Posts tagged ‘mascarpone’

17 and Baking Turns One

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17 and Baking turns one year old today.

Can you believe it? I’ve been thinking about 17 and Baking and my passion for food and everything I’ve learned in one year, and I’ll be honest. It’s ridiculous. I never believed for an instant this blog would go anywhere. In fact, I even want to link you all to the first real post I wrote exactly one year ago, where I lament my lack of talent, following, photography skills, and experience. Honestly. It sounds like me, but… it really makes me consider what can happen in one year.

But today, I wanted to do something special. If I really think about it, all of this doesn’t start with that morning in early spring when I decided I wanted to blog about food. Really, it started when I baked my very first cake from scratch at fourteen. For today, I knew I wanted to make that exact cake again – a real full circle.

I remember buying my first cookbook from Costco, somewhat ludicrously, since I’d never had any interest in baking before. I just liked the pretty pictures. And I remember nearly a month later, suddenly being seized in the middle of the night with a desire to do something. I didn’t know it at the time because it was so very new, but it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with now – it’s the urgency to be in my little yellow kitchen with a whisk in one hand and a spoonful of sugar in the other.

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I dug up the untouched cookbook and scanned the pages with an inexplicable hunger, bookmarking everything that looked good – German Chocolate Cake, light-as-air Raspberry Dream Cake, kid-friendly Peppermint Chocolate Cake. I threw open cabinets, trying to centralize all of the random baking supplies in the house. We only had a few pans, and not many baking tools. As it turned out, the only recipe I had all the ingredients for was a rather unglamorous iced sponge cake.

I decided to make it anyway. I remember very clearly trying to measure out the flour, awkward and clumsy and fumbling until I had a soft dusting of flour all over my front. I didn’t know what it meant to cream butter, so I stopped the mixer (not the KitchenAid, but a cheap plastic one) once the butter had sort of formed chunks. I didn’t have much confidence for success when I slid the pan into the oven, but I couldn’t help but feel a satisfying accomplishment either way.

All in all, it was undoubtedly a failure. The cake was supposed to be light and delicate, but it was significantly heavy. The frosting was a total flop, tasting like egg whites. But when I cut that first slice and looked back at the photo in the book, my smile was uncontainable. When I took that first bite, the small triangular tip of that perfect slice, I knew in my heart that it had truly been a complete success.

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I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly skilled baker, not now or then. I’m just a girl who happens to love all things sweet and homemade. Even more than that, I’m just a girl who wants to share her zest for life and make you forget your troubles, even if only for five minutes. Through 9th and 10th grade, I had just as many baking failures as successes, forced to learn as I went. So many times I was discouraged, screaming tantrums at my sunken cupcakes, and I might have given up if it weren’t for the unbelievable gratification of sharing.

I’ll be 18 next month, and no matter how much things have changed since then, that satisfaction from handing out cookies or watching my parents clear their plates is what propels my passion. I can’t help but want to lift weary spirits on a bad day with a lemon bar or light up a neighbor’s face with a slice of pear tart. Isn’t that the whole sense of the blog too, to share a dozen cookies with even more than 12 people? Maybe even with hundreds of people around the world? If I can inspire at least one of those people one morning, then everything is worth it.

So here we are today, everything is different and somehow nothing is different. It’s been one year since I began 17 and Baking, but it’s been four years since I baked that first cake, unquestionably beautiful in my eyes. I decided I would dig up that old cookbook for the second time, now a senior in high school and so much surer than I was back then, and bake that cake again.

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The recipe came together very quickly and very easily, letting me focus more on my nostalgia than on my product. The finished cake smelled delicious, like vanilla and sugar and flour, and I just put my face next to it and inhaled while it cooled. I patiently waited until I could try the first slice. Just like before, I carefully broke off that first perfect bite.

I can’t kid anyone. It wasn’t a very good cookbook, it wasn’t a very good recipe, and frankly, the cake was disgusting. The flavor was strange, the texture was off, and I couldn’t eat more than that one bite.

I wasn’t completely surprised, but definitely disappointed. Somehow, baking the cake that started it all seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first blogoversary. Finally, I decided I would bake another cake, similar to the first, but something actually in line with my taste today. I whipped up a simple hazelnut and mixed berry cake, and when it came out of the oven I knew I’d made the right choice.

