Posts tagged ‘cake’

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Even as a little kid, I liked flying home. Not the chaos of the security checks, the trip itself, or even the weary drive back to our house. But I love that first step outside SeaTac Airport. When I exit the airport after hours of flight and days of vacation – I breathe in the Pacific Northwest air as slowly and deliberately as I can. No matter where I’ve been or how much I enjoyed myself, that first breath always tastes like the freshest, cleanest air I’ve ever known.

My flight back from Boston was forgettable. I took a taxi from my school at 5 am, spent a two hour layover in Chicago, and finally made it to Seattle after 12 hours. As tired as I was, I anticipated the step outside. I usually get this incredible emotion, a mix of contentment and familiarity, a rush of glassy lakes and painted mountains. I dragged my suitcase outside with me, looked out at the flat grey sky, and inhaled.

But… nothing.

Instead, there was something else – a strange feeling I couldn’t place. It sat in my chest, somewhat uncomfortably, even as the Toyota pulled up and I saw my mother for the first time since summer.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

When we came home, the first thing I did was walk to the kitchen. I expected fireworks to burst in my heart, rainbows to pump through my veins and surge out my fingertips when we reunited. Nothing had changed in my absence. The walls were the same marigold yellow, the same checkerboard tile covered the floor, but somehow it wasn’t the kitchen I’d remembered and missed. It looked cramped and dim, hardly big enough for three people and two dogs.

I wheeled my bag into my old room, pulled out my Boston sweatshirt, and fell asleep without unpacking.

Over the next few days, I saw Grandma and my parents, which made me feel like daybreak inside. Almost at once I caught up with old friends, a both strange and easy experience. But during the afternoon, with no classes or job to distract me, I got bored. If I wasn’t asleep, I suffered from bad headaches all day. And that uncomfortable feeling lodged in my chest hadn’t vanished.

By now, I’ve figured out what the feeling is… homesickness. I know it’s ridiculous to feel homesick for school when I’m home. I also see how pointless it is to wallow in sadness, pining for Boston, while I have three weeks left in this beautiful place. If I don’t appreciate the rain, family, and happiness I can only find in Seattle, I’ll regret it a month later when I’m gone.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

The solution for the headaches didn’t come in Tylenol. It’s a healthy combination of Mom’s noodle soup, Dad’s sweater hugs, damp dog paws all over my bed and the tug of a camera strap. It’s a sifting of flour on my apron and cinnamon dust on my palms. It’s not exactly a bitter pill to swallow.

One of the best things about being home is the food. Predictable, but it isn’t even the food as much as the ingredients. There are the luxury items I haven’t bought in college – all natural creamy peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up before spreading. Soft handmade tortillas, brown rice, even almonds! It’s a joyful thing to appreciate a quick handful of almonds before dinner. And produce! Even in winter, at home I’m eating crisp spinach and sweet Asian pears.

The school menu never changes, and most of the fruit comes out of a can, soaked in sugary syrup. At home, every flavor is amplified. The grapefruit I sliced with my first breakfast back was so clean and fresh, the sharpest thing I’d tasted in ages. After I devoured it, I thought about citrus the rest of the day. I’ve been drinking grapefruits the way parched survivors reach for water.

Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting

Reacquainting myself with our kitchen is like slipping into a familiar song. Every measuring cup is where I know it’ll be. Pans still clink and clatter in our cupboard, and that old bag of shredded coconut still has some life in it. The microplane zester, still my favorite tool in the room, is just as sharp as ever. The result? Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting.

Even baked into a cupcake, the grapefruit manages to refresh. It’s light and zingy, pairing beautifully with the sweetness of coconut. And the frosting? I wanted something mellow and subtle, and the green tea powder I bought from Pike Place Market over the summer was just the right touch.

When I opened that oven door, the warm air that surged up was so fragrant and sweet. I was caught off guard by how hot it was, and how good it felt against the oven mitt. Later, in bed, I rolled over and pressed my nose into my hair – it smelled like sugar. It was one of the best smells I’d almost forgotten.

