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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Christmas Croquembouche

Christmas Croquembouche | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

A croquembouche (kroke-em-boosh) is a tower of profiteroles (cream puffs) stuck together with a thin layer of crisp caramel, which gives the dessert its name, “crocque em bouche” or “crunches in the mouth.” This dramatic pile of puffs is typically served at weddings, but I’ve taken liberties and find it a worthy dessert for any big occasion. A Christmas Croquembouche seems like the perfect way to celebrate this holiday season. The puffs are made of choux paste and are filled with mango pastry cream, which isn’t a flavor you might think of for a Christmas dessert, but it is such a wonderful contrast to the sweet of the caramel. When you break into the cream puffs you’ll find the rich, creamy golden filling.  Just to jazz it up and to continue the holiday theme I added snowflake sugar cookies that I made with an olive oil sugar cookie recipe from my friend Sarah Kieffer’s book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. Then I spun some sugar into fine threads and wrapped it around the tower of puffs in a garland.

You can watch me make this Christmas Croquembouche in my Instagram video. (more…)

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Cherry Olive Oil Cake

Cherry Olive Oil Cake | photo by Zoë François

A family friend is Greek and sent me a honey from Ikaria. It is a little smoky and tastes of caramel. Bees never cease to amaze me in what they create. I wanted to bake it into a cake and decided to go with other flavors you might find on that Greek island. Olive oil, of course. It is best known for savory dishes, but I think it is beautiful in desserts. I like a fruity oil, but you can use an extra virgin if you don’t want anything too over powering. Lastly, but not least, cherries. Apparently they abound in Ikaria and they pair beautifully with honey and olive oil, so they were the natural pick. I used sweet cherries, but I think sour cherries would be even better and they are in season at the moment. You could use any other fruit you like and add them in the same way.

Watch the cherry olive oil cake come together in a video on my instagram page.

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