Posts tagged ‘almond’

For the Love of Chocolate-Dipped, Almond-Orange Biscotti

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My friend A- once said to me, “You know you’re in love when you know all the little quirks about someone, and you wouldn’t change a thing.” Somewhere between whipping my first egg whites and preheating my new oven, I realized that phrase rang truest for my kitchen.

I know exactly where to set chilled sticks of butter, since I’ve discovered my kitchen’s one warm spot (between the KitchenAid and the sink.) I could organize the knife drawer in the dark. I love this room, even though the shelves are all breaking and the paint is peeling and half of the lights have burned out.

It’s the little things. It’s the way the refrigerator door swings open with a sigh and gently refuses to shut. It’s the way the silver knobs on the cabinets sparkle when 10 AM light shines through. It’s the way the walls creak when the heater turns on, the way the dishwasher churns, the way each drawer has a distinct sound when rolled open. My kitchen has a life of its own.

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Only the kitchen has this magic. Our living room, painted sage-green and brightened with daffodil-yellow couches, is rarely touched. The office is simply a storage room for photocopied recipes in manila folders and staggering stacks of cookbooks. And my little blue bedroom is merely the place where I sleep, dreaming of Tahitian vanilla.

As an only child, I spend a great deal of time home alone. I get out of school before noon and my mother doesn’t get off work until six. I finish homework, I answer emails, I bake shortbread cookies and listen to This American Life. I like to throw open all the curtains and drink chocolate soymilk all by myself in our tiny house.

It could be lonely, but it isn’t. I like the peaceful stillness and quiet, and I like getting to know the place I call home.

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In the past, I might have been scared. I was the child who didn’t ride roller coasters, screamed at the sight of spiders, and needed a nightlight and soft background noise to sleep. I was frequently teased by my braver friends for preferring Shirley Temple to Goosebumps.

I’m getting better. I’ll ride a coaster if it doesn’t go upside down. I take half an hour to trap spiders and set them free (can’t bear to kill them.) And I’ve tried watching scary movies. But I always spend the entire film with my hands over my face, pressing into the people beside me, whispering, “Is it over?” After sitting through them, I can barely muster the courage to stand up and turn on the lights.

I don’t know what I was thinking one afternoon earlier this week, when I sat on the bed home alone and decided to watch a horror movie.

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It was free on our cable. I had just put a tray of biscotti dough in the oven, the timer set to half an hour. I watched the movie with the covers drawn up to my nose and both feet on the bed (you never know what’s lurking beneath the mattress.) The lights were off in the bedroom and the hallway, so the entrancing glow of the TV was all I could see.

The main character was about to be slaughtered. I could tell by the music and the lengthening shadows, the lamb-like expression of panic and horror on the heroine’s face. I began to sweat. I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t stick my arm out to grasp for the remote. The music swelled, her mouth stretched into a scream, and I was paralyzed, I – BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

The oven timer went off on the other side of the house and I nearly fell off the bed.

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But when I thought about the biscotti in the oven and the lovely scent of almond wafting through the walls, all terror faded. I didn’t linger on my fear or imagine monsters in the shadows. I leapt from the bed, ran down the unlit hallway and into the kitchen without a second thought.

The almond-orange biscotti needed to bake three times, and then get dipped in dark chocolate. That meant I had to get up and cross the cold, dusky hallway four times during the course of the movie. It was a mistake to watch that film, frightening enough to give me nightmares. But it was nowhere near as scary as the possibility of burning those light, crisp biscotti.

The things you do for love. Oh, how I adore that kitchen.

[PS: It’s been a week since I was rejected from my dream school. It still hurts, but I can’t tell you how many times I read through all 90+ comments on my last post and felt a little lighter. Thanks for your stories of rejection, heartbreak, success and hope. Every one of them helped.]

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April 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm 52 comments

Blackberry Jam Almond Bars

Blackberry Jam Almond Bars

I was almost fooled by the week of sunny weather Seattle’s seen, but the rain has finally begun to pour.

Just last week, the cherry blossom trees stretched over my head in airy, arching bloom, but these days I have to duck to avoid the low branches laden with water. Rain streaks down the windows, bathing everything in a steely blue glow. Umbrellas pop open like strange flowers when I walk outside. In the mornings I wear red rain boots to class, and in the evenings I fall asleep with the sound of rain in my hair.