I think I’ll bake again tomorrow.

[It's good to be back. See you in 2011!]

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December 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm 73 comments

Chocolate Molten Cake & Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet

Chocolate Molten Cake & Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet

I’m sitting in the dining hall, eating breakfast in the same black collared button-up and black slacks that I wore to work yesterday. Last night, long after midnight, after I finally staggered out of the elevator and fumbled with the key to my door, I was too tired to change out of my server’s clothes before I crashed into bed. This morning, up bright and early, I was too tired to change into anything else.

I’ve had a little experience in the restaurant industry, but working front of the house is an entirely different animal. It’s exhausting. I remember orientation, trying to remember how all the buttons on the computer worked and the numbering of the tables. They gave me two weeks of shadowing to get used to the lay of the land, and I couldn’t like the people I work with more.

My first non-training day was earlier this week. For the first time, I’d have my own section. “Elissa” would be printed on top of all of my receipts. And I’d take home any tips I made. I tied my apron straps into a bow and stepped through the kitchen doors onto the floor.

The first thing I noticed was that my shoes weren’t broken in yet. It takes a little adjustment to get used to being on your feet a whole shift. As a server, you don’t have much time to sit around and lounge. If you aren’t running plates, bussing tables or putting in orders, there is always side work to do – scoop ice into the water pitchers, refill the coffee thermos, work the bakery, restock napkins. You learn not to sit down. And on that first day, I felt it in my soles.

Chocolate Molten Cake & Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet

I needed to keep everything in place. This is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me, the ability to juggle five tables which all expect you to make them your first priority. I began to forget which table came in first, who ordered what, whether Table 5 wanted the decaf refill or the check. As the rush set in and my tables filled up, my mind became more and more jumbled, until everything was one overwhelming noise that never quieted.

You get used to smiling. Even though your shoes are slowly killing you. Even though you messed up 12’s order and you know they aren’t happy, even though the kids at 8 will ask a million questions and probably order nothing but hot chocolate. As a server, you need to be upbeat. You can’t let a bad afternoon show in your face, because it’s not about you – it’s about making every guest feel welcome and at ease, and when it really comes down to it, that’s so much more important than a tip.

I did the best I could my first day, and it wasn’t perfect. Or even close. I sent one table a free crème brûlée because I’d made a mistake with their order, and they’d waited patiently forever. At another table, the couple ordered a full out meal – drinks, soup, salad, dinner, and dessert – ringing up an enormous bill and leaving me with a tip of zero dollars, zero cents. A four-top of teenaged boys left me under 10%.

Chocolate Molten Cake & Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet

I pushed through the swinging door with a plate of dirty glasses to bus. At the dish pit, with three servers all working around each other, somebody stumbled, and a stream of dirty dishwater splashed through my collared shirt and down my leg, pressing the cloth against my skin in a cool drench. I didn’t have a change of clothes, or the time anyway. I walked back onto the floor to bring in another tray, and on the way to the kitchen, my wrist gave out and I dropped a towering stack of plates.

Every fork stilled, every face turned, and even though the background music continued to play, for a moment the restaurant stopped. I didn’t know the room could go silent.

It was rough. Nearing the end of the night I was so frustrated; I was trying with everything I had but I couldn’t make excuses. On top of everything, I would leave almost empty handed, with little more than a few callouses. I couldn’t bring myself to think about the homework I had left.

Closing drew near. The restaurant slowed to a trickle and we tackled the side work and remaining tables. One of my bosses, C-, called me over to the bar. I didn’t know what else could have gone wrong.

Chocolate Molten Cake & Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet

I almost couldn’t handle it. An ice cream sundae, filled to burst and topped with a ridiculous amount of brightly-lit rainbow candles.

“Blow out the bad juju,” she said. I blew out the candles.

In the back room, I dipped a spoon into the ice cream sundae and almost wanted to cry. The pastry chef, M-, had made it exactly the way I liked – with scoops of vanilla, coffee, and chocolate ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, almonds, brownie bits, a beehive swirl of whipped cream and a clown red cherry. I could only eat a couple bites before I had to go back to work, but nothing could have tasted better.

