Zoë Bakes Cakes is about longing realized. Which of us hasn’t looked at pictures of beautiful baked goods online and sighed at the seeming impossibility of being able to bake like this at home? This is where Zoë François comes in — she enthusiastically creates the most incredible baked goods while demonstrating to home bakers how to achieve these same results for themselves. She comes across as
encouraging and kind — which, in my mind, are qualities that make for the best teachers. François is a wonderful teacher; she understands what it means to take complicated techniques and/or recipes and make them more manageable for home bakers. Throughout her earlier Bread in 5, she and her co-author, Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., demystify the seemingly complicated process of baking bread through thorough explanations and delicious recipes. Their Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day along with Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day (review here) are books that I use on a regular basis.
Reading through the introduction we learn that what sparked François’ fascination with all things cake was longing — seeing a Twinkie in a classmate’s lunchbox. At this moment she felt a yearning towards baking which started her lifelong journey where her “affection for sugar only deepened, along with a determination to figure out its transformational powers.”(2) François is effervescent and relaxed — when I first started to follow along with her baking demos on Instagram stories, I was taken with the feeling that anything was possible. Armed with the right knowledge and a great soundtrack, baking was a group of skills that one attained through practice.
François has organized her book in two parts — the explanation and the recipes. She understands that some people want to learn about the “hows and whys” behind what they’re baking whereas other people want to pass the preamble and get right down to baking. So, in this way, François offers information on the ingredients and equipment at the beginning of her book as well as an in-depth learning opportunity in the Cake Academy section. In this section she delves into explanations that you’d expect to hear in culinary classes and, this is where she shares her culinary knowledge. François’ knowledge is paired with wonderful process photos, which were taken by Sarah Kieffer. I appreciate that every recipe begins with a Cake Academy Review where she highlights the important information from the Cake Academy section, along with page numbers for quick and easy reference. Even though I find I know quite a bit about baking, there are still things I learned reading through this section.
The recipes are organized into 9 chapters: (1) Pound Cakes, Quick Breads, and Bundts, (2) Fruit-Studded Cakes — Upside Down and Otherwise, (3) Soaked Cakes, (4) Cake Layers, Loaves, and Sheets, (5) Light-As-Air Cakes, (6) The Layer Cakes, (7) Rolled and Fancy Cakes, (8) Icing, Frostings, Buttercreams and Ganaches, and (9) Fillings and Flourishes. There are cakes for any level of home baker and for any occasion. When I flip through the pages of Zoë Bakes Cakes, I see cakes to enjoy with am afternoon coffee or during a quiet morning for breakfast. There are also cakes for celebrations big and small. One of the first recipes I baked was the Marble Pound Cake, which has such a beautiful and light crumb — surprising, considering the cake’s name. The real magic happens after the cake has been removed from the oven and cooled. With every careful slice of the knife, the chocolate-vanilla marbled interior is revealed.
You would think that the most special cake I baked from the book might have been for a holiday or a birthday, but you would be wrong. In the late winter, on a cold February day, my husband and I realized that our furnace wasn’t working properly and the part to needed to repair it wouldn’t be delivered for weeks! But, as it turned out, one of our neighbours had a spare part that they would be able to lend us until our furnace could be fixed. I am grateful to know people that are so generous and that I could ask on a moments notice for help. So, as a small “thank-you” I baked them the Funfetti Cake (a variation of the White Cake). Frosted with American Buttercream and covered with an inordinate amount of sprinkles, this gorgeous layer cake was baked with love and given as thanks. Although I didn’t get a chance to taste it, my friends tell me that it was a delight (one that tasted even better on the second day, if such a thing was possible).
For Easter and the shared birthday between my husband and myself, I decided to bake chocolate cakes, as these are his favourite! I elected to bake a simple layer cake for the birthday — François’ “German” Chocolate Coconut Cake was a perfect choice! Three layers of Hot Chocolate Cake with generous amounts of Sticky Coconut Filling made this cake easy to assemble, considering there was no frosting to apply. For Easter, I took a more festive route with the frosting and sprinkles. I baked the Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake and then frosted it with a Coffee-Cinnamon Ermine Frosting. Here’s an instance where I learned something new — how to make boiled frosting! After mixing the ingredients together for the Ermine Frosting, you set it to boil until the mixture becomes thick and glossy (almost like a pudding). When it has cooled, you beat in the butter and the resulting fluffy frosting is reminiscent of the store-bough kind (but waaaay better). This was a perfectly decadent cake to celebrate spring!
Is there anything better than enjoying cake for breakfast? I will say that there is not, and François makes it easy with her recipe for Blueberry Muffin Cake. Imagine a streusel-covered, berry-filled muffin as a cake and this is exactly what this recipe bakes up as. As a long-time muffin opponent, I appreciate recipes that taste like a muffin, yet without the work of preparing a muffin pan. Baked in a springform pan, this 8″ cake is the perfect size for a small family breakfast. I took her suggestion and enjoyed it with a generous spoonful of yogurt. Even with a simple bake like this, the results are so beautiful and offer a bit of comfort.
With my longing to be a better baker and achieve results that I never before believed were possible, I am well on my way to becoming a life-long cake lover! Zoë François offers her heart as she explains the science and techniques behind baking a good cake. And, in this way, Zoë Bakes Cakes is both a wonderful reference book as well as being a trove of cake recipes to bake for any occasion. Everything you need to know about baking cakes all in a delightfully photographed and well-written cookbook.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Zoë François and Ten Speed Press for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.