Posts tagged ‘gluten free’

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

It was no surprise to anyone that after 8th grade graduation, I sobbed for weeks.

I didn’t just cry at the pre-ceremony event, the actual ceremony, and the post-ceremony party. Instead, weeks into summer, I broke down whenever I heard the Vitamin C graduation song or saw a friend’s face. Looking back at the past, it’s ridiculous and a little embarrassing, but not surprising. I was always an overly sensitive kid.

I remember once, when I was in middle school, unearthing a box of old school reports from my elementary school teachers. I’d opened and read every report written about me since the first grade. I don’t know what I expected, but I was disappointed to see the same thing written every year: “While Elissa shows a clear passion for learning, she needs to control her emotions. She feels everything a little too much.”

Reading those papers, I felt like my sensitivity was a major weakness, my biggest flaw. If only I could learn to make my heart a little tougher, life would suddenly make sense. But I felt like I couldn’t change what was so clearly part of me. My life was overflowing with sensitivity.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

Fast forward four years, and my sensitivity certainly hasn’t left. I’m consumed with sympathy when I hear about earthquakes or hurricanes or oil spills around the world. If I make a rude offhand comment to my mother in the morning, it drenches my entire day with guilt. And I still cry when I watch the Lion King. It’s just so sad.

But somehow, something has changed. I graduated Monday night on my school’s football field. I didn’t cry when I walked into the main gym for the last time and saw my entire senior class in blue gowns and square caps. I kept it together when my mother presented me with the purple lei she’d secretly bought for me, just for this occasion. My heart didn’t break when I finally saw my parents in the crowd, smiling like 150 watts.

Because I didn’t spend the entire time crying, I’ll remember things about this graduation that I can’t remember from 8th grade. I’ll remember how A- kept knocking off my graduation hat, so I couldn’t get it straight during the actual ceremony (thanks a lot.) I’ll remember the way the knots of my cords felt against the back of my neck, and the melody that C- and M- played on their cellos. And surreal and dreamy as it might be, I’ll remember the snapshot image of everyone’s caps suspended in the air, like they could float there forever.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

It’s Wednesday – a lifetime of hugs, handshakes, photographs, laughs, and memories later. I still haven’t shed a tear. It’s not that I’m not sad to leave high school, because I am. I’ll miss my morning carpool with C-, my doodles in first period with M-, and watching Battlestar Galactica in E-‘s basement with a pillow clutched to my chest. In a few months, I’ll begin to miss things that I haven’t even thought of, the little things I took for granted every day I went to class.

But something fundamental has changed in me. In 8th grade, I clung so fervently to the past that I had to be dragged into the next stage of my life. I was terrified of change, even though I couldn’t admit it. And now? Well, I’m still terrified of change. But I’m also ready for it, eager for it. The thrill of college is tangible and overwhelming – it’s electric.

And while I don’t think I’ll ever stop tearing up when Simba takes his rightful place in Pride Rock, I’m no longer held back by sensitivity as a weakness. In fact, wielded in the right way, I think it’s a strength. It’s what fills my head with imagery as a writer, it’s what lets me empathize with everyone around me, and it’s what makes life so much richer an experience.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

My life is no longer overflowing with sensitivity – it’s flowing with inspiration. Everywhere I look, I am surrounded by potential and motivation. I want to take everything I’ve learned in high school and change the world with knowledge. I want to throw myself into Boston head first, arms open. I want to read every book in existence, and let the words push me forward.

I devoured A Homemade Life in one afternoon several weeks ago. It’s by my hero Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette, and it’s beautiful. She weaves every story with family and food and love, tying everything in her life to the meals she remembers. “Inspiring” feels like an understatement – I want to write a book like that someday.

But for now, maybe I can be satisfied with baking food like that today. When I saw her recipe for white chocolate coeur de la crème, I couldn’t stop myself from making it that very evening. It’s a mousse made with cream, cream cheese, and white chocolate, chilled and served in dollops with berry puree. It was everything she’d described – creamy, soft, simultaneously airy and substantial – brought to life.

White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

It’s incredible how my view of the world has changed in four years. What will the next four bring?

