Posts tagged ‘frosting’

Gingerbread Igloo

As most college deadlines draw near (January 1st), the flurry of college applications is drawing to a close. One of the coolest things about this entire process has been watching my friends go through it – not because I like to watch them agonize over their essays or anxiously stress over early decision emails. No, I like seeing my friends pick out the colleges that are right for them based on their unique interests.

In middle school, we were generally the same. Some of us were more inclined towards English and social studies, whereas others were more talented in math and science (I knew right away that I was not a math or science person). But when it came down to it, we were interested in the same classes, depending on how cool or funny the teacher was.

But now, after four years of high school, we aren’t so similar anymore. Slowly, quietly, I’ve watched my friends develop their real joys and callings in life. I’ve seen their passions burst forth like the cherry blossoms in spring, and I’ve seen the unfiltered pleasure on their faces when they are doing something they love. And even though I don’t share their interests, I know exactly how they feel.

One of my friends, M-, is an amazing artist. She loves the beautiful, the romantic, the optimistic, and her art is visual poetry. She uses soft, bright colors and gentle swirls of paint to compose half-opened flowers, graceful ballerinas, and sweeping landscapes reminiscent of Thomas Kinkade.

When I look at her work I can’t turn away. Her paintings seem to fill me with liquid sunshine from my shoes up, they’re so light and dreamy. The beauty and inspiration on her canvas reflects what a beautiful and inspiring person she herself is. Every work of art is a confession, and every confession is exhilarating to see.

Another one of my good friends, C-, has found that he was meant to play the cello. Although he was technically “late” to the music scene, not starting when he was very young, his gift is undeniable. C-‘s dedication is astounding – some days he goes to orchestra during school, attends two cello lessons outside of class, plays at a symphony in the evenings, and then practices again upon arriving home.

As I don’t play an instrument myself, my ear is untrained and naive. But when I hear him play, even if I cannot recognize the composer or identify any incorrect notes, I can feel the emotion. It runs up my spine in slow, deliberate waves, totally at the command of his bow. He closes his eyes when he plays, and I have a feeling the music envelopes him completely – mind, body, and spirit. [It was he I made the Cello Birthday Cake for.]

I could go on and on. The talents of my friends would fill up not one, but many long winded posts. My friend M- is a skilled badminton player, A- makes gorgeous dresses out of trash bags (as well as art of all mediums), K- is passionate about math (MIT, congratulations!), and E- finds peace when she runs.

I guess it’s not hard to conclude what I’ve found my greatest enjoyment to be too – baking, of course. While I could never work on a piece of art for hours, or play a musical piece over and over until callouses formed on my fingertips, I can spend an entire afternoon in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, it took days and hours of work even with help (thanks, E-!) to complete this Gingerbread Igloo for the Daring Bakers.

But it was a labor of love – from cutting out every one of the individual gingerbread bricks, to making 3 pourable fondants because they all failed, to piping out the pine trees. And I don’t know how many of my friends could stand doing that.

But for me, the best things about these passions my friends and I have developed is this: they do not solely define us. I don’t want to walk around school being called “The Baker” without any more dimension to me. I have dreams and ambitions that go beyond the kitchen, even though a piece of my heart will always rest between the KitchenAid and the sugar bin. I am a writer, a poet, a photographer, a thinker.

M- is not simply the artist. She is considering a career in medicine, she leads the school through student government, and she likes working with the school district. And C-, though he plans to go to music school, plays frisbee and can’t deny his interest in chess and cross country.

I love that we have found something that helps us discover and understand who we are, something that brings happiness and relaxation. But I am also grateful for how rounded and open-minded my friends are. They are multifaceted and flexible, and I can’t wait to see how far they all go in college and in life.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

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December 23, 2009 at 12:00 am 48 comments

Fall Leaves and New Love

“Bowl-o-Rama” Bowling Ball – Chocolate cake, chocolate & vanilla buttercreams

Pumpkins, cinnamon, vibrant leaves, and my favorite red rain boots – there is everything to love about fall. Along with the drizzling rain and the brisk, crisp chill sweeping into Seattle comes school, but also fresh starts and new love. A love in the form of Swiss Buttercream.

