Chocolate Chip Cookies 101

Chocolate Chip Cookies 101 | Everything you need to make the best chocolate chip cookies ever. | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

When I was at the University of Vermont studying theater, studio art, English lit, philosophy, photography, Latin, art history and everything else a Liberal Arts Degree offers, I decided to throw a business class into the mix. Truth is, I was just fulfilling a math credit requirement. I learned how to balance a checkbook and some basic—very basic—accounting, which went something like this … don’t spend more than you make! Then the professor had us write a business plan. It was the mid-1980s and I grew up eating Mrs Field’s, David’s and Famous Amos cookies, which were the “gourmet” cookies of the day. While in college I was also the “baker” at a favorite breakfast joint in Winooski, VT and spent my free time baking to relax after classes. So, I wrote my business plan based on a fictitious cookie company called Zoë’s Cookies. I can’t remember how I did in the class, but six months later I was standing on Church Street in Burlington, VT, selling my cookies from a hand pushed cart.

This post is your chocolate chip cookie primer: the result of what I learned making those cookies and the countless batches I’ve baked in the 32 years since then. This post offers a really great chocolate chip cookie recipe, but it is also a Chocolate Chip Cookies 101. I want to explain what the ingredients do to a cookie and how baking can change them. You can tweak your cookies to be just how you like them using my cookie guide towards the bottom of the post. (more…)

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Croissants 101

Croissants cooling on a wire rack | Photo by Zoë François

There are very few things as satisfying as a perfect croissant. Flaky, tender, just the right amount of pull and give, and BUTTERY. Have you ever made one? Probably not, because they’re labor intensive and require a bit of skill to “laminate” the dough. This is an industry term for layering the butter within the dough. It’s not hard, but it requires some patience and a good amount of time to do it right. I’ve had more requests on my instagram account for a video on how to make them than anything else. So, that’s what I’ve done. I learned this technique at the CIA and I’ve changed nothing (well, I cut them differently, so as not to waste a bit of dough). If you haven’t visited my Instagram stories, you’ll find tutorials (set to the music in my head) for everything from macarons to meringue (because I love using my blow torch) and I take requests for things people are having troubles with in their own kitchens.

Here is the recipe for the croissants, but the instructions are basically useless without the visuals, so come to my Instagram account (you’ll find the video on my homepage in the “highlights” archive. Just look for croissants 101.

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How-to Videos: Easy Pie Dough and Double Crusted Apple Pie

apple-pie

Today is national Pie Day according the National Pie Council, so there is no better time to perfect our crust.

Pie dough is one of those things that once you master it, your life in the kitchen is a happier place. It frees you to make fruit pies, quiche, potpies and anything else, sweet or savory that requires a crust. But, mastering the dough is not always as easy as one would hope. In my first video I’ll show you how I create a tender and flaky crust that make pies delicious, no matter the filling. Then, I follow up with a video on how to successfully roll out, fill, top and decorate a double crusted apple pie. With these videos I hope you’ll be making pie with confidence. (more…)

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How-to Video: Piping Icing on a Cupcake 101 (Ovaltine Cupcake with Nutella Buttercream)

I was amazed recently to find Ovaltine on the shelves at the grocery store. I hadn’t had or thought about it in about 35 years. There are certain memories of childhood that hold space in the brain in a sensory way, and Ovaltine is one of them. I can’t remember an actual occasion of drinking it, but I do remember the excitement and malty flavor from way back. When I drink it now I recall our black and white television, big cars with no seat belts, sans-a-belt slacks and the Brady Bunch. These were simple days, so it seemed to a 7 year old, and Ovaltine was one of the glimmering bonuses that life had to offer. Keep in mind that my household was without Twinkies or Soda, so when Ovaltine hit the threshold it was an occasion, a glorious one at that. It was like drinking a malted milk ball and I was in heaven.

In order to make the cupcakes look as gorgeous as they taste, you’ll want to decorate them like a pro. I’ve put together a video on how to pipe on a perfect base of icing. It can be the foundation for other decorations or leave it alone and it is a classic finish. I will share some tips on how to use the pastry bag and the key to piping anything from stars to roses.

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How to Crumb Coat a Cake

How to crumb coat a cake (video) | Photo by Zoë François

There is nothing more disappointing than having a cake that is speckled with crumbs, unless of course that is the look you are going for, like my Brooklyn Blackout Cake. However, sometimes you’ll want pristine white or a perfectly smooth surface to write on and for this it’s helpful to know how to crumb coat a cake. Once you have the dome trimmed off the top of your cake, the layers cut and then assembled with your favorite filling, it is time for a crumb coat. This is a quick and simple step that acts as a guarantee that your final layer of icing will be clean and crumb free. This technique is particularly helpful when you are working with Devil’s Food Cake and White icing, the ultimate combination in taste and pesky crumbs.  (more…)

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How-to Video: Cut and Fill a Cake like a Pro! (Cake Decorating Series)

As a result of your comments about what cake decorating techniques you want to learn I have created a new series on Zoë Bakes. I figure we should start at the beginning. There is no sense in learning how to pipe the perfect rose if your cake is listing and the icing is falling off or covered in cake crumbs. It is just as important to know how to slice and fill your cake, as it is to write “Happy Birthday” in fancy letters, so I am going to show you how to create a professional looking cake from start to finish. In this video I will start with a cake that domed while baking, cut it into layers, fill it and create the perfect foundation for the cake you see above. In the next few posts I will teach you to crumb coat, cover the cake with smooth buttercream and finish with professional looking writing for a special occasion.

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