Posts tagged ‘dessert’

17 and Baking Bad

Breaking Bad Cake - Above

They call it cooking meth, but really, it’s a lot more like baking.

My dad’s a cook. He’s the kind of person who makes Indian food without a recipe, who can guess every ingredient in a sauce from one taste. The kind of person who opens the fridge, laughs a deep belly laugh, and assures you “there’s a meal in there somewhere.”

He approaches food intuitively, which is why he’s never liked baking—it’s too precise. You can’t throw in a pinch of this, a pinch of that, eyeball a teaspoon of baking powder, and leave it in the oven until it looks done.

Walter White would be an incredible baker.

Breaking Bad Cake - Cut

Baking relies on precision. Four ounces of flour is always four ounces of flour. At the right temperature, butter and sugar become light and fluffy perfection in three minutes. I can make a sheet of cookies and recreate them a year later, at a friend’s house, on the other side of the country.

I love that different ratios of the same basic ingredients—butter, flour, sugar, eggs—result in a million different desserts. I think it’s incredible that a touch of salt makes chocolate sing, but a spoonful ruins ganache. Everything from the humidity of a kitchen to the size of the eggs to the style of whisk makes a difference. Who knew the art of pastry was such an exact science?

For some cooks, the exactitude of baking stifles their creativity. I like it. The chemistry excites me, challenges me. I think it’s sort of cool.

Breaking Bad Cake - Unswirled
Breaking Bad Cake - Swirled

Maybe that’s why I look forward to the meth cook montages on Breaking Bad. Walt and Jesse might be making a questionable product, but I can’t help admiring their process. Plus, the visuals are stunning: glittering aluminum strips rain like confetti, gas bubbles through clear hose, yellow smoke puffs out a vent. Even the finished drug is pretty, big and opaque as blue raspberry rock candy.

Actually, it’s exactly like rock candy—that’s literally what they use for meth on the show.

The first time I saw it, I thought to myself, that’d look neat incorporated into a dessert. I pictured a cake, frosted pure white and topped with lots of sparkly blue crystals, marbled navy and white inside. But it wasn’t until now, as the second half of the last season is about to start, that I went for it.

Breaking Bad Cake - Slice

My boyfriend took the first bite. I could hear the rock candy crunching between his teeth as he slowly nodded, eyes widening. He didn’t say anything, just took another bite, and I knew he was hooked.

The finished cake isn’t as chemically sound as Heisenberg’s Blue Sky. Maybe because I mixed it by hand, the white cake got a few air bubbles, and in the summer heat the cream cheese frosting stayed soft. My marbling didn’t come out perfectly, more blotchy than swirled. But the cake’s still beautiful. It grabs your attention. And above all, it’s definitely addictive.

Consider yourself warned.

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August 11, 2013 at 12:37 am 80 comments

Black Pepper Panna Cotta & Red Wine Strawberries

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (main)

I bought a carton of strawberries.

I did it against my better judgment—the berries were suspiciously big and still a little out of season, not to mention overpriced. They were so red I couldn’t help but feel suspicious.

But I bought them anyway because I wanted to make panna cotta, and I thought berries would make the plate prettier. Plus, I’d found a half-cup of cheap cabernet in the fridge, forgotten by the apartment’s previous tenants, and I figured that would be enough to make mediocre berries taste good.

I went home and got to work, chilling the panna cottas and reducing the wine to a slow-bubbling glaze. After all that, I popped open the box of strawberries. I was surprised—they actually looked really good. Well, I thought, I’m glad they’ll photograph nice. I scooped up a handful, ran them under water, and let them tumble onto a cutting board, which slowly pinkened with juice. Before slicing, I picked up one of the smaller berries, pinched off the green, and popped the whole thing in my mouth.

Wow.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (strawberry)

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (spoon)

With one bite I was transported home to Seattle, to our front yard, to my mom’s strawberry patch.

She planted the seeds when I was a senior in high school. They’ve grown prolifically since then, the leaves a dense carpet. The berries are tiny, thimble-sized, and redder than roses. They’re profusely floral, like perfume in your palms, so fragrant you taste them before you’ve parted your lips. Each bite melts on your tongue and the sweetness probably causes cavities.

They’re the best strawberries I’ve ever had.

One year, I infused some into a jar of bourbon. Another time, I made shortcakes with thick dollops of real cream. But they’re always best as-is, still warm from the sun, by the bowl-full. My dad likes to dip them in black pepper, a preference I found off-putting until I tried it. You can’t actually taste the pepper—like salt on chocolate, it simply enhances the berry itself.

