S’mores Rice Krispies

Smores Rice Krispies 4

I thought I’d write about how grown up I feel interning in New York this summer… but that’s not really true.

More honestly, I’m playing dress up. I hardly recognize myself in the mornings, in an ironed button up and pencil skirt. Then I see the goofy photo on my employee ID—the one where I was about to say, “What?” and my bangs are too long—and I feel like a kid again.

Surprisingly, I’ve never worked full time outside the school year. Even after college began, I’ve spent summers making ice cream and hoping for a tan. While my schedule this semester might be less open, I do love living in New York. For a long time I wanted to go to school here. And though I ultimately ended up in Boston, I always wondered if I might secretly be a New Yorker.

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It takes more than a summer to become one, but I’m slowly getting used to the subway, the pace of the city, the feel of different neighborhoods. I’m learning to walk with purpose, and crossing restaurants off my list. And I’ve got a beautiful apartment I’ll be heartbroken to leave after August.

The kitchen is the first room off the apartment’s long hallway, and the first room I come home to. If you’ve ever lived in this city, it won’t surprise you that it’s the size of a shoe box. It’s narrow and dishwasher-less, with a fold-up table and two chairs an arm’s reach from the fridge. There’s outlet space to plug in either the microwave or electric kettle—only one—and the oven runs so hot you can burn yourself without opening it.

But the cabinets are stocked all the way back with spices, herbs, sugars and extracts, five flavors of instant macaroni and lots of tea. There’s a small window that looks out onto absolutely nothing but lets in a gauzy pool of light. And even though I wasn’t impressed upon first glance, this kitchen has grown on me.

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I didn’t expect to use it much. But when I found myself wanting to bake, I did.

I wanted something quick, inexpensive, and delicious. So I made rice krispies, a no-bake recipe that only took twenty minutes from start to finish. The recipe is as easy as melting butter and marshmallows, stirring it into the krispies, and pressing the whole mess into a pan. For fun, I added chocolate chips and graham crackers, since nothing says summer like s’mores.

Simple as they are, there’s something thoroughly satisfying about these little squares. I’ve always liked rice krispies—gooey, soft, and crunchy all at once, with a sweetness that sticks to the back of your teeth. These ones feel especially nostalgic. The chocolate chips melt a little, thanks to the residual heat of the marshmallows. The shards of graham cracker lend a wholesome crunch. The whole thing sticks stubbornly to your fingers, and it’s great.

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It might be my first summer away from home, living with my first long term boyfriend in my first New York apartment, working 40 hours a week at a company with 30 other interns. But one bite of these rice krispies and I feel like a little kid again, like it might be another summer spent in the sun.

I hope I never get too old to chase that feeling.

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprints

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprint 4

I just finished my junior year of college. Which seems impossible, and exciting. I’ve signed the paperwork on my first two apartments—one in New York, where I’m interning this summer, and another in Cambridge for my senior year. On top of everything else, I’m finally 21. But for some reason I can’t stop thinking about 17.

I haven’t posted in a long time. I didn’t forget or stop trying to. But my life has gone through a lot of changes in the last four years. I moved to the opposite coast, took classes, interned, worked, met new people, studied abroad, and lived on my own for the first time. I was in college and there was so much to do! So much to figure out about myself! And there were so many reasons why I wasn’t blogging.

Occasionally I tried to bake, but it felt like going through the motions. I couldn’t explain why it no longer made me happy, it just didn’t, even before my blogging hiatus began. The last thing I wanted was for 17 and Baking to feel like homework, so I didn’t force it. I wanted to want to write. I just didn’t expect it to take this long.

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For months, I could explain to everyone—especially myself—why I “couldn’t” blog. My freshman year dorm didn’t have an oven, ingredients were expensive, I didn’t have the free time I did in high school. But my explanations were starting to sound like excuses. For what, I wasn’t sure.

I began noticing I felt unmotivated about other things too. I’d stopped taking out my camera, even though I loved photography. I kept writing for classes, but the joy and creativity had noticeably packed up and gone a long time ago. I didn’t feel like hanging out with friends or going out on the weekends. I didn’t want to waitress. I just wanted to cozy up at home and watch TV.

