No-Bake Chocolate Pepita Crunch Bars

No-bake Chocolate Pepita Crunch Bars | Zoe Bakes photos by Zoë François

These No-bake Chocolate Pepita Crunch Bars are a candy and a brownie all in one. There is no baking, so they are a perfect holiday treat to go along with all the cookies you’ll be trading at your cookie swaps this season. I created this recipe for the wedding of a chef, Jorge Guzman, who wanted a Mexican inspired dessert plate to be served to his guests, in addition to a cake. I kind of fell in love with them and when Bake From Scratch invited me to create some cookies for their Holiday Cookie Issue, I knew instantly that this would be in the mix. The crunch comes from both the toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and feuilletine flakes (which are paper thin cookies that are broken up into what can best be described as dessert-cereal). The pepitas and feuilletine flakes are folded into a chocolate and hazelnut mixture, set firm, covered with ganache and then decorated with more pepitas and edible gold leaf. The result is a sophisticated chocolate bar that is regal enough for a wedding, a holiday party or just a midnight snack. You can watch me make these bars in my instagram video.

Scroll to the bottom of the post to see the Pinon Mexican Wedding Cookies, Chestnut and Honey Madeleines, Caramelized White Chocolate Sables with Sea Salt and and Hazelnut Spice Speculaas I developed for this Special Holiday Cookie Issue.

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Coffee Caramel Tres Leches

Coffee Caramel Tres Leches Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

This is a mashup of a classic Mexican cake and the Vietnamese ice coffee I am so addicted to. The connection is the sweetened condensed milk that is the foundation for both. Tres Leches (three milks) is a cake soaked with cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Vietnamese ice coffee is made with the strongest coffee on earth mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice.

I made a coffee caramel milk syrup to soak the cake with and then topped it with a coffee whipped cream. Tres Leches by nature can be a bit sweet, but the coffee cream toned down the sugar and added a slight bitterness, which I found to be perfection. My family ate half the coffee caramel Tres Leches cake while I was at pottery class and then polished it off for breakfast the next morning, which just happened to me Cinco de Mayo.

Slice of Coffee Caramel Tres Leches | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François (more…)

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Russian Tea Cakes (Mexican Wedding Cakes) – Great Holiday Gift Idea

Russian Tea Cakes (Mexican wedding cakes) Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Cakes? It is a slight mystery why these are called Russian tea cakes and not cookies, but no matter the name, they are delicious. How can you go wrong with toasted pecans, brown butter and sugar? The texture is like a shortbread cookie that is taken to new heights by the richness of the nuts. They are typically served at the holidays, maybe because they look like little snow balls, and at special occasions, like weddings, as the name suggests. This holiday my aunt Kristin, who is my pastry muse, requested them. It is ridiculous that my house isn’t stocked with them all year round. The recipe is so simple and the results so incredible. Thanks to Kristin my cookie jar is now full. They make a great gift because they pack up well and actually improve with a bit of time, which can’t be said for many cookies. (more…)

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How to use a Vanilla Bean – updated

Vanilla beans - photo by Zoë François

This is one of my favorite ingredients and essential in the pastry kitchen. Vanilla beans come from the fruit of an orchid and are not cheap, second only to saffron in costly spices. So, you want to pick a good one and use the whole thing, pod and seeds. The beans should be soft, oily and have an intense vanilla aroma. Avoid a bean that has no luster, is dry and brittle.

Here is an overview of a few different types of vanilla beans:

Mexican beans are the original and most highly prized beans. They have a mellow, smooth, quality and a spicy, woody fragrance.

Madagascar Bourbon beans are long and slender, with a very rich taste and smell, have thick, oily skin, contain an abundance of tiny seeds, and have a strong vanilla aroma. They are also considered high quality bean and reflect this in the cost. This is where most the worlds vanilla come from. The name refers to the region they are grown and is not at all related to the booze.

Tahitian beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Bourbon beans. The skin is thinner, they contain fewer seeds, and the aroma is fruity and floral. They are often described as smelling like licorice, cherry, prunes, or wine.

You will have to get your hands on them all and decide for yourself which is your favorite. There are others, but they are hard to come by, if this changes I will update the post.

You want to store your vanilla beans in a airtight container, in a cool, dark spot. If you buy them in bulk and won’t be using them all at once  you can throw them in the freezer to prevent them from drying out.

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