I tried to thank M- as I walked by, but nothing came out. She had a ridiculous smile on her face. And I pulled myself up and finished out my tables with a smile, and walked home with a pocketful of blown-out candles.

Candles

Next week, those callouses will have made me stronger. My shoes will feel a little softer. But until then, I’ll throw myself into my essay and wrap up my radio package, trying unsuccessfully to get my mind off of chocolate and ice cream.

[PS I'm falling behind, I know, but I'm doing my best. It's a struggle to find time to eat and sleep, but blogging is like breathing, and I'll continue to work it in whenever I have a minute.]

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November 6, 2010 at 2:11 pm 61 comments

Brown Butter Baked Alaska & Ice Cream Petit Fours

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Maybe you’re sick of hearing me saying it, but it’s the only thing on my mind right now – I’m so excited for college.

It’s been coming for months. I felt it in my bones as I reread my acceptance letter, checking and double checking every sentence. It crept up my spine as I leaned over a map of Massachusetts, marveling at the thrill of my school printed there on the paper. Most surreal of all, I might never forget the day I noticed our plane ticket confirmation on the table… two tickets for each of my parents, and a one way ticket for me. There’s no turning back.

And even though my friends have slowly left one by one, the change hasn’t felt real until the past week, when I myself began packing. My whole life fits into four suitcases. Now I look at my room and realize next week I won’t fall asleep beneath these glow in the dark stars, or wake up to these familiar blue walls. I know that each day is one of my last here, and I want to make the most of every one.

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One of the best parts? I hosted the Daring Bakers this August. I’ve been a member for over a year, and it’s one of the most dedicated, inspired, supportive communities I’ve ever been a part of. I was beyond thrilled and grateful for the chance! The month they had in mind for me to host was a joint challenge with Sugar High Friday. The creator of SHF, Jen, picked the theme ingredient brown butter, so I needed to incorporate that into the Daring Bakers recipe.

In all honesty, it was difficult. Not only did the month’s challenge need to use brown butter, it also needed to be versatile, accessible, and summery enough for the end of August. Finally, it came to me – brown butter in the form of a toasty, nutty pound cake, with homemade ice cream as ice cream petit fours or a baked alaska.

Individually, I’d made the ice cream, meringue, and glaze recipes before. I knew they’d be successful. But I couldn’t ignore a hesitant uncertainty. I’d never browned butter before, and kept pulling the pan off the heat too soon, mistaking the chocolate brown milk solids for burnt scraps. I didn’t know if the cake would freeze well, or if I could properly glaze petit fours. Worst of all, I wasn’t sure if I could be a good host.

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But I shouldn’t have been afraid. Sure, the recipe didn’t work out for some, and I spent plenty of time researching foreign ingredients to answer every person’s question. But I should have known that even if I’d been a complete flop, I’d be greeted with nothing but cheeriness and charm. For most people, the brown butter pound cake was a wild success, and even though last month’s challenge also included ice cream and cake, just about everyone tackled August with an open mind and stomach.

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

How cool is that? (That’s me, in the blog checking lines!)

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Since my access to a kitchen will be limited the next ten months, this was my last Daring Bakers challenge, and admittedly my favorite one. Every day I opened the Daring Kitchen website to more and more photos of finished Baked Alaskas and ice cream petit fours, and every adaptation, failure, or success made me smile. I loved scrolling through photos and thinking, “At this very second – someone somewhere might be churning a batch of this ice cream, or snacking on brown butter cake scraps.” It’s like we’re all in this together.

And as you’re reading this right now, what am I doing? I might be in our living room, trying to force a stuffed suitcase shut, wondering if I can fit a few more socks in the gap. I might be on my one-way plane, peering out the window, trying to catch one last glimpse of the Puget Sound glittering in the darkness. More than likely, I’ll be in Boston when you read this. I might even be meeting my roommate for the first time, hugging my parents for the last.

Wherever I am, wherever you are, I’m glad we’re in it together – thanks for reading, baking, supporting and inspiring. See you on the other side.

