Posts tagged ‘Daring Bakers’

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

Baking with an Honorary Daring Baker – Mini Dobos Torte

It’s a strange thing. I absolutely adore being in the kitchen, baking, fueling this blog with sugar and creativity. And it’s without a doubt that I’m a social person. I like being with other people and spending time with my friends. But put them together? It doesn’t always ensure a good time. The honest truth is, I rarely enjoy baking with other people.

I’m not sure why. I guess it’s a bunch of little things… other people don’t know where the pans are, the tools, the ingredients. I know, silly. And they don’t really get the baking techniques. While I don’t mind teaching people, you can only do it to a point before you feel condescending. I would rather do it alone than give people the clearly “easy and boring” jobs like stirring, making them feel useless.

My explanation sounds sort of unreasonable written out like that, but I’m happy to say I am proved wrong sometimes. Take earlier this week, when my friend T- came over for dinner and to work on my top secret Daring Baker’s challenge.

Maybe it worked because T- is such a great friend. This is the girl who bought me a vanilla bean for my birthday and was one of the first people to start reading 17 and Baking. She brought green plums her family picked and a really delicious orange-water flan. Even though this month’s challenge was pretty difficult, she was up for the challenge and we had a really great time!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torte is really quite stunning. Five layers of super-thin sponge cake, dark chocolate buttercream, chopped hazelnuts, and a caramel-coated layer of cake. I was so intimidated by it that I waited until the last possible minute. When T- came over, we had the baking possibilities narrowed down to cake or breakfast pastry when T- said she was willing to tackle the Dobos Torte.

We pored over size, height, shape… T- saw firsthand just how crazy and stressed (the good kind) I get about my DB challenges. Finally we decided on 6″ rounds. We made the buttercream first, and it wasn’t as tricky as I was worried it would be. The result was smooth, rich, velvety chocolate frosting. After that we tacked the cake. It definitely wasn’t as easy. We cracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar, but without experience, we couldn’t get the batter just right. After baking, the rounds of cake were really eggy and did not want to come off the pan.

But we had a great dinner that night, sitting outside and talking until the mosquitos and flying ants/beetles showed up. After tackling the massive mountain of dishes, I took one look at our cake rounds and decided I’d just have to redo it.

As I started baking late on the 25th, I told myself I’d never wait this long to complete a challenge again. It’s incredible how the 27th of each month creeps up on you. My summer felt even shorter as I looked back on the milanos of the July challenge. I recracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar again, but this time the batter seemed better. I chose to make teeny 2″ cakes and ended up with a towering stack of matchstick-thin layers.

Using the successful buttercream that T- and I made, I assembled and frosted two tiny 10 layer cakes and topped them with whole hazelnuts. In my defense I did attempt the caramel topping (twice.) Since I read that nearly every Daring Baker had not liked the caramel-cake topping, I decided to make the caramel and pour it into designs instead. The first time I burned the caramel so badly, it poured out like blackest chocolate. The second time I didn’t heat the sugar hot enough and while it was a beautiful amber color, it was too flexible and stuck to the paper. I tried!

In the end, after so much trial and error, the cakes did taste good. It reminded me of a ferrero rocher candy. As I ate it I got the impression that a Dobos Torte baked by someone who really knew what they were doing would taste amazing. Mine tasted good, but not necessarily worth the effort. I think the buttercream is something I would make again because it was so simple.  As for the caramel, it’s something I know I’ll be trying again.

The final thing I’ll be sure to try again… baking with company. It was just too fun this time to write off!

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August 27, 2009 at 12:01 am 29 comments

Lavender Fields Forever! Milano Cookies – Daring Bakers

I don’t like a lot of store-bought, commercial cookies. I’ve never really liked Oreos, Chips Ahoy, or Mother’s cookies, preferring instead to make my own sandwich cookies and chocolate chip studded sweets. But when I saw July’s Daring Bakers challenge – a version of the Pepperidge Farm milano cookie – I knew right away I would like it.

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

The original plan was a lemon and basil milano – lemon cookies and a basil ganache.  At first I decided to use a shell shaped cookie mold, but it was too deep and the milanos came out more like madeleines. I realized that the cookies did indeed have to be very thin to be crispy enough. I tried to follow the instructions exactly and used the remaining batter to pipe out milanos.

Oh man. They looked like amoebas. Seriously. Not two the same size and shape.

So I tried again. I decided to make ginger milano cookies. Instead of piping, I decided to trace outlines on parchment paper and spoon the batter on top. I thought this might help make more uniform cookies, especially since I could be sure to use the same amount of batter for each one. This sort of worked, but not really. They were still coming out like special and unique snowflakes… that is to say, quite unappealing.

I got more and more frustrated as my dad came up behind me and handed me something he’d made – a stencil. He’d cut it out of a paper plate, leaving part of the rim attached, so it was like a little handle. I tried this out, using a teaspoon to get the same amount of batter each time. I had such high hopes as I slid the pan into the oven.