I usually like this kind of weather, but right now, I can’t stand it. I’m impatient for summer. Impatient for dusty sidewalk chalk and melting Creamsicles, but mostly for everything summer represents – freedom, relaxation. No stress. There are only two months to go, but I don’t think I can make myself wait.

I am tired of being patient.

Blackberry Jam Almond Bars

I was patient all through Christmas break, through the slush of February and the bitter chill of March. Four months to go until college letters… now two months… one month to go… Every day I switched between cheery confidence and desperate doubt. It was like picking petals off a daisy – they’ll accept me, they’ll accept me not

After months of waiting, I finally received the last of my college decisions yesterday. Of the eight schools I applied to, I was accepted at five. I was waitlisted at two very good universities. But the only school I really wanted to go to, the only school that could stir any passion in me at all, was the last one to send out decisions.

The whole day was simply killing time. I came home early and found that I had nothing to do. I ate a banana. I checked the mailbox (it was empty.) I read a book of short stories without understanding any of them. When the decision was available online, my brain staggered. I fumbled my way to the website and watched the page load with agonizing slowness.

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I skimmed the first line and immediately knew. The letter was brief, polite, encouraging. It was brutal.

I read it, read it again, read it a third time with burning eyes. Emotions passed through me like images on a strip of film – horror, confusion, anger, pain, exhaustion, heartache, sorrow – until I couldn’t feel anything and laid face down on my bed, overwhelmed. Then I cried until my skin was as taut and my body was as hollow as a drum.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been waiting patiently your whole life for something? Something to validate all the work you’ve done? That’s how I felt. I’m just so disappointed in myself and I can’t help but feel wounded and unsure. I curse the thought that my only outright rejection is the only one I can’t take. I keep thinking about what I could have done, how I could have been better. I know it’s useless, but you aren’t rational when your heart is breaking.

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I wish I could tell you that I’ve moved on, that the rain has cleared and I can smell summer around the bend and life is good. Not yet. It hasn’t hit me, but I know it will.

I didn’t break down today, as miserable as I felt every time I had to answer with that sad little smile, “Yep… rejected.” When I came home I wanted to be in the kitchen. And more than anything, I wanted to write. Typing out this post has been as good as Tylenol so far.

So much of my future is a mystery, but there are some things I can be certain of. Family, good food, and good company. I can be sure of ice cold lemonade in the summer to come and spiced pumpkin pie in the autumn to follow. I can be sure that luck will be with me wherever I go, though it may not always seem like luck at first, and that I will always have the patience to weather the wait.

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These bars come together and bake in no time at all. Instant gratification, no patience required. For now, I can be grateful for that.

[PS: Happy birthday Grandma. Love you.]

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April 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm 110 comments

17 and Baking Turns One

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17 and Baking turns one year old today.

Can you believe it? I’ve been thinking about 17 and Baking and my passion for food and everything I’ve learned in one year, and I’ll be honest. It’s ridiculous. I never believed for an instant this blog would go anywhere. In fact, I even want to link you all to the first real post I wrote exactly one year ago, where I lament my lack of talent, following, photography skills, and experience. Honestly. It sounds like me, but… it really makes me consider what can happen in one year.

But today, I wanted to do something special. If I really think about it, all of this doesn’t start with that morning in early spring when I decided I wanted to blog about food. Really, it started when I baked my very first cake from scratch at fourteen. For today, I knew I wanted to make that exact cake again – a real full circle.

I remember buying my first cookbook from Costco, somewhat ludicrously, since I’d never had any interest in baking before. I just liked the pretty pictures. And I remember nearly a month later, suddenly being seized in the middle of the night with a desire to do something. I didn’t know it at the time because it was so very new, but it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with now – it’s the urgency to be in my little yellow kitchen with a whisk in one hand and a spoonful of sugar in the other.

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I dug up the untouched cookbook and scanned the pages with an inexplicable hunger, bookmarking everything that looked good – German Chocolate Cake, light-as-air Raspberry Dream Cake, kid-friendly Peppermint Chocolate Cake. I threw open cabinets, trying to centralize all of the random baking supplies in the house. We only had a few pans, and not many baking tools. As it turned out, the only recipe I had all the ingredients for was a rather unglamorous iced sponge cake.