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August 27, 2010 at 11:57 am 87 comments

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake 3

There are some things in life I’ve learned I just can’t resist.

Crisp, chewy, savory bacon (and I say this after not one, but several attempts to go vegetarian.) My dog, Tilly, when she’s sad: her eyes are big and brown as chocolate covered cherries, rimmed with black like kohl eyeliner, with eyelashes that make me jealous. Filtered kitchen sunlight at 11 AM. Cinnamon rolls – fresh from the oven, speckled with fragrant spices and swirled with cream cheese glaze, melting into the swirl… how can you pass one up?

And farmer’s markets. There’s something about those white tents that makes me want to spend all day beneath them. There’s serenity in the rich displays of fruits and vegetables, handmade bracelets and jewel-like jars of amber honey.

My favorite farmer’s market – my favorite place in Seattle, even – is the famous Pike Place Market. I wrote an essay about it as my favorite place when I was in 2nd grade. I’d never seen anything so eclectic and teeming with creativity and fragrant with spices and flowers and fruit. Between the bundles of rainbow chard and displays of stained glass kaleidoscopes, I honestly thought the place was magic.

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake 7

I loved the spice shop, stacked from floor to ceiling with glass jars of every tea, coffee, and spice you could think of. I’d carefully pull down a heavy jar with two hands, lift the lid with a little clink. Then I’d inhale the fragrant air blooming above it, utterly at peace.

And the gorgeous jelly and jam stand, which set out popsicle sticks to taste test all of their varieties. Among my favorites were blackberry lavender, raspberry chipotle, and rose – flavors which seemed to me so exotic and breathtaking, flowers blossoming on my tongue.

And the fish vendors around the market. Many people have heard about the famous stall that throws your order across the shop, but my dad and I prefer a smaller, quieter seafood vendor tucked near the heart of the market. I loved the brilliant rainbow sheen of fish scales, the long, fleshy tongues of geoduck clams, and especially the oily, smoky, irresistible smoked salmon samples I could never turn down.

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake 6

Despite all the years, not much has changed, and Pike Place Market is still woven with an intangible magic. One morning, I had some thank you gifts I needed to deliver around Seattle. Dad and I left the house early, so we stopped at the market to kill some time. For one of the first times, we quickly found parking on the cobblestone street between tents. We drank coffee and people-watched, then we strolled between stalls.

The market was quieter than I’d ever seen it, still sleepy in the new day light. I could see shopkeepers and artisans arranging their products, setting up their stands, chatting easily with their neighbors. Street musicians warmed up and stretched, a vendor sipped tea as she arranged a bouquet of lilies just so.

“I really like this,” I breathed to my father, nearly whispering so I wouldn’t break the magic.
“What about it?”
“It’s more than the produce and the products. They’re all people.”

It’s yet another aspect of the market that I adore. It’s easy to strike up conversation with the woman who grew the tomato you’re sampling. I know exactly where these flowers once breathed, where they were picked and pressed, how far they traveled to get here. One man tells me about his technique and his tools as I try on the silver rose ring he forged with his fingertips.

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake 5

Somehow I always end up striking conversation with the farmers and stall vendors, discussing everything from this season’s plums to journalism in Boston to 17 and Baking. It’s truly what makes the place special – the human connection there. It’s really the one thing I can’t resist.

Well… that, and samples. How can anyone stand in the midst of such rosy apples, beautifully crooked carrots, clusters of champagne grapes and not accept an offer to taste? My dad was amused at all the stops I made to try everything available, even the things that weren’t ready. We both sampled sunset-hued Rainier cherries before we returned to the car.

“What do you think?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s a little too early in cherry season. They aren’t quite ready yet,” Dad answered.
“That’s what cherry cornmeal upside down cake is for.”

Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

The cherries are simmered in butter, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. The simple, thick cornmeal cake batter is spread right over them in the skillet and baked until golden brown. Flavorful, moist and coarse-crumbed, topped with glistening dark cherries like a jewelry box. Perhaps early cherries aren’t so bad.

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July 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm 47 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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