At first I thought feeling like this was a natural part of growing up. In addition to all the changes in my life, I stressed about my career, my future, and my “potential,” which I worried wasn’t turning into “reality” fast enough. I convinced myself I no longer enjoyed baking to avoid facing a much more unpleasant truth—that I didn’t really enjoy anything anymore.

I didn’t feel sad exactly, but I felt empty a lot of the time, and for no real reason. Boredom and anxiety pushed out positivity and ambition. Sometimes I realized I didn’t even know why I was upset. The bewilderment and frustration was just as bad as the unhappiness itself. I felt like I was living in my own empty exoskeleton.

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Depression is terrifying. There’s no denying that. But I’m learning it touches a lot of people and is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s also not necessarily a life sentence. Though I can’t explain why, I’ve been feeling better these days. The fog is still there, but I can see beyond it, and I’m excited by the hazy future I can make out.

A few weeks ago, I felt like baking, so I made these blueberry thumbprint cookies. There isn’t a cute memory or anecdote to recall. I couldn’t even tell you why I rolled them in cornflakes (for texture? I don’t know. I didn’t question it.) But I did feel a little better, watching them cool on the counter. I didn’t get my hopes up, but I smiled a little when none of the cookies made it to Day 2.

And today, I found the motivation to publish this post, which I’ve been writing in my head and second-guessing for months. I’m not going to question that either, just keep looking forward.

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I don’t know if it was a mistake to let the blogging slow down for so long. Ultimately, I try not to blame myself. I’ve realized it wasn’t something I could just chin up and power through. But it is something I can start again, if I want.

I don’t feel 17 anymore and I won’t pretend to. But that doesn’t mean I’ve outgrown 17 and Baking. Instead, I’d like to think it can grow with me. There are so many things I have yet to do, places to visit, people to meet. There are more wonderful things to look forward to than ever before. I’m going to start with 21.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Red Velvet Cheesecake Red Velvet cake, a layer of cheesecake, and cream cheese frosting.

August makes me think of peach skin against my lips, of yellowing grass, and inevitably of the coming school year.

I remember exactly where I was last August – the kitchen. There were only a few weeks before I moved to Boston for college, and I went into a baking frenzy. In the mornings, I preheated the oven before I brushed my teeth, and I photographed enough desserts to keep the blog alive across the country.

This summer, though, I haven’t spent much time baking. I don’t leaf through cookbooks when I’m bored or brainstorm flavor combinations in the car. I’ve lost something I can’t place. Whenever I think about it, unease seeps through me like melting ice. I don’t know why I’ve fallen into a baking rut or how to fix it.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

A year ago, I remember standing with my dad in the kitchen. I’d spent the week baking, and I handed him fork after fork of desserts to sample. He’d just tried the Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf when he said, “You’re really going to do this. Keep the blog going.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. I hadn’t even considered ending the blog, giving up on the baking, moving on with life as I moved into college. “Yeah.”

He shrugged a little and said, “You never know. After a while, you might not want to be 17 and Baking anymore. You might lose interest.”

“Never going to happen.” I wrapped up the loaf, started on the dishes, and the conversation faded from memory.

Now I can’t get it out of my mind.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

I didn’t spend as much time with my parents this summer as I expected, or as I would have liked. I think the ritual of family dinners would have helped me rediscover that “feeling.” I think tossing ideas back and forth with my dad would have inspired me. Now, it’s too late. Here I am a year later, nine days from my flight, with almost nothing saved up.

This semester I’m going to Europe, where baking opportunities will be even scarcer than they were in Boston. I’m so afraid. I didn’t realize it until I typed the words a moment ago, and now it’s more real than ever. I’m afraid of wasting the opportunities I’ve been given. I’m scared of failing. I’m scared that I have burnt out, and that I can’t recover.

