Lavender Crème Brûlée

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

Crème Brûlée was the first French dessert I’d ever had in a restaurant. When I was in junior high school, I’d take the train into NYC from CT to visit my aunt. She was fashionable, impossibly sophisticated and took me to lavish meals at restaurants that were way over my head, at the age of 13. When I dipped into the creme brûlée I was instantly aware that this was an adult experience. I felt like I was playing grown up and was certainly aware that I was participating in something special.

The texture of crème brûlée like velvet, because it is made with egg yolks, which make it rich and creamy. Unlike it’s custard cousins, flan and creme caramel, the crème brûlée doesn’t get inverted, so it doesn’t need the strength of the egg whites to hold it’s shape. It is made in a shallow ramekin, so it can be partnered with just the right ratio of burnt sugar. The gossamer thin layer of caramel cracks like glass, but the contrast to the custard below is the perfect yin and yang of the pastry world. In truth creme brûlée is so simple to make, despite it’s reputation of the opposite. There are a couple of tricks to guarantee success and I show you them in my instagram video.

I bought a lavender plant for my kitchen and can think of no better place to use the perfumed plant, than in a custard. You want to use enough to scent the creme brûlée, but not so much that it tastes like the perfume counter at Bloomies (another stop on my trips into NYC). You can flavor your creme brûlée with lavender, tea, spices, coffee, or just about anything else you can steep in the cream. See my instagram video to see how I did this.

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

Lavender Crème Brûlée

1 quart heavy whipping cream

1 vanilla bean, scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch salt

10 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers or 12 fresh stems of flowers (see my instagram video)

Berries and lavender for garnish

Heat the cream, vanilla bean, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, salt, and lavender over medium heat, until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes, but this can be done the day ahead (stored in the refrigerator) for a more intense flavor. Warm the cream again if you’ve chilled it.

Preheat oven to 300°F

Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Liaison the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Strain the custard mixture into a measuring cup. Fill six 4-inch Crème Brûlée Dish. Bake the creme brûlées on a baking sheet filled with water, to create a water bath. Bake until the brûlées are just set, like set jello, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature of the custard going into the oven. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, but can be made a day or two ahead.

To brûlée the top, dust with sugar and caramelize the sugar with a Blow Torch or under a gas broiler (electric broilers don’t work well for this).

See my instagram video to watch me make, bake and brûlée the tops.

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

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Lemon Honey-Meringue Pie

Lemon Honey-Meringue Pie | Photo by Zoë François

I love lemon meringue pie, as much for the look of it, as the taste. The tart filling is covered in sweet honey meringue. I added a floral twist that adds a subtle scent of lavender to the not-so-subtle taste of honey.

This Lemon Honey-Meringue Pie is very easy to make, but there are some steps to follow that will take your pie from a weepy mess to a magnificent mile-high showpiece. You can watch me make the pie in my instagram stories. (more…)

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Lemon Lavender Shortbread with Affogato

Affogato with Lemon Lavender Shortbread | ZoeBakes (1 of 2)-2

There is something so perfect and ageless about shortbread. Nothing trendy or hipster about it, just the most basic, easy recipe and yet it feels sophisticated and posh. There are only three ingredients in shortbread; butter, sugar and flour. I dolled these up with a bit of lavender and lemon, because that is what I had on hand and they are gorgeous together. Shortbread is a great canvas for other flavors. Try adding rosemary, chili powder, thyme, sage, star anise, rose water, or anything else you can dream up.

They are traditionally served with tea, but I just stopped by my friend’s new ice cream shop (Milkjam in Minneapolis) and brought home some outrageous ice cream that was begging to be made into an affogato. If you have never had an affogato, you need to run, not walk, to your coffee/espresso machine, brew up the darkest coffee you can muster and add a scoop of your favorite ice cream. The results are nothing short of miraculous. Add a couple shortbread cookies and you have heaven.

