Honey Madeleines

Honey Madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Nearly twenty two years ago I got married, and as a gift I was given a copy of Patricia Wells’ book about the cuisine of Joël Robuchon. It was a heady book for a 23-year-old with Vermont commune roots. The book, and its recipes, stepped me directly into the intimidating world of French food. Patricia Wells promised to explain the techniques I’d need to make Robuchon’s Foie Gras and Creamy Scallop and Caviar Pillows, but at that age I could hardly afford to buy the ingredients, let alone all the equipment I’d need to make them. So, as is true to my nature, I flipped to the back of the book, to all the sweets and landed on the recipe for Madeleines. I’d read about these sexy, little, shell-shaped cakes in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, when I was in college. Proust would have been an amazing food blogger with words like these:

“She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine…”

But, Proust neglected to provide the recipe, so over the years people have made up their own versions. Some based on a genoise, some a pound cake batter, but Patricia Wells and Robuchon have created what I think is the ultimate Madeleine. It’s a combination of browned butter, honey, lemon zest and almond meal, which combines to make an incredibly rich cake that’s soft on the inside, crisp on the outside and worthy of the shuddering Proust describes. The key to the success of this recipe is to use really flavorful honey, chill the batter before baking and make sure your scalloped Madeleine pans are really well buttered. Whenever theres a special occasion or I want to do something particularly sweet for my husband, I bake him Madeleines. Read More

Lemon-Lime Mousse with Fresh Strawberries

Lemon-lime mousse with fresh strawberries | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

I adore Key Lime Pie and order it as often as it appears on a dessert menu. Most of the time I’m disappointed. It is usually too sweet, not tart enough and the texture just screams gelatin. When I took a bite of this mousse it reminded me of a super light key lime pie filling. The best part is that it doesn’t actually require key limes, which have a short growing season and the bottled stuff just leaves me flat. The lemon-lime mousse is tangy, just a touch sweet, and it is so light, it melts on your tongue. The fresh strawberries lend a perfect balance of flavor and texture to the dessert. I put them in glass jars because the lemon-yellow mousse and lipstick-red strawberries are so pretty together I wanted to be able so see them. It is also the best way to bring dessert along to a pot luck or picnic. These jars are probably familiar to many of you who eat Bonne Maman French preserves that come in them. I save the jars and pretty checkered lids to reuse. Read More

Lemon Champagne Mint Cocktails turned into Granita!

Lemon champagne mint granita | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

A couple weeks ago I mentioned on my Twitter page that I was competing with my neighbor in a cocktail pour-off. I couldn’t share my recipe then, because spying eyes from across the lawn could not be trusted. Truth be told, I was in over my head on this one and needed any advantage I could get. In the end my neighbor Kathy won with her refreshing and seasonal “Dirty Ramp-tinis.”  She pickled the ramps, then poured ice cold gin over them and drizzled a bit of the pickling juice into the glass. They were simple perfection. I bowed my head to her after the first sip. My creations were dessert to her cocktail appetizers. I, of course, went for something with a bit of sweetness, but also tart and refreshing. I have been known to enjoy my sparkling beverages in the form of cava, prosecco and champagne; it was bound to be featured it in the glass. I had candied kumquats in my cupboard and lemongrass in my crisper drawer, so a citrus theme was born. I made a Meyer lemon and lemongrass sorbet to float in the champagne. I came in second (it was just the two of us competing), but I think I could have won against anything other than the “Dirty Ramp-tinis.” I did get extra points for presentation; I used my grandmother’s glasses and the drink really was lovely.

As I was enjoying my “Lemongrass Champagne Fizz Cocktail” I was already planning to make these same ingredients into a simple lemon champagne mint granita. Granita is like the rugged cousin of the sorbet. It has large crystals of flavored ice that require nothing but a basic freezer to make. It is perfect for those without an ice cream maker or those, like me, who just forgot to freeze the one I do own. It also doesn’t require a precise recipe to freeze smooth, since part of its charm is the icy texture.

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Valentine Cookies and a Bright Red Scale!

Valentine cookies | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Did you know that Saint Valentine’s Day dates back to Pope Gelasius in 500AD, not the Hallmark Cards of 1910? The original holiday was a religious one, with nothing to do with romance, flowers, chocolate or red royal icing. The modern Valentine’s Day must have been recreated by a pastry chef.  It is an excuse to make sweet, pretty, heart-shaped treats. There really isn’t another time of the year when heart-shaped desserts are permissible. It’s a shame really, but Valentine’s Day owns the shape, so we must take advantage of the opportunity.

These cookies are not only pretty, but most importantly they are delicious. They are made of a lemon shortbread and decorated with a lemon icing. Often these stylized cookies give way to aesthetics and forget that the flavor still rules supreme. These are both tasty and gorgeous!

As my Valentine’s gift to you I am giving away a Bright Red Baker’s Scale! Just leave me a comment about your favorite Valentine’s Day dessert and I will pick a random winner next week.* Contest Closed! Read More