Posts tagged ‘chocolate’

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

It was no surprise to anyone that after 8th grade graduation, I sobbed for weeks.

I didn’t just cry at the pre-ceremony event, the actual ceremony, and the post-ceremony party. Instead, weeks into summer, I broke down whenever I heard the Vitamin C graduation song or saw a friend’s face. Looking back at the past, it’s ridiculous and a little embarrassing, but not surprising. I was always an overly sensitive kid.

I remember once, when I was in middle school, unearthing a box of old school reports from my elementary school teachers. I’d opened and read every report written about me since the first grade. I don’t know what I expected, but I was disappointed to see the same thing written every year: “While Elissa shows a clear passion for learning, she needs to control her emotions. She feels everything a little too much.”

Reading those papers, I felt like my sensitivity was a major weakness, my biggest flaw. If only I could learn to make my heart a little tougher, life would suddenly make sense. But I felt like I couldn’t change what was so clearly part of me. My life was overflowing with sensitivity.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

Fast forward four years, and my sensitivity certainly hasn’t left. I’m consumed with sympathy when I hear about earthquakes or hurricanes or oil spills around the world. If I make a rude offhand comment to my mother in the morning, it drenches my entire day with guilt. And I still cry when I watch the Lion King. It’s just so sad.

But somehow, something has changed. I graduated Monday night on my school’s football field. I didn’t cry when I walked into the main gym for the last time and saw my entire senior class in blue gowns and square caps. I kept it together when my mother presented me with the purple lei she’d secretly bought for me, just for this occasion. My heart didn’t break when I finally saw my parents in the crowd, smiling like 150 watts.

Because I didn’t spend the entire time crying, I’ll remember things about this graduation that I can’t remember from 8th grade. I’ll remember how A- kept knocking off my graduation hat, so I couldn’t get it straight during the actual ceremony (thanks a lot.) I’ll remember the way the knots of my cords felt against the back of my neck, and the melody that C- and M- played on their cellos. And surreal and dreamy as it might be, I’ll remember the snapshot image of everyone’s caps suspended in the air, like they could float there forever.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

It’s Wednesday – a lifetime of hugs, handshakes, photographs, laughs, and memories later. I still haven’t shed a tear. It’s not that I’m not sad to leave high school, because I am. I’ll miss my morning carpool with C-, my doodles in first period with M-, and watching Battlestar Galactica in E-‘s basement with a pillow clutched to my chest. In a few months, I’ll begin to miss things that I haven’t even thought of, the little things I took for granted every day I went to class.

But something fundamental has changed in me. In 8th grade, I clung so fervently to the past that I had to be dragged into the next stage of my life. I was terrified of change, even though I couldn’t admit it. And now? Well, I’m still terrified of change. But I’m also ready for it, eager for it. The thrill of college is tangible and overwhelming – it’s electric.

And while I don’t think I’ll ever stop tearing up when Simba takes his rightful place in Pride Rock, I’m no longer held back by sensitivity as a weakness. In fact, wielded in the right way, I think it’s a strength. It’s what fills my head with imagery as a writer, it’s what lets me empathize with everyone around me, and it’s what makes life so much richer an experience.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

My life is no longer overflowing with sensitivity – it’s flowing with inspiration. Everywhere I look, I am surrounded by potential and motivation. I want to take everything I’ve learned in high school and change the world with knowledge. I want to throw myself into Boston head first, arms open. I want to read every book in existence, and let the words push me forward.

I devoured A Homemade Life in one afternoon several weeks ago. It’s by my hero Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette, and it’s beautiful. She weaves every story with family and food and love, tying everything in her life to the meals she remembers. “Inspiring” feels like an understatement – I want to write a book like that someday.

But for now, maybe I can be satisfied with baking food like that today. When I saw her recipe for white chocolate coeur de la crème, I couldn’t stop myself from making it that very evening. It’s a mousse made with cream, cream cheese, and white chocolate, chilled and served in dollops with berry puree. It was everything she’d described – creamy, soft, simultaneously airy and substantial – brought to life.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

It’s incredible how my view of the world has changed in four years. What will the next four bring?

