Posts tagged ‘nuts’

Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers)

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Lately, I’ve been in a writing rut.

I’ve been in food ruts where I made the same types of desserts over and over, and I’ve had weeks where inspiration simply escaped me. I’ve had photography ruts, too, where every post would somehow have the same style of photographs. I think every food blogger has those moments where you long to shoot images of vintage cars, textured bark or copper kettles, anything but another cookie.

These days, I haven’t had any recent baking disasters and my photography can only improve. But I’ve never experienced a writing rut before, and even stringing those two words together makes my heart ache like a bruised peach. I can’t describe how stifling and disheartening it feels to have nothing to say. I have never felt speechless before, and it makes me feel cloudless and empty.

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I tried to pinpoint where it started, and I think I know. Last month the blog received more attention than usual and got some national exposure. I was out of town the week that it happened, and when I came home, I was startled by the sudden spike in subscriptions and Facebook friend requests. All my numbers had gone up, thirty times my usual number of hits, and more comments than I could read in an hour.

At first, I was exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to post again, and I was so touched that 17 and Baking meant something to so many new people. But as I started sifting through the comments, I encountered something I’d never expected to read on my site – wisps of negativity that deflated any of my short-lived joy.

I’ve never received disparaging comments before. I mean, it’s one thing when a recipe doesn’t work out for somebody or when I’ve made a silly mistake on my post. But amongst the flood of new comments were little pebbles of cruelty, a silt of snide comments and offhand criticisms. I knew those people shouldn’t matter. I knew nobody with a dream or a zest for life would write “Who cares?” on a 17 year old’s blog.

But honestly? I’m not kidding anyone, especially not myself. Those comments did matter to me.

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I remember for the first time, dreading my next post. Although only a tiny percentage of comments from the recent exposure had been discouraging, the damage was done. I considered writing about my hesitations and reservations, or about how I found the strength to move on. But nothing I wrote rang true, and ultimately, I didn’t want to display my disappointment and tarnished confidence to the world. That isn’t the kind of person I am.

I wrote a lighthearted post instead, and kept my feelings to myself for once. And somehow, inexplicably, I lost my voice for a few weeks. I was unsatisfied with everything I wrote, and I finally had the last straw when I rewrote last week’s post four times before posting, and still was unhappy with the result. I wanted to find my passion again.

Passion, not flour or sugar, is the life of this blog. I refuse to let it wilt, because this blog has truly had a tangible impact on my life. I can feel it stirring in the back of my mind when I’m home alone, making hot chocolate and trying to find matching socks. I feel it pulsing through my veins when I walk to class, wet leaves still clinging to my boots. And I feel it most of all in my heart when I read your comments and emails, because nothing makes me as happy and enriches my life as much as your words.

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Last week I discovered that I was nominated in the category of “Best Weblog By a Teen” in the 10th annual Weblog Awards, and it lifted my spirits in an unbelievable way. I felt like I was made out of thin air, or quite possibly liquid sunshine. I’m so honored and thrilled to be part of this year’s nominations!

Browsing this year’s nominees has also shown me plenty of great sites I wouldn’t have found on my own. None of the other teen nominees are specifically food bloggers, but their interests range from current issues to fashion to daily ponderings. I definitely encourage you to check out this year’s weblogs and maybe even vote for 17 and Baking! [2/28/10 Update: You might like to know that I won. :) ]

I finally feel like I have found my voice again with this post. The words came out easily once more, like the dusk I’ve been swept in has finally dissipated. When I finished writing this post and read it over in a final edit, I felt a deep satisfaction that I’d nearly forgotten.

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I don’t know if it’s the nomination, the passing of time, or the fact that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was pleasantly easy. All I know is that I am bursting with metaphors and adjectives, I have so much that I want to say and so much I want to learn. I’m so lucky to know where my passions are and to have the means to pursue them with everything I have, and I can’t help but look forward to February with a considerably lighter heart.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and http://www.nanaimo.ca.

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January 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm 136 comments

The Daring Bakers Practice Their French Kissing – Cinnamon and Cream Cheese Macarons

When I was in elementary school, I had a neighbor who I always played with, N-. I looked up to her for most everything – she was smart, pretty, and just older than me to have unquestionable authority. Whenever we played, whether it was pretend school or board games, she set the rules and stage of everything we did.

One day a new bike appeared on N-‘s front lawn. At nine years old I thought it was utterly, undeniably the most perfect and beautiful bicycle I’d ever seen. The body was a seamless silver not yet smudged by fingerprints, with a shiny white seat and handles. Little blue glittery flowers adorned the spokes of the wheels, blurring into a pretty aqua streak when the bike smoothly accelerated. My own bike, which I’d cherished for years, suddenly seemed babyish in comparison with sparkles on its handlebars and a pink vinyl basket perfect for stuffed animals. But worst of all, my childish pink bike had training wheels – more shameful proof of my inability to match up to N-.

