Posts tagged ‘cream cheese’

The Daring Bakers Practice Their French Kissing – Cinnamon and Cream Cheese Macarons

When I was in elementary school, I had a neighbor who I always played with, N-. I looked up to her for most everything – she was smart, pretty, and just older than me to have unquestionable authority. Whenever we played, whether it was pretend school or board games, she set the rules and stage of everything we did.

One day a new bike appeared on N-‘s front lawn. At nine years old I thought it was utterly, undeniably the most perfect and beautiful bicycle I’d ever seen. The body was a seamless silver not yet smudged by fingerprints, with a shiny white seat and handles. Little blue glittery flowers adorned the spokes of the wheels, blurring into a pretty aqua streak when the bike smoothly accelerated. My own bike, which I’d cherished for years, suddenly seemed babyish in comparison with sparkles on its handlebars and a pink vinyl basket perfect for stuffed animals. But worst of all, my childish pink bike had training wheels – more shameful proof of my inability to match up to N-.

I waited for N- to come back from middle school that day, sitting on my front step. When she waved hello, I took a deep breath, and visualized the words I’d been reciting and editing and reciting again over and over in my head. What came out was simply, “Can I ride it?”

N-‘s smile faded and she looked back at the bike, back at me. There is something so irresistible about ownership, something that’s yours, something still new and shiny. Even as children we appreciated possession of something beautiful. Unfortunately, this meant N- was less inclined to share her new toy with an untrustworthy neighbor still in the single digits.

“No,” was all she had to say about that. When she saw my face crumple, she added hastily, “But only because you don’t know how to ride a two wheeler. That’s all. You’d crash it and break it and I just got it new.”

Naturally, then, there was only one thing to do – learn to ride a bike without training wheels.

I had only tried to ride a two wheeler once before. I owned a dark purple bike without training wheels that my mother’s co-worker had given us, but I had never been enchanted by it. With its unattractive black stripes, lack of sparkles, and too-tall seat, I had been more than happy to stick to my pink baby bicycle. Not only did it feel safer, I found it a much more beautiful way to get around.

When my mother initially brought the purple bike home, we did try to use it in the park. Mom held the back of the bicycle seat as I pedaled, but no matter how strongly she tried to convince me that she was holding on, I couldn’t help but constantly look back to make sure she was still there. I never gained the confidence or proper motivation to master the two wheeler. Even though mom bought me a full set of knee and elbow pads, I stubbornly gave up.

Having had a few years to mature and a chance to ride N-‘s bike was the perfect push. I immediately went to our garage and lifted out the ugly purple bike I’d never expected to ride again. I wheeled it over to a grassy slope near my house, and snapped on my helmet with a loud click. I was going to be riding this bike by the end of the day, or scrape my knees raw trying.

That day, I spent three hours on that grassy hill. I started by sitting on the bike and simply letting it roll down the slope without pedaling, until I could maintain my balance well enough. Then I repeated the process, this time pedaling the bike as I went. I fell over more times than I could count, staining my jeans green and scraping my palms, but every time I stood back up and got back on. When I could finally ride my bike on the sidewalk all the way back to my house without falling once, I knew I had finally done it.

As it turned out, N- still didn’t want to share, and I never did get the chance to play with her beautiful bike. But I’d learned something valuable in the process, something that I’ve kept with me long after that shiny new bike dulled and N- moved far away. Besides finally graduating to the two wheeled bike, I learned the power of perseverance. When I am truly determined, I can accomplish anything with enough effort, even if it means a few scrapes along the way.

Hugely, this concept has proved true for the Daring Bakers. The lavendar milanos that I made over and over before tasting success come to mind first, and the Dobos Torte that I had to attempt twice. When I saw the Daring Baker’s October challenge, I groaned.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macarons are among the most notorious desserts in the food blogging world, as temperamental and difficult as high school boys. They’ve been on my goal list for months, but to be truthful, I probably would have never been brave enough to attempt them. The Daring Baker’s challenge provided exactly the push I needed. Though I knew I would probably break some eggs, throw a spatula in frustration, and have to make macarons over and over – possibly without success – I felt up to the challenge.

So imagine my surprise when I made the macarons and they came out more beautifully than I would have believed, on my first attempt! I drew the first batch out of the oven and saw to my shock and delight that they had little ruffled feet. While they could have been smoother, taller, and had more perfect feet, I couldn’t have been happier with my results. And the flavor profile I chose evokes warm cinnamon rolls or snickerdoodle cookies.

And now, as a 17 year old in the kitchen, the smell of cinnamon and cream cheese is just as appealing as a gleaming new bike.

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October 27, 2009 at 12:33 am 44 comments

School, Seattle, The Northwest… The World?

I think the first time it happened was near the end of April last year.