Unfortunately, some things seem destined to stay unchanged, and I tried to turn out the cake before it was done. While it was delicious, I was left with a pile of crumbled cake, certainly nothing presentable on the blog. I wondered if it would maybe be funny to blog a failure – but on my one year anniversary?

cake6wm One salvageable piece of the hazelnut berry cake – delicious despite its humble (and crumbled) appearance

I started laughing as I considered the fact that four years later, I was still screwing up. But I couldn’t be in a bad mood. In a way, this seemed like a better representation of 17 and Baking than anything else: the ability to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and persevere. I didn’t have any more hazelnuts or berries, so I shrugged and started again with almonds and lemon. I’d learned from my previous mistakes and the cake came out beautifully. I made a quick mascarpone frosting (no recipe!) and spread it over the cooled cake just like I did before. And that first bite?

Utterly perfect.

Thank you guys… all of you for being here to celebrate with me. :)

cake9wm The recipe for the first cake I baked from scratch, with a slice of one year anniversary cake!

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March 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm 80 comments

Orange-Espresso Tiramisu

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All around my house, tucked into the bottom drawers of my nightstand and slipped between cushions in the couch are friendship bracelets. I know it’s dorky. I know it’s third grade. But I can’t help it; I’m drawn to the beautiful, brilliant colors of the thread, and there’s something homey and sweet about a friendship bracelet that I can’t help but find appealing. Knot by knot, keeping the fraying ends wrapped around my fingers, I always start the bracelet with anticipation.

Then it inevitably happens. I keep the bracelet taped to my knee and work while I listen to the radio or watch TV, and I tie a few knots when I can’t fall asleep. But soon I forget, or my fingers begin to stiffen from pulling and untangling the long ends of string. Finally the bracelet is left unfinished somewhere in the house, depending on where I was when I last worked on it.

Weeks later, I’ll stumble across the two-inch-long strip of intricate pattern, the loose strings twisted together into a rainbow knot. I’ll recall my enthusiasm and the care with which I chose the colors, and suddenly the desire to make the bracelet returns again. But instead of picking up where I left off, I start again, choosing new colors and a new design. And the cycle simply repeats.

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I remember when I was little, I did the same thing with writing. Even as a kid in elementary school, I knew I wanted to write books when I grew up. Whenever I saw something beautiful, like an incredible rosy sunset or a weathered stone, I’d try to think of the perfect words to capture it in writing. I was always writing novels in my mind, but only rarely would I ever put them down in pen.

In the middle of the night I’d frequently wake up from a dream so tangible, I’d be scared of losing it. Before the memory could escape me, I had to scribble it down on a scrap of paper, planning to turn it into a story. As I slowly slipped back into sleep, I’d begin to write the first sentences in my head, but come morning, I wouldn’t follow through. Who knows why!

To this day, I am more passionate about the written word than anything else, but it still takes a lot of effort. I’m taking a fiction writing class right now and I’ve never been so excited about a subject before, and the homework is keeping me writing creatively. And 17 and Baking thankfully forces me to reflect on my week and write a bit of nonfiction every week, too! It turns out, all I need is a little responsibility and I’ll rise to the occasion.

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But there’s one thing I do that I rarely ever have to force myself to complete. From sketching ideas in my planner to photographing the final product, I don’t experience any hesitation or reluctance while baking. It isn’t just my obligation to blog. Somehow baking seems effortless, even when it takes a lot of work, and I couldn’t imagine stopping halfway.

I’ve had crash-and-burn disasters which, were they not kitchen related, would ruin my whole day. But when it’s baking, I manage to wash all the dishes in the sink, take a deep breath, and start over. Rather than dampen my spirits, it only fuels my motivation and my determination to see success. Even if I’m starting over for the third time, a dozen eggs cracked, and my hair covered in flour, I manage to find happiness in measuring sugar and melting butter.

I also frequently take on massive tasks or complex assignments. I can easily spend five hours working from start to finish, an accomplishment that might have worn me out in the past. Take this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, which included ladyfingers and a four-component filling. In total, including baking the ladyfingers and assembling, the whole process took a week… Despite a little grumbling, it didn’t ever cross my mind not to finish.

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And the final result? Completely and utterly gorgeous. The tiramisu is creamy and just moist enough, decadent without being heavy. I wouldn’t have expected any less!

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I know I’m a little late this month… whoops. Life got in the way this weekend, but here I am now :) See you all in March!

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February 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm 50 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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