French Silk Pie

French Silk Pie | ZoeBakes Photo by Zoë François

When I moved to Minneapolis from Vermont, I hadn’t expected to experience culture shock. I was raised mostly in New England with stints in Northern California. Somehow, those places, as far from each other as they can get on a map, are more alike than the vast land in the middle.

I understood the food of the coasts, including the pie, dominated by apple and pumpkin or even lemon meringue. But, the Midwest has a pie culture all its own. I first learned of French Silk Pie in the 1990s from a local Minneapolis newspaper’s people choice award. Every year Bakers’ Square would win “best dessert” in Minneapolis with their French Silk Pie. I was painfully aware of this because I was baking my heart out at a local restaurant and despite all my efforts, I could never touch this pie’s popularity. I did finally taste one, and IMHO, it was sweet and lacking in any real chocolate flavor, but the texture was certainly worthy of the name. Out of spite (I was young and sillier then), I never served a French Silk Pie in any restaurant I worked at and honestly, this is the VERY first one I have ever baked. It comes from the beautiful new baking book, Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, by Shauna Sever. Not only did Shauna change my heart about this pie, but has taught me so much about the culture of baking in my own backyard. This pie is everything people loved about the one from Bakers’ Square, but is all about the deep chocolate flavor. Be sure to use a high quality, bitter chocolate (70-75% cacao) or the pie can get very sweet, FAST! In her book the pie is topped with a homemade Cool Whip, which is 100% in keeping with the traditional pie. I left the cream unstabilized and unsweetened, because I like the contrast of the sweet filling to the clean, rich cream on top, you choose which way to go, I offer both ways below. This recipe uses raw eggs, which doesn’t bother Shauna or me in the least, but if you are at all worried about eating raw egg, then buy pasteurized ones. 

Do you have pie questions or need to troubleshoot your recipe? Check out my guide on how to make pie crust.

French Silk Pie | ZoeBakes Photo by Zoë François
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Homemade Marshmallows

marshmallows | ZoeBakes (2 of 4)

I really, really wanted to start this post by bitching about the weather. Something my poor family has to endure for much of the winter. But, I’ve decided to rise above the whining-chatter in my head and embrace the weather. It is easy today, at a balmy 42°F. A small, but welcome comfort after an epic freeze. Instead of complaining about the cold, I made hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows. It reminds me of being a kid, when I loved winter and playing outside. There is just something magical about the puff of a marshmallow and how it floats on top of hot chocolate, melting just a little to make a layer of sweet fluff. Totally comforting. Nothing beats that, except now I prefer my hot chocolate with a shot of whiskey and my marshmallows scented with a touch of mint or vanilla or even cardamom.

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Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches

Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches

Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches. I’ve met so many incredibly talented and lovely people through Instagram. That’s where I first found Giulia Scarpaleggia (and her website Jul’s Kitchen), who lives and cooks in Tuscany. Her food is gorgeous and when she told me she had a cookbook coming out, I couldn’t wait to see it. The book is a beautiful guide to the Markets of Tuscany and the recipes they inspire, including this fresh ricotta tart (I added the peaches for a summer twist). The flavors are a classic combination from this region. I adore the food, the people, the terrain, the wine and the sweets of Tuscany. I’ve often fantasized about moving abroad and the Italian countryside is always first on the list.

This ricotta tart, caught my eye when I was flipping through the pages of Giulia’s book. Her tart, which she calls, Torta Squisita “exquisite cake”, is made with ricotta (I made it from scratch, which is so easy), chocolate, candied orange peel and a star anise flavored liqueur. It is quintessentially Italian. I happen to have some juicy, perfectly ripe peaches sitting on the counter, so I decided to top the tart with them. It is super tasty and an ode to summer, but it would be just as good without the peaches, served with a strong cup of coffee.

Tuscan Ricotta Tart with Peaches
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Homemade Yogurt (Plain and Fruit)

How to make homemade yogurt, plain or with fruit | photo by Zoë François

I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach, cheese blintzes from the Kiev restaurant (a childhood favorite) and fresh homemade yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into homemade yogurt, butter and cheese. The flavor of that homemade yogurt, made from fresh milk, was divine. 48 years later, in Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved urban dairy cows, so I just buy milk for making yogurt. Not as romantic, but still tasty.

How to make homemade yogurt, plain or with fruit | photo by Zoë François

Now that I have started making my own, I may never buy yogurt again. Homemade yogurt is so easy and has such an incredible flavor. Even my boys like it better. I happen to love it plain and tangy, but I’ll also put a layer of preserves on the bottom when I am in the mood for something a bit sweeter.

All you need is milk (you choose the fat content), a bit of heavy cream (if you’re feeling decadent) and some plain yogurt to get started. 

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Homemade Jello (Fresh Strawberry!)

Homemade Jello With Strawberries Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Jell-O always seemed a bit like magic to me. Add water to the brightly colored, sugary powder and in no time it’s solid and giggles like a good belly laugh. The problem is, the stuff in the box tastes like congealed, watered-down kool-aid. There is no actual fruit involved, just artificial color and flavor.

Luckily gelatin desserts have earned more respect in the past decade with the popularization of panna cotta and other sophisticated, intense flavors, like wine and espresso. I even have a recipe for Vietnamese Iced Coffee Panna Cotta!

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S’mores – rainy days can bring sweet inspiration!

S'mores | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Sometimes great ideas can come from the strangest places. Who would have imagined that spending my birthday, in the rain, making S’mores with people I didn’t know could have been so much fun and such creative inspiration? In November my good friend and partner in many culinary adventures, Jen, treated me to a luxurious night at a resort. As bad luck would have it, it was pissing rain all night, which may have stopped the average souls from sharing a bottle of wine by the beach. Jen and I bundled up, grabbed blankets, umbrellas and sat in the rain by the fire. Apparently this scene was odd enough to attract the attention of a lovely, adventure seeking couple (Sue and Anton), who pulled up a soaking wet bench and joined us. The only thing missing in this rather bizzarre setting were sticks with marshmallows. Not for long! Sue disappeared and came back with a “S’more kit.” It seemed perfectly right at the moment to be drinking a lovely bottle of red wine and singeing marshmallows in the fire, while balancing an umbrella. They were perfection, albeit too sweet and not as good as I remember them from childhood. The concept of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers and toasted puffs of whipped sugar is brilliant, but once you hit 40, one’s taste-buds crave a little more complexity and less unadorned SWEET.

This moment deserved remembering and the S’more begged to be reinvented. This small bite of homemade cinnamon graham cookies, chocolate ganache and toasted almond meringue is my take on the classic. But, I added a hidden treasure. Under the cloud of meringue lies coconut and a candied pecan. The texture and richness of the nut are just what the S’more was always missing for me. I suggest you bring them to a superbowl party, but leave a few at home to snack on later. Read More