I decided to make it anyway. I remember very clearly trying to measure out the flour, awkward and clumsy and fumbling until I had a soft dusting of flour all over my front. I didn’t know what it meant to cream butter, so I stopped the mixer (not the KitchenAid, but a cheap plastic one) once the butter had sort of formed chunks. I didn’t have much confidence for success when I slid the pan into the oven, but I couldn’t help but feel a satisfying accomplishment either way.

All in all, it was undoubtedly a failure. The cake was supposed to be light and delicate, but it was significantly heavy. The frosting was a total flop, tasting like egg whites. But when I cut that first slice and looked back at the photo in the book, my smile was uncontainable. When I took that first bite, the small triangular tip of that perfect slice, I knew in my heart that it had truly been a complete success.

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I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly skilled baker, not now or then. I’m just a girl who happens to love all things sweet and homemade. Even more than that, I’m just a girl who wants to share her zest for life and make you forget your troubles, even if only for five minutes. Through 9th and 10th grade, I had just as many baking failures as successes, forced to learn as I went. So many times I was discouraged, screaming tantrums at my sunken cupcakes, and I might have given up if it weren’t for the unbelievable gratification of sharing.

I’ll be 18 next month, and no matter how much things have changed since then, that satisfaction from handing out cookies or watching my parents clear their plates is what propels my passion. I can’t help but want to lift weary spirits on a bad day with a lemon bar or light up a neighbor’s face with a slice of pear tart. Isn’t that the whole sense of the blog too, to share a dozen cookies with even more than 12 people? Maybe even with hundreds of people around the world? If I can inspire at least one of those people one morning, then everything is worth it.

So here we are today, everything is different and somehow nothing is different. It’s been one year since I began 17 and Baking, but it’s been four years since I baked that first cake, unquestionably beautiful in my eyes. I decided I would dig up that old cookbook for the second time, now a senior in high school and so much surer than I was back then, and bake that cake again.

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The recipe came together very quickly and very easily, letting me focus more on my nostalgia than on my product. The finished cake smelled delicious, like vanilla and sugar and flour, and I just put my face next to it and inhaled while it cooled. I patiently waited until I could try the first slice. Just like before, I carefully broke off that first perfect bite.

I can’t kid anyone. It wasn’t a very good cookbook, it wasn’t a very good recipe, and frankly, the cake was disgusting. The flavor was strange, the texture was off, and I couldn’t eat more than that one bite.

I wasn’t completely surprised, but definitely disappointed. Somehow, baking the cake that started it all seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first blogoversary. Finally, I decided I would bake another cake, similar to the first, but something actually in line with my taste today. I whipped up a simple hazelnut and mixed berry cake, and when it came out of the oven I knew I’d made the right choice.

Unfortunately, some things seem destined to stay unchanged, and I tried to turn out the cake before it was done. While it was delicious, I was left with a pile of crumbled cake, certainly nothing presentable on the blog. I wondered if it would maybe be funny to blog a failure – but on my one year anniversary?

cake6wm One salvageable piece of the hazelnut berry cake – delicious despite its humble (and crumbled) appearance

I started laughing as I considered the fact that four years later, I was still screwing up. But I couldn’t be in a bad mood. In a way, this seemed like a better representation of 17 and Baking than anything else: the ability to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and persevere. I didn’t have any more hazelnuts or berries, so I shrugged and started again with almonds and lemon. I’d learned from my previous mistakes and the cake came out beautifully. I made a quick mascarpone frosting (no recipe!) and spread it over the cooled cake just like I did before. And that first bite?

Utterly perfect.

Thank you guys… all of you for being here to celebrate with me. :)

cake9wm The recipe for the first cake I baked from scratch, with a slice of one year anniversary cake!

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March 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm 78 comments

A Box of Brigadeiros (Brazilian Fudge Truffles)

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Tangerine Brigadeiro

When my DSLR camera arrived in the mail, matte black and quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, the first place I went was the kitchen.

Up until then, I’d been using a small, compact digital camera to take my food photos. While I was satisfied with the results, I knew I wanted something more. I wanted a camera that caught the rich sheen of chocolate glaze, the buttery crumble of shortbread, and the vivid colors of buttercream frosting. And while my digital camera could take a photograph of a dessert, it didn’t capture the real essence of what made each dessert truly, fork-halfway-to-your-mouth delicious.