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June 16, 2010 at 11:21 pm 72 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 91 comments

Vanilla Bean Jasmine Rice Pudding

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Nobody understands it, but for some inexplicable reason I like to work in the dark.

Well, not complete darkness. But as long as there’s a bit of gold left in the sky, I flick the light switches off before preheating the oven or leaving out the butter. I watch the lightbulb gradually dim until all that’s left is the little red glow of the filament, like the scarlet flicker of a snake’s tongue, until that too goes out in a snap. Then I get to work.

I throw open all of the curtains. Despite the chrome-colored damper of winter in Seattle, there’s a natural light that filters through the glass and brightens the kitchen in a way that artificial light cannot. I like the shadows that fall from the measuring cups on the counters. I like the burnt-edged way my photographs come out, and despite my father’s eye rolls and my friends’ confusion, I like the way I feel at home.

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Some days I want to tackle big projects, like French pastries and gourmet spice profiles. I feel ambitious, and I turn on the lights to help me keep focused.

But sometimes I’m having one of those afternoons where I want my mind to de-clutter. I had one of those last week. I wore my oversized hunter green sweater and soft brown slippers to school, calling it “the macaroni and cheese of clothing.” In a word, it’s comfort. That day, I wanted to eat something just as simple and comforting as a day in sweatpants or a kitchen bathed in vanilla-sugar light.

It’s always hard to decide what to make. I usually pick based on what I feel like baking, since that’s where I derive most of my joy. But that day, I focused on what I felt like eating. I couldn’t think of anything that satisfied my craving, though, so I heated water to make myself a cup of jasmine green tea instead. That’s when it came to me.

When I stumbled upon rice pudding, I felt my heels lift off the floor a little, and then I could think about nothing else. Rice pudding is my very favorite comfort food – creamy, soft, and studded with a million little vanilla bean seeds.

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It’s funny. I don’t like to waste money or ingredients, so I have a “vanilla scale” in order to save on both. I have two brands of vanilla extract – one cheap and one quality – and two brands of vanilla beans – one cheap and one quality.

I use the cheap vanilla extract for experiments and where it “doesn’t matter,” in muffins and scones. I save the good vanilla beans for dishes where they’ll shine, in my opinion where they belong: ice cream, custards, and really good rice pudding.

I didn’t even blink before deciding to use one of my most precious vanilla beans for this rice pudding. As I began to cook the rice, I had a sudden stroke of inspiration. I quickly lit another burner on the stove, poured in the milk, and added three of my family’s favorite jasmine green tea bags.

I didn’t know how it would turn out. I didn’t even consider that it might be awful and ruin my vanilla bean. I just inhaled the fragrant steam coming up from the jasmine milk, and the powerful aroma of the vanilla bean seeds speckled on my fingers. I knew I wasn’t making a mistake.

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The pudding came together quickly. I felt more and more serene with every stir of the wooden spoon. The kitchen was warm, and my heart felt full. I held a warm bowl of rice pudding and curled up in the rocking chair in our living room, the one by the huge window that stretches from floor to ceiling. I took the first spoonful of rice pudding.

Oh, oh, oh, the jasmine was so not a mistake!

I didn’t taste it at first, just the beautiful woody creaminess of the vanilla. But then there it was, quietly, floral notes that crept up like crocuses in spring. The slight flowery bitterness of the jasmine green tea, complimented perfectly by the vanilla… I turned off my cell phone and put away my iPod. Then I got myself another bowl of rice pudding and snuggled into the chair until the very last ray of light went out in a snap.

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February 8, 2010 at 10:18 pm 62 comments

Striped Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

Lately it seems like I’ve had a lot of bad days. More like a lot of bad weeks. Everyone has those days where nothing goes right, where it seems like the flowers close when you walk by and the clouds begin to leak rain. But when those “once in a while” days turn into every other day, you start to feel discouraged.

I don’t know what it’s been. It started with an unpleasant day in school a few weeks ago, when one of my teachers gave everyone low marks on the final. We all protested but she stayed firm and unyielding. I heard the harshness in her voice and I felt in that moment that her only joy in life came from punishing us.

