17 and Baking Turns One

March 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm 80 comments


17 and Baking turns one year old today.

Can you believe it? I’ve been thinking about 17 and Baking and my passion for food and everything I’ve learned in one year, and I’ll be honest. It’s ridiculous. I never believed for an instant this blog would go anywhere. In fact, I even want to link you all to the first real post I wrote exactly one year ago, where I lament my lack of talent, following, photography skills, and experience. Honestly. It sounds like me, but… it really makes me consider what can happen in one year.

But today, I wanted to do something special. If I really think about it, all of this doesn’t start with that morning in early spring when I decided I wanted to blog about food. Really, it started when I baked my very first cake from scratch at fourteen. For today, I knew I wanted to make that exact cake again – a real full circle.

I remember buying my first cookbook from Costco, somewhat ludicrously, since I’d never had any interest in baking before. I just liked the pretty pictures. And I remember nearly a month later, suddenly being seized in the middle of the night with a desire to do something. I didn’t know it at the time because it was so very new, but it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with now – it’s the urgency to be in my little yellow kitchen with a whisk in one hand and a spoonful of sugar in the other.


I dug up the untouched cookbook and scanned the pages with an inexplicable hunger, bookmarking everything that looked good – German Chocolate Cake, light-as-air Raspberry Dream Cake, kid-friendly Peppermint Chocolate Cake. I threw open cabinets, trying to centralize all of the random baking supplies in the house. We only had a few pans, and not many baking tools. As it turned out, the only recipe I had all the ingredients for was a rather unglamorous iced sponge cake.

I decided to make it anyway. I remember very clearly trying to measure out the flour, awkward and clumsy and fumbling until I had a soft dusting of flour all over my front. I didn’t know what it meant to cream butter, so I stopped the mixer (not the KitchenAid, but a cheap plastic one) once the butter had sort of formed chunks. I didn’t have much confidence for success when I slid the pan into the oven, but I couldn’t help but feel a satisfying accomplishment either way.

All in all, it was undoubtedly a failure. The cake was supposed to be light and delicate, but it was significantly heavy. The frosting was a total flop, tasting like egg whites. But when I cut that first slice and looked back at the photo in the book, my smile was uncontainable. When I took that first bite, the small triangular tip of that perfect slice, I knew in my heart that it had truly been a complete success.


I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly skilled baker, not now or then. I’m just a girl who happens to love all things sweet and homemade. Even more than that, I’m just a girl who wants to share her zest for life and make you forget your troubles, even if only for five minutes. Through 9th and 10th grade, I had just as many baking failures as successes, forced to learn as I went. So many times I was discouraged, screaming tantrums at my sunken cupcakes, and I might have given up if it weren’t for the unbelievable gratification of sharing.

I’ll be 18 next month, and no matter how much things have changed since then, that satisfaction from handing out cookies or watching my parents clear their plates is what propels my passion. I can’t help but want to lift weary spirits on a bad day with a lemon bar or light up a neighbor’s face with a slice of pear tart. Isn’t that the whole sense of the blog too, to share a dozen cookies with even more than 12 people? Maybe even with hundreds of people around the world? If I can inspire at least one of those people one morning, then everything is worth it.

So here we are today, everything is different and somehow nothing is different. It’s been one year since I began 17 and Baking, but it’s been four years since I baked that first cake, unquestionably beautiful in my eyes. I decided I would dig up that old cookbook for the second time, now a senior in high school and so much surer than I was back then, and bake that cake again.


The recipe came together very quickly and very easily, letting me focus more on my nostalgia than on my product. The finished cake smelled delicious, like vanilla and sugar and flour, and I just put my face next to it and inhaled while it cooled. I patiently waited until I could try the first slice. Just like before, I carefully broke off that first perfect bite.

I can’t kid anyone. It wasn’t a very good cookbook, it wasn’t a very good recipe, and frankly, the cake was disgusting. The flavor was strange, the texture was off, and I couldn’t eat more than that one bite.

I wasn’t completely surprised, but definitely disappointed. Somehow, baking the cake that started it all seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first blogoversary. Finally, I decided I would bake another cake, similar to the first, but something actually in line with my taste today. I whipped up a simple hazelnut and mixed berry cake, and when it came out of the oven I knew I’d made the right choice.