The photos in today’s post are a few paid orders from the summer. Because time was an issue and setting up photos was not a priority, they are not my most beautiful shots, but I’m still happy to share them with you. And the one thing they all have in common? They are frosted with a silky, light swiss buttercream that I am head over heels for. It makes me swoon. It’s sweet and velvety and also a dream to work with. I’ve never frosted a cake so smooth.

Buttercream has always been elusive for me. I’d tried making a classic buttercream once, but something went wrong between heating the sugar and whisking the eggs and I ended up with a big mess. That seemed to scare me from buttercream ever since, and I just stuck to powdered sugar frostings. Not anymore! I made… wait for it… six batches of buttercream in the past two weeks. Which sounds like a lot, and then I did the math and realized that I baked 13 cakes this summer, including 7 paid orders!

“Bowl-o-Rama” Bowling Ball Cake & “Strike!” Bowling Pin Cake

Baking paid orders is so different than baking for fun. For one thing, it’s a lot more stressful. Failure when I’m baking for fun or experience is merely disappointing, and frequently entertaining. Failure when I’m charging somebody for it makes my insides curdle faster than my first buttercream. I worry about taste, appearance, and getting the order right – after all, it’s a purchase.

It’s hard to say if I truly enjoy paid orders. On the one hand, I am creating cakes I would have never made on my own.  I cut out interesting shapes, learn new techniques for decorating, and even try new frosting recipes. For the same reason that I love being a Daring Baker, I like the challenge each paid order presents and the new ingredients, tools, and skills I acquire. And the feeling when I know the client has gotten exactly what he or she wanted, is amazing. When the client arrived to pick up this bowling cake, she saw the pin first and gasped. It’s genuinely thrilling, and it makes me want to do nothing but make customers happy.

On the flip side, I stress like Robert Irvine on Dinner: Impossible. I always wake up before 8:30 that day, to make sure I have enough time to work and start over if necessary. If the cake is drier than expected or something doesn’t go according to plan, even though I know how to fix it, it’s difficult not to feel anxious. When I don’t like the final result, my hands actually shake as I transfer the cake to a platter and my stomach tightens uncomfortably until the moment I feel certain the client is satisfied. Somehow, when my whole body relaxes and I begin to gather the dishes, it feels like the whole morning was worth it. It’s not about the money, but something so much more important than that.

Vanilla “Dream” themed cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, fondant stars & moons, and blue sanding sugar

Monday was my first day of school. This year I’m taking some fascinating classes and will be participating in a fantastic internship. It’s been a long week, and a busy one. My school doesn’t offer a cooking class and my teachers haven’t hesitated to assign homework even in the first few days. The result? I haven’t had the opportunity to spend as much time in the kitchen as I’d like.

It’s jarring to be suddenly thrown back into the world of lectures, lengthy homework assignments, and commitment. While I would never sacrifice my responsibilities for my hobbies, all of you know I would also never stop blogging no matter how busy I got. While I might need to put paid orders on hold, baking and blogging is my passion.

SAT prep classes, college applications, and warm autumn flavors… I welcome fall with open arms, sharpened pencils, and a satisfied stomach.

Pink Fairy cake for a special 3-year-old girl’s birthday

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September 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm 30 comments

Georgetown Chocolate Cupcakes and 7 Things

One of the nicest things I did this weekend (which included a two hour shop inside a great Seattle baking store, Julie & Julia, and take out hot wings) was go to a friend’s goodbye party. He’s leaving for D.C., where he’ll be going to Georgetown University in the fall. As much as I love to buy gifts, I decided to make him some Georgetown cupcakes. The letters, hearts, and “13” (representing his new class of 2013) are made of fondant.

It was my first time working with fondant! It was easier than I expected and tasted a lot better than I thought it would. It was also a lot of fun and I’m starting to picture the infinite possibilities once I master it.

But before I get to that, I’d like to show off my new award, the Kreativ Blogger award. I actually received it from two different bloggers, Cookin’ Canuck and Rachelle of Mommy? I’m Hungry! Thanks to both of you and sorry for not getting around to it sooner.

