Posts tagged ‘cherries’

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

Double Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cookies

You know you love something when you love every single step of it. Take baking for example.

I love the initial spark of creativity, the moment when I know I want to be in the kitchen. I might be driving home, staring into the distance, when an image of white chocolate and matcha powder floats into my head. Or maybe I’ll be sitting in French class conjugating verbs when I’ll suddenly start writing up a shopping list. It’s strangely fun to brainstorm flavors and think about dessert.

I love the whole process of baking, too. I love how structured and precise it is to cream the butter, warm the eggs to room temperature in a bowl of water, measure out the sugar with a spoon. I know some people find it restricting, but I love following recipes to a T.  I love the smell of flour that sifts up when I open the container. I love the dusting of spices that ends up on my fingers when I clumsily open the caps. I love the silence except for the quiet humming in my head and the sound of the mixer churning magic.

And you know I’m smitten when I tell you I even like the dishes. I like putting everything in the sink all at once, so that I can hardly turn on the tap without getting water everywhere. It’s comforting somehow, the repetition of cleaning and the warmth of the water. When the dishes are finally clean, the oven timer usually goes off. And I love it when my timing is just right.

And of course, who doesn’t love the next step… taste testing. I nibble the ugliest cookie of the bunch, level the cake and sample the scraps, cut off a tiny crusty corner of brownie. I usually force my mother to try it, and she does, grudgingly.

But would you believe that truly, honestly, my favorite part is what comes next – wrapping my baked goods, tucking them in tupperware, and sharing them. At school, I love to pass them out to my friends. I love to see their expressions perk up when they see the cake carrier, and when I tell them what I brought. I get to see their reactions right then and there at the lunch table, and figure out how successful it really was.

But it’s another story when my mom brings something to work. She comes home, tired, throws down her heavy bags and the empty containers rattling with crumbs. “Well?” I ask. “Did people like it?”

“Yes,” she replies.

“Well?” I press for details. “What did they like about it?”

“I don’t know. They said it was good.”

Basil Ice Cream Sandwiches with Double Chocolate
Cherry Truffle Cookies, melting in 100 degree heat

It doesn’t matter that I want feedback and that I am alright with criticism. I guess the truth is this: most people are not very good at describing food. They know that they like it, but they can’t tell you why. “Appearance? Texture? Flavor? What was the best?” simply elicits a little shrug and a smile. They just don’t know what to say.

As I’m working at my mom’s office this summer, I decided to take advantage of my presence. I set out a batch of these Double Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cookies in the kitchen along with a notepad: “Eat and leave me a comment.” As I filed, stamped, and stuffed, at least six people popped their heads in, chewing, and said, “This is great!”

Twenty minutes later, someone came in with the empty box. She handed me the notepad. There were a few comments on it – “Yummy!” “I loved it!” “Thanks!” I read them quickly and gave a little sigh. I looked up as she smiled and said, “I think the fact that the box is empty speaks for itself.”

I couldn’t help but laugh – I had to agree.

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August 5, 2009 at 5:34 pm 34 comments


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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