Posts tagged ‘baking with friends’

Cream Cheese Rippled Pumpkin Bread

Last week I turned in my senior quote. I did a slight twist on Harriet van Horne’s quote and submitted, “Baking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.” Every aspect of my life, baking no exception, intertwines with heartfelt emotion, passion, and optimism. I have always been, and will always be, a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve.

I’m the kind of person who is confident about true love, believes that all people deep down are born good, and can’t help but suspect that karma really exists. I have never been someone who places priorities on logic and cold hard facts, but instead intuition and what your heart is telling you.

English, history, and topics involving different cultures and philosophies are predictably my favorite classes. I despise science and math. To me, those subjects emphasize a detachment that I can’t get past. I don’t see the beauty in numbers and unchanging, unemotional laws.

It seems that I would see baking the way that I see everything else – throw my soul into it, use feel instead of precise measurement, and consider recipes more like suggestions. There’s such a romance to imagine being in the kitchen without notes, just using your heart to produce something beautiful, and yet, it’s just not how I work.

On Halloween, my friends D- and M- came over to bake. If they were expecting me to approach baking the way I see the rest of the world, with a carefree attitude and sentimental lightheartedness, they were surprised. They did all the measuring and mixing themselves, but they had to be as precise as my standards. As M- measured out the flour, I showed him how to fluff it up in the bin, fill the cup using a spoon, and level it off with a knife. I showed D- how to use the scale when portioning the cream cheese.

M- began to use the wrong side of the knife to level the sugar, using the curved edge and measuring out less than the full cup. When I pointed this out, he rolled his eyes and said, “Jeez, Elissa, baking isn’t a science.”

Without even thinking, acting on pure instinct, I told him, “Yes it is.”

Yes, there is a romance to imagine someone working without recipes, knowing the exact feel of the dough. But I’m not experienced enough to know everything by feel and create recipes in my head. And while I’ll frequently swap ingredients in recipes to match my preferences, I am as exact and scientific about measuring as possible. While it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of my outlook on the world, it works for me.

In science especially, I find the need for precision exhausting. I’m not patient enough to pipette liquid into a beaker drop by drop to get exactly 30 ml. I just get bored repeating the same experiment five times to get enough trials for an accurate average. But weirdly enough, this is one of my favorite parts of baking.

When I chop and measure out exactly 4 ounces of chocolate, using my little scale, I focus so intently that I don’t think about anything else. Classes, college apps, my social life – none of it even makes an appearance when I bake. It’s not possible for my mind to totally clear while I have so many responsibilities, but there isn’t much room left over to think about my grades while I’m weighing 100 grams of sugar.

It was weird to realize that I see baking as a science, but I stand by it. I love knowing how the ingredients work together, seeing how a slight change in ingredient or technique can drastically change a dessert. Even though I love the idea of an Italian grandmother making gnocchi by memory, or a patient baker kneading dough entirely on feel, I also love the way I feel when the scale reads exactly three ounces. Somehow, I can see a beauty in that too.

The pumpkin bread that I made with D- and M- was devoured in minutes that night at a Halloween party. When I arrived with the warm loaf, only one person was hungry enough to cut a small slice. But when he went back to practically inhale another, everyone followed, and the loaf was cut into huge square chunks until every last crumb was gone.

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November 12, 2009 at 2:41 am 85 comments

Baking with an Honorary Daring Baker – Mini Dobos Torte

It’s a strange thing. I absolutely adore being in the kitchen, baking, fueling this blog with sugar and creativity. And it’s without a doubt that I’m a social person. I like being with other people and spending time with my friends. But put them together? It doesn’t always ensure a good time. The honest truth is, I rarely enjoy baking with other people.

I’m not sure why. I guess it’s a bunch of little things… other people don’t know where the pans are, the tools, the ingredients. I know, silly. And they don’t really get the baking techniques. While I don’t mind teaching people, you can only do it to a point before you feel condescending. I would rather do it alone than give people the clearly “easy and boring” jobs like stirring, making them feel useless.

My explanation sounds sort of unreasonable written out like that, but I’m happy to say I am proved wrong sometimes. Take earlier this week, when my friend T- came over for dinner and to work on my top secret Daring Baker’s challenge.

Maybe it worked because T- is such a great friend. This is the girl who bought me a vanilla bean for my birthday and was one of the first people to start reading 17 and Baking. She brought green plums her family picked and a really delicious orange-water flan. Even though this month’s challenge was pretty difficult, she was up for the challenge and we had a really great time!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torte is really quite stunning. Five layers of super-thin sponge cake, dark chocolate buttercream, chopped hazelnuts, and a caramel-coated layer of cake. I was so intimidated by it that I waited until the last possible minute. When T- came over, we had the baking possibilities narrowed down to cake or breakfast pastry when T- said she was willing to tackle the Dobos Torte.

We pored over size, height, shape… T- saw firsthand just how crazy and stressed (the good kind) I get about my DB challenges. Finally we decided on 6″ rounds. We made the buttercream first, and it wasn’t as tricky as I was worried it would be. The result was smooth, rich, velvety chocolate frosting. After that we tacked the cake. It definitely wasn’t as easy. We cracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar, but without experience, we couldn’t get the batter just right. After baking, the rounds of cake were really eggy and did not want to come off the pan.

But we had a great dinner that night, sitting outside and talking until the mosquitos and flying ants/beetles showed up. After tackling the massive mountain of dishes, I took one look at our cake rounds and decided I’d just have to redo it.

As I started baking late on the 25th, I told myself I’d never wait this long to complete a challenge again. It’s incredible how the 27th of each month creeps up on you. My summer felt even shorter as I looked back on the milanos of the July challenge. I recracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar again, but this time the batter seemed better. I chose to make teeny 2″ cakes and ended up with a towering stack of matchstick-thin layers.

Using the successful buttercream that T- and I made, I assembled and frosted two tiny 10 layer cakes and topped them with whole hazelnuts. In my defense I did attempt the caramel topping (twice.) Since I read that nearly every Daring Baker had not liked the caramel-cake topping, I decided to make the caramel and pour it into designs instead. The first time I burned the caramel so badly, it poured out like blackest chocolate. The second time I didn’t heat the sugar hot enough and while it was a beautiful amber color, it was too flexible and stuck to the paper. I tried!

In the end, after so much trial and error, the cakes did taste good. It reminded me of a ferrero rocher candy. As I ate it I got the impression that a Dobos Torte baked by someone who really knew what they were doing would taste amazing. Mine tasted good, but not necessarily worth the effort. I think the buttercream is something I would make again because it was so simple.  As for the caramel, it’s something I know I’ll be trying again.

The final thing I’ll be sure to try again… baking with company. It was just too fun this time to write off!

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August 27, 2009 at 12:01 am 29 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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