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June 16, 2010 at 11:21 pm 72 comments

Checkerboard Cookies

Checkerboard Cookies

Yesterday, for the briefest moments, it started to feel like June for the first time.

It’s the last weekend before I’m done with high school classes forever, but rain has drizzled coolly for the past week. The temperature has dipped into the fifties, the wind has blown pine needles all over our damp cement patio, and the moss is drenched with icy water that seeps into your socks. It’s June, and I’ve worn my red rubber rain boots to school twice.

But yesterday the sun was bright enough to warm up our garden bench, nestled between the spindly apple tree and the velvet plum-purple irises. The sky was the kind of blue that makes you crazy – “turn up the radio” blue, “now pull over and dance” blue. Thin clouds stretched out like ferns, and it made you see the sky’s overwhelming vastness, a rarity in hilly Seattle.

On paper, my Saturday certainly wasn’t memorable. I woke up and drove to a friend’s house to work on our environmental science project. Then I drove home, had lunch, took some photos, and lounged outside all day. Somehow, though, it was one of the most perfect days I’ve had in a long time.

Checkerboard Cookies

I drove home with music swirling inside the car like a snow globe of sound. I even honked at a cute boy on the sidewalk, and he winked at me as the light turned green. At home, my parents were working on the yard. My dad was up on the ladder, trimming the trees that tower throughout our backyard. My mom brushed up leaves and debris – under her watch, the yard is cleaner than my bedroom. I settled onto the bench and tried to write this post.

But it was so hard to be with a computer screen. I thought about everything but the checkerboard cookies. Like the lunch we’d had. Mom had made avocado and sundried tomato egg rolls, creamy and chewy and crisp. Dad came up with a cool Sriracha dipping sauce. I made a strawberry salad with home-grown chocolate-mint, lemon, and dark chocolate shavings. It’s a meal I’ll remember someday in college when I’m longing for home, with nothing to eat but a bruised apple.

I almost began to write something for 17 and Baking, but then the laptop died. And I could have moved inside, plugged it in, and typed it up at the dinner room table. But I closed the screen and pulled out my macro lens instead. I photographed the spidery veins of leaves, the peachy curve of a lily, and the tattoo of woodpecker drills circling up a tree. I stayed outside with my skin as sun-warmed as our garden bench until twilight fell.

Checkerboard Cookies

This morning I woke up to the sound of splashing raindrops on our roof. I poured myself some cereal and looked outside – our stone path was dark mahogany and black, in the way that wet rock always looks richer. All of our plants were slick and alive. They stood up taller, leaves fanned out and saturated with color, quenched. When I opened the door and took a quick walk outside, it smelled green. Somehow, the rain didn’t seem so bad.

Now I’m bundled in a fleece blanket, curled on the rocking chair, typing this. It’s been too long since my last post, I know. But there is too much beauty in my life right now, in my family, in the garden, even in the moments of silence. These are the times I don’t want to forget, down to the last drop. Even now, though the sky is like white paint and the house is cold as a carton of milk, life is perfect. I didn’t do much this weekend, but the little things are making it extraordinary. The little things are essential to remember.

I’ve made these checkerboard cookies a total of four times – they’re that good. The first time I made them, the checkerboard pattern wasn’t quite even, but the taste! Buttery, a little crisp, a little chewy, and an indescribable flavor that came together like magic. I photographed the cookies, but I didn’t like them. I made them again a month later, but the texture wasn’t right. I’d somehow messed up. A third time, and they were still off. I’d messed up somewhere, and the wheels didn’t all align.

Checkerboard Cookies

But today, all the little things came together. My butter was at just the right temperature, soft enough to yield to a fingertip but cold enough to keep its shape. I used a ruler to form the checkerboard pattern and though it isn’t perfect, I almost like the imperfection. And the photographs? The lighting was off the first three times. Yesterday I used the dragonfly-wing light on our kitchen counter and it was just right.

It’s rare for me to make a recipe multiple times, but I know I’ll make these cookies again before summer finishes. As simple as they are, they’re unforgettable.