I waited for N- to come back from middle school that day, sitting on my front step. When she waved hello, I took a deep breath, and visualized the words I’d been reciting and editing and reciting again over and over in my head. What came out was simply, “Can I ride it?”

N-‘s smile faded and she looked back at the bike, back at me. There is something so irresistible about ownership, something that’s yours, something still new and shiny. Even as children we appreciated possession of something beautiful. Unfortunately, this meant N- was less inclined to share her new toy with an untrustworthy neighbor still in the single digits.

“No,” was all she had to say about that. When she saw my face crumple, she added hastily, “But only because you don’t know how to ride a two wheeler. That’s all. You’d crash it and break it and I just got it new.”

Naturally, then, there was only one thing to do – learn to ride a bike without training wheels.

I had only tried to ride a two wheeler once before. I owned a dark purple bike without training wheels that my mother’s co-worker had given us, but I had never been enchanted by it. With its unattractive black stripes, lack of sparkles, and too-tall seat, I had been more than happy to stick to my pink baby bicycle. Not only did it feel safer, I found it a much more beautiful way to get around.

When my mother initially brought the purple bike home, we did try to use it in the park. Mom held the back of the bicycle seat as I pedaled, but no matter how strongly she tried to convince me that she was holding on, I couldn’t help but constantly look back to make sure she was still there. I never gained the confidence or proper motivation to master the two wheeler. Even though mom bought me a full set of knee and elbow pads, I stubbornly gave up.

Having had a few years to mature and a chance to ride N-‘s bike was the perfect push. I immediately went to our garage and lifted out the ugly purple bike I’d never expected to ride again. I wheeled it over to a grassy slope near my house, and snapped on my helmet with a loud click. I was going to be riding this bike by the end of the day, or scrape my knees raw trying.

That day, I spent three hours on that grassy hill. I started by sitting on the bike and simply letting it roll down the slope without pedaling, until I could maintain my balance well enough. Then I repeated the process, this time pedaling the bike as I went. I fell over more times than I could count, staining my jeans green and scraping my palms, but every time I stood back up and got back on. When I could finally ride my bike on the sidewalk all the way back to my house without falling once, I knew I had finally done it.

As it turned out, N- still didn’t want to share, and I never did get the chance to play with her beautiful bike. But I’d learned something valuable in the process, something that I’ve kept with me long after that shiny new bike dulled and N- moved far away. Besides finally graduating to the two wheeled bike, I learned the power of perseverance. When I am truly determined, I can accomplish anything with enough effort, even if it means a few scrapes along the way.

Hugely, this concept has proved true for the Daring Bakers. The lavendar milanos that I made over and over before tasting success come to mind first, and the Dobos Torte that I had to attempt twice. When I saw the Daring Baker’s October challenge, I groaned.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macarons are among the most notorious desserts in the food blogging world, as temperamental and difficult as high school boys. They’ve been on my goal list for months, but to be truthful, I probably would have never been brave enough to attempt them. The Daring Baker’s challenge provided exactly the push I needed. Though I knew I would probably break some eggs, throw a spatula in frustration, and have to make macarons over and over – possibly without success – I felt up to the challenge.

So imagine my surprise when I made the macarons and they came out more beautifully than I would have believed, on my first attempt! I drew the first batch out of the oven and saw to my shock and delight that they had little ruffled feet. While they could have been smoother, taller, and had more perfect feet, I couldn’t have been happier with my results. And the flavor profile I chose evokes warm cinnamon rolls or snickerdoodle cookies.

And now, as a 17 year old in the kitchen, the smell of cinnamon and cream cheese is just as appealing as a gleaming new bike.

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October 27, 2009 at 12:33 am 44 comments

Baking with an Honorary Daring Baker – Mini Dobos Torte

It’s a strange thing. I absolutely adore being in the kitchen, baking, fueling this blog with sugar and creativity. And it’s without a doubt that I’m a social person. I like being with other people and spending time with my friends. But put them together? It doesn’t always ensure a good time. The honest truth is, I rarely enjoy baking with other people.

I’m not sure why. I guess it’s a bunch of little things… other people don’t know where the pans are, the tools, the ingredients. I know, silly. And they don’t really get the baking techniques. While I don’t mind teaching people, you can only do it to a point before you feel condescending. I would rather do it alone than give people the clearly “easy and boring” jobs like stirring, making them feel useless.

My explanation sounds sort of unreasonable written out like that, but I’m happy to say I am proved wrong sometimes. Take earlier this week, when my friend T- came over for dinner and to work on my top secret Daring Baker’s challenge.