Unfortunately, some things seem destined to stay unchanged, and I tried to turn out the cake before it was done. While it was delicious, I was left with a pile of crumbled cake, certainly nothing presentable on the blog. I wondered if it would maybe be funny to blog a failure – but on my one year anniversary?

cake6wm One salvageable piece of the hazelnut berry cake – delicious despite its humble (and crumbled) appearance

I started laughing as I considered the fact that four years later, I was still screwing up. But I couldn’t be in a bad mood. In a way, this seemed like a better representation of 17 and Baking than anything else: the ability to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and persevere. I didn’t have any more hazelnuts or berries, so I shrugged and started again with almonds and lemon. I’d learned from my previous mistakes and the cake came out beautifully. I made a quick mascarpone frosting (no recipe!) and spread it over the cooled cake just like I did before. And that first bite?

Utterly perfect.

Thank you guys… all of you for being here to celebrate with me. :)

cake9wm The recipe for the first cake I baked from scratch, with a slice of one year anniversary cake!

I am so, so glad I didn’t give up on this cake because it is really excellent. Even though it’s a simple one layer cake with a humble swirl of frosting, there’s something special about it. Mom and I ate the failed hazelnut berry cake in one night all by ourselves, and the almond cake won’t last much longer. It’s slightly dense, not too sweet, and full of beautiful, rounded almond flavor. The texture is perfect.

I can’t think of a better compliment for it than this frosting, which I sort of whipped up spur of the moment. I think this whole no-recipe thing might be good for me sometimes, although I couldn’t have gone wrong with mascarpone, heavy whipping cream, and lemon zest. This frosting is light and sweet, like a cross between whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I was eating it by the spoon without the cake.

I’ll also include the recipe for the hazelnut berry version because it was so good. Just make sure it cools long enough before turning it out!

One Year Anniversary Almond Lemon Cake
A 17 and Baking recipe
Makes one 9″ round cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal (make your own by grinding almonds to a fine powder)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9″ round pan, line it with a circle of buttered parchment paper and then flour the pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium-high speed for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Mix in the extracts and lemon zest, then beat in the egg. Working on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 the buttermilk mixture, then another 1/3 of the flour, the last of the buttermilk, then the last of the flour. Mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then finish cooling on a rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting. If frosting the cake with mascarpone frosting, store the cake in the refrigerator.

Hazelnut-Berry Version: Replace almond meal with hazelnut meal (hazelnuts ground into a fine powder), use vanilla extract instead of almond, use orange zest instead of lemon, and sprinkle the batter with 3/4 cup fresh mixed berries before baking. I used thawed frozen berries and even though I tossed them in flour, they sunk. Still delicious.

Lemon Mascarpone Frosting
A 17 and Baking recipe
Makes enough to frost one 9″ round cake

3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Zest of half a lemon
1/4 tsp vanilla

Beat cheese and cream together until smooth and creamy and slight peaks begin to form. Sift in the powdered sugar and zest and beat until smooth. Mix in the vanilla extract and spread on cooled cake (or eat with a spoon.)

Printer-Friendly Version – One Year Anniversary Almond Lemon Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting

Entry filed under: Cake/Cupcakes. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Chocolate Raspberry Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches Symphony of Sugar

80 Comments Add your own

  • 1. 慧阿姨  |  March 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm



    • 2. Elissa  |  March 19, 2010 at 11:20 pm

      I don’t speak Chinese, but 慧阿姨 is a family friend and she left a poem as a comment… My mom translated it for me and I want to translate it for you guys!

      “Don’t worry that you are behind, struggling to accomplish
      For when the lotus flower first blooms, it is very small and pointed
      Don’t follow the butterflies, who float and dance about — instead, persevere
      For the sky reflects in the pond, and someday the lotus will bloom atop the sky

      Congratulations Elissa on your 1 year anniversary!”

  • 3. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes)  |  March 19, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Happy Blogoversary to you!! I just came across your blog, loving going through it. You have a way with words :)

  • 4. bittersweetbaker  |  March 19, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Happy Blogoversary! I have read almost all your blog posts, starting from the very beginning, and savored each one. I also wanted to thank you: you have really inspired me with your photography, your writing, and your recipes, and I am just 13 and baking.

  • 5. natalie  |  March 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    happy one year elissa! you’ve come so far, congratulations! yes, those frustrations and failed cupcakes are worth it- i’m not the only one who comes to your blog and leaves with a smile on my face :)

  • 6. Good girl gone blog  |  March 20, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Happy blogoversarry!!

  • 7. linda  |  March 20, 2010 at 4:57 am

    happy anniversary elissa…joyous time for you & for us…your readers!
    i will differ with you…you are a skilled baker & i have enjoyed re-creating your little gems!
    here’s to many, many more exciting, interesting & fun posts…with all of us @ your virtual side…
    i am ready for my slice of this wonderful cake…
    & “cheers” to you!