But I am more than my insecurities. I know that when I put my mind to something, I can make it happen. I have the strength to pull through baking ruts, to breathe life into my writing, and to conquer fear. I’m afraid, but I’m also more passionate and determined than ever.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

D- is a new friend, but already a good one, and his first visit to Seattle is wrapping up in a few days. I wanted to make something really special to celebrate his 19th birthday and last night in the Emerald City.

This week I rediscovered the process of finding The One. You know, The Recipe that is everything Your Friend would want, their sweet tooth soulmate. I remembered that his favorite cake is red velvet, but his favorite dessert is cheesecake. I immediately wanted to combine them. I’d seen red velvets split by cheesecake on several other sites, but that didn’t make it less special.

The excitement mounted as I bought ingredients at the store, while I creamed butter, when I scattered sprinkles across the frosting. But everything became clear when I eased the first slice onto a plate and passed it to D-, drank in his expression of surprise and joy.

The thrill! It lit me up like a sparkler – burning slowly, but unbelievably brightly. I almost forgot that feeling, but now, all I want to do is relive it. I’m an addict.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

The cream cheese frosting is thick, tangy, and sweet, just like I like it. The cheesecake is dense and creamy. But the star is the red velvet. Heartbreakingly red, soft as satin, fine-crumbed and fluffy… As I watched him scrape the fork across the plate, I couldn’t wait to come home and share the recipe with you.

I never lost the passion. I just had to stop taking it for granted.

I’ll probably be on the east coast when the next post is up – thanks for staying with me. See you on the other side.

[Too hot to bake? Check out my Chocolate Raspberry Icebox Cake in the Boston Globe! It’s a heat free, ridiculously easy recipe that comes together in half an hour.]

Red Velvet Cheesecake

While this cake looks like a lot of work, it’s really not. The steps are spread across two days – make the cheesecake first, bake the cake/whip up the frosting/assemble the second. None of the components are very difficult separately, and it’s pretty simple to put it together. And the results are definitely impressive.

I’ve made red velvet cakes in the past, but never posted them on the site. They’re somehow always disappointing – dry, flavorless, artificial looking. I used red food coloring gel, which gave it an incredibly rich color without adding weird flavor. This red velvet is unlike any I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know whether it’s because I used a really good Dutch process cocoa powder with a reddish tinge and a depth of flavor. Maybe it’s from the buttermilk or the healthy pinch of salt. I don’t care. It’s magic.

The cheesecake is also surprisingly simple. My secrets to a great cheesecake? Make sure the ingredients are all at room temperature (this could take hours for the cream cheese.) Cream the cream cheese and sugar with the mixer until blended, then stir everything else with a wooden spoon to avoid overmixing. Grease the sides of the pan so the cheesecake won’t crack, and bake it in a waterbath.

The cheesecake is sturdy enough that overnight refrigeration was all I needed, though I’ve seen other bloggers freeze their cheesecake layer for easy transportation onto the cake.

And the frosting… Well, I could eat it with a spoon. The almond extract adds something special without tasting like almonds. I like a high ratio of cream cheese to sugar, and a stiff texture that won’t melt or droop. I think we’ve got a winner.

Red Velvet Cheesecake
Inspired by a variety of sources
Cake adapted from Saveur, Cheesecake adapted from Martha Stewart,
Frosting a 17 and Baking original
Makes a rich 9″ cake

Cheesecake
20 oz full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup white sugar
Zest of half a lemon
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon all purpose flour

I started the cheesecake the day before. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and set a kettle of water to boil.

Grease a 9″ springform pan, and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil, and set the pan into a larger pan (for the waterbath.)

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Switch to a wooden spoon and beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Add eggs one at a time, making sure they are combined but not overmixing. Add the sour cream. Stir in flour and gently mix just until combined.

Pour the batter into the greased pan. Pour boiling water into the larger pan halfway up the cheesecake. The aluminum foil should protect the cheesecake from seeping water. Bake until the cheesecake is just set in the middle, about 40 minutes. Run a knife around the sides and let the cheesecake cool completely. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the cheesecake and refrigerate overnight.

