Posts tagged ‘meringue’

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 281 comments

Cello Birthday Cake

Ever since I got my license in June, I’ve wanted to drive myself as much as possible. Even though I don’t have my own car, somehow it feels amazing to be able to say, “Hey – I think I’m going to drive to the library and return these books, okay? Be back in a few minutes.” For me, getting into the car, listening to music, and knowing exactly where I’m going to go gives me such a strong sense of freedom and contentment.

I don’t know if adults get this feeling since they’ve been driving for so long. But I really love driving at night, where I follow every curve in the road perfectly and feel comfortable and smooth. And it almost makes class worth it to drive to school in the morning, listening to the radio and taking the route so familiar I could do it with my eyes closed.

And I hope you all still enjoy this, but I love parking the car. It’s such a good feeling to step around the back and see that I’ve parked exactly in the center. Don’t you get happiness from walking away, locking the car with the click of a button and a satisfying beep?

I don’t have my own car, and even though I get to use mom’s whenever available, I still pine for my own. It means I could drive home instead of taking the hour-long bus ride, and it means I wouldn’t need to depend on my friends. Half the time I think I should take all the money I made over the summer and just buy one. The other half of the time I tell myself the money could be used for a vacation after senior year, like for the road trip my friends and I are planning for next summer.

But for now, I just make excuses to drive the car we have. Sure, I could walk, or maybe I could let mom drive, but I need to get practice, right? Especially after I was late to the driving scene. Most of my friends went after their licenses at 16, but I waited. So after months of guiltily asking for rides or walking to the bus stop while my friends walked to the parking lot, it’s nice to do it myself.

But sometimes, you really need to be in the passenger seat.

One of my oldest friends, C- turned 18 last weekend. He is an incredible cellist who plans to pursue music professionally. For his birthday I knew I wanted to make a cello cake. He doesn’t like chocolate, so I played with my favorite swiss buttercream to try and get it brown without cocoa powder. Peanut butter, maple syrup, coffee, nothing produced the right hue. So I put in as little cocoa powder as possible while still ending up with a woody brown frosting. I used my go-to white cake and did all the baking the morning of.

Like always when I make shaped cakes, I found a picture of a cello on the internet and cut the cakes appropriately. I baked cocoa and vanilla shortbread to make the neck and various parts of the cello. Finally, I used gel icing to pipe the f-holes and the strings. Five hours later, I was looking at one of the coolest cakes I’d ever made.

I was home alone, and the original plan was to drive with the cake in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, this unusually shaped cake didn’t fit into any of my cake carriers and I was at a bit of a loss. The cookie neck of the cello proved extremely brittle, and finally I bitterly concluded that I just could not drive there myself. I called four different friends, and only one was available to pick me up, and that was J-.

J- was one of the first to get his license and car, but despite the experience he’s a bit of a reckless driver. He isn’t dangerous, but he resents stop signs and considers speed limits more like suggestions.  He has a tendency to make sharp, unexpected turns and step on the brakes without warning. I wasn’t worried about getting into an accident, but I couldn’t help but picture the cello cake splattered all over my shirt, or a thick coat of frosting on the glove compartment.

Getting the cake into a car was a hassle. He held the door open for me and I carefully got in, putting the cello on my lap. Then he handed me the scroll, which I held in my hand, palm up. As J- pulled out of the driveway he kept asking, “You got it? Should we pull over?”

J- took the speed bumps at two miles per hour. When we got to the main road, he stayed 5 miles below the speed limit and his driving was impressively smooth. Twice, other cars passed us, and I could just see the wistful expression on his face as he let them go by. When we got to C-‘s neighborhood, he made all the winding curves slower than the people using the sidewalk. He parked the car, turned to me and said, “I was more nervous driving you and this cake than I was during my driver’s test. Man.”

Although I got a little frosting on my fingers, we managed to transport the cake without damage straight to the kitchen. C- and everyone else there was blown away by the cake, and laughed as they tried to picture J- practicing defensive driving. Somehow I get the feeling he won’t be driving so slowly again for a long, long time.

After an afternoon in the park and the take-out Chinese, C- cut the cello and ate the f-hole topped slice. He ended the night with a performance with his real cello, and I accepted a ride home with a smile on my face and yummy cake in my belly.

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September 19, 2009 at 5:28 pm 94 comments

Love and Pastry Cream

I’d like to clear something up – not everything goes according to plan. In fact, I probably endure more angst and heartbreak in the kitchen than in my high school. Sure there’s homecoming coming up and some share of senior year drama, but really, it’s all minor compared to some of the disasters that come out of my oven.

