Posts tagged ‘creamy’

17 and Baking Turns One

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17 and Baking turns one year old today.

Can you believe it? I’ve been thinking about 17 and Baking and my passion for food and everything I’ve learned in one year, and I’ll be honest. It’s ridiculous. I never believed for an instant this blog would go anywhere. In fact, I even want to link you all to the first real post I wrote exactly one year ago, where I lament my lack of talent, following, photography skills, and experience. Honestly. It sounds like me, but… it really makes me consider what can happen in one year.

But today, I wanted to do something special. If I really think about it, all of this doesn’t start with that morning in early spring when I decided I wanted to blog about food. Really, it started when I baked my very first cake from scratch at fourteen. For today, I knew I wanted to make that exact cake again – a real full circle.

I remember buying my first cookbook from Costco, somewhat ludicrously, since I’d never had any interest in baking before. I just liked the pretty pictures. And I remember nearly a month later, suddenly being seized in the middle of the night with a desire to do something. I didn’t know it at the time because it was so very new, but it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with now – it’s the urgency to be in my little yellow kitchen with a whisk in one hand and a spoonful of sugar in the other.

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I dug up the untouched cookbook and scanned the pages with an inexplicable hunger, bookmarking everything that looked good – German Chocolate Cake, light-as-air Raspberry Dream Cake, kid-friendly Peppermint Chocolate Cake. I threw open cabinets, trying to centralize all of the random baking supplies in the house. We only had a few pans, and not many baking tools. As it turned out, the only recipe I had all the ingredients for was a rather unglamorous iced sponge cake.

I decided to make it anyway. I remember very clearly trying to measure out the flour, awkward and clumsy and fumbling until I had a soft dusting of flour all over my front. I didn’t know what it meant to cream butter, so I stopped the mixer (not the KitchenAid, but a cheap plastic one) once the butter had sort of formed chunks. I didn’t have much confidence for success when I slid the pan into the oven, but I couldn’t help but feel a satisfying accomplishment either way.

All in all, it was undoubtedly a failure. The cake was supposed to be light and delicate, but it was significantly heavy. The frosting was a total flop, tasting like egg whites. But when I cut that first slice and looked back at the photo in the book, my smile was uncontainable. When I took that first bite, the small triangular tip of that perfect slice, I knew in my heart that it had truly been a complete success.

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I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly skilled baker, not now or then. I’m just a girl who happens to love all things sweet and homemade. Even more than that, I’m just a girl who wants to share her zest for life and make you forget your troubles, even if only for five minutes. Through 9th and 10th grade, I had just as many baking failures as successes, forced to learn as I went. So many times I was discouraged, screaming tantrums at my sunken cupcakes, and I might have given up if it weren’t for the unbelievable gratification of sharing.

I’ll be 18 next month, and no matter how much things have changed since then, that satisfaction from handing out cookies or watching my parents clear their plates is what propels my passion. I can’t help but want to lift weary spirits on a bad day with a lemon bar or light up a neighbor’s face with a slice of pear tart. Isn’t that the whole sense of the blog too, to share a dozen cookies with even more than 12 people? Maybe even with hundreds of people around the world? If I can inspire at least one of those people one morning, then everything is worth it.

So here we are today, everything is different and somehow nothing is different. It’s been one year since I began 17 and Baking, but it’s been four years since I baked that first cake, unquestionably beautiful in my eyes. I decided I would dig up that old cookbook for the second time, now a senior in high school and so much surer than I was back then, and bake that cake again.

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The recipe came together very quickly and very easily, letting me focus more on my nostalgia than on my product. The finished cake smelled delicious, like vanilla and sugar and flour, and I just put my face next to it and inhaled while it cooled. I patiently waited until I could try the first slice. Just like before, I carefully broke off that first perfect bite.

I can’t kid anyone. It wasn’t a very good cookbook, it wasn’t a very good recipe, and frankly, the cake was disgusting. The flavor was strange, the texture was off, and I couldn’t eat more than that one bite.

I wasn’t completely surprised, but definitely disappointed. Somehow, baking the cake that started it all seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first blogoversary. Finally, I decided I would bake another cake, similar to the first, but something actually in line with my taste today. I whipped up a simple hazelnut and mixed berry cake, and when it came out of the oven I knew I’d made the right choice.