Red Velvet
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
Red food coloring, as desired

I made the cake the day after I made the cheesecake, so it had rested overnight in the fridge and was sturdy enough to flip.

For the red velvet, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9″ pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a mixer, beat the eggs, oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract, and vinegar until well combined. Add the dry ingredients and as much food coloring as you like. Beat until well combined, about two minutes.

Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for five minutes, then run a knife around the edges. Invert them onto cooling racks and cool completely. (I like to make the frosting at this point, while the cakes cool down.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 cups sifted powdered sugar (sift, and then measure)

Beat the cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer until very smooth and lump-free. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Then stir in the powdered sugar a cup at a time until very smooth.

Assembling the cake.

Use a cake leveler or serrated knife to level the tops of the red velvet cakes. Put one of the layers, cut-side up and parchment paper removed, on a serving plate. Spread with a very small amount of frosting, just enough to cover the cake in a thin layer.

Take the cheesecake out of the fridge. Open up the springform pan and peel off the plastic wrap. The cake should be pretty sturdy. My cheesecake was still attached to the bottom of the springform pan. I simply used one hand to hold it, and gently flipped it over onto the red velvet. I lifted off the bottom of the springform pan and peeled off the parchment paper. Piece of cake.

My cheesecake was wider than the red velvet. I just gently sawed a knife around the edges and trimmed the excess.

Spread another very thin layer of frosting on the top of the cheesecake. Flip the remaining layer of red velvet, cut side down, on top. Peel off the parchment paper.

Use about a third of the cream cheese frosting to cover the whole cake with a crumb coat. Basically, you want to frost the cake with as little frosting as possible, picking up all the red crumbs and sealing the cake. Refrigerate the cake for half an hour, or until the crumb coat is hardened.

Then frost the cake with the rest of the cream cheese frosting. I decorated mine with sprinkles.

Keep the cake in the fridge. It can stand at room temperature about half an hour before serving, if necessary.

Rainbow Pride Party Cake

I think all little kids, at least at one point, have unrealistic ideas about what they’ll become when they grow up. I know I did. For a while I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, then a vet, and I went through an inevitable, short-lived pokemon master phase. I also remember once announcing that when I grew up, I wanted to be a duckling.

Yeah, I don’t know where that came from either.

But there was always something I wanted to be that I never told anyone about. I wanted to be a creative product namer – it would be the most fun job in the world! As a child I’d walk through the candle aisle of a store and think to myself, “This would be Golden Raspberry Dream and this one could be named Velvet Plum.” My favorite was to think of cute crayon colors, like Pink Lemonade Paradise and Safety Patrol Yellow.

Turns out I still can’t help but do it!

I can’t look at this vivid rainbow cake without feeling a bit of that creative spark all over again – Cherry-Red Hard Candy, Greenest Grass Green, Princess Eyes Blue. And even though I’ve seen the rainbow a million times, I still experienced an unexpected feeling when the cake was cut open. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand and restored all of the childish wonder and curiosity that I thought I’d outgrown years ago.

This cake was commissioned for a local company’s Pride celebration. I knew right away that rather than make a regular cake decorated with rainbow frosting, I wanted to make every layer a different color. This suggestion was met with a lot of enthusiasm, and I didn’t realize the difficulties of it until later.

First of all, I’d never made a cake of this size – six layers, 9″x13″ – and secondly I haven’t had a lot of success with white cakes. They usually end up dry or flavorless. Yet here I was, making six layers. I was also worried about height. Six layers is surprisingly tall, even taller after you add frosting, and I didn’t want the cake to lean or fall apart. I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party cake… after all, I trust Dorie whole-heartedly and it seemed like a moist, flavorful white cake that would also be sturdy.

I made two layers in advance, just to test things out. Unfortunately, I found the cake to be dry and much too sweet. I cut each layer into three, stacked them, and moaned a little when I saw how tall the finished cake would be. I tested freezing the layers, but they came out even drier the next day. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

I pushed forward, and the morning of the party I woke up at 6:30 to be absolutely sure I’d have enough time to do the whole cake. Dorie’s recipe makes two 9″ round layers, so I was using one recipe to make two thin 9″x13″ layers – basically I would have to repeat the recipe three times. I measured, sifted, and set out all my ingredients beforehand. Then I made two layers at a time, did dishes, and repeated, working like clockwork.

