only problem with this flour is the price, but it is worth it for something so delicious and you could never buy this cake for so little money. This is how I justify it to myself.

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Minty Macarons for St. Patrick’s Day!

minty macarons recipe for St. Patrick's day | photo by Zoë François

Everything about a macaron says France. They are sophisticated, gorgeous, delicious and have a romance to them; a certain je ne sais quoi? (That was gratuitous, but I couldn’t help throwing in one of the few French phrases I can actually pronounce.) But, it is true, they have a mystique to them that is both alluring and intimidating, like a really gorgeous woman; think Catherine Deneuve and Brigit Bardot. When you bite into them they are just as beautiful on the inside, and inviting, even seductive. I can eat my entire body weight in these nut-meringue cookies and still want for more. What on Earth does all of this have to do with St. Patrick’s day you might ask? I admit it is a stretch, but I really wanted to make them and they are adorable in green. I added a bit of mint to the ganache and voila, you have minty macarons for St. Patrick’s day! Read More

Ultra Peanut Butter Cookies – Introducing Peanut Flour

Ultra Peanut Butter Cookies (gluten free) made with peanut flour | photo by Zoë François

I have made a discovery. It is peanut flour. Maybe you already know about this richly flavored, silky smooth, gluten-free, low-fat, protein packed ingredient? I just found it recently. Actually, the Peanut Board in Georgia sent me some to play with and I went gaga over it. Then, I was perusing the aisles at Trader Joe’s, as I am apt to do, and there it was in their minuscule baking section. Which means I am NOT the first to know about this.

Unlike other nut flours this one is defatted, which means they remove a portion of the fat, so the peanuts can be milled to a powder. The result is an amazingly smooth texture, with lots of healthy protein and very little fat. These peanut butter cookies seemed an obvious recipe to start playing with the flour. I wasn’t expecting the flavor to be enhanced as much as I was looking for a gluten-free alternative to the classic cookie. Boy was I wrong, the flavor was more intense and the texture is smoother and more tender than my old recipe. I’d never thought to do a peanut butter cookie post before, because honestly it just didn’t excite me enough. Now I can say I am all atwitter about these cookies! The trick to their success is slightly under baking them so the center is a bit soft and the outside is crisp. I also used a chunky peanut butter for even more peanut taste and texture.

See my pastry movie recommendation at the bottom of this post.

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Crazy-Good Chocolate Brownies with Mint Ice Cream! (A Giveaway from King Arthur Flour!) WINNERS PICKED!

Chocolate brownie topped with blackberries | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

These brownies have secrets! I baked them, passed them out to my family, my neighbors and my friends to see what they thought. I didn’t say anything, just asked for their honest opinions and this is what I got… “they are so RICH,” “beyond decadent,” “Amazing,” “Great, Can I have another one?” (he is 9) and on and on. Not a bad review in the bunch. No one guessed that they were Gluten-Free and from a King Arthur Flour mix. Yep, two things I rarely play with are gluten-free desserts and mixes. The reason for this tasty little experiment has to do with a young boy I met in upstate NY when I was teaching classes at the Battenkill Kitchen. He suggested that I make them and I couldn’t refuse. I added some dark chocolate ganache, blackberries and possibly the best Mint Leaf Ice Cream I’ve ever had.  Gluten-free or not this is one fabulous dessert!

I’ll start with my ice cream which actually tastes like fresh mint, because that is exactly what it is made with. No hyped up extracts that resemble Trident Spearmint Gum, just natural, summery mint.

*King Arthur Giveaway details below!

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