  • 8. Carol  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Happy anniversary. I have recently found your blog and added it to my list I read. I hope soon to find the time to go back and read many of your old posts.

  • 9. Dimah  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Happy Blogoversary!
    Keep up the good work.

  • 10. Jon H  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:27 am

    One of my friends in college was a triple major: math, physics, and computer science. He is an incredibly smart person, and I’ve always been in awe of his intelligence and ambition.

    Then I discovered your blog a few months ago, and found myself in a similar situation. Except instead of math, physics, and computer science, it was photography, writing, and of course, baking.

    I spend far too much time on the internet – at least a few hours a day reading websites – and I can honestly say I don’t know if I’ve ever come across someone who i so talented in so many different respects. Not even to mention at the age of 17!

    Congratulations on your one year anniversary, and I look forward to years more of posts!

  • 11. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:42 am

    Congrats on one year!! You know what? Your first post looks great too. I sure would love Ginger Carrot Cake!

  • 12. Cari  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Hey Elissa,
    I just wanted to say I love your blog and read every new post! Congratulations on one year of unwavering dedication. Your recipes are fun, your photos are beautiful, and your writing always keeps me interested. I started baking about 2 years ago when I was 27. When I think of what I learned from 17 to 27, I can’t even imagine where you’ll be in 10 years! I know you’ll have an incredible 18th year and I look forward to every delectable experience! :)

  • 13. Jan  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:53 am

    Happy Anniversary! I’ve been enjoying your blog almost from the beginning. What happens next month when you turn 18…Will it become “18 and baking”? ;-)
    Thank you for a year of entertainment and inspiration!

  • 14. Anna  |  March 20, 2010 at 5:57 am

    I absolutely love your blog! I found it this past summer and have been following it ever since!

    Congratulations on your one year blog anniversary!

  • 15. SeattleDee  |  March 20, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Happy Anniversary! and thank you for your gift of today’s blog. It was a treat to read of your Perfect Cake attempts, from the disappointments right up to the successful Elissa adaptation of almonds, lemon and mascarpone. It’s almost a recipe for life.

  • 16. Bob  |  March 20, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Congratulations on one year! Heh, it’s kind of funny, back when I had my one year anniversary for my blog I also remade the first cake I baked. :)

  • 17. cupcakeswin=]  |  March 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

    HAPPY 1st birthday!!!

    it makes me think of your blog as a little baby….


    not as much as a baby as me



  • 18. cupcakeswin=]  |  March 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

    HAPPY 1st birthday!!!
    it makes me think of your blog as a little baby…
    not as much as a baby as me

  • 19. Darcey  |  March 20, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Congratulations on all your accomplishments in the past year! You are an inspiration to myself and I’m sure many others. Can you imagine what the next year will bring?

  • 20. Basht  |  March 20, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Happy Blogoversary!

  • 21. Kuntala  |  March 20, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Elissa, congratulations. I am not a baker, but I come here to read your post everyday. You are one of the best, if not THE best, writers in the blog world. You are a natural. Wish you all the best…….

  • 22. allison from "a for aubergine"  |  March 20, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Happy blogiversary! :)

  • 23. Fran  |  March 20, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Your blog is one of the ones that inspires me the most, I started my own food blog and I can’t tell you how much 17 and baking inspired me to that. I love reading your posts.
    so happy blog anniversary!! :)

    p.s: the cake sounds delicious, will try it!

  • 24. Katy  |  March 20, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Happy birthday/anniversary/whatever the correct term for your blogging for a year is. :)

    I know exactly what you mean about getting satisfaction from sharing baked goods with people. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, and it’s one of the reasons I bake. I’ve been home from school for spring break this week, and I’ve done quite a bit of baking. My mom’s coworkers requested that I make them a chocolate raspberry ganache cake (I still cannot get enough of that recipe. Thank you for making it on your birthday and sharing it. I’ve made it a bunch of times already!) I told my sister I’d make her and her friends something, so I made them a devil’s food cake with buttercream frosting. And I had a bit of a fail with red velvet cupcakes, but I’ve still had a great week baking (especially cookies and brownies in the middle of the night). :)

    But I just wanted to let you know that you’ve succeeded, and you have inspired at least one person (that would be me, in case that was unclear.) But by the looks of things, you’ve probably inspired more than just me. So congratulations on your one year, and thank you. I can’t wait to see what you produce in the future. :)

  • 25. Elizabeth  |  March 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Happy Anniversary! I really enjoy reading your blog and find your pictures beautiful!
    I read your first post earlier and I feel the same: I also want to start a blog but find that what I bake doesn’t look as good on pictures as it tastes! I’m afraid I’ll just be writing to myself… Anyways, I’m kind of inspired to finally start it! You’re right, those things shouldn’t matter. What matters is that we love to bake!
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!


