Posts tagged ‘creamy’

Maple Pot de Crème

Maple Pot de Crème

I’ve never gone this long without baking.

I realize now that I took everything back home for granted – ingredients, books, supplies. Here, I don’t even own a fork. I miss my glossy black oven and my vials of vanilla beans, but I’m making the best of things. On Sunday I visited a friend who lives in Boston. Her kitchen is all blue, yellow, and white, flooded with light and breathtakingly lovely. I baked a triple lemon yogurt loaf (no photos, but heartfelt thanks to D- and her beautiful family) and brought some home to share with my floor.

The dorm food here is, well, my least favorite aspect of the school. It’s all wilted spinach, dried-out pizza and artificial-cherry Jello. Disappointing, if unsurprising. It’s even more frustrating than the screechy subway or our tiny elevators, which are always hot with the breath of people past. When the longing for good food overwhelms, I look through my collection of photos.

Maple Pot de Crème

I had sixty recipes to choose from for this post, and I am so excited to share this particular one with you. Sixty recipes baked, fried, and frozen over the course of a few weeks, and this is possibly the stand out. Maple Pot de Crème. Would you believe that something so innocent could be so dangerous?

Back in July, I baked four or five desserts every day. The first thing I did when I woke up was preheat the oven, and the last thing I did before bed was wrap up any dessert left to cool on the counter. Every Sunday I gave my dad a bite out of everything, so he could taste test it all. On that particular morning, there were a lot of things to try.

He’d sampled everything by the time I drew the pot de crème from the fridge, the last thing to try in this buffet of sugar. This pot de crème was the creamiest, smoothest, silkiest custard I’ve ever made. I don’t know whether it’s the recipe, since I haven’t made it again, or if I just got lucky, but this particular batch of pot de crème was extraordinary. You could tell, even as the spoon sunk in. I watched him frown, speechless, and reach for another bite.

He scraped the ramekin clean.

Maple Pot de Crème

We waited half an hour, and then I couldn’t help it. I reached for another. We knew it was a bad idea – my dad’s stomach has been in poor health recently – and I even joked about the amount of cream and yolk in every spoonful. It was a mistake, but a delicious one. All we could think was how close to perfection this pot de crème was, and how lucky we were to have it.

Not an hour later, my dad was balled up on the couch, and I was running down the street with my shoes half on. A neighbor drove us to the emergency room. It was rush hour, the car was barely advancing, the slightest bump made my father groan and why were we moving so slowly? Numbly, all I could think from somewhere in the back of my head was, “I shouldn’t have given him all that dessert.”

By the time we got to the hospital, thankfully, his pain was starting to lessen. By the time my mother ran in, he reassured her that he was fine. After a few hours, the pain had subsided, and we knew he was going to be okay.

Maple Pot de Crème

This is the kind of man my dad is: after the attack was over and he was discharged, my mother left to bring the car around. As my father and I stood in front of the hospital, he leaned against a post, exhausted and still weak. Another car pulled up, and a middle-aged lady struggled to open a wheelchair and help her frail mother into it. Despite everything, my father had jogged over before I’d even straightened up, holding the mother’s arm and guiding her into the seat.

Before they walked away, the woman said to him, “The world would be such a beautiful place if there were more people in it like you.”

It’s true.

And when our Toyota pulled up to the curb and we piled in to go back home, he said, “I kind of want another maple pot de crème.” They’re just that good.

My dad finally had the surgery he needed, and while multiple pots de crème still might not be advisable, he’s going to be great. Last week was his birthday, and while I wasn’t there to make something special, I hope this post makes him smile. Happy birthday Dad, I love and miss you. You’re the best father anyone could ask for, even from across the country.

[PS: Many readers have asked where I got the ramekins. They were a gift from my grandma to my dad, who later regifted them to me. After a lot of googling, I managed to find them - they're part of the Andrea by Sadek collection and can be bought at this link.]

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September 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm 90 comments

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

We don’t spend hours in the kitchen every evening.

Sometimes, I just pop a bowl of cold fried rice into the microwave for a quicker than quick dinner. On Tuesdays my mother and I steam broccoli, chop watermelon into chunks, sit down to watch Chopped and call it a night. I’ve even leaned against the fridge and eaten cold chicken salad straight out of the tupperware. Our kitchen is always stocked with enough leftovers to make us low-maintenance weeknight diners.

Weekends, though… That’s an entirely different matter. Sometimes the whole day revolves our food. My mother often wakes up before me to brush her bread with an egg glaze, and we juggle the oven so I can bake biscuits. She’s the queen of scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed juice, and I can press any berry into a special maple syrup.

My parents and I frequently head to the farmer’s market right after breakfast to shop for dinner, usually without a meal plan in mind. We pick whatever’s fresh and seasonal and bright, whatever inspires hunger even though we just ate. My family has been known to spend an afternoon rolling out pasta directly on our dinner table, marinating fish, picking through sun-warmed herbs. Then, we feast.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

Don’t be fooled, though. There are plenty of awful mistakes, pain in the rear ingredients, and even the occasional temper. Our kitchen is what my dad likes to call a “two-butt work area.” The three of us barely fit inside it, and with the two dogs brushing against our ankles, it’s a very tight squeeze.

Usually, it’s chaotic frustration. As the sky darkens, my dad works from both the stove and the cutting board, on opposite ends of the kitchen. My mother can’t help but clean dishes in real time, sometimes whisking bowls off into the sink before we’re through with them. And me? I’m just trying to get to the oven, which is between the two of them. Add Tilly, who begs at your feet until you step on her, and Otis, who grunts whenever you drop a scrap – it’s an experience.

Yet once we carry plates to the table, settling down in our usual chairs, it’s calm. It’s relaxed. It’s all about passing plates and trying a bit of everything. It’s the subdued “Mmm!” at first bite. Cooking together is hectic, but it’s always worth it. There is something intangible about a meal created with your family… an hour of satisfaction, and a lifetime of memories.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

Usually when I’m in the kitchen, I’m alone. Sometimes I’m even the only one in the entire house, especially now in the summer. I love baking in the serene calm of morning, with light streaming from the window above the sink and the French doors. It’s quiet, except for blue jays rustling in the backyard pines and the faint rhythm of my breath. It’s silent enough for me to sense the song of the kitchen in my ears and in my soul.

When I’m baking by myself, the kitchen is perfect for one person – spacious, even. I can’t help but feel that there’s no better way to spend life than alone with my thoughts and my Kitchen Aid. That is, until the weekend rolls around again. Then I’m weaving between my parents, half laughing and half exasperated, five minutes away from “dinner’s ready.” And at that moment, there’s no other place I’d rather be.

They’re opposite situations, and I like that. I like the contrast, and the fact that such distinct experiences can occur in the same room. The differences make each experience memorable and sweet, even if they don’t seem to complement each other at first glance.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

I love juxtaposed differences, in life and in food. Sweet with salty, hot with cool, creamy with crunchy… Enter these watermelon bars, the perfect example of just that.

The bottom layer is the simplest watermelon sorbet, a snap to whirl together. It freezes somewhat hard and icy, but it’s utterly refreshing. The sorbet is spread with a basil-lime semifreddo, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. The semifreddo makes up for all the richness the sorbet lacks, whisked with sweetened condensed milk and lightened with whipped cream. It’s so thick and creamy, it should be illegal. The zing of lime and smooth, floral aroma of basil pair gorgeously with melon.

It could be a clash of flavors and textures, but I think they make a beautifully balanced combination. Together, they pack the epitome of summer in every melting bite.

Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars

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August 4, 2010 at 10:06 pm 50 comments

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 70 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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