I have a bunch of classes on Craftsy, including “Show-Stopping Cheesecakes!” To find any of my classes on the platform, just type Zoe Francois in to the search bar and you will find all three of my courses.
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 to make lemon lavender shortbread, 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.
There are a few basic recipes you can try in a cookbook to get a sense of the quality of the book. I always go for the banana bread, pound cakes or a classic Bundt. I know they sound too simple to give any indication of a chef’s worth, but the simple recipes are the hardest. They can’t hide behind icing or sauces. If they don’t stand perfect as they are, then chances are the rest of the recipes won’t either.
I recently got a copy of Sarabeth Levine’s newest book, Sarabeth’s Good Morning Cookbook. For those of you who don’t know Sarabeth, she is a pastry chef who has had an acclaimed restaurant in NYC for decades. I first visited Sarabeth’s when I was in high school in the 1980s. My aunt, Melissa, lived in Manhattan and I’d go into the city from Connecticut to visit her. Brunch at Sarabeth’s became our tradition. I remember having a popover and marmalade for the first time and I was in love. Both the popovers and a Mandarin Orange spread are in her cookbook, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.
The lemon Bundt cake is perfect. It is the most delicate texture and rich flavor. I had rather small lemons and wanted it to be an intense flavor, so I added more zest. I also had a chunk of ginger on hand, so I added it to the lemon soaking syrup, but otherwise the recipe is all Sarabeth.
It’s really not that unusual for someone to leave a panicked comment saying they have offered to make the cake for their best friend’s wedding. I salute them and hope their BFF knows exactly what a loving gesture it is.
My friend Molly asked me to help her come up with a dessert for her best friend’s big day. Molly is a gifted writer, a brilliant adventurer and has the wit and wisdom to keep Andrew Zimmern in line on their shared podcast, Go Fork Yourself, but she is NOT a baker. So, this request was done in a tone of slight trepidation.
Besides working with Andrew she also has a blog called Hey Eleanor, where she chronicles overcoming her greatest fears. She’s jumped out of a plane, bungeed off a bridge, she did stand up comedy (that’s what my nightmares are made of), quit her job and got married (her husband is awesome, so not much risk there).
We’d always talked about baking together for her blog, but why not up the ante by trying to create something extra special for her friend’s most important day. No pressure there. We settled on a rather ambitious menu of individual chocolate pretzel crunch cakes and a rose scented pavlova with lemon curd and berries. She did an absolutely fantastic job, as she does with everything.
Our journey in the kitchen was captured by Matt Lien. I spotted his photos on Facebook after he photographed Sameh Wadi’s cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. I immediately contacted Matt to gush over his gorgeous work and figure out a way to work together on something, anything. That was just weeks ago and he was game to come over and play in the kitchen with Molly and me. These images perfectly capture how much fun we had and how easily Molly conquered her fear of baking. (Matt had to leave before we were finished, so the pictures of the final desserts are mine, which will be painfully obvious.)
Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.
Last week my husband got a craving for scones. Instead of turning to me, or making them himself, he asked our 12-year-old son to bake them. He challenged Charlie to have hot scones ready by the time he left for work the next morning. 7:30 a.m. is an hour my boys rarely see, because they are deep in REM sleep. Agreeing to this request was based on one thing, and one thing alone: money.
My sons get an allowance, but it isn’t always enough to satisfy all the activities and toys they want, so the thought of a few extra bucks in his pocket was enough to get him out of bed. And, he loves to bake, so it wasn’t much of a hardship.
The night before, he picked a recipe from Baking with Julia, set up his mise en place (a fancy way to say ingredients and equipment), then set his alarm for 5:30 a.m. He woke me up at 6 a.m., so I could sit in the kitchen, bleary eyed, with my coffee and answer any questions he had.
It was quite something to watch him navigate the recipe. He didn’t know what a pastry blender was or what cornmeal looked like, so the instructions of “cutting the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until is resembles cornmeal” meant nothing to him. I showed him a jar of cornmeal, handed him the pastry tool and off he went.
Scones are really quite easy to make, but it does require a gentle touch, so they don’t come out too tough. He did it perfectly.
My husband is a big fan of raisins, so Charlie folded them in during the last steps and added a bit of zest to the dough as well. He made an entire batch, which was way more than my husband could eat, so Charlie got the idea of texting our family members, who live nearby, to tell them he had hot scones coming out of the oven and he was selling them.
The price is fair, the product is amazing, the baker is adorable and he sold out for the day. By the time the scones were cooling on the racks and his customers were showing up at the back door, he had crawled into my bed and fallen back to sleep. I was left to run the store, which was just fine with me.
The scones were such a success that he’s now taking pre-orders for all kinds of baked goods and has a schedule of when he has to deliver the goods. It’s the best summer job I can think of and he’s going to be a skilled baker by the time he hits 8th grade. Could I be any prouder of him? Nope! Not possible. He’s my fabulous baker boy.
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.