Checkerboard Cookies

June 6, 2010 at 11:37 am 98 comments

Checkerboard Cookies

Yesterday, for the briefest moments, it started to feel like June for the first time.

It’s the last weekend before I’m done with high school classes forever, but rain has drizzled coolly for the past week. The temperature has dipped into the fifties, the wind has blown pine needles all over our damp cement patio, and the moss is drenched with icy water that seeps into your socks. It’s June, and I’ve worn my red rubber rain boots to school twice.

But yesterday the sun was bright enough to warm up our garden bench, nestled between the spindly apple tree and the velvet plum-purple irises. The sky was the kind of blue that makes you crazy – “turn up the radio” blue, “now pull over and dance” blue. Thin clouds stretched out like ferns, and it made you see the sky’s overwhelming vastness, a rarity in hilly Seattle.

On paper, my Saturday certainly wasn’t memorable. I woke up and drove to a friend’s house to work on our environmental science project. Then I drove home, had lunch, took some photos, and lounged outside all day. Somehow, though, it was one of the most perfect days I’ve had in a long time.

Checkerboard Cookies

I drove home with music swirling inside the car like a snow globe of sound. I even honked at a cute boy on the sidewalk, and he winked at me as the light turned green. At home, my parents were working on the yard. My dad was up on the ladder, trimming the trees that tower throughout our backyard. My mom brushed up leaves and debris – under her watch, the yard is cleaner than my bedroom. I settled onto the bench and tried to write this post.

But it was so hard to be with a computer screen. I thought about everything but the checkerboard cookies. Like the lunch we’d had. Mom had made avocado and sundried tomato egg rolls, creamy and chewy and crisp. Dad came up with a cool Sriracha dipping sauce. I made a strawberry salad with home-grown chocolate-mint, lemon, and dark chocolate shavings. It’s a meal I’ll remember someday in college when I’m longing for home, with nothing to eat but a bruised apple.

I almost began to write something for 17 and Baking, but then the laptop died. And I could have moved inside, plugged it in, and typed it up at the dinner room table. But I closed the screen and pulled out my macro lens instead. I photographed the spidery veins of leaves, the peachy curve of a lily, and the tattoo of woodpecker drills circling up a tree. I stayed outside with my skin as sun-warmed as our garden bench until twilight fell.

Checkerboard Cookies

This morning I woke up to the sound of splashing raindrops on our roof. I poured myself some cereal and looked outside – our stone path was dark mahogany and black, in the way that wet rock always looks richer. All of our plants were slick and alive. They stood up taller, leaves fanned out and saturated with color, quenched. When I opened the door and took a quick walk outside, it smelled green. Somehow, the rain didn’t seem so bad.

Now I’m bundled in a fleece blanket, curled on the rocking chair, typing this. It’s been too long since my last post, I know. But there is too much beauty in my life right now, in my family, in the garden, even in the moments of silence. These are the times I don’t want to forget, down to the last drop. Even now, though the sky is like white paint and the house is cold as a carton of milk, life is perfect. I didn’t do much this weekend, but the little things are making it extraordinary. The little things are essential to remember.

I’ve made these checkerboard cookies a total of four times – they’re that good. The first time I made them, the checkerboard pattern wasn’t quite even, but the taste! Buttery, a little crisp, a little chewy, and an indescribable flavor that came together like magic. I photographed the cookies, but I didn’t like them. I made them again a month later, but the texture wasn’t right. I’d somehow messed up. A third time, and they were still off. I’d messed up somewhere, and the wheels didn’t all align.

Checkerboard Cookies

But today, all the little things came together. My butter was at just the right temperature, soft enough to yield to a fingertip but cold enough to keep its shape. I used a ruler to form the checkerboard pattern and though it isn’t perfect, I almost like the imperfection. And the photographs? The lighting was off the first three times. Yesterday I used the dragonfly-wing light on our kitchen counter and it was just right.

It’s rare for me to make a recipe multiple times, but I know I’ll make these cookies again before summer finishes. As simple as they are, they’re unforgettable.

[PS: I know it’s been a while since my last post. The last week of school, and it’s catching up to me with finals and projects. Won’t happen again over the summer!

Also, since I’m getting a lot of questions about it, I wanted to talk about college. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal which school I’m going to (at least at this time.) It’s simply an issue of privacy. Here’s what I can say, though – it’s a great school for communications in BOSTON! and I’ll study to become a print journalist and writer, just like I always dreamed. In August, I’ll move into my dorm and 17 and Baking will continue like always, from the City on a Hill. I’m starting to miss Seattle already, but I can barely contain my excitement about this next big step in my life. Thanks for sticking with me!]