I’ve had meltdowns in the kitchen. Lie-on-the-kitchen-floor, seriously-consider-smashing-plates, cry-and never-want-to-get-up meltdowns. Some of the mistakes have been simply frustrating, like the Daring Baker milanos that just did not want to be oval shaped. Some have been so meaningless that I shrugged, threw out the inedible bits, and moved on. Some have been genuinely funny, like the blueberry corn pancakes I made for breakfast (see above photo) where in the end I stopped putting blueberries in because honestly, why waste blueberries on awful pancakes?

But my worst baking failures, the most bitter disappointments, have all somehow been father related. My very first ambitious project was for my dad’s birthday a few years ago. I tackled a triple mousse chocolate cake which… well, five hours passed and all I had for my effort was a sticky, teetering pile of dishes and a failed mousse that could only be described as a waste of ingredients.

For father’s day, I knew I wanted to make eclairs. Although my dad is a great cook he isn’t a huge fan of baking, but he has always baked to make my birthday special. One year, he made large chocolate eclairs for every girl at my party. Before and since then, I’ve always loved his eclairs. I’d never made pate a choux or pastry cream before but figured it couldn’t be that difficult. Oh, boy.

The first time I overbaked the eclairs and the pastry cream was eggy and rubbery. You’d think that anything with milk, cream, butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla would be wonderful – but now, I know better. The morning of, I decided my overdone eclairs wouldn’t cut it and tried again. This time, scared, I underbaked them. I didn’t have time to make more pastry cream, and the chocolate glaze… I don’t know how I ruined chocolate glaze, but there was too much corn syrup and it had the consistency of gloop. Dad tried to scrape some up with a spatula, but it slid right off. That stuff could make pans nonstick, if you could get it to stick to the pan.

For dad’s birthday this weekend, I was determined to get it right. I was going to make Boston Cream Pie, one of his childhood favorites. I would get pastry cream and chocolate glaze right, or die trying. I decided to go with a sponge cake instead of yellow cake for a lighter pie, and simply crossed my fingers.

Maybe I’d stocked up on good karma, or maybe I really have learned a thing or two, but somehow, it all went according to plan. The sponge cake was light and spongy, the pastry cream was sweet and creamy and rich, and the chocolate glaze was perfectly shiny and thick. When Dad came into the kitchen and dipped a finger in the pastry cream, I held my breath. “Pretty good,” he said, and I felt it would all be okay. When he’d finished his first slice before I’d cut my own, I knew it was more than okay – it was great.

I’d like to give a shout out to my dad, who will probably be the first and last person to read this post. He checks my blog more often than I do; he has always supported me in baking. Even when I break 18 eggs or serve him gross blueberry pancakes (which, by the way, he ate) he supports me.  He was the only person I told when I got my very first comment on this blog, and he kept me going even when I thought I was going no where. He is the first person I bounce Daring Baker ideas off of at the beginning of each month and, okay, his ideas are usually better than mine.

I have wanted to write this post since Father’s Day and it’s a shame I had no dessert to write about then. But at the moment there is no Boston Cream Pie left, as he took the last “slice” (about a third of the whole thing) last night. As he closed the refrigerator door he commented, “Leftover pastry cream and ganache… sounds like you should make eclairs.”

Happy birthday dad, I love you!

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September 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm 54 comments

Mini Cocoa and Banana Pavlovas and a whole lotta trouble

Pavlova. The word rolls off of your tongue, all at once light and alluring, heavenly and undeniably delicious. Pavlova.

I decided to make it for three reasons. First, it looked gorgeous and I was curious to try it. Second, I wanted to make it chocolate and submit it to Poornima’s “For the Love of Chocolate” event. And finally, I was meeting my Grandma to celebrate her birthday and this seemed perfect. Like me, my mother had never heard of it before. “How do you spell it?” she asked.

T-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Pavlova is not entirely difficult. It’s a meringue base, with a thin crisp outer crust and a chewy, marshmallowy inside. The meringue nest is topped with freshly whipped cream and fresh fruit. The whole thing melts in your mouth, and the sweetness of the meringue is cut by the fruit and the cream, if unsweetened. So why did this little dessert give me such a hard time?

Right off the bat, I broke 18 eggs. I was opening the fridge to take out the four eggs needed for the pavlovas. One moment, I was talking, with the four eggs in my hand. The next moment, my mother had pushed me all the way over to the cabinets in an attempt to stop me, but alas – the empty container slid guiltily on the floor and sacrificed every egg along the way. While my four egg whites came to room temperature, I wiped up the floor and tried to keep the dogs from licking the splattered raw yolk.

But it was about to get much, much more embarrassing.

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April 7, 2009 at 2:59 am 18 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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