Once I’d settled on red wine strawberries, I added pepper to the panna cottas, without hesitation.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (closeup)

The grocery store strawberries weren’t as good as my mom’s. Not even close. But they were outrageously better than I expected. The panna cottas were, too.

I was nervous they would stick to their molds, but each panna cotta wobbled right onto the plate. The texture was perfect—-firm enough to hold a shape, yet soft and creamy as pudding. The edges were smooth as marble. I’d originally imagined the pepper sprinkled throughout, and I was disappointed they had settled down instead. But on second glance, I liked the way it looked—-pure white with black flecks crowning the top, like caviar, gently trickling down.

And the berries. Glossy, sweet, and superbly robust. The color contrast was gorgeous. I didn’t regret stirring them into the red wine reduction, even though I usually like to eat delicious fruit as-is.

I’ll save that simple happiness for the next time I’m home.

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June 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm 13 comments

Red Berry Swirl Ice Cream & Gingersnap Cones

Red Berry Swirl Ice Cream

For a long time, I’ve wanted to live in a city.

Two semesters in college have confirmed this. Sometimes I think Boston won me over just as much as the college tour. I see the parks as my quad, the neighborhoods as my library. When the sun dips, I love walking down the endless streets – light concentrates in the spaces between brick buildings, bathing the whole city in gold.

I like the way the sidewalks breathe at night. Even in the dark, people are everywhere, and insect wings glint under the streetlights. I love the way honking cars and buzzing neon signs become lullabies. In the morning, I wake up with the city. The bus exhales beneath my seat and happy smells waft out of the bakeries. Every day is new and full of possibility, of discovery and change. I feel alive.

Red Currants

My boyfriend I- isn’t like this. He appreciates the pizza parlors open until 2 am and enjoys late-night photography in Chinatown. But in the “real world,” he could never live somewhere with that many cars, with so many people.

He visited Seattle for the first time last week. I made sure we checked out downtown record shops and college student hangouts. But I-’s favorite things about Washington?

He loved driving east towards Fall City, where thick trees threaten to swallow the road. He’ll remember Snoqualmie Falls, the semi-decayed bridge we were too scared to cross, and the pie we ate at a tiny North Bend diner. He was impressed with rocky Mount Si and snow-capped Mount Rainier. And he liked our floating bridges.

He also liked my backyard. It’s large in proportion to our little house, wrapping around three edges of our home. One section is a grassy stretch, another features the stone path and garden Mom and Dad built two years ago, and the third area holds our herbs and vegetables.

Gingersnap Cones

There’s something magical about growing our own produce. Since our lettuce heads unfurled, I’ve eaten more salads than ever. We get on our knees to find the ripest strawberries, which are more tender and sweet than any grocery store berry. I like slicing them in half, pouring coconut milk over them, and sprinkling the top with raw oats. Food tastes better when it’s just picked, still sun warmed, still breathing.

Before we planted them in our garden, I’d never thought about red currants. Each berry is tiny, translucent, and unbelievably crimson. They’re a little sour and pop between your teeth. The morning every berry suddenly turned ripened, I picked currants until my fingertips and lips were perfumed red.

I have to admit that I don’t really know what to do with them. My mom and I picked every currant in a race against the birds, and now we have cups and cups of a fruit that remains a mystery to both of us. Our batch is a little too tart to eat raw but we don’t have any experience with cooking them. Mom simmered some into a syrup, and I swirled some into ice cream.

Cream Soaked Berry I dropped a tiny strawberry into the point of each cone (to seal the bottom.) The result? The last bite of ice cream cone includes a vanilla cream soaked berry. Amazing.

It takes a lot of currants to make not-so-much puree. I threw in a few of our strawberries to add sweetness, and some honey when strawberries weren’t enough. I layered the red berry puree with my favorite vanilla ice cream. The berries are so deep and vivid against the creamy white, freckled with black seeds, that I see galaxies and constellations in every scoop.

I spent an afternoon making gingersnap ice cream cones, and after an hour in the kitchen I was ready for fresh air. I went into the backyard to photograph them, and realized I didn’t want to go back in. The ice cream just tasted better outside. It made the berry swirl brighter and the vanilla more exotic, standing in the sun without a skyscraper or printed ad in sight.

I miss the bustle of living downtown, but I’ve learned something else. I want to eat like I’m tucked deep in the country. I don’t know how I’m going to make it work back in school, without soil or farm-fresh produce in sight.

For now, I’ll keep eating lunch outside, listening to the leaves rustle and feeling more alive than I have all summer.

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July 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm 47 comments


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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