I do kind of go into “baking mode” when I work, especially when I’m alone. I concentrate completely on the task at hand, and it feels good. I have a friend who loves running because it clears his mind and lets him focus, and this happens when I’m in the kitchen. Even though I was doing the same recipe over and over, it didn’t feel repetitive, and I even enjoy the feeling of being busy.

When all the layers were baked, I decided not to go with Dorie’s buttercream frosting, since it could be too rich in a 6 layer cake. I was going to go with whipped cream, but felt frosting would better hold the cake. Finally, I wanted the cakes to be moistened with jam but not too sweet. I ended up thinly spreading every layer with apricot jelly, then alternating whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I frosted the outside with cream cheese frosting and then pressed shredded coconut into the cake.

Driving the cake to the office was a little nerve wracking. I was so worried about the cake leaning! A few hours ago, I had chilled the cake between layers. I had checked on it and realized, with horror, the cake was leaning to the right. I had turned the pan around and when I returned twenty minutes layer, the cake had straightened out. But every time we came to a sudden stop or made a sharp turn, I thought I could feel the cake moving like the leaning tower of pisa.

We made it to the office in one piece. Everyone who saw the cake was impressed by how big it was (and it was heavy!) It sort of looked like a giant coconut candy. But nothing can compare to the reactions I got when the cake was cut. The inside was a surprise, and it elicited gasps and outbursts of surprise all around. It was a room of adults, and yet there was still a wisp – no, a spark – of that innocent, fleeting joy at seeing something colorful. At that moment, I was reminded why I love to bake so much. This is what it’s for. I love to make people happy, and here was an entire room full of happy people – but I don’t think anyone was happier than me.

I was nervous about taste, but I’d learned a lot from my test run. Even though the cake was served in tiny, teetering slices, it was almost completely devoured as people came back for seconds.

It’s almost indecent that I was paid to do this. Creative product namer? No, what I am doing right now must be the most fun job in the world.

I was more than happy with Dorie’s cake. After my adjustments, it was perfect – it was moist, had a beautiful tight crumb, and was just sweet and lemony enough. It might even be my new go-to white cake. When I froze my test run, it came out dry and crumbly, so it’s definitely best the day it’s made. I think it’s worth getting up early for.

I don’t know if people noticed the difference between whipped cream and cream cheese between the layers, but my dad and I did. We both liked the whipped cream better because it was lighter and added a creamy texture. At the same time, the cream cheese layers helped to hold the cake together. Despite all my fears about the cake leaning, this cake stayed upright and perfectly straight as it got smaller and smaller. I also thought the apricot jelly was great, adding moisture and a little flavor without being too prominent.

The cake was supposed to serve 20, but it could have definitely served 30 because the pieces were so small. I am highly recommending this cake. Good for your taste buds, good for your reputation, good for your emotional well being. I think everyone needs a rainbow cake once in a while.

Rainbow Pride Party Cake
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes a 6 layer 9″x13″ cake

I only had two pans. I would make the following recipe three times for a total of 6 layers, rather than tripling the recipe. If you don’t have buttermilk, make it by combining 1 tbsp lemon juice with a scant cup of whole milk for five minutes. Finally you want really soft butter, with the texture of mayonnaise.

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 slightly rounded cup sugar (originally 1 1/2)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Gel or powder food coloring

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and put a rack in the middle or upper third of the oven. Butter two 9″x13″ glass pans and line with buttered parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk.

Cream the butter, zest, and sugar in a mixer on medium speed for a full 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon extract, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, still on medium speed.

Beat in half of the egg-buttermilk mixture, then half of the remaining flour mixture, then the last of the egg-buttermilk mixture, and finally the last of the flour, beating until the batter is smooth. Beat the entire batter on medium high for two minutes until completely smooth and mixed.

