Posts tagged ‘Dad’

Love and Pastry Cream

I’d like to clear something up – not everything goes according to plan. In fact, I probably endure more angst and heartbreak in the kitchen than in my high school. Sure there’s homecoming coming up and some share of senior year drama, but really, it’s all minor compared to some of the disasters that come out of my oven.

I’ve had meltdowns in the kitchen. Lie-on-the-kitchen-floor, seriously-consider-smashing-plates, cry-and never-want-to-get-up meltdowns. Some of the mistakes have been simply frustrating, like the Daring Baker milanos that just did not want to be oval shaped. Some have been so meaningless that I shrugged, threw out the inedible bits, and moved on. Some have been genuinely funny, like the blueberry corn pancakes I made for breakfast (see above photo) where in the end I stopped putting blueberries in because honestly, why waste blueberries on awful pancakes?

But my worst baking failures, the most bitter disappointments, have all somehow been father related. My very first ambitious project was for my dad’s birthday a few years ago. I tackled a triple mousse chocolate cake which… well, five hours passed and all I had for my effort was a sticky, teetering pile of dishes and a failed mousse that could only be described as a waste of ingredients.

For father’s day, I knew I wanted to make eclairs. Although my dad is a great cook he isn’t a huge fan of baking, but he has always baked to make my birthday special. One year, he made large chocolate eclairs for every girl at my party. Before and since then, I’ve always loved his eclairs. I’d never made pate a choux or pastry cream before but figured it couldn’t be that difficult. Oh, boy.

The first time I overbaked the eclairs and the pastry cream was eggy and rubbery. You’d think that anything with milk, cream, butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla would be wonderful – but now, I know better. The morning of, I decided my overdone eclairs wouldn’t cut it and tried again. This time, scared, I underbaked them. I didn’t have time to make more pastry cream, and the chocolate glaze… I don’t know how I ruined chocolate glaze, but there was too much corn syrup and it had the consistency of gloop. Dad tried to scrape some up with a spatula, but it slid right off. That stuff could make pans nonstick, if you could get it to stick to the pan.

For dad’s birthday this weekend, I was determined to get it right. I was going to make Boston Cream Pie, one of his childhood favorites. I would get pastry cream and chocolate glaze right, or die trying. I decided to go with a sponge cake instead of yellow cake for a lighter pie, and simply crossed my fingers.

Maybe I’d stocked up on good karma, or maybe I really have learned a thing or two, but somehow, it all went according to plan. The sponge cake was light and spongy, the pastry cream was sweet and creamy and rich, and the chocolate glaze was perfectly shiny and thick. When Dad came into the kitchen and dipped a finger in the pastry cream, I held my breath. “Pretty good,” he said, and I felt it would all be okay. When he’d finished his first slice before I’d cut my own, I knew it was more than okay – it was great.

I’d like to give a shout out to my dad, who will probably be the first and last person to read this post. He checks my blog more often than I do; he has always supported me in baking. Even when I break 18 eggs or serve him gross blueberry pancakes (which, by the way, he ate) he supports me.  He was the only person I told when I got my very first comment on this blog, and he kept me going even when I thought I was going no where. He is the first person I bounce Daring Baker ideas off of at the beginning of each month and, okay, his ideas are usually better than mine.

I have wanted to write this post since Father’s Day and it’s a shame I had no dessert to write about then. But at the moment there is no Boston Cream Pie left, as he took the last “slice” (about a third of the whole thing) last night. As he closed the refrigerator door he commented, “Leftover pastry cream and ganache… sounds like you should make eclairs.”

Happy birthday dad, I love you!

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September 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm 50 comments

In the Kitchen with Dad

This morning I woke up to Tilly and Otis. They were both sitting on top of me. Otis was staring at my bedroom window, eyes locked on a fly buzzing on the glass, and Tilly was lying on my stomach and gazing intently at me. Ever since we got Tilly back, I appreciate every moment with her more than ever and she seems to appreciate it too.

Although it’s been a week since Tilly came home, Dad still gets calls from people who think they saw her. While most are mistaken, a few have been right, and we’ve been able to piece together a bit more about what happened to her that night. Once again, I’m utterly amazed by how compassionate people are. Tilly was smack in the middle of a four lane 40 mph road, at night in the rain. A woman saw her and actually parked her car at an angle across multiple lanes to block traffic. Then she jumped out of her car to get Tilly.

Tilly ran, but this woman chased her between houses and through neighborhoods before finally realizing she couldn’t grab Tilly. She walked back, sopping wet, where a police car was parked, lights flashing, and an officer was directing traffic around her car. I honestly can’t believe it! Knowing people like that exist make me feel all warm and soft inside. Warm and soft as… a fresh bagel.

By the time I got out of bed, the house was warm and smelled like flour and yeast – one of my all time favorite smells. Dad was in pajamas too. He had already made the dough and it was rising in the microwave, one of my mom’s tricks. The kitchen counter isn’t warm enough in Seattle, so she microwaves a small cup of water for 3-4 minutes. This makes the microwave warm and humid, a great place for the bread to rise.

“Bagels?” I asked, seeing the open cookbook. “Can I help?”

The first thing I helped do was punch down the dough. As some of you might know, I have no bread experience at all and get a little nervous about it. But I’ve always wanted to make bagels, and I love the feeling of the dough. It’s soft and firm and elastic all at once.

Even though I mostly bake cakes, cookies, and sweets, there’s something about baking breakfast that brings me unique happiness. It’s something about the soft natural light, streaming in through the windows, and the birds making their first rounds around the yard. It’s the warmth of the kitchen in comparison to the cool wood floors of the rest of the house… And the fact that I’m in pajamas still and there is no stress whatsoever.

I watched Dad separate the dough into 8 and then we started forming the bagels. He formed each 1/8th of the dough into a ball by cupping the bottom between his palms and squeezing together. He rotated the ball and kept cupping and pressing together, so that it formed a smooth sphere. Then he floured a finger and made a hole in it, pressing straight through. Then he worked the entire thing, using more fingers, to expand the hole and smooth the sides.

The bagels rise a bit longer, then you boil them and bake them. And wow… there’s really something about pulling a rack of perfect, golden, puffy bagels out of the oven. It makes your heart flutter a little bit. It makes you wonder why you even bother with cinnamon raisin or chocolate chip or blueberry when you can make these simple, delicious ones all by yourself.

Of course, I have yet to make them all by myself. But my Dad is a good teacher. He mostly cooks dinner, which may or may not interest me depending on my mood. He bakes a little… not as well as me :) But his eclairs are always delicious and he will always make me a birthday cake if I want one, even though it’s admittedly not his thing. But the one thing I always like to see him make is bread. Challah, parker house rolls, Italian flatbread, spinach rolls, it always fascinates me and makes me suddenly forget all about chocolate and vanilla beans.

We ate our bagels outside with the dogs, and it was perfect. I went pretty simple. I spread some slightly cold cream cheese, which softened right away on the warm bagel. Then I topped it with some homemade blackberry jam that our friend A- made for us. The bagel was chewy and soft and puffy, and the jam and cream cheese was perfectly sweet and tangy. I think I ate the whole thing in record speed.

But Dad is a bit more sophisticated. He went for cream cheese too, but added some capers. Then he grabbed a Mr. Stripey tomato that he grew himself in his own garden and sliced it into thick, juicy rounds.

I was starting to wonder whether I should have forgone the jam.

He topped the bagels with the tomato and pulled out some of his very own homemade lox. If there’s one type of fish I can’t resist, it’s salmon, and his lox is the best.

How can any day go wrong when it starts like this?

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August 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm 63 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 269 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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