Checkerboard Cookies

Checkerboard Cookies

These are one of my all time favorite cookies. The dough is so simple to make, and the checkerboard pattern, though it does take a bit of practice, isn’t too hard. Once you’ve got the logs, the cookies are a snap to slice and bake. The result is incredibly impressive. People gasp when I open the cookie tin for them. The cookies are more than a pretty face, though. Sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I just cut the dough into squares and bake them. You can slice them thicker, for a slightly softer cookie with crunchy borders, or slice them thin for crispier cookies. I’m normally a chewy cookie person, but I love these thin too.

It’s also worth mentioning that I LOVE this cookie dough! I almost, almost like it more than the baked cookie. This recipe makes a lot of cookies – 8 dozen, because it’s easier to work with a large amount of dough – and yet I still sometimes snack on too much dough. It’s always hard for me to save up enough dough to wrap around the checkerboard pattern for the solid border. If you think you won’t be able to work with 8 dozen cookies, don’t worry, you will. If you can’t eat them all, you can also freeze the logs and thaw them in the fridge overnight prior to slicing and baking.

It’s a little tricky to explain how to make. If you check out the original recipe on Baking Obsession, Vera kindly draws a diagram to explain the process.

Checkerboard Cookies
From Baking Obsession
Makes 8 dozen cookies

5 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 lb (2 cups or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed to just combine (you might want to cover the mixer with a towel, some flour might come up.) Finish the mixing either with your hands or a wooden spoon, being sure not to overmix.

Divide the dough in two. You want these to be as even as possible, so I weigh my dough. It’s usually around 25 oz dough in each half. Knead the cocoa powder into one half of the dough. Divide each flavor in half for four total balls of dough, two chocolate and two vanilla. Form each into a rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours (up to a day, but it tastes better if you only wait 2 hours.)

Take one portion of chocolate and one portion of vanilla out of the fridge. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to soften. On parchment paper or a lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll out the vanilla dough into a 12″ by 5″ rectangle. Using a pizza wheel, knife, or bench scraper, cut the rectangle into nine strips, each 1/2″ thick. Repeat the process with the chocolate dough.

Form two checkerboard logs: delicately alternate chocolate and vanilla strips to form a three by three square. One log should go: vanilla chocolate vanilla, chocolate vanilla chocolate, vanilla chocolate vanilla. The other log should be chocolate vanilla chocolate, vanilla chocolate vanilla, chocolate vanilla chocolate. Press into the sides to make it as even a square as possible. Wrap with parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.

Afterwards, roll the remaining vanilla portion into a rectangle of 12″ by 6″, about 1/3″ thick. Take the log with 4 strips of vanilla and wrap the dough around it to form an even border. Roll the log to press it in and define the corners. Repeat with the chocolate dough and the remaining log. Wrap the logs in parchment or plastic and refrigerate well, preferably overnight. You can also freeze them, then thaw overnight in the fridge when ready to bake.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Using a very sharp knife, slice the cookie-dough log into ¼-inch thick slices. Place on the prepared baking sheet leaving about 1 inch all way around them. Bake the cookies, in batches, for about 12 minutes until firm and golden brown on the bottom. Don’t let them bake for too long, or the color contrast between the chocolate and vanilla dough will be lost. Cool on the baking sheet on a rack for 15 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to the rack and cool completely.

Printer Friendly Verson – Checkerboard Cookies

Entry filed under: Cookies. Tags: , , , , , .

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake White Chocolate Coeur de la Crème

98 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Helen  |  June 6, 2010 at 11:59 am

    This is a beautiful post – you describe your life so well. No wonder you are going to college to study journalism and writing, I’m sure you will make a great writer. These cookies look lovely. I can image how delicious the dough is too!

  • 2. shewhois  |  June 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Those cookies look really amazing! They sort of remind me of “Alice in Wonderland” too. :)

  • 3. Ashley  |  June 6, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I love checkerboard cookies!
    And Im going to Emerson College in the fall and everyones telling me how Boston is an amazing place to go to college. Hope you have fun whereever youre going!

  • 4. CUPCAKE LOVER:)  |  June 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    nummyyy cookies

    my friend loves that kind of checkered stuffs

    she’ll be happy

  • 5. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  June 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Well missy, you said it yourself – you’re going to be a writer! I love reading your posts for so much more than the recipes. You really have a talent.

    Can’t wait to try these cookies!

  • 6. L.  |  June 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Your posts, your talent, inspire me. To cook more. To write again. To realize dreams I’d put away.
    Don’t contain your excitment about this “next big step”, there will be no other time in your life that feels this way. Embrace it, lounge in it, it’s part of the experince.

