Posts tagged ‘pie’

Coconut Pecan “Why Not” Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

17 and Baking turns two years old this week. I almost missed it.

In the past, I spent afternoons alone in the kitchen, flour dusting my palms and lots of quiet thoughts in my head. Afterwards I wrote about the baking process, my love for fresh ingredients, the joy of brainstorming desserts and sharing them with my family. I had more ideas than photographs.

I went a record-breakingly long time without posting as of today. Looking at my life it’s clear why I’m struggling to blog. Though I’m happier than ever, I’m living between sips of coffee and half hour power-naps. The biggest issue is that I haven’t been baking. At all. I use photographs of desserts I baked last summer to keep this blog running. While there’s a trunk of baking supplies beneath my bed and a working oven in the dorm building down the street, I haven’t used it once this year.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

Over Thanksgiving and winter break, reunited with family, I obligingly creamed butter and whipped cream, but frankly, much of the magic was gone. I’ve never lost my passions for writing, photography and baking, but my weariness shows. I’m scared that 17 and Baking is in decline, that I’m losing something I consider such an important part of myself.

My boyfriend I-’s birthday was a few Fridays ago. He wanted to go up to Maine and spend several days with his family, and at the last minute I went along too.

“You’ll be able to bake,” he said, convincing me to come.

I was nervous to meet his parents and sister and his friends, more nervous than I wanted to let on. But for the first time in a long time, I was excited to make something for his birthday. That outburst of butterflies in my chest was so comfortingly familiar, so nearly forgotten, it was almost painful.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

The next afternoon we drove to the local grocery store. I’m not used to buying staples at once – usually I have all the basic ingredients on hand, though I might need more chocolate slabs or an unusual spice. We picked up flour, sugar, heavy cream, local homemade butter. But I couldn’t decide what to make. I hadn’t flipped through a cookbook or wanted to make something in so long, and I actually felt out of my element in the baking aisle.

I- kept making suggestions, and I kept shooting them down. The possibilities were overwhelming. “You have to pick something,” he said finally as we wheeled the cart around the entire store for the third or fourth time. “Make a pecan pie.”

Why not?

We threw pecans into the cart. “Maybe some walnuts?” I- was holding another bag. “Those might be good with the pecans.” Into the cart. “Milk chocolate toffee bits? In the pie? Yes?” Yes. He kept smiling whenever he saw me start to smile back.

I don’t always like getting a million suggestions from someone else when it comes to baking, but I didn’t mind. Even when he paused at the end of the aisle and added, “You should put in some coconut.” I know my dad will picture my usual eye-roll and heavy sigh but instead I said, “Why not?”

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

I watched every bag, carton, box pass across the scanner and pack into shopping bags. I helped carry them to the car trunk. At the house, I arranged them on the counter and stared for a good minute. It felt unreal.

I winged a good deal of the recipe, just throwing things in. I-’s mom and sister popped in a few times to see how I was making the pie totally from scratch. There was a moment when the crust was in the freezer and the nuts were all chopped in a bowl and suddenly I felt like I was breathing for the first time in months.

I-’s family and I ate dinner together as the pie cooled in the kitchen. When the plates were cleared, I’-s dad went next door to borrow a bit of bourbon so I could make bourbon whipped cream. I beat the cream to stiff peaks, folded in the bourbon, and cut the pie. I could feel my heart thumping and the heat rising to my cheeks as the first slices made it to the table, so nervous. What if it wasn’t good? What if I was really, really out of practice?

“Oh my gosh,” somebody said, and round 2 of pie became a reality.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

Later I- and I brought a wedge of pie over to the neighbors, along with some whipped cream. It turned out the bourbon was decades old, saved from a wedding. I couldn’t believe something so special had been opened and shared. When I- and I headed back to his house, I kept hoping the pie would be delicious, wanting them to get as much happiness from it as possible.

None of the whipped cream survived the night, but in the morning, I pulled out the Canon and shot some food photography for the first time in too long.

An out-of-the-blue pecan pie, dropped into my life weeks before 17 and Baking turns two. There are a lot of things I love about this pie – it’s sophisticated and rustic, unfussy with complex flavors. It isn’t overly sweet or sticky and there’s no light corn syrup involved. I love that my boyfriend came up with most of it. I love that it was shared and gobbled up embarrassingly fast. In so many ways, this pie reminded me of why I love to bake and why I’ll continue to blog.

Happy birthday, 17 and Baking. Eat some pie.

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March 15, 2011 at 1:43 am 80 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.

pie1wm

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.

pie2wm

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.

pie6wm

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.

pie4wm

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March 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm 46 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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