I’m supposed to give the award to 7 other bloggers, so here we go:

1. Marta of Just Call Me Marta
2. Erin of Erin Cooks
3. Valerie of The Chocolate Bunny
4. Alana of The Good Girl Gone Blog
5. Jesse of Fig Noir
6. Wendy of My Buttery Fingers
7. Marian of Sweetopia

I’m also supposed to tell 7 interesting things about myself.

1. I don’t subscribe to any blogs. I read about 60 different blogs, but I don’t subscribe to any feeds. I can’t quite say why. Firstly, there’s a lot of blogs and I don’t have a lot of time. But also, it would become an obligation. I like to think that I’m reading your blog because I remembered it and want to see what’s new, not because you’ve updated. So I do end up reading every post at one time or another, but this is why I might not comment right away!

2. I love to volunteer. I’ve done a lot of volunteering since I began high school, and I continue to do it because I like it, not just for the hours. I’ve volunteered long term at a therapeutic center, a children’s museum, and a cancer support organization, where I help teach a pre-teen cooking class once a month.

3. I’m half Asian. My mom is Chinese and my dad is a couple European mixes. I think I’ve gotten the best of both worlds: really good Chinese food, holidays, teachings, and at the same time, American cooking and culture.

4. I think I want to be a journalist. I’m still undecided about my future career, although it won’t be one in baking. I really love to write, photograph, and talk to different people. I also love to travel, and at least move around. I don’t think I could stand being in an office all day. Finally, I’d love to believe that whatever my career is, it’ll be something that can really make a difference for people who need help. So journalism is a career I’m considering.

5. 17 and Baking wasn’t the original name. This blog has actually gone through a ton of changes. The first name was The Rosy Chef, which I changed because it really makes no sense. I’m not a chef, I’m a baker, and I have no idea where the rosy part came from. After that, I was Floured Apron for a while until I realized another blog with that name exists. For a short while, I was All Roads Lead to Cake. But it wasn’t until I decided on 17 and Baking that I was satisfied. As far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect name for me, and I plan on keeping it even after I turn 18 and beyond.

6. I am a huge, huge fan of the TV show Lost. Everyone who knows me knows how utterly obsessed I am. Both of my parents watch it too, and we love talking about theories and mysteries. I’ve got every season on DVD  and recommend the show to everyone! The coming season is the last one, which makes me feel very bittersweet. :(

7. 17 and Baking is actually a year old. Sort of. I started this blog way back in August 08, under a different name. After only a few posts, though, I figured no one would ever read me and I just stopped. I don’t know why, but for some reason in March 09 I decided to start blogging again, and I haven’t stopped since (I’m so glad I didn’t quit for good.) Since I wasn’t serious the first time, I’m going to consider March 19th to be my 1 year anniversary, not August 20th.

I have mixed feelings about fondant. On the one hand, it’s beautiful. It really makes cakes look flawless and professional, and it allows so much creativity and possibility. But on the other hand, it doesn’t taste good. And somehow that defeats the purpose for me. Isn’t the whole point of baking to make something delicious? And fondant is just there for the appearance… I don’t like the idea that it has to be admired, but then peeled off before the cake is enjoyable.

Consider the show Ace of Cakes. I respect their talent and creativity, but have you noticed none of their clients ever talk about taste? They ooh and ahh over how fantastic the cake looks, and then the show abruptly ends.

Well, despite all that, I felt fondant was a skill I should learn. Working with the fondant was a lot like working with play doh. Really sweet, soft, beautifully colored play doh. I used cookie cutters for the letters, numbers, and hearts, and the whole thing was reasonably easy. Next time I’ll probably roll the fondant out thinner. But anyway, I was left with a few small balls of fondant and I decided to play around.

Yup, I played with my food!

As for the cupcakes themselves, they were the quintessential American chocolate cake. Moist, soft, and not overwhelmingly rich. The frosting was very chocolate-y and thick, and complemented the lightness of the cake perfectly! Both were definitely keepers, and so easy they might be my new go-to chocolate cupcakes.

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August 11, 2009 at 10:43 am 41 comments

Rainbow Pride Party Cake

I think all little kids, at least at one point, have unrealistic ideas about what they’ll become when they grow up. I know I did. For a while I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, then a vet, and I went through an inevitable, short-lived pokemon master phase. I also remember once announcing that when I grew up, I wanted to be a duckling.