Divide the batter in two (it’s about 6 cups total batter.) Dye each batter a different color of the rainbow and scrape into the two pans. Bake 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans five minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. To ensure moistness, once the cakes are cooled, wrap immediately and chill.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes enough to frost and fill two layers of Pride cake
From The Joy of Cooking

24 oz cream cheese
15 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
6 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and extract together until combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.

Assembling the cake: Cut a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the layers and put strips of parchment paper all around the edges. Set the purple layer on top. Spread with a small amount of apricot jelly, then a small amount of stiff, sweetened whipped cream. (Sorry, I didn’t take measurements.) Top with the blue layer. Spread again with jelly, then a small amount of cream cheese frosting. You want very thin layers of frosting, just enough to cover the cake. Repeat with the remaining layers, spreading each with jelly and alternating between whipped cream and frosting. To hold the cake together, it’s helpful to chill between layers.

Use an offset spatula to wipe excess filling off the sides, which may have spilled out. Cover the entire cake with a very thin layer of cream cheese frosting (a crumb coat) and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then frost the entire cake and press shredded coconut into the sides. Keep the cake wrapped in the refrigerator. Take it out 20 minutes before serving and enjoy!

Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers)

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Lately, I’ve been in a writing rut.

I’ve been in food ruts where I made the same types of desserts over and over, and I’ve had weeks where inspiration simply escaped me. I’ve had photography ruts, too, where every post would somehow have the same style of photographs. I think every food blogger has those moments where you long to shoot images of vintage cars, textured bark or copper kettles, anything but another cookie.

These days, I haven’t had any recent baking disasters and my photography can only improve. But I’ve never experienced a writing rut before, and even stringing those two words together makes my heart ache like a bruised peach. I can’t describe how stifling and disheartening it feels to have nothing to say. I have never felt speechless before, and it makes me feel cloudless and empty.

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I tried to pinpoint where it started, and I think I know. Last month the blog received more attention than usual and got some national exposure. I was out of town the week that it happened, and when I came home, I was startled by the sudden spike in subscriptions and Facebook friend requests. All my numbers had gone up, thirty times my usual number of hits, and more comments than I could read in an hour.

At first, I was exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to post again, and I was so touched that 17 and Baking meant something to so many new people. But as I started sifting through the comments, I encountered something I’d never expected to read on my site – wisps of negativity that deflated any of my short-lived joy.

I’ve never received disparaging comments before. I mean, it’s one thing when a recipe doesn’t work out for somebody or when I’ve made a silly mistake on my post. But amongst the flood of new comments were little pebbles of cruelty, a silt of snide comments and offhand criticisms. I knew those people shouldn’t matter. I knew nobody with a dream or a zest for life would write “Who cares?” on a 17 year old’s blog.

But honestly? I’m not kidding anyone, especially not myself. Those comments did matter to me.

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I remember for the first time, dreading my next post. Although only a tiny percentage of comments from the recent exposure had been discouraging, the damage was done. I considered writing about my hesitations and reservations, or about how I found the strength to move on. But nothing I wrote rang true, and ultimately, I didn’t want to display my disappointment and tarnished confidence to the world. That isn’t the kind of person I am.

I wrote a lighthearted post instead, and kept my feelings to myself for once. And somehow, inexplicably, I lost my voice for a few weeks. I was unsatisfied with everything I wrote, and I finally had the last straw when I rewrote last week’s post four times before posting, and still was unhappy with the result. I wanted to find my passion again.

Passion, not flour or sugar, is the life of this blog. I refuse to let it wilt, because this blog has truly had a tangible impact on my life. I can feel it stirring in the back of my mind when I’m home alone, making hot chocolate and trying to find matching socks. I feel it pulsing through my veins when I walk to class, wet leaves still clinging to my boots. And I feel it most of all in my heart when I read your comments and emails, because nothing makes me as happy and enriches my life as much as your words.