Unfortunately, some things seem destined to stay unchanged, and I tried to turn out the cake before it was done. While it was delicious, I was left with a pile of crumbled cake, certainly nothing presentable on the blog. I wondered if it would maybe be funny to blog a failure – but on my one year anniversary?

cake6wm One salvageable piece of the hazelnut berry cake – delicious despite its humble (and crumbled) appearance

I started laughing as I considered the fact that four years later, I was still screwing up. But I couldn’t be in a bad mood. In a way, this seemed like a better representation of 17 and Baking than anything else: the ability to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and persevere. I didn’t have any more hazelnuts or berries, so I shrugged and started again with almonds and lemon. I’d learned from my previous mistakes and the cake came out beautifully. I made a quick mascarpone frosting (no recipe!) and spread it over the cooled cake just like I did before. And that first bite?

Utterly perfect.

Thank you guys… all of you for being here to celebrate with me. :)

cake9wm The recipe for the first cake I baked from scratch, with a slice of one year anniversary cake!

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March 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm 78 comments

Chocolate Raspberry Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Despite the chilly breeze and overcast skies, I can’t help but see the promise of summer everywhere.

At Seastar Restaurant, I’ve been watching the glow of the sunset linger just a little longer each night, reflecting lilac and copper and gold across the downtown skyscrapers. Daffodils have sprung up beside every mailbox and lamppost. Cherry blossoms have burgeoned forth all across our neighborhoods, veiling the trees in the faintest blush-pink lace. Sometimes light breaks through the midafternoon clouds, diffusing through the classroom windows between spurts of rain, and I lean my head on my hand and dream of sunshine.

My urgency for summer began sometime in late January. Frost no longer edged the tips of our front lawn in the mornings the way it had all winter. One day I saw that the grass had grown thick and lush, the kind of grass that makes you think of summer camp and daisy chains and tie dyed tank tops. It was the kind of grass that makes you want to do cartwheels, just for that brief moment when your fingertips pass through that soft fringe of green.

It made me want to make ice cream.

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It was still too cold to legitimately make a frozen dessert, so I waited all through January and February. And although earlier this week the sky dropped a few forlorn flakes of snow, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I wanted ice cream, real ice cream that didn’t skimp on the cream and positively melted on your spoon between leaving the freezer and reaching your tongue.

Besides the freedom and the yellow plastic sunglasses and the short-sleeved walks into the evening, what I am looking forward to most about summer is the fruit. Peaches bursting out of their soft skins, handfuls and handfuls of glossy cherries, the hollow sound when you make the first cut through a watermelon. But with nothing but citrus really in season, I tried to think of another flavor that would satisfy.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I have never been a vanilla fan. A steadfast chocoholic, I don’t think I ever bought vanilla ice cream or asked for white cake. It’s only been recently that I’ve begun to see vanilla as something special. I have a stash of Nielsen-Massey vanilla, beans and extracts that I only save for the most classic and important desserts where it will “really count,” and I thought vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to make the beans shine.

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After two months of waiting, I couldn’t do it any longer. At 10 PM on a school night I turned on all the lights down the hallway to the kitchen and started to make the ice cream base. I picked a David Lebovitz recipe – there is nobody I trust more with ice cream – which was straightforward and simple enough. As I scraped the vanilla bean with my knife, the tiny seeds collecting like glittery black jewels, the smell of vanilla drifted into my clothes.

I didn’t waste a single seed, and the custard came together beautifully. Before putting it in the refrigerator to chill overnight, I tried a spoonful. Although the ice cream hadn’t been churned and was essentially soup, I was immediately floored. I had never had vanilla so intense, creamy and floral, somehow exotic. How could I have ever thought vanilla plain?

The next morning I was in the kitchen to pour myself a bowl of cereal when I decided I couldn’t wait until after school to finish. I poured the chilled ice cream custard into the ice cream maker to churn while I showered and got dressed. The custard had been good enough to drink, but after it was churned? It had the consistency of soft-serve, not yet firmed up, but it was so incredible. I even beckoned my friend C-, who I carpool with, into my house so that he could try a spoonful for himself before we rushed to first period.

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Even though my favorite ice cream flavor has been basil since I first made it two summers ago, I need to tell you all that this is without a doubt the best ice cream I’ve ever made. It might even be the best ice cream I’ve ever tried at all.

It’s unbelievably thick and creamy, smooth as marble and speckled with constellations of vanilla bean seeds. It has the texture of frozen custard – somehow “ice cream” doesn’t convey how soft and rich and gorgeous this ice cream is. If that weren’t enough, the vanilla itself seems to fill the inside of your mouth like a perfume, not just in the ice cream but in the very air around it. This ice cream will convert a chocoholic into a person who dreams in vanilla.