But they came out still oddly shaped. I tried again, and this time I chilled the stenciled milanos. And then, what the heck, it couldn’t hurt, I decided to bake the tray on the highest oven rack possible. I pulled out the pan, and to my surprise, I had a batch of perfectly shaped cookies, barely golden brown around the edges. The only complaint? No ginger flavor. So much for ginger milanos.

They did taste lemony (I would think so considering the amount of extract,) and I pondered the flavor of the ganache. I didn’t feel like chopping basil, which had been the original plan. I stood in the kitchen with the eggs in one hand and the butter in the other, feeling blank. I’d never waited this long to do a challenge before, and I was not feeling much of a creative spark. Suddenly, I remembered the lavender.

My grandma had read about a lavender farm, Mountain Meadow Lavender, in the News Tribune. So my mother and I took a day off work and drove to Roy, Washington. It’s a beautiful drive through dark green trees and grassy fields full of grazing cows, who lift their heads lazily as the cars go by, long stalks bobbing between their lips. When we got there, we met one of the owners, Barbara Hulscher.

Barbara owns 600 lavender plants, a big barn for drying lavender, and a little gift shop. She lives right next to the garden – or, I suppose it would be more accurate to say, the lavender farm is her home. And really, it’s a beautiful home. The lavender is in neat rows, every stem long and waving slightly in the breeze. You can smell the lavender from a distance. Even for someone like me, terrified of bees, it was easy to forget about all that as I took a tour of the farm.

Inside the gift shop, Barbara showed us all the different lavender products she offered. Lavender sachets, lavender soap and lotion, lavender pillows… When I came across lavender tea, lavender jam, and lavender baking mixes – for lavender chocolate chip cookies and lavender poppy seed muffins – my interest was stirred. We began to talk about lavender in baking, and I told her I’d made Lavender Ice Cream and it was delicious. She went inside and came back with recipes in her hand for lavender cakes, muffins, and crumbles. I thanked her and mentally made a note to get cracking on some lavender recipes.

We left with some lavender plants for our garden and this – a jar of ground culinary lavender.

It couldn’t have been easier. I added a tablespoon to the cream and didn’t even bother to strain it out before combining it with the chocolate. I grabbed the prettiest milanos from the last two batches and spread half of them with the ganache.

Wow. The lavender pairs so, so nicely with the chocolate, and the cookies were crisp and the whole thing just worked. I couldn’t have been more surprised considering how many mistakes and failures I’d had throughout this challenge, which I had expected to be simple.

The verdict? It was not a pleasant recipe for me to make, especially not twice. But the cookies were delicious. And the lavender… Fragrant, flowery, and prepared to slip into more baked goods in the future.

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July 27, 2009 at 8:45 am 60 comments

A Mojito Bakewell Tart To Beat The Heat – Daring Bakers

It’s nearly July.

You’ve got it in your head that you want to remodel your front yard. You’re going to pull out all the old grass, taking the moss and weeds with it, and replant new seeds. You’re going to transfer your herb garden, plant lots of beautiful flowers, and create a fence with espalier fruit trees – apple, pear, and asian pear. You might even ask your teenage daughter to help once in a while.

And generally, it’s hard work. Hard, hot work. You can drink all the water you want, but what would really cool you off?

A mojito!

I know some of you guys were intrigued by the jelly that I put up earlier this week. There were a lot of great guesses, and some of them got pretty close but nobody got it quite right. It turns out, this little jar is much more than a delicious batch of lime and mint jelly. It’s part of this month’s Daring Bakers challenge!

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

The Bakewell Tart is a tart crust spread with jam, jelly, curd, or even chocolate, and then topped with moist, spongy almond frangipane. For the challenge we were asked to make the crust and frangipane as instructed, but we had freedom over the jelly.

I’d never made jelly by myself before, so I knew that I definitely wanted to make that part of the challenge. I played with so many different flavors in my head before finally settling on lime and mint. It’s a slightly unusual combination for a jelly, and it sounded so utterly different and refreshing that I knew it would make this pretty challenge even more special.

When I told my dad my flavor combination, he said, “Why not make mojitos to go along?” So he brought the mint, the limes, and the rum, and I headed next door to ask the neighbors for a bowl of ice. The result was a cool, fresh mojito. It turns out, I really like them. I think I could have probably had one or two all by myself. Luckily my parents and I shared two glasses among us and I was able to really focus on the tart as well. :)

I was a little unsure about how almond would pair with lime and mint, but the tart was super delicious. On its own, the jelly is fantastic. It’s tangy and bursting with flavor, and tastes so bright that everyone is a little surprised when they first try it. In the tart, the flavor was much more subdued. In hindsight, a jam like raspberry, pear, or peach would have probably better fit the tart, but the mojito jelly did add a lovely green stripe and interesting twist to an otherwise straightforward dessert.

The tart crust was a huge hit, especially with my dad. It’s officially my new go-to tart crust. And the frangipane? I’d never made it before, but I can’t get enough of it. I’d love to try making it with other nuts (pistachio or hazelnut, maybe?) and the jelly is definitely a recipe I’ll keep. Three components, three successes… what a challenge!

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June 27, 2009 at 12:00 am 52 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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