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Last week I discovered that I was nominated in the category of “Best Weblog By a Teen” in the 10th annual Weblog Awards, and it lifted my spirits in an unbelievable way. I felt like I was made out of thin air, or quite possibly liquid sunshine. I’m so honored and thrilled to be part of this year’s nominations!

Browsing this year’s nominees has also shown me plenty of great sites I wouldn’t have found on my own. None of the other teen nominees are specifically food bloggers, but their interests range from current issues to fashion to daily ponderings. I definitely encourage you to check out this year’s weblogs and maybe even vote for 17 and Baking! [2/28/10 Update: You might like to know that I won. 🙂 ]

I finally feel like I have found my voice again with this post. The words came out easily once more, like the dusk I’ve been swept in has finally dissipated. When I finished writing this post and read it over in a final edit, I felt a deep satisfaction that I’d nearly forgotten.

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I don’t know if it’s the nomination, the passing of time, or the fact that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was pleasantly easy. All I know is that I am bursting with metaphors and adjectives, I have so much that I want to say and so much I want to learn. I’m so lucky to know where my passions are and to have the means to pursue them with everything I have, and I can’t help but look forward to February with a considerably lighter heart.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and http://www.nanaimo.ca.

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Here in Washington state we don’t get nanaimo bars, or at least I’ve never seen one. I’ve seen them on Tastespotting and thought they looked good, so I was excited to see that they were this month’s challenge. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I liked them. I have a sweet tooth, but even without the maple flavoring, these were tooth achingly sweet. They were also much too rich in the way that an overly buttery buttercream is too rich.

Nanaimo bars have three layers – chocolate on top, a middle buttercream layer, and a cocoa-coconut bottom layer made with graham crackers. For the chocolate layer, I used some unsweetened chocolate to tWe were encouraged to make gluten-free graham crackers for the challenge, but I didn’t have the ingredients on hand and made the original recipe instead. It just so happens I’ve made this exact graham cracker recipe before for my Autumn S’mores, so I’ll give the gluten-free version below.

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
Adapted from 101.cookbooks
Makes about 10 large graham crackers (more than that for me)

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Cold Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. [To make things easier on myself, since the bars just need crumbs, I used a cookie cutter to quickly cut out stars.] Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).  Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

Bake for 25 minutes [more like 12], until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

To make crumbs: When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

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Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars
Makes an 8×8 Pan

Bottom Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Walnuts (Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded)

Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

Maple “Buttercream” Middle Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s, or Vanilla pudding mix)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing (Powdered) Sugar
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Maple Syrup
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Dash of cinnamon

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, icing sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and cinnamon together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

Chocolate Top Layer

3 ounces (87 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
1 ounce (29 g) Unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Let cool to room temperature. When cooled, but still liquid, spread over the top of the bars.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Everybody has guilty pleasures.

For my mom it’s a hot croissant, one with crispy edges that flake all over her lap. Maybe you have a friend like my floormate J-, who herds people out of the room on Tuesdays when Gossip Girl airs. Is it terrible to admit I sometimes sneak downstairs and swipe a spoonful of leftover hot fudge? I don’t even reheat it or drizzle it over ice cream. Instead I eat it cold and truffle-y, straight from the fridge.

Recently, though, I’ve been obsessed with wedding blogs.

I especially love the photography. Close ups of the bride’s shoes, a brilliant pop under the white hem of the dress. The color palettes, more flowers than I can name, the blown out look of Christmas light strings as the dancing begins. Every wedding is a fairy tale.

I’d never been to a wedding I could remember. So when my boyfriend I- invited me to his cousin’s wedding at the end of August, how could I resist?

Merlot

We arrived at the barn where the wedding was set. Because we were early, and because we were staying at the venue, I got to see first-hand the absolute mania that takes place before “I do.”

The flower girl cried because she didn’t like her hair, makeup running down her face. One aunt couldn’t find her beige pumps, and another broke the lens of her glasses. A bridesmaid made a frantic last minute run for basil. Wedding photography never shows the groomsmen all distraught, mixing more pink lemonade, or the wind that keeps knocking vases over.