I was standing in line for lunch, feeling bored and hungry and a little irritated, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and faced a girl I didn’t recognize, whom I’d never met before. She looked a little nervous and said, “Sorry, I just had to ask – are you the girl with the food blog? My mom and I really like your photography.”

It was such a strange feeling and such an unexpected moment, to be recognized. It didn’t feel like fame, but I had no idea how else to put it. I thanked her, gave a real smile because I was grateful and honored, and went on with my day in a much better mood. But it’s happened over and over again since then.

On Facebook, I have an album called “Food Photography.” It has around 250 comments and is “liked” by 40 people, many of whom I never talked to until they complimented me on my baking. I’ll be sitting in environmental science when someone will quietly complain, “I’m so hungry!” and give me a meaningful look. The sophomores who ride my bus smile at me and ask if I’ve made anything neat recently. And teachers stop me in the hallway to say they’ve heard about my blog, and could I please write down the address for them?

Even though I’m a senior and my high school is relatively small, I’m not well known. I have classes with the same people over and over, and I’ve never been much of a social butterfly. And I know I’ve said this before, but it’s true – when I first created 17 and Baking I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it was embarrassing. I didn’t think it would be cool to have a food blog. I thought people would think I was weird. So I kept it to myself and tried to hide it from the world.

I only showed it to one of my friends when I’d written about him, and I thought he would get a kick out of seeing it. To my surprise he ended up making a blog of his own (suited to his own interests) and linked to mine. Unlike me, though, he wasn’t shy about sharing, and soon many of my classmates had seen his blog – and through it, mine. (If you are interested, he has a great economics blog called the Marginalist.)

To my surprise, people didn’t think it was uncool or strange. Food is universal. Food brings people together. Because really, when it comes down to it, who can resist anything warm and fresh from the oven, whether a sweet chocolatey cookie or a soft chive-studded cream cheese biscuit?

As I began to write this post this morning, I received a message on Facebook from an old friend I haven’t talked to in four years, N-. “Hi Elissa,” she wrote. “I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but my big sister goes to Berkeley and she loves to bake, and she likes your blog.” N- continued on to tell me that her sister decided to have a bake off with her new roommates. One of them suggested a certain cookie recipe from “this blog… seventeen something…” to which N-‘s sister (whom I’ve never met) exclaimed, “That’s Elissa!”

It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard, to have spread not only through school and the food blogging world but to college students in California simply having a bake-off. It lifts me off my feet and makes the sun shine out of my heart. Thank you for reading my blog – thank you, thank you, thank you!

Normally I wouldn’t, but I’ve got to ask – if you’re reading this, please leave a comment! Whether it’s your first time visiting or I’m welcoming you back, I’d really appreciate it if you left your location. I’m just curious to know where my readers are. I’ll start… Seattle, WA!

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October 9, 2009 at 10:40 am 1,584 comments

Rainbow Pride Party Cake

I think all little kids, at least at one point, have unrealistic ideas about what they’ll become when they grow up. I know I did. For a while I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, then a vet, and I went through an inevitable, short-lived pokemon master phase. I also remember once announcing that when I grew up, I wanted to be a duckling.

Yeah, I don’t know where that came from either.

But there was always something I wanted to be that I never told anyone about. I wanted to be a creative product namer – it would be the most fun job in the world! As a child I’d walk through the candle aisle of a store and think to myself, “This would be Golden Raspberry Dream and this one could be named Velvet Plum.” My favorite was to think of cute crayon colors, like Pink Lemonade Paradise and Safety Patrol Yellow.

Turns out I still can’t help but do it!

I can’t look at this vivid rainbow cake without feeling a bit of that creative spark all over again – Cherry-Red Hard Candy, Greenest Grass Green, Princess Eyes Blue. And even though I’ve seen the rainbow a million times, I still experienced an unexpected feeling when the cake was cut open. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand and restored all of the childish wonder and curiosity that I thought I’d outgrown years ago.

This cake was commissioned for a local company’s Pride celebration. I knew right away that rather than make a regular cake decorated with rainbow frosting, I wanted to make every layer a different color. This suggestion was met with a lot of enthusiasm, and I didn’t realize the difficulties of it until later.

First of all, I’d never made a cake of this size – six layers, 9″x13″ – and secondly I haven’t had a lot of success with white cakes. They usually end up dry or flavorless. Yet here I was, making six layers. I was also worried about height. Six layers is surprisingly tall, even taller after you add frosting, and I didn’t want the cake to lean or fall apart. I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party cake… after all, I trust Dorie whole-heartedly and it seemed like a moist, flavorful white cake that would also be sturdy.