But with my new Canon Rebel XTi, I felt sure that everything was about to change. I lifted my camera to my cheek, felt my eyelashes brush against the viewfinder, and pressed the button gently. My first photograph was a basket of green and gold apples in a woven basket, steeped in the most beautiful afternoon light I’d ever seen. I actually set the camera down to do a little dance right there on the kitchen tiles, feeling utterly radiant.

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Coconut Lemon Brigadeiro

Since then, taking photographs has become just as fulfilling as baking a creamy, uncracked cheesecake or writing a seamless short story. I take long walks around the neighborhood with the Canon around my neck, glancing everywhere like I could take a picture with my eyes. I look for the extraordinary in the details, for interesting shadows and whimsical patterns.

Every time I check the photos I’ve taken, it’s a mixed bag. There will always be a couple that are slightly out of focus or didn’t replicate the view in my head. I don’t think a good camera makes a photographer. But when I get a shot that makes me as giddy as that beautifully simple photo of a basket of apples, I feel like a life spent seeking breathtaking photos would be a life well spent.

I sent that photograph of the apples to my dad the day I took it. I included a brief, but cheery message with it: “Look!!! This is unedited, straight out of the camera! I think I’m just going to have to send you a photo every single day.”

And you know what? I didn’t think much of that last sentence at the time, but it’s been nine months and he’s kept me to it.

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Cayenne Cinnamon Brigadeiro

Every day, whether the sky releases a torrent of rain or I get home at nine with a headache and a temper, I send a daily photo. It’s a different image every day… pastel sunrises, wrought-iron fences, even self-portraits if I’m feeling ambitious. And though it isn’t always easy to come up with a new photo, it keeps me photographing the way 17 and Baking keeps me writing.

As it turns out, I love photographing almost anything – people, dilapidated houses, animals, unusual textures – more than food.

There is a side effect to the daily photos, though. I don’t like my dad to look through my camera. I love surprises. I love being surprised, I love planning surprises, and I definitely like surprising other people, so I always want the daily photo to be new when my dad checks for it every night. Unfortunately, I think I care more than he does, so sometimes we fight over the Canon.

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“Dad. Seriously. Don’t look through it. I just got back from downtown and there’s a lot of daily photos in there.”

“Good!” He’ll press the buttons to look through the saved photos, a thoughtful look on his face before I’ll try to snatch the camera back.

“It should be a surprise!” And then I’ll get served with the roll of his eyes, his mild annoyance, and that too-familiar face that says “Oh please.” But I always persist.

But after we made this brigadeiros – Brazilian fudge truffles we made at the request of a reader – I surprised both of us by being somewhat open. I normally make him leave when I photograph food, preferring to be alone to avoid the pressure of his presence as well as his advice. But that day I let him stand off to the side as I adjusted settings, taking the same photo over and over.

When he asked what I was doing, I even turned over the camera to show him. Who knows. Surprises are important, but maybe a little family time with five dozen truffles and a set of pretty photographs is kind of important too.

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Tangerine Brigadeiro

I’d never heard of brigadeiros before, but when someone asked for them through a comment on an old post, I was tickled. Dad and I looked them up together and realized that they were a snack his grandmother had made for him when he was a little boy, exactly the same. Whether they evoked memories or not, though, they were my first request and I didn’t even consider not making them.

With Dad’s help, we decided on five variations: coconut lemon, cayenne cinnamon, tangerine, hazelnut-nutella (think Ferrero Rocher), and white chocolate-dipped lavender almond. It may sound like a mouthful, but actually, this might be the easiest thing I’ve ever made. To make five dozen truffles, including five different variations and a trip to the grocery store, the entire process took us two hours.

The base is only 3 ingredients, but gosh, these are delicious. The entire week we’ve said, “Wow. We need to give these away.” But we haven’t. We just keep eating them. For once, I don’t feel like the photos do the brigadeiros justice.

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White Chocolate-Dipped Lavender Almond Brigadeiro

[PS: I'm thinking about doing a frequently-asked questions post, so feel free to leave a comment with a question for me. I'll pick out some questions and answer them in a later post. You can ask about anything, food-related or not, and I might answer it! :) Hope you all had a great valentine's day. I spent it eating brigadeiros.]

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February 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm 90 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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