Posts tagged ‘lavender’

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 94 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

She’s Back, and She Brought Ice Cream

So much has happened, and in the whirlwind of last week I haven’t been able to get to my blog. (I feel like I’m writing in my diary or something.) Last Friday was my last exam (AP Bio, the hardest one yet) and then Saturday was prom (exciting, as I’m not even a senior yet.) Then school started to pick up, and everything just happened. I even had to miss out on the DB May challenge.

I’m sorry!

Thanks for sticking through with me though. It’s been a record 11 days since my last post – I’ve been counting – and it’s been awful. It’s almost as bad as not baking. But thankfully there is a lot of good stuff to come.

First of all, half of my birthday present has arrived: my camera! A Canon Rebel XTi and it is so beautiful. I want to put on gloves before I touch it. I’ve kept the bubble wrap around it. I can’t believe it’s real! The second half, my lens, should come this week. I am so ready to say goodbye to Kodak!

Secondly, now that testing and prom are both over, I am free to do a lot more baking… and non-baking, like this Lavender Ice Cream. The original creator called it “outrageously sexy and delicious.” He wasn’t kidding.

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May 30, 2009 at 5:36 pm 24 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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