Lemon Lavender Shortbread | ZoeBakes (5 of 17) (more…)

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Corn Bread and Peaches Baked on the Grill

grilled cornbread & peaches zb 12

Last Friday our electricity went out. It wasn’t out long, thanks to an incredible effort by the electric company, but it really made me appreciate how attached I am to the grid. No lights, no AC, not even fans, but the worst of all, no refrigeration. The lack of refrigeration had me in a slight panic, since I have 3 very full refrigerators. As I type that number, it sounds completely ridiculous. Now I feel compelled to justify them…one is for the family, one for my dough buckets (I’m testing recipes for a new book) and the other is a beer fridge that houses more butter, than beer.  Once we realized there was no storm damage to our house, it was kind of romantic to be in the dark. Our home was built in 1902 and I imagine there were many, if not most, nights spent in the glow of candlelight back then. For one night there were no computers, no TV, not even the radio, which is my constant companion, just quiet.

storm

The next morning my husband and I walked for 3 hours around our neighborhood with our jaws dropped. The storm, which was being called a “rain event” by the weather types, didn’t seem that violent, but there were trees down all over town and most of the city was without power. Our neighbors, who just moved into their house, had a 60-foot tree laying in their driveway. Thank goodness it missed the house, but it was mind bending to see it stretched out in their yard. That rain event left cars crushed, roofs damaged, basements flooded and roads closed. A week later the city has power again and life, for most of us, is back to normal, but it still takes my breath away to drive through my neighborhood and see all of the old trees knocked to the ground. Nature is quite something.

During the storm a friend and fellow MN food blogger, Shaina of Food For My Family, tweeted that she was going to empty her powerless refrigerator and have a giant BBQ. The grill was to be the salvation for all those meat filled freezers. As some of you know, I rarely have anything but carbs in my house, so I wasn’t in fear of losing lots of grill-ables. Instead the grill was my saving grace when there was no electricity to crank my oven on, because I could still bake. Grill baking. Even when there is no storm, it is my oven of choice in the summer, so as not to heat up my house.

I’ve baked everything on the grill from bread, buns, pita, pizza, fruit crisps, galettes and this week corn bread and peaches. This is a sweet corn bread, almost a cake, which is perfectly suited for breakfast or dessert, but could certainly match up with a rich, savory meat you’ve just grilled up. (more…)

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Lemon-Lavender Meringue Tarts (The difference between French, Swiss and Italian Meringues)

lemon meringue

These 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.

A brief meringue primer…because so many desserts call for them and it can be just a touch confusing which type to use. There are three different types of meringue, with three distinct characteristics and three countries laying claim to them:meringue tarts 01

1. The simplest is the French meringue, which is just egg whites with sugar sprinkled over them as you whip them to peaks. If consuming raw egg whites makes you nervous, the French meringue needs to be baked to make the egg whites perfectly safe and keeps them from deflating. There are also pasteurized eggs whites on the market that eliminate any fear, but I find they don’t whip up quite as well. It is the least stable and most likely to be over whipped, but the fastest and easiest to prepare of the three types. It helps to create a lofty, shiny French meringue by starting with room temperature egg whites.

2. The Swiss meringue is made by heating the egg whites and sugar together over a double boiler until all the sugar melts. This process cooks the eggs enough to make them edible without having to bake them and gives the meringue great strength. It CAN be baked (its what I used for these tartlettes) or used to make buttercream, mousse or toasted meringue topping.

3. An Italian meringue is the most stable of the three types, but also requires the most effort to create. A sugar syrup is heated to about 242°F on a candy thermometer and then very carefully poured over whipping egg whites. This creates a very stable meringue, which will hold up in a buttercream, toppings for pies and folded into mousses or Baked Alaska.

You could make these tart shells using any of the three techniques, and it may be interesting to try them each way. For this particular go of it, I chose a Swiss meringue and here’s how… (more…)

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