Maybe it worked because T- is such a great friend. This is the girl who bought me a vanilla bean for my birthday and was one of the first people to start reading 17 and Baking. She brought green plums her family picked and a really delicious orange-water flan. Even though this month’s challenge was pretty difficult, she was up for the challenge and we had a really great time!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torte is really quite stunning. Five layers of super-thin sponge cake, dark chocolate buttercream, chopped hazelnuts, and a caramel-coated layer of cake. I was so intimidated by it that I waited until the last possible minute. When T- came over, we had the baking possibilities narrowed down to cake or breakfast pastry when T- said she was willing to tackle the Dobos Torte.

We pored over size, height, shape… T- saw firsthand just how crazy and stressed (the good kind) I get about my DB challenges. Finally we decided on 6″ rounds. We made the buttercream first, and it wasn’t as tricky as I was worried it would be. The result was smooth, rich, velvety chocolate frosting. After that we tacked the cake. It definitely wasn’t as easy. We cracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar, but without experience, we couldn’t get the batter just right. After baking, the rounds of cake were really eggy and did not want to come off the pan.

But we had a great dinner that night, sitting outside and talking until the mosquitos and flying ants/beetles showed up. After tackling the massive mountain of dishes, I took one look at our cake rounds and decided I’d just have to redo it.

As I started baking late on the 25th, I told myself I’d never wait this long to complete a challenge again. It’s incredible how the 27th of each month creeps up on you. My summer felt even shorter as I looked back on the milanos of the July challenge. I recracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar again, but this time the batter seemed better. I chose to make teeny 2″ cakes and ended up with a towering stack of matchstick-thin layers.

Using the successful buttercream that T- and I made, I assembled and frosted two tiny 10 layer cakes and topped them with whole hazelnuts. In my defense I did attempt the caramel topping (twice.) Since I read that nearly every Daring Baker had not liked the caramel-cake topping, I decided to make the caramel and pour it into designs instead. The first time I burned the caramel so badly, it poured out like blackest chocolate. The second time I didn’t heat the sugar hot enough and while it was a beautiful amber color, it was too flexible and stuck to the paper. I tried!

In the end, after so much trial and error, the cakes did taste good. It reminded me of a ferrero rocher candy. As I ate it I got the impression that a Dobos Torte baked by someone who really knew what they were doing would taste amazing. Mine tasted good, but not necessarily worth the effort. I think the buttercream is something I would make again because it was so simple.  As for the caramel, it’s something I know I’ll be trying again.

The final thing I’ll be sure to try again… baking with company. It was just too fun this time to write off!

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August 27, 2009 at 12:01 am 29 comments

A Mojito Bakewell Tart To Beat The Heat – Daring Bakers

It’s nearly July.

You’ve got it in your head that you want to remodel your front yard. You’re going to pull out all the old grass, taking the moss and weeds with it, and replant new seeds. You’re going to transfer your herb garden, plant lots of beautiful flowers, and create a fence with espalier fruit trees – apple, pear, and asian pear. You might even ask your teenage daughter to help once in a while.

And generally, it’s hard work. Hard, hot work. You can drink all the water you want, but what would really cool you off?

A mojito!

I know some of you guys were intrigued by the jelly that I put up earlier this week. There were a lot of great guesses, and some of them got pretty close but nobody got it quite right. It turns out, this little jar is much more than a delicious batch of lime and mint jelly. It’s part of this month’s Daring Bakers challenge!

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

The Bakewell Tart is a tart crust spread with jam, jelly, curd, or even chocolate, and then topped with moist, spongy almond frangipane. For the challenge we were asked to make the crust and frangipane as instructed, but we had freedom over the jelly.

I’d never made jelly by myself before, so I knew that I definitely wanted to make that part of the challenge. I played with so many different flavors in my head before finally settling on lime and mint. It’s a slightly unusual combination for a jelly, and it sounded so utterly different and refreshing that I knew it would make this pretty challenge even more special.

When I told my dad my flavor combination, he said, “Why not make mojitos to go along?” So he brought the mint, the limes, and the rum, and I headed next door to ask the neighbors for a bowl of ice. The result was a cool, fresh mojito. It turns out, I really like them. I think I could have probably had one or two all by myself. Luckily my parents and I shared two glasses among us and I was able to really focus on the tart as well. :)

I was a little unsure about how almond would pair with lime and mint, but the tart was super delicious. On its own, the jelly is fantastic. It’s tangy and bursting with flavor, and tastes so bright that everyone is a little surprised when they first try it. In the tart, the flavor was much more subdued. In hindsight, a jam like raspberry, pear, or peach would have probably better fit the tart, but the mojito jelly did add a lovely green stripe and interesting twist to an otherwise straightforward dessert.

The tart crust was a huge hit, especially with my dad. It’s officially my new go-to tart crust. And the frangipane? I’d never made it before, but I can’t get enough of it. I’d love to try making it with other nuts (pistachio or hazelnut, maybe?) and the jelly is definitely a recipe I’ll keep. Three components, three successes… what a challenge!

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June 27, 2009 at 12:00 am 52 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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