  • 26. Valérie  |  March 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Happy anniversary! Congratulations on making it this far! Your blog is truly top-notch, and you are a wonderful writer. I look forward to reading you for many years to come.

  • 27. Astrid  |  March 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    You can’t be that surprised at how far your blog has gone! You are ridiculously talented. Your photographs are gorgeous. You can bake like a pro! And you seem so passionate about everything you do. You are definately going places, with or without your blog!

  • 28. Amelia  |  March 20, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Happy birthday, 17 and Baking! :)

  • 29. Jennifer  |  March 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    congrats on your one year!! its amazing what you can accomplish in a year… isn’t it strange how going through old posts makes you reflect so much more? keep it up, you’ve got a wonderful blog going on here :)

  • 30. Sophie @ yumventures  |  March 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    The ability to laugh at your own mistakes is key. That is what I am learning through my cooking adventures. After only 3 months I can look back on my blog and see how far I’ve come. Your changes, your photos, your writing and baking — leaps and bounds! Many congratulations to you :)

  • 31. Virgínia  |  March 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Your blog is a inspiration to me! Happy b’day to 17 and Baking, I hope it lasts lots of years more! You’re a very talented girl, lucky the world to have you!


  • 32. Memoria  |  March 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Happy blogiversary!!! MIne is coming up, too.

  • 33. Tara  |  March 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    congrats on making it through your first year blog and for doing such a fantastic job in the process!! happy 1st blogiversary!!

  • 34. fulltimefoodie  |  March 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    You have definitely come a long way in just one year and I hope you have many more happy blogiversaries!

  • 35. Deanna  |  March 20, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Congrats! Making it to a year is such a big accomplishment. Thank you for inspiring me with the beautiful pictures and recipes!

  • 36. blurpy  |  March 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Dear Elissa,
    Congratulations! I’ve been following your blog for some time now, and it does cheer me up every time in a quiet soothing sorta way.
    Thank you. : )

  • 37. Fx  |  March 20, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Happy anniversary!!!

    I’ve always enjoyed your blog posts. It’s almost hard to imagine that it’s been one full year now. I wish you the best, and I am sure there are many more bright years ahead!

    p.s. The watermark on your 4th picture says “27 and baking”


  • 38. Danielle  |  March 20, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Happy Anniversary! Congratulations!

    I think about how many more friends you’ve met through the blog, virtually, and how it’s opened up a world of friendship to you. What an amazing situation and an inspiration.

    (My guilty pleasure in reading this post is also seeing that sinfully thick layer of frosting. I dream about frosting piled that high.)

  • 39. Poonam  |  March 21, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Hi! I found your blog recently and have been enjoying it since. Happy Blogoversary and many more to come :)

  • 40. petra  |  March 21, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Wishing you a wonderful 1st Anniversary!

  • 41. Stacey  |  March 21, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Happy Blogoversay, congrats :)

  • 42. Making my Mark  |  March 21, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Happy Blogoversary!

    You’ve accomplished a lot in year. It’s a great feeling to be constantly learning!

  • 43. Alyssa  |  March 21, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Elissa, your trials and tribulations remind me a lot of Julie and Julia (I just started reading it), so check it out if you haven’t already. Also, what happens when you turn 18? Will the blog remain under the same name?? What about when you graduate? Then what?? Love your stuff. Keep it up and keep inspiring me to get back into that kitchen of mine…

  • 44. Monica H  |  March 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Happy 1 year anniversary to you!

  • 45. Fran  |  March 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I just wanted to say thank you for the comment on my blog, it seriously made my day. Thank you for stopping by :)

  • 46. Tracey  |  March 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Happy blogoversary! Congradulations!

  • 47. K  |  March 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    You are a breathe of fresh air Elissa. . .I am so proud of you and happy to work with you. . Congratulations!

  • 48. Niki  |  March 22, 2010 at 4:49 am

    Belated Happy Blog Birthday ^o^

  • 49. Jenious  |  March 22, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Happy 1st blog anniversary! This post truly represents all that’s wonderful about your writing, photography and wholehearted gumption. I applaud you, my dear. :)

  • 50. Tay  |  March 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    There’s still so much to learn. Just think, next year you’ll be posting about how far you’ve come since this post. Have fun!

  • 51. annakristina28  |  March 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Happy blogoversary! And thanks for sharing the imperfections – it’s so easy in the blog world to just see the things that go right, and as a reader think I’m the only one who isn’t perfect at everything. Props for inspiring but keeping it in perspective!


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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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