Yeah, I don’t know where that came from either.

But there was always something I wanted to be that I never told anyone about. I wanted to be a creative product namer – it would be the most fun job in the world! As a child I’d walk through the candle aisle of a store and think to myself, “This would be Golden Raspberry Dream and this one could be named Velvet Plum.” My favorite was to think of cute crayon colors, like Pink Lemonade Paradise and Safety Patrol Yellow.

Turns out I still can’t help but do it!

I can’t look at this vivid rainbow cake without feeling a bit of that creative spark all over again – Cherry-Red Hard Candy, Greenest Grass Green, Princess Eyes Blue. And even though I’ve seen the rainbow a million times, I still experienced an unexpected feeling when the cake was cut open. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand and restored all of the childish wonder and curiosity that I thought I’d outgrown years ago.

This cake was commissioned for a local company’s Pride celebration. I knew right away that rather than make a regular cake decorated with rainbow frosting, I wanted to make every layer a different color. This suggestion was met with a lot of enthusiasm, and I didn’t realize the difficulties of it until later.

First of all, I’d never made a cake of this size – six layers, 9″x13″ – and secondly I haven’t had a lot of success with white cakes. They usually end up dry or flavorless. Yet here I was, making six layers. I was also worried about height. Six layers is surprisingly tall, even taller after you add frosting, and I didn’t want the cake to lean or fall apart. I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party cake… after all, I trust Dorie whole-heartedly and it seemed like a moist, flavorful white cake that would also be sturdy.

I made two layers in advance, just to test things out. Unfortunately, I found the cake to be dry and much too sweet. I cut each layer into three, stacked them, and moaned a little when I saw how tall the finished cake would be. I tested freezing the layers, but they came out even drier the next day. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

I pushed forward, and the morning of the party I woke up at 6:30 to be absolutely sure I’d have enough time to do the whole cake. Dorie’s recipe makes two 9″ round layers, so I was using one recipe to make two thin 9″x13″ layers – basically I would have to repeat the recipe three times. I measured, sifted, and set out all my ingredients beforehand. Then I made two layers at a time, did dishes, and repeated, working like clockwork.

I do kind of go into “baking mode” when I work, especially when I’m alone. I concentrate completely on the task at hand, and it feels good. I have a friend who loves running because it clears his mind and lets him focus, and this happens when I’m in the kitchen. Even though I was doing the same recipe over and over, it didn’t feel repetitive, and I even enjoy the feeling of being busy.

When all the layers were baked, I decided not to go with Dorie’s buttercream frosting, since it could be too rich in a 6 layer cake. I was going to go with whipped cream, but felt frosting would better hold the cake. Finally, I wanted the cakes to be moistened with jam but not too sweet. I ended up thinly spreading every layer with apricot jelly, then alternating whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I frosted the outside with cream cheese frosting and then pressed shredded coconut into the cake.

Driving the cake to the office was a little nerve wracking. I was so worried about the cake leaning! A few hours ago, I had chilled the cake between layers. I had checked on it and realized, with horror, the cake was leaning to the right. I had turned the pan around and when I returned twenty minutes layer, the cake had straightened out. But every time we came to a sudden stop or made a sharp turn, I thought I could feel the cake moving like the leaning tower of pisa.

We made it to the office in one piece. Everyone who saw the cake was impressed by how big it was (and it was heavy!) It sort of looked like a giant coconut candy. But nothing can compare to the reactions I got when the cake was cut. The inside was a surprise, and it elicited gasps and outbursts of surprise all around. It was a room of adults, and yet there was still a wisp – no, a spark – of that innocent, fleeting joy at seeing something colorful. At that moment, I was reminded why I love to bake so much. This is what it’s for. I love to make people happy, and here was an entire room full of happy people – but I don’t think anyone was happier than me.

I was nervous about taste, but I’d learned a lot from my test run. Even though the cake was served in tiny, teetering slices, it was almost completely devoured as people came back for seconds.

It’s almost indecent that I was paid to do this. Creative product namer? No, what I am doing right now must be the most fun job in the world.

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July 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm 117 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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