  • 7. Tanja  |  June 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    These cookies look beautiful, but I don’t think they would look that pretty if I made them. Congrats!

    I left something for you on my blog…again..because when I get an award, you’re always the first one in my mind to get it from me. :D

  • 8. Stephanie  |  June 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I’ve subscribed to your blog for a while now… and this is my first time commenting. It caught my eye that you’ll be attending university in Boston!

    First off, congratulations :) And secondly… I’m studying there too! Maybe we can bake together! hehe

    I’m sorry if this weirded you out but I don’t have many friends who enjoy baking…

    In any case, congratulations and gear up on your winter clothing because it gets super cold in Boston!

  • 9. Pam  |  June 6, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    too cute!!!!
    my mom used to make these cookies around the holidays. The only difference was that she roll out the dough separately, lay one on top of the other, roll the dough, and slice them…she called them pinwheel cookies and the pattern was a spiral one.

  • 10. Margarita  |  June 6, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Elissa, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a comment. But I’ve read your blog. The cookies are spectacular but, of course, you made them. :) I love your descriptions. Your descriptions of the blues made me happy. You’ve captured something near and dear to my heart, the different hues of blue. Summer break time soon, within days, will be here. Oh, my gosh, so much to get through. You are magnificent. I don’t know how you do it all. But, soon, college will be at hand. I am looking forward to reading all about college life from the eyes of a young, vibrant writer. How exciting!!!!!!!! I will relive my youth through your adventures. Thank you and take care, much love.

  • 11. Sue  |  June 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I finally made checkerboard cookies for the first time a few months ago, and they turned out fine, but yours are the absolute picture of PERFECTION! I can only hope(in my wildest dreams)that on my fourth time out they turn out half as beautiful as yours! :)

  • 12. Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet }  |  June 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Stunning cookies and definitely eye catching! Congrats on your college selection!

  • 13. Elissa's Dad  |  June 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    First, ahem…honking at winking boys!!! LOL, strange how you didn’t clue me in on that Saturday. :)

    And second, most scrap metal heaps are cleaner than your room, mom could do nothing to the gardena and most days it will be neater than your room!!

    OK folks, Elissa is great, smart, talented, compassionate, beautiful inside and out, but she is still a regular teenager. I trip over her backpack most days I walk in the front door and as long as there is a path from her bedroom door to somewhere inside the room I don’t say much.

    She makes me laugh, she makes me angry but she never fails to make me proud. I wish you all could experience a few days of Elissa, I am lucky I had years….

  • 14. linda  |  June 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    dear elissa’s dad,

    how fortunate elissa is to:
    have you as her father…
    & have such a great mom…
    & important…to be a normal teenager…normal is healthy…

    judging from elissa’s posts…her inner beauty & compassion is truly remarkable…you & your wife are blessed…

    & we (elissa’s) virtual family of friends are lucky to share her incredible & insightful writing & truly delicious recipes….

    kudos to the college in boston…

  • 15. Alexa  |  June 6, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I absolutely love the way you write about life. The little things that make each day important, the little things that make us feel good inside. (Like sunshine, music…and winking cute boys!) Keeping track of your journey as you prepare for college…a journey I will (nervously!) soon begin. I look forward to every one of your posts, excited to read each new story, look at the beautiful photographs, and see what you’ve made to accompany it, and sometimes, jump to re-create it in my own kitchen. Thank you Elissa!

  • 16. presleyanne  |  June 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Love these cookies! And your confidence with cute boys! I’m going to grad school in Western Mass, so it’s not Boston but if I can answer any questions about the general area for you I’m happy to help.

  • 17. Monica H  |  June 7, 2010 at 12:24 am

    My husband races cars as a hobby and since racing is connected with the checkered flag, I made these for race day. I used Martha’s recipe and while they were good, I’m loking forward to trying out this one.

  • 18. Jacqueline  |  June 7, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Hi Elissa!

    I came across your blog a few weeks ago and started at the very beginning and have been reading since. Today I finished reading all your posts and was so happy to see a brand new one!

    I would like to tell you that I love, love, love your blog and all of your recipes. I am very excited to try out some the recipes you have posted but I especially cannot wait to make the lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake…I am literally dying to try it. :)

    I hope you have a wonderful summer and a great first year in college. Keep up the good work. And thank you for all your wonderful posts!

    -A fellow teen baker in Portland, OR

  • 19. Anh  |  June 7, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Amazing cookies – you have done a great job!