[PS: I know it's been a while since my last post. The last week of school, and it's catching up to me with finals and projects. Won't happen again over the summer!

Also, since I'm getting a lot of questions about it, I wanted to talk about college. Unfortunately, I can't reveal which school I'm going to (at least at this time.) It's simply an issue of privacy. Here's what I can say, though - it's a great school for communications in BOSTON! and I'll study to become a print journalist and writer, just like I always dreamed. In August, I'll move into my dorm and 17 and Baking will continue like always, from the City on a Hill. I'm starting to miss Seattle already, but I can barely contain my excitement about this next big step in my life. Thanks for sticking with me!]

Checkerboard Cookies

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June 6, 2010 at 11:37 am 92 comments

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

biscotti7wm

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.

biscotti4wm

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.

biscotti5wm

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.

biscotti6wm

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

Symphony of Sugar

Tangerine Meringue Tart with Chocolate Crust

As my friends’ schedules become increasingly hectic and I continue to get by without a car, recently I’ve been taking the bus more and more.

For a long time, I resented it. There is not a lot to love about public transportation.

I’ve spent too many afternoons running behind a just-missed bus or waiting listlessly for an hour, so I’ve become overly cautious and give myself too much time. I rush out of school in that awkward state between walking and running, my backpack heavy against my shoulders, moving quickly to get to the stop. I stare at the stretch of road, trying to see the green roof of the bus emerge from around the bend, and I hate feeling as though the bus will never come.

Most of all, I hate the weary ride itself. It’s an hour long ride to my house, even though it’s a 15 minute trip by car, and the hour never passes quickly. My bus has sticky seats, a dirty floor, the smell of too many people come and gone and a lurching, roundabout movement that leaves me grouchy.

pie1wm

But the good news is that I’ve found an escape. I tuck my ipod into the pocket of my backpack every morning, and as the bus lumbers towards me I untangle the headphones. I’m almost always tired, so I choose something easygoing and simple, with strings or a soft-spoken correspondent on NPR.

I have the sort of headphones that eliminate your sense of sound. If you put them on without music, the world becomes shockingly silent, the kind of silence that makes you forget what noise was. I no longer hear the man snapping baby carrots between his teeth in the seat behind me, or the obnoxious beat pumping from the row ahead.

Instead it’s like I’m underwater, submerged into a place of only warm drafts and light reflecting against chrome. Everything is nothing, and suddenly I can feel all my other senses so much more acutely – dramatic, but true! I always marvel for a minute at the effect, and then I turn towards the window and turn on a song. Then, for an hour, the world is nothing but the blooming trees slipping past my eyes and the subtle reflection of my face in the glass.

pie2wm

I listen to music a few hours every day, and for the longest time I tried to make music compatible with baking. But it takes a lot of focus to hear my songs while the mixer is whirring loudly or while water splutters against silverware in the sink. I’ve tried turning on a radio instead, but the sound is washed out every other minute if I need to use the food processor or whip some cream.

I regretfully concluded that the two weren’t compatible after all. So I’ve started working silently, without any other noise at all. I’ve found that the kitchen makes music of its own.

The rhythmic churn of the KitchenAid, the crackle and pop of lighting the stove, the clinks and rolling as I open and shut the aged drawers one after the other. There’s the dingdingding of the timer and the satisfying, gradual pop! of a new jar finally opened. I love the quiet raking noises of zesting a tangerine, the insubstantial thud of a flipped-over cup of flour, and the low, sticky bubble of cooking sugar.

pie6wm

When I look back, I always remember little details about the baking process. Take this tangerine meringue tart… If I close my eyes and try to bring myself there again, I remember the sandy texture of the tart dough coming together between my fingertips and the silkiness of curd on my spoon. I remember the vivid orange of spilled tangerine juice on the old white counter and the smell of cocoa powder.

And more than anything, I remember the distinct sounds of each component coming together, using every instrument in my kitchen to create something beautiful. Chocolate crust, tangerine curd, marshmallowy meringue… it’s like a symphony in three acts.

I think it might be my favorite song.

pie4wm

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March 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm 46 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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