Posts tagged ‘vanilla’

Chocolate Raspberry Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Despite the chilly breeze and overcast skies, I can’t help but see the promise of summer everywhere.

At Seastar Restaurant, I’ve been watching the glow of the sunset linger just a little longer each night, reflecting lilac and copper and gold across the downtown skyscrapers. Daffodils have sprung up beside every mailbox and lamppost. Cherry blossoms have burgeoned forth all across our neighborhoods, veiling the trees in the faintest blush-pink lace. Sometimes light breaks through the midafternoon clouds, diffusing through the classroom windows between spurts of rain, and I lean my head on my hand and dream of sunshine.

My urgency for summer began sometime in late January. Frost no longer edged the tips of our front lawn in the mornings the way it had all winter. One day I saw that the grass had grown thick and lush, the kind of grass that makes you think of summer camp and daisy chains and tie dyed tank tops. It was the kind of grass that makes you want to do cartwheels, just for that brief moment when your fingertips pass through that soft fringe of green.

It made me want to make ice cream.

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It was still too cold to legitimately make a frozen dessert, so I waited all through January and February. And although earlier this week the sky dropped a few forlorn flakes of snow, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I wanted ice cream, real ice cream that didn’t skimp on the cream and positively melted on your spoon between leaving the freezer and reaching your tongue.

Besides the freedom and the yellow plastic sunglasses and the short-sleeved walks into the evening, what I am looking forward to most about summer is the fruit. Peaches bursting out of their soft skins, handfuls and handfuls of glossy cherries, the hollow sound when you make the first cut through a watermelon. But with nothing but citrus really in season, I tried to think of another flavor that would satisfy.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I have never been a vanilla fan. A steadfast chocoholic, I don’t think I ever bought vanilla ice cream or asked for white cake. It’s only been recently that I’ve begun to see vanilla as something special. I have a stash of Nielsen-Massey vanilla, beans and extracts that I only save for the most classic and important desserts where it will “really count,” and I thought vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to make the beans shine.

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After two months of waiting, I couldn’t do it any longer. At 10 PM on a school night I turned on all the lights down the hallway to the kitchen and started to make the ice cream base. I picked a David Lebovitz recipe – there is nobody I trust more with ice cream – which was straightforward and simple enough. As I scraped the vanilla bean with my knife, the tiny seeds collecting like glittery black jewels, the smell of vanilla drifted into my clothes.

I didn’t waste a single seed, and the custard came together beautifully. Before putting it in the refrigerator to chill overnight, I tried a spoonful. Although the ice cream hadn’t been churned and was essentially soup, I was immediately floored. I had never had vanilla so intense, creamy and floral, somehow exotic. How could I have ever thought vanilla plain?

The next morning I was in the kitchen to pour myself a bowl of cereal when I decided I couldn’t wait until after school to finish. I poured the chilled ice cream custard into the ice cream maker to churn while I showered and got dressed. The custard had been good enough to drink, but after it was churned? It had the consistency of soft-serve, not yet firmed up, but it was so incredible. I even beckoned my friend C-, who I carpool with, into my house so that he could try a spoonful for himself before we rushed to first period.

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Even though my favorite ice cream flavor has been basil since I first made it two summers ago, I need to tell you all that this is without a doubt the best ice cream I’ve ever made. It might even be the best ice cream I’ve ever tried at all.

It’s unbelievably thick and creamy, smooth as marble and speckled with constellations of vanilla bean seeds. It has the texture of frozen custard – somehow “ice cream” doesn’t convey how soft and rich and gorgeous this ice cream is. If that weren’t enough, the vanilla itself seems to fill the inside of your mouth like a perfume, not just in the ice cream but in the very air around it. This ice cream will convert a chocoholic into a person who dreams in vanilla.

Wanting to give you more than just ice cream, I also baked some raspberry cocoa cookies that I’ve made a few times now. They’re little, gone in two bites, chewy in the center and crisp-edged. Made with a half cup of jam, they taste like thin brownie-cookies topped with raspberries. Ever since the first time I made them, I knew they would make a good ice cream sandwich.

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The sandwiches are delicious, but I have to admit, I prefer the ice cream purely as is. I can’t help it… I’m a vanilla person. :)

[On non-food related note, I feel the need to mention the new "(c) 17 and baking" text appearing on this week’s photos. I hate having to put watermarks on my photos. I think it’s ugly and distracting. I think food photography should be about food and the way food makes you feel, and the text seems so awkward. But my photos have been stolen and used without my permission twice in the last month, and I have reluctantly concluded that a watermark might reduce theft.

Photo stealers, this is disappointing for me. Boo on you.]

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March 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm 77 comments

Vanilla Bean Jasmine Rice Pudding

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Nobody understands it, but for some inexplicable reason I like to work in the dark.

Well, not complete darkness. But as long as there’s a bit of gold left in the sky, I flick the light switches off before preheating the oven or leaving out the butter. I watch the lightbulb gradually dim until all that’s left is the little red glow of the filament, like the scarlet flicker of a snake’s tongue, until that too goes out in a snap. Then I get to work.