  • 20. grace  |  June 7, 2010 at 3:55 am

    what nifty cookies! i’ve never seen anything quite like them–bravo! incidentally, those egg rolls sound fantastic–what’ll it take to get a post about them? :)

    • 21. Elissa  |  June 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

      Grace – I’m planning an eggroll post! Stay tuned! :) If you’re dying to try them out, let me know and I’ll email you the recipe now.

  • 22. Millys Mini Kitchen  |  June 7, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Wow! This totally reminds me of battenburg cake… not sure if you have it in America, but its quite popular in England. These look amazing though. I bet you’re very excited about college, it’s an amazing experience!

  • 23. Hannah @ thepastrykook  |  June 7, 2010 at 8:45 am

    they look worth gasping for. great post and i hope you enjoy the rest of the summer to the fullest, before leaving for college. (:

  • 24. Denise Rambo  |  June 7, 2010 at 9:20 am

    You MUST get tired of reading me saying how much I LOVE your writing! Certain phrases just make me shake my head in wonder at the way your brain works. As much as I love your recipes and your photos, your writing is what makes your blog one of the best things I read all week. What will we do when you go away to college and won’t have time for us every week?

  • 25. Laura  |  June 7, 2010 at 9:38 am

    You’ll love Boston, it’s a beautiful city. I’m headed to Georgia Tech next year, myself. Good luck!

  • 26. Anna  |  June 7, 2010 at 10:08 am

    these are gorgeous! (and that strawberry salad sounds delicious as well.)

    You’ll definitely have some lovely rainy days in Boston. And from a still-very-new Bostonian, feel free to holler if you’d like advice, restaurant suggestions… anything really. I know how much I appreciate the people who did the same for me and my husband, and we’d love to pass that along.

  • 27. Veggielady4life  |  June 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    What an absolutely lovely post! You definitely have a way with words… and with a camera lens. I love reading your blog, and I’m excited that you are going to continue it at college. Looking forward to reading more! And enjoy this summer… completely. Life will likely never be as carefree for you as it is now!

  • 28. Bonnie Riffle  |  June 7, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    i was so happy to see your new post today. i love your writing. it makes me feel as if i am right there experiencing everything. i can totally relate to the cold spell in Spring as we are experiencing the same thing right now is SW Pennsylvania. I love your description of your house being as cold as a carton of milk! so clever! my kids will love this cookie. i will make it for them very soon!

  • 29. Allie  |  June 7, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Hey there,

    Found your blog through my classmate and your cousin Michael. Wonderful blog, and I’m enjoying reading it!

  • 30. Vonny  |  June 7, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Wow… Elissa, you never cease to amaze me. Despite being a 17-year-old baker myself (well, you’re technically not… but still), I don’t think I’d be able to pull these off XD Nevertheless, I’m incredibly eager to give them a go! Thankyou for being such an inspiration.

  • 31. marvelousmiscellany  |  June 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    oh my gosh!!! that look’s so GOOD!!!

  • 32. Lisa  |  June 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    oooh. pretty pretty cookies =)
    it must feel kinda surreal to graduate. hopefully you’ll be able to continue ur cooking adventures and take us along for the ride (as usual) w/ dorm life and all.
    have a wonderful summer before college!

  • 33. Heather  |  June 7, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    These are beautiful cookies! :) It’s 10:30pm, and I’m trying to decide what to bake to share tomorrow. Your blog’s always the perfect resource!

  • 34. Adriana  |  June 8, 2010 at 4:38 am

    amazing cookies! and as usual incredible writing.
    congrats on the school! btw, i live in boston, although i’m moving to the west coast at the same time you’re moving here (grad school and such), please let me know if you’d like a list of good bakeries/coffee places in boston! i’ve had time to explore a bunch of them and the ‘famous’ ones are not necessarily the best!

  • 35. shaz  |  June 8, 2010 at 5:03 am

    I love your writing

  • 36. rüya tabirleri  |  June 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Those cookies look really amazing! They sort of remind me of “Alice in Wonderland” too.

  • 37. Danielle  |  June 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    They look absolutely delicious! I’m going to try baking them, they look irresistible! :)

  • 38. jess  |  June 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    i’m so excited for you and your next step to college. unfortunately, i imagine it’ll be harder to bake in a college dorm, but please… just blog about anything! sometimes, i check your blog twice a day to see if you’ve updated and when you do, i savor your words.

    congratulations again! boston is a great city with many, many great schools.

  • 39. Claire  |  June 9, 2010 at 2:32 am

    I found your site a couple of weeks ago, and haven’t stopped checking it every single day. Okay, it’s more like twice a day, but who’s keeping track? I can’t get enough of your beautiful pictures!

