Posts tagged ‘orange’

For the Love of Chocolate-Dipped, Almond-Orange Biscotti

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My friend A- once said to me, “You know you’re in love when you know all the little quirks about someone, and you wouldn’t change a thing.” Somewhere between whipping my first egg whites and preheating my new oven, I realized that phrase rang truest for my kitchen.

I know exactly where to set chilled sticks of butter, since I’ve discovered my kitchen’s one warm spot (between the KitchenAid and the sink.) I could organize the knife drawer in the dark. I love this room, even though the shelves are all breaking and the paint is peeling and half of the lights have burned out.

It’s the little things. It’s the way the refrigerator door swings open with a sigh and gently refuses to shut. It’s the way the silver knobs on the cabinets sparkle when 10 AM light shines through. It’s the way the walls creak when the heater turns on, the way the dishwasher churns, the way each drawer has a distinct sound when rolled open. My kitchen has a life of its own.

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Only the kitchen has this magic. Our living room, painted sage-green and brightened with daffodil-yellow couches, is rarely touched. The office is simply a storage room for photocopied recipes in manila folders and staggering stacks of cookbooks. And my little blue bedroom is merely the place where I sleep, dreaming of Tahitian vanilla.

As an only child, I spend a great deal of time home alone. I get out of school before noon and my mother doesn’t get off work until six. I finish homework, I answer emails, I bake shortbread cookies and listen to This American Life. I like to throw open all the curtains and drink chocolate soymilk all by myself in our tiny house.

It could be lonely, but it isn’t. I like the peaceful stillness and quiet, and I like getting to know the place I call home.

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In the past, I might have been scared. I was the child who didn’t ride roller coasters, screamed at the sight of spiders, and needed a nightlight and soft background noise to sleep. I was frequently teased by my braver friends for preferring Shirley Temple to Goosebumps.

I’m getting better. I’ll ride a coaster if it doesn’t go upside down. I take half an hour to trap spiders and set them free (can’t bear to kill them.) And I’ve tried watching scary movies. But I always spend the entire film with my hands over my face, pressing into the people beside me, whispering, “Is it over?” After sitting through them, I can barely muster the courage to stand up and turn on the lights.

I don’t know what I was thinking one afternoon earlier this week, when I sat on the bed home alone and decided to watch a horror movie.

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It was free on our cable. I had just put a tray of biscotti dough in the oven, the timer set to half an hour. I watched the movie with the covers drawn up to my nose and both feet on the bed (you never know what’s lurking beneath the mattress.) The lights were off in the bedroom and the hallway, so the entrancing glow of the TV was all I could see.

The main character was about to be slaughtered. I could tell by the music and the lengthening shadows, the lamb-like expression of panic and horror on the heroine’s face. I began to sweat. I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t stick my arm out to grasp for the remote. The music swelled, her mouth stretched into a scream, and I was paralyzed, I – BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

The oven timer went off on the other side of the house and I nearly fell off the bed.

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But when I thought about the biscotti in the oven and the lovely scent of almond wafting through the walls, all terror faded. I didn’t linger on my fear or imagine monsters in the shadows. I leapt from the bed, ran down the unlit hallway and into the kitchen without a second thought.

The almond-orange biscotti needed to bake three times, and then get dipped in dark chocolate. That meant I had to get up and cross the cold, dusky hallway four times during the course of the movie. It was a mistake to watch that film, frightening enough to give me nightmares. But it was nowhere near as scary as the possibility of burning those light, crisp biscotti.

The things you do for love. Oh, how I adore that kitchen.

[PS: It’s been a week since I was rejected from my dream school. It still hurts, but I can’t tell you how many times I read through all 90+ comments on my last post and felt a little lighter. Thanks for your stories of rejection, heartbreak, success and hope. Every one of them helped.]

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April 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm 52 comments

Symphony of Sugar

Tangerine Meringue Tart with Chocolate Crust

As my friends’ schedules become increasingly hectic and I continue to get by without a car, recently I’ve been taking the bus more and more.

For a long time, I resented it. There is not a lot to love about public transportation.

I’ve spent too many afternoons running behind a just-missed bus or waiting listlessly for an hour, so I’ve become overly cautious and give myself too much time. I rush out of school in that awkward state between walking and running, my backpack heavy against my shoulders, moving quickly to get to the stop. I stare at the stretch of road, trying to see the green roof of the bus emerge from around the bend, and I hate feeling as though the bus will never come.

Most of all, I hate the weary ride itself. It’s an hour long ride to my house, even though it’s a 15 minute trip by car, and the hour never passes quickly. My bus has sticky seats, a dirty floor, the smell of too many people come and gone and a lurching, roundabout movement that leaves me grouchy.

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But the good news is that I’ve found an escape. I tuck my ipod into the pocket of my backpack every morning, and as the bus lumbers towards me I untangle the headphones. I’m almost always tired, so I choose something easygoing and simple, with strings or a soft-spoken correspondent on NPR.

I have the sort of headphones that eliminate your sense of sound. If you put them on without music, the world becomes shockingly silent, the kind of silence that makes you forget what noise was. I no longer hear the man snapping baby carrots between his teeth in the seat behind me, or the obnoxious beat pumping from the row ahead.

Instead it’s like I’m underwater, submerged into a place of only warm drafts and light reflecting against chrome. Everything is nothing, and suddenly I can feel all my other senses so much more acutely – dramatic, but true! I always marvel for a minute at the effect, and then I turn towards the window and turn on a song. Then, for an hour, the world is nothing but the blooming trees slipping past my eyes and the subtle reflection of my face in the glass.

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I listen to music a few hours every day, and for the longest time I tried to make music compatible with baking. But it takes a lot of focus to hear my songs while the mixer is whirring loudly or while water splutters against silverware in the sink. I’ve tried turning on a radio instead, but the sound is washed out every other minute if I need to use the food processor or whip some cream.

I regretfully concluded that the two weren’t compatible after all. So I’ve started working silently, without any other noise at all. I’ve found that the kitchen makes music of its own.

The rhythmic churn of the KitchenAid, the crackle and pop of lighting the stove, the clinks and rolling as I open and shut the aged drawers one after the other. There’s the dingdingding of the timer and the satisfying, gradual pop! of a new jar finally opened. I love the quiet raking noises of zesting a tangerine, the insubstantial thud of a flipped-over cup of flour, and the low, sticky bubble of cooking sugar.

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When I look back, I always remember little details about the baking process. Take this tangerine meringue tart… If I close my eyes and try to bring myself there again, I remember the sandy texture of the tart dough coming together between my fingertips and the silkiness of curd on my spoon. I remember the vivid orange of spilled tangerine juice on the old white counter and the smell of cocoa powder.

And more than anything, I remember the distinct sounds of each component coming together, using every instrument in my kitchen to create something beautiful. Chocolate crust, tangerine curd, marshmallowy meringue… it’s like a symphony in three acts.

I think it might be my favorite song.

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March 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm 46 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

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 90 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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