I throw open all of the curtains. Despite the chrome-colored damper of winter in Seattle, there’s a natural light that filters through the glass and brightens the kitchen in a way that artificial light cannot. I like the shadows that fall from the measuring cups on the counters. I like the burnt-edged way my photographs come out, and despite my father’s eye rolls and my friends’ confusion, I like the way I feel at home.

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Some days I want to tackle big projects, like French pastries and gourmet spice profiles. I feel ambitious, and I turn on the lights to help me keep focused.

But sometimes I’m having one of those afternoons where I want my mind to de-clutter. I had one of those last week. I wore my oversized hunter green sweater and soft brown slippers to school, calling it “the macaroni and cheese of clothing.” In a word, it’s comfort. That day, I wanted to eat something just as simple and comforting as a day in sweatpants or a kitchen bathed in vanilla-sugar light.

It’s always hard to decide what to make. I usually pick based on what I feel like baking, since that’s where I derive most of my joy. But that day, I focused on what I felt like eating. I couldn’t think of anything that satisfied my craving, though, so I heated water to make myself a cup of jasmine green tea instead. That’s when it came to me.

When I stumbled upon rice pudding, I felt my heels lift off the floor a little, and then I could think about nothing else. Rice pudding is my very favorite comfort food – creamy, soft, and studded with a million little vanilla bean seeds.

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It’s funny. I don’t like to waste money or ingredients, so I have a “vanilla scale” in order to save on both. I have two brands of vanilla extract – one cheap and one quality – and two brands of vanilla beans – one cheap and one quality.

I use the cheap vanilla extract for experiments and where it “doesn’t matter,” in muffins and scones. I save the good vanilla beans for dishes where they’ll shine, in my opinion where they belong: ice cream, custards, and really good rice pudding.

I didn’t even blink before deciding to use one of my most precious vanilla beans for this rice pudding. As I began to cook the rice, I had a sudden stroke of inspiration. I quickly lit another burner on the stove, poured in the milk, and added three of my family’s favorite jasmine green tea bags.

I didn’t know how it would turn out. I didn’t even consider that it might be awful and ruin my vanilla bean. I just inhaled the fragrant steam coming up from the jasmine milk, and the powerful aroma of the vanilla bean seeds speckled on my fingers. I knew I wasn’t making a mistake.

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The pudding came together quickly. I felt more and more serene with every stir of the wooden spoon. The kitchen was warm, and my heart felt full. I held a warm bowl of rice pudding and curled up in the rocking chair in our living room, the one by the huge window that stretches from floor to ceiling. I took the first spoonful of rice pudding.

Oh, oh, oh, the jasmine was so not a mistake!

I didn’t taste it at first, just the beautiful woody creaminess of the vanilla. But then there it was, quietly, floral notes that crept up like crocuses in spring. The slight flowery bitterness of the jasmine green tea, complimented perfectly by the vanilla… I turned off my cell phone and put away my iPod. Then I got myself another bowl of rice pudding and snuggled into the chair until the very last ray of light went out in a snap.

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February 8, 2010 at 10:18 pm 62 comments

Vanilla and Coffee Marble Cake with Chocolate Glaze

I was taking my IB History test. There’s this feeling I can’t fully explain that only happens during testing season, when you tug on the metal handle of the gym door and step inside. It’s sort of like deja vu meets utter dread.

It’s the feeling you get when you walk into the room and desks have been set up, spaced neatly and equally apart, and your stomach lurches. You know that one of the chairs in this room is for you. There’s a packet with your name on it. And as you find your table and sit at it, a little part of your heart breaks. A bit of you dies. There is no escape.

There is a traditional one last stab at happiness – the whole room does a giant wave, starting with the first desk and ending in the opposite corner. Everyone laughs, then the tests are unwrapped and passed out by whichever parents or teachers volunteered to help. Absolute silence falls as the IB supervisor booms, “The tests have been opened. There is to be absolutely no talking at this point.” And the feeling settles on everything again, even more heavily than before.

All you can hear is the rustling of papers, light footsteps, and maybe the pounding of your heart, depending on how little you studied. I was watching the proctor work her way down the row, handing out papers. I never know quite how to react when the proctors reach me. It’s never pleasant. But that day something completely unexpected happened. My proctor spoke.

She handed me my test booklet, then very quickly leaned in and surreptitiously whispered, “I love your blog!” Then she flashed me a quick smile – another strange first in the IB test room – and continued down the line.

I was left feeling completely shocked! My thoughts were sent completely off balance – I went from trying to remember the causes of the Civil War to wondering how in the world she knew about 17 and Baking. I almost laughed out loud! (Which would have been bad.)

And then something equally bizarre happened – the heavy knotted feeling in my stomach straightened itself out, and I began my test still smiling.

And when I got home? I made vanilla and coffee marble pound cake.

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May 16, 2009 at 1:12 pm 24 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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