Posts tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

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

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling

I’ve missed this. I’m sitting on a Greyhound bus, long after sundown, and all I can hear is the quiet murmurings of other passengers and the soft clicks as I tap my keys. For the holidays, I’m heading to New York City, and then Pennsylvania, where my uncle and aunt and cousin live. It’s the first time in weeks I’ve had some quiet time to myself, without an assignment or shift or appointment. I’ve missed being able to sit alone with my thoughts and write.

Classes ended this afternoon, and it was unusually quiet on the floor today. Everyone was packing up, unplugging their lamps and emptying their fridges, stopping at every room down the hallway to say goodbye. We’re spreading out from California to Maine, retreating back to where we came from. It’s Thanksgiving break, and even though I’m not flying back to Seattle, it’s got me thinking about home.

I haven’t been in a bus or car in a long time. Back home I used to love, love, love driving alone at night – the way every turn of the car feels smooth and controlled, the open silence on the road, and the glittering pairs of lights in every direction, like cat eyes. Right now, in the dark, it’s easy to imagine I’m in Seattle. I look out the window and realize we’re on I-90, and that if we just kept driving west on this freeway until we hit the opposite coast, I’d be back.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling

It’s not that I’m homesick, because I’m truly not. There’s a soft spot in my heart for Seattle, but at the same time, home is in people, not places. Home is my mom, drinking jasmine tea on our patio. It’s my dad, who’s flying to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. And it’s the people on my floor. I can feel myself falling for the incredible people I’ve met here, and as everyone moves out, I can feel bits of my home scattering across the country. I’m reluctant to leave them, even for a week.

But I see the details of my old life everywhere. It’s begun to rain in Boston, a damp downpour that feels like hot breath on your neck. It makes me think of how green the air smelled and how dark the pavement became in Seattle. Sometimes, in line at Starbucks, I forget where I am. Then I step outside and suddenly realize I’m far away… watching the trees exhale burnt orange and crimson, the kind of seasonal change I always said I wanted to experience.

The other night at the restaurant, I decided to make small talk with one of my tables. They said they were just visiting Boston, and that they’d flown in from – Seattle. We talked a little longer and discovered that we live in the same region. In fact, their daughter goes to my old middle school, is in my gifted program, and is learning from my old teachers. I’d have never known, if they hadn’t sat at this restaurant, at this time, in my section.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling

I’m excited to spend time with my family, especially since I don’t frequently see my relatives on the east coast. I can’t begin to describe how excited I am to eat some real food. My college has been hosting Thanksgiving themed dinners, and somehow their canned cranberry jelly and paper-dry turkeys don’t do my favorite holiday justice.

And I’m ecstatic about getting some baking done.

Even though I have all my tools and supplies, and even an oven if I walk to another dorm, I haven’t had time to buy ingredients or spend time in a kitchen. It’s strange that people here are getting to know me without baking being a huge factor in my life. Maybe at the end of this weekend, I can bring a box of sweets back to my floor.

I’m thinking whoopie pies. I’ve met plenty of New Englanders here who are dead serious about the whoopie pie. Every time I hear someone get defensive about the dessert’s origin or characteristics, I can’t help but smile.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling

There aren’t a lot of whoopie pies on the west coast. Plenty of people don’t know what they are – just two soft cake-like cookies with some sort of filling sandwiched in between. While I’ve never had a “real” whoopie pie, I can tell you that these ones taste pretty incredible. Especially after a chill in the fridge, with a tall glass of cool milk, a scattering of crisp leaves at your feet and a friend at your side.

I made these pumpkin whoopie pies with chocolate cream cheese filling before I left for college, and they strike such a great balance of richness and spice. The pumpkin cookies are soft and tender, dense, dark with spices, like autumn in your mouth. As for the chocolate, I just can’t get enough, and the cream cheese filling adds a bittersweet tang to complement the cookie.

If I make these again this week, it’ll probably remind me like crazy of Seattle. I’m not sure yet if that’s a good or bad thing. Whatever the case, it’ll cheer up my floormates, and bring a little bit of one home to another.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 24, 2010 at 3:31 am 51 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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