Wanting to give you more than just ice cream, I also baked some raspberry cocoa cookies that I’ve made a few times now. They’re little, gone in two bites, chewy in the center and crisp-edged. Made with a half cup of jam, they taste like thin brownie-cookies topped with raspberries. Ever since the first time I made them, I knew they would make a good ice cream sandwich.

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The sandwiches are delicious, but I have to admit, I prefer the ice cream purely as is. I can’t help it… I’m a vanilla person. :)

[On non-food related note, I feel the need to mention the new "(c) 17 and baking" text appearing on this week’s photos. I hate having to put watermarks on my photos. I think it’s ugly and distracting. I think food photography should be about food and the way food makes you feel, and the text seems so awkward. But my photos have been stolen and used without my permission twice in the last month, and I have reluctantly concluded that a watermark might reduce theft.

Photo stealers, this is disappointing for me. Boo on you.]

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March 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm 77 comments

Orange-Espresso Tiramisu

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All around my house, tucked into the bottom drawers of my nightstand and slipped between cushions in the couch are friendship bracelets. I know it’s dorky. I know it’s third grade. But I can’t help it; I’m drawn to the beautiful, brilliant colors of the thread, and there’s something homey and sweet about a friendship bracelet that I can’t help but find appealing. Knot by knot, keeping the fraying ends wrapped around my fingers, I always start the bracelet with anticipation.

Then it inevitably happens. I keep the bracelet taped to my knee and work while I listen to the radio or watch TV, and I tie a few knots when I can’t fall asleep. But soon I forget, or my fingers begin to stiffen from pulling and untangling the long ends of string. Finally the bracelet is left unfinished somewhere in the house, depending on where I was when I last worked on it.

Weeks later, I’ll stumble across the two-inch-long strip of intricate pattern, the loose strings twisted together into a rainbow knot. I’ll recall my enthusiasm and the care with which I chose the colors, and suddenly the desire to make the bracelet returns again. But instead of picking up where I left off, I start again, choosing new colors and a new design. And the cycle simply repeats.

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I remember when I was little, I did the same thing with writing. Even as a kid in elementary school, I knew I wanted to write books when I grew up. Whenever I saw something beautiful, like an incredible rosy sunset or a weathered stone, I’d try to think of the perfect words to capture it in writing. I was always writing novels in my mind, but only rarely would I ever put them down in pen.

In the middle of the night I’d frequently wake up from a dream so tangible, I’d be scared of losing it. Before the memory could escape me, I had to scribble it down on a scrap of paper, planning to turn it into a story. As I slowly slipped back into sleep, I’d begin to write the first sentences in my head, but come morning, I wouldn’t follow through. Who knows why!

To this day, I am more passionate about the written word than anything else, but it still takes a lot of effort. I’m taking a fiction writing class right now and I’ve never been so excited about a subject before, and the homework is keeping me writing creatively. And 17 and Baking thankfully forces me to reflect on my week and write a bit of nonfiction every week, too! It turns out, all I need is a little responsibility and I’ll rise to the occasion.

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But there’s one thing I do that I rarely ever have to force myself to complete. From sketching ideas in my planner to photographing the final product, I don’t experience any hesitation or reluctance while baking. It isn’t just my obligation to blog. Somehow baking seems effortless, even when it takes a lot of work, and I couldn’t imagine stopping halfway.

I’ve had crash-and-burn disasters which, were they not kitchen related, would ruin my whole day. But when it’s baking, I manage to wash all the dishes in the sink, take a deep breath, and start over. Rather than dampen my spirits, it only fuels my motivation and my determination to see success. Even if I’m starting over for the third time, a dozen eggs cracked, and my hair covered in flour, I manage to find happiness in measuring sugar and melting butter.

I also frequently take on massive tasks or complex assignments. I can easily spend five hours working from start to finish, an accomplishment that might have worn me out in the past. Take this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, which included ladyfingers and a four-component filling. In total, including baking the ladyfingers and assembling, the whole process took a week… Despite a little grumbling, it didn’t ever cross my mind not to finish.

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And the final result? Completely and utterly gorgeous. The tiramisu is creamy and just moist enough, decadent without being heavy. I wouldn’t have expected any less!

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I know I’m a little late this month… whoops. Life got in the way this weekend, but here I am now :) See you all in March!

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February 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm 50 comments

A Box of Brigadeiros (Brazilian Fudge Truffles)

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Tangerine Brigadeiro

When my DSLR camera arrived in the mail, matte black and quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, the first place I went was the kitchen.