The following period only made matters worse. It’s a “bird class” – the kind that’s so easy, you fly through with a free A, but that day we had a substitute teacher and everyone acted up. I didn’t find it amusing, but found myself powerless and unmotivated to stand up and help her as she slowly lost control of the class. As the day drew to a close, I realized with dread I’d left some important paperwork at home, and that was the last straw as the sky opened up and began to pour.

A week later, I was spending my weekend afternoon on my bed, trying to sort out a college application. It was a particularly frustrating application, with all sorts of strange requirements and vague instructions that were testing my temper. I must have called twenty people for help on filling it out, but all I got was twenty different opinions, all conflicting. I sat there the whole day, just building up more and more tension until I had to stop looking at the unfinished page.

My friend chose that low, hopeless moment to call me with a complaint and a desire to fight, but I didn’t have any fight in me. As she yelled and I felt our friendship ending, I couldn’t take any more. My heart felt as tender as a badly bruised peach. I quietly hung up, feeling the worst I’d felt all week, and trying not to let it break me.

Usually at moments like that, I turn to the kitchen. But because of all my commitments, I haven’t had as much time to bake as I’d like. I’ve missed three of my friend’s birthdays to date, even though I’ve had their special birthday cakes planned out since the summer. There’s also baked goods I want to make for many people in my life I’m thankful for – teachers, college advisers, my SAT prep tutors. But those have to stay on hold a little while longer.

I decided to make these Striped Peppermint Meringues with Dark Chocolate Ganache as an escape from my stress. They looked beautiful, festive (hello, December) and delicious. Plus, I knew this was a recipe I could do in my sleep. I’ve made this meringue countless times as part of my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream, and I’ve never had difficulties with chocolate ganache. As I cracked the eggs, I felt calmness rise in me from my toes up, like a paper towel touched to water.

The meringue whipped into stiff peaks without trouble. I pulled out the whisk and examined the thick, glossy swirl of meringue and couldn’t help but feel peace. I pulled out my camera and took a photo of the meringue, thinking about this post. The last step before piping was to beat in a little peppermint extract. I measured out the half teaspoon and poured it into the meringue, and switched the mixer on.

I knew right away something was wrong.

The mixer began to churn and the meringue deflated in about two seconds right before my eyes. What had once been stiff, shiny meringue was now a soft, pepperminty mess, and I suddenly felt betrayed even by my KitchenAid. It felt like too much to handle.

My dad calls days like this “deviled egg days.” He told me the story as he drove me home on a particularly bad day. I was keeping my head turned and looking at the raindrops trail down the window so he couldn’t see my face, but he didn’t get discouraged.

He described a dinner party he was serving, where deviled eggs were on the menu. He threw dozens of eggs into the boiling water, only to look down and see that the eggs had broken. He went to the store and bought dozens more. On his second try, the eggs were impossible to peel, and he was forced to toss them as well. At his limit, he bought more eggs and tried a third time. He made them just right this time, and arranged them on a platter. He turned around to move the platter out of the kitchen and accidentally banged it on the counter. All the eggs slid onto the floor, unsalvageable.

I turned to look at him for the first time. “What did you do?”

He smiled and said, “I realized there weren’t going to be any deviled eggs. I just moved on, and as it turned out, nobody missed them.”

I was thinking about his words as I looked back down at the meringue. I’d whipped it another 10 minutes, hoping it would increase in volume again, but it stayed resolutely flat. But the oven was preheated, the sheets were lined with parchment, and I decided to go ahead and try them. I prepared the bag and piped them in neat stars, which drooped and failed to keep their lines. I pushed them into the oven anyway.

When they came out, they weren’t as tall or pointy as they should have been. But they tasted nice, like the holidays and after-dinner mints, so I made the ganache too. I decided they looked very cute, and the meringues were really complemented by the chocolate. In the end, I guess my kitchen wasn’t betraying me – maybe it was trying to teach me something.

I haven’t had any bad days since December began, and I’m glad to see the end of them. This morning was stunning. At dawn, I stepped outside with my camera to photograph the frigid beauty around me: a pale white sun in a cotton-candy sky and the frost-kissed Japanese maple leaves. I breathed in the fresh air and felt my fingers grow numb, and I smiled the whole way to school.

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December 3, 2009 at 8:53 pm 230 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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