    Lately things have not been going that well for me, so I have been baking a lot more than normal. Last night, when I was browsing your site, I found your post for the peppermint meringue cookies with chocolate ganache. And I could TOTALLY connect with how you also find your center when you’re baking. It’s a wonderful, relaxing feeling, yes?

    So happy for you that you are beginning a new stage in your life. Secretly I am excited because I live about 40 minutes from Boston. *ahem* Not stalking or anything, I just love your writing style, your photography, and most of all, how delicious your baked goods look! Such talent! I am totally impressed.

    Thank you for all the wonderful reads so far, and I greatly look forward to more in the future! Best of luck!

  • 40. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking  |  June 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Congratulations on your college acceptance and upcoming move! You will have a great time in Boston – I went to college there, too. It’s a wonderful city.

    Also, these cookies are adorable! These would be great for a poker night or a Vegas-themed party. Very creative!

  • 41. Christie McGetrick  |  June 9, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Just found your blog and I am adding to my favorites – you will make a wonderful professional writer – because you are great right now.

    I have daughters and one has a blog –

    Take care and good luck in college

  • 42. A Teenage Gourmet  |  June 10, 2010 at 5:15 am

    These look awesome! I’m a 17-year-old girl too. Check out my blog if you have a change, I’d really appreciate your thoughts. :)

  • 43. Sharon  |  June 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    The cookies are beautiful. Wrapping them in a border makes them exceptional. And you, little lady, are exceptional. You are gifted beyond your years, this coming from a 60ish mom. You are a gift to your parents.

  • 44. Chris  |  June 11, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    You are the cutest and most delightful young woman! I wished you lived next door to me and we could share recipes and treats! You are always doing the sharing. Thanks. I have made many delightful new recipes, thanks to you! You are amazing at such a young age. You have tremendous talent. I wish you well as you head out on your new journey. I will be anxiously waiting to hear all about it. Your parents must be bursting with pride. I would be if you were mine. Your parents will miss you and all the fun you bring into their lives. You are awesome!

  • 45. Making my Mark  |  June 11, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Beautiful writing as always.

    Congrats on this next step in your life! As I always say, “Writers can’t help but write.” That’s like telling a human to quit breathing. :)

  • 46. smallhandsbigbooks  |  June 12, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Congrats on school and welcome to Boston!

    You also have an exorbitant amount of patience to measure out your checkerboard cookies. This will come to your advantage as you wait for trains that have broken down. It will also impress lazier bakers like myself.

  • 47. Maaya  |  June 12, 2010 at 7:36 am

    hey these looks so god.
    need a lot of time and patience to make these well.. so pretty

  • 48. Katy  |  June 12, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Looks yummy. :) Although I’m not sure if I wanna bake anything just yet, because I just finished my first paid baking gig and really haven’t done anything else over the last week and a half besides prepare and bake for that. Haha.
    Congrats on the school decision! Boston is a sweet city. My brother goes to school there and since it’s the closest major city to me, I sometimes just go down for funsies, especially since I’m going to school relatively close to there. But you’ll have a great college experience, I’m sure. (Here’s a bit of unasked-for advice about college: Join things. Get out and do things. I was sort of a hermit when I started school. I didn’t join a single club or socialize that much and if I could do it over again, that’s what I would change. Not that you have to go crazy and join everything and go to crazy parties all the time, but it’s good to meet people at your school.)
    Ok, I’m done rambling. But good luck on the east coast! (It’s a lovely coast, if you ask me.) :D

  • 49. mali2305  |  June 13, 2010 at 5:58 am

    I used to live in boston- for almost 16 years. I’m sure you’ll love it! And best of luck.

  • 50. clearlytangled  |  June 13, 2010 at 8:07 am

    i recently started reading your blog and it’s absolutely wonderful. congratulations on your choice of college. boston is a fantastic city. you have an amazing journey ahead.

  • 51. Hanna Begic  |  June 13, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Every morning whilst eating my hot bowl of oatmeal I check all my favourite blogging sites and to my surprise today you had created a new post.

    Constantly loving your aspects and life and food, your writing continues to entrance me with its lovely sentences and adjectives. I too shall soon be leaving highschool and it is comforting to read about someone who is going through the same situations.

    I wish to study exactly what you do and I look foreward to reading about your life out of home.

    Never stop updating this blog as like you, this blog is one of the simpliest moments that makes life seem almost perfect. Good luck with your finals and I look foreward to reading more of your blog.

    P.S Sorry for this long comment. You must recieve a lot per day and this may or may not be read.



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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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