Up until then, I’d been using a small, compact digital camera to take my food photos. While I was satisfied with the results, I knew I wanted something more. I wanted a camera that caught the rich sheen of chocolate glaze, the buttery crumble of shortbread, and the vivid colors of buttercream frosting. And while my digital camera could take a photograph of a dessert, it didn’t capture the real essence of what made each dessert truly, fork-halfway-to-your-mouth delicious.

But with my new Canon Rebel XTi, I felt sure that everything was about to change. I lifted my camera to my cheek, felt my eyelashes brush against the viewfinder, and pressed the button gently. My first photograph was a basket of green and gold apples in a woven basket, steeped in the most beautiful afternoon light I’d ever seen. I actually set the camera down to do a little dance right there on the kitchen tiles, feeling utterly radiant.

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Coconut Lemon Brigadeiro

Since then, taking photographs has become just as fulfilling as baking a creamy, uncracked cheesecake or writing a seamless short story. I take long walks around the neighborhood with the Canon around my neck, glancing everywhere like I could take a picture with my eyes. I look for the extraordinary in the details, for interesting shadows and whimsical patterns.

Every time I check the photos I’ve taken, it’s a mixed bag. There will always be a couple that are slightly out of focus or didn’t replicate the view in my head. I don’t think a good camera makes a photographer. But when I get a shot that makes me as giddy as that beautifully simple photo of a basket of apples, I feel like a life spent seeking breathtaking photos would be a life well spent.

I sent that photograph of the apples to my dad the day I took it. I included a brief, but cheery message with it: “Look!!! This is unedited, straight out of the camera! I think I’m just going to have to send you a photo every single day.”

And you know what? I didn’t think much of that last sentence at the time, but it’s been nine months and he’s kept me to it.

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Cayenne Cinnamon Brigadeiro

Every day, whether the sky releases a torrent of rain or I get home at nine with a headache and a temper, I send a daily photo. It’s a different image every day… pastel sunrises, wrought-iron fences, even self-portraits if I’m feeling ambitious. And though it isn’t always easy to come up with a new photo, it keeps me photographing the way 17 and Baking keeps me writing.

As it turns out, I love photographing almost anything – people, dilapidated houses, animals, unusual textures – more than food.

There is a side effect to the daily photos, though. I don’t like my dad to look through my camera. I love surprises. I love being surprised, I love planning surprises, and I definitely like surprising other people, so I always want the daily photo to be new when my dad checks for it every night. Unfortunately, I think I care more than he does, so sometimes we fight over the Canon.

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“Dad. Seriously. Don’t look through it. I just got back from downtown and there’s a lot of daily photos in there.”

“Good!” He’ll press the buttons to look through the saved photos, a thoughtful look on his face before I’ll try to snatch the camera back.

“It should be a surprise!” And then I’ll get served with the roll of his eyes, his mild annoyance, and that too-familiar face that says “Oh please.” But I always persist.

But after we made this brigadeiros – Brazilian fudge truffles we made at the request of a reader – I surprised both of us by being somewhat open. I normally make him leave when I photograph food, preferring to be alone to avoid the pressure of his presence as well as his advice. But that day I let him stand off to the side as I adjusted settings, taking the same photo over and over.

When he asked what I was doing, I even turned over the camera to show him. Who knows. Surprises are important, but maybe a little family time with five dozen truffles and a set of pretty photographs is kind of important too.

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Tangerine Brigadeiro

I’d never heard of brigadeiros before, but when someone asked for them through a comment on an old post, I was tickled. Dad and I looked them up together and realized that they were a snack his grandmother had made for him when he was a little boy, exactly the same. Whether they evoked memories or not, though, they were my first request and I didn’t even consider not making them.

With Dad’s help, we decided on five variations: coconut lemon, cayenne cinnamon, tangerine, hazelnut-nutella (think Ferrero Rocher), and white chocolate-dipped lavender almond. It may sound like a mouthful, but actually, this might be the easiest thing I’ve ever made. To make five dozen truffles, including five different variations and a trip to the grocery store, the entire process took us two hours.

The base is only 3 ingredients, but gosh, these are delicious. The entire week we’ve said, “Wow. We need to give these away.” But we haven’t. We just keep eating them. For once, I don’t feel like the photos do the brigadeiros justice.

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White Chocolate-Dipped Lavender Almond Brigadeiro

[PS: I'm thinking about doing a frequently-asked questions post, so feel free to leave a comment with a question for me. I'll pick out some questions and answer them in a later post. You can ask about anything, food-related or not, and I might answer it! :) Hope you all had a great valentine's day. I spent it eating brigadeiros.]

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February 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm 89 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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