I made two layers in advance, just to test things out. Unfortunately, I found the cake to be dry and much too sweet. I cut each layer into three, stacked them, and moaned a little when I saw how tall the finished cake would be. I tested freezing the layers, but they came out even drier the next day. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

I pushed forward, and the morning of the party I woke up at 6:30 to be absolutely sure I’d have enough time to do the whole cake. Dorie’s recipe makes two 9″ round layers, so I was using one recipe to make two thin 9″x13″ layers – basically I would have to repeat the recipe three times. I measured, sifted, and set out all my ingredients beforehand. Then I made two layers at a time, did dishes, and repeated, working like clockwork.

I do kind of go into “baking mode” when I work, especially when I’m alone. I concentrate completely on the task at hand, and it feels good. I have a friend who loves running because it clears his mind and lets him focus, and this happens when I’m in the kitchen. Even though I was doing the same recipe over and over, it didn’t feel repetitive, and I even enjoy the feeling of being busy.

When all the layers were baked, I decided not to go with Dorie’s buttercream frosting, since it could be too rich in a 6 layer cake. I was going to go with whipped cream, but felt frosting would better hold the cake. Finally, I wanted the cakes to be moistened with jam but not too sweet. I ended up thinly spreading every layer with apricot jelly, then alternating whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I frosted the outside with cream cheese frosting and then pressed shredded coconut into the cake.

Driving the cake to the office was a little nerve wracking. I was so worried about the cake leaning! A few hours ago, I had chilled the cake between layers. I had checked on it and realized, with horror, the cake was leaning to the right. I had turned the pan around and when I returned twenty minutes layer, the cake had straightened out. But every time we came to a sudden stop or made a sharp turn, I thought I could feel the cake moving like the leaning tower of pisa.

We made it to the office in one piece. Everyone who saw the cake was impressed by how big it was (and it was heavy!) It sort of looked like a giant coconut candy. But nothing can compare to the reactions I got when the cake was cut. The inside was a surprise, and it elicited gasps and outbursts of surprise all around. It was a room of adults, and yet there was still a wisp – no, a spark – of that innocent, fleeting joy at seeing something colorful. At that moment, I was reminded why I love to bake so much. This is what it’s for. I love to make people happy, and here was an entire room full of happy people – but I don’t think anyone was happier than me.

I was nervous about taste, but I’d learned a lot from my test run. Even though the cake was served in tiny, teetering slices, it was almost completely devoured as people came back for seconds.

It’s almost indecent that I was paid to do this. Creative product namer? No, what I am doing right now must be the most fun job in the world.

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July 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm 117 comments

A Little Taste of Independence

Hey everyone – happy 4th of July!

I know most everyone has a special Independence Day tradition. Most people spend the day with their family and friends, others go to neighborhood potlucks and barbeques, and still others go to the park to watch the fireworks burst beneath the stars. My personal tradition?

When we first moved into this house, I was so happy to discover that the neighborhood was full of kids. Boys, it turned out. We had only been settled in the house for a few months before it was July, and I discovered something else – those boys were ridiculous pyromaniacs. The entire day they shot off the loudest fireworks they possibly could, and not even stopping there. They would drop fireworks into hollowed out tennis balls, empty coke cans, even buckets of water, just to see what would happen. When I first opened my door, there was a half melted army man on our driveway. I don’t even want to imagine what they did to the poor guy.

We’re not little kids, and unfortunately I don’t go out and play with those boys anymore. It seems as we got older it was weirder for a girl to hang around the group, and I haven’t created a fort in their backyards or explored the neighborhood with them in years. I’m too scared to light off any fireworks (Roman Candle fireworks are about as intense as I can handle), and I hardly ever see them now. But every year for the 4th of July, the whole neighborhood comes out as soon as dusk falls to enjoy their show together, and I laugh with them like we’ve stayed friends all along.

While I wish I could claim credit for it, the idea of a flag cake was completely my father’s. It was all a bit of an experiment and when I finally cut the cake open, revealing the familiar red white and blue, I was so surprised to see that it worked. Besides that, I was floored by how beautifully colored all the layers were, and how much it really resembled a flag! It might be one of the coolest cakes I’ve ever made!

I used a white cake flavored with coconut milk. I wrapped the cakes and left them overnight and in the morning, was disappointed because they had dried out. I made a simple syrup with lime and tried to revive the layers, but the cake was still dry and I’m not sharing the recipe. However, the cake came together well and you can use any recipe for a three layer white cake.

I wanted the cake to be completely white on the outside, keeping the richly colored layers hidden. I also didn’t want to mess around with blueberries and strawberries on the top, which I think are generally pretty common around the 4th. I made my favorite cream cheese frosting and flavored it with lime zest. While the cake was nothing special, I do love this cream cheese frosting, and it’s the easiest to make – no room temperature cream cheese needed!

So, want to know how it’s made? :)

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July 1, 2009 at 11:03 pm 288 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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