Despite everything, this wedding was beautiful. The couple looked happy, so truly in love, that misplaced napkins and creased dress pants didn’t matter. The ceremony was short and sweet, everyone clapped, and we felt connected standing there in the sun.

I haven’t seen the photographs yet, but here are some things I don’t think they’ll capture… The bride’s unplanned thank you speech, which brought people to tears, or the square of star-flecked sky visible through the barn’s window. The way I felt dancing with I- to the first song, the hum of crickets outside.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake Batter

When we got home I noticed a new entry on my favorite wedding blog. I scrolled through the photos and couldn’t help but smile. Not a hair out of place, every bouquet perfectly arranged, even the cupcakes looked done up. I still loved reading the post, but it didn’t compare to the raw imperfection of a real live wedding.

I’m starting to think the same is true for food.

Food bloggers have the luxury of writing and photographing their own posts. I can pick the five prettiest cookies to stack for the opening image, and you’d never know that the rest of the batch came out like shapeless amoebas. If I burnt the first pan of caramel, I don’t have to say so. You can’t imagine the splatter of egg whites or the smudges of chocolate that end up all over the counter when I’m done cooking. There is no baker messier than I.

Enter this Red Wine Chocolate Cake. I almost didn’t share the recipe. Not because it didn’t taste incredible (it did) and not because it wasn’t liked (not a crumb survived.) No, I almost didn’t post out of vanity. The photos aren’t very good.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

This loaf is tight crumbed and soft as a lamb’s ear. The color is so dark and rich, I expect flowers to bloom from it. The wine gives the chocolate a flavor that impressed everyone, something deep and complex and mystifying. And it tastes even better Day 2.

But none of that comes through in the photos. (In my humble opinion, they’re kind of flat and ho hum. They don’t make me want to open a bottle of wine.)

My excuses are that the light was poor, I was too lazy to reshoot, and that this everyday chocolate cake is plain to begin with. But let me tell you what the photographs don’t show.

My disappointment when I smelled our buttermilk, and my recklessness when I decided to use merlot in the batter instead. My friend D-’s surprise as he tried to pin down the mystery ingredient. The thick, unashamed second slices my neighbors cut for themselves.

My mom’s sneaky footsteps down the hall in the middle of the night, the click of Tupperware being opened and shut again, and quiet chewing as she returned to her room.

Guilty pleasure for sure.

Cocoa Rouge Cocoa Powder

The original recipe called for buttermilk. Our buttermilk went bad and we didn’t have regular milk, so I couldn’t sour it myself with lemon juice. I was about to use coffee as the liquid instead when I saw the bottle of Merlot.

Buttermilk is acidic. So is Merlot. I’m not an expert, but isn’t red wine supposed to pair with chocolate? I don’t know… maybe? Why not? I poured out the merlot and decided to use that instead. The final cake doesn’t taste exactly like wine, though there are hints. So delicious.

I didn’t use a quality red wine in this cake, but I did use the same excellent cocoa powder from the Red Velvet Cheesecake. It’s a red-tinged Dutch-process cocoa, which results in a taller and prettier loaf. If you can only find Natural-process cocoa, leave out the baking powder and use 1/2 tsp baking soda.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
Adapted from At Home With Magnolia Bakery (via Smitten Kitchen)
Makes a 9×5″ loaf

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 5/8 ounces) Dutch cocoa powder (see above for a natural cocoa adjustment)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a 9×5″ loaf pan.

Beat the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugars and cream until lightened and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg until well combined, then mix in the wine, yogurt, and vanilla. The batter might look curdled, but don’t worry. Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a spoon until there are no streaks of flour left, scraping down the sides of the bowl and being careful not to over mix.

Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake 60-70 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn it out.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

So I’m officially a college sophomore. Could my freshman year have gone by any faster?

After classes ended, I headed up to Maine to spend a week with my boyfriend I- and his family in the pine tree state. My last trip was full of snow and bluster, but this time, sunlight broke through the morning fog and the coastline couldn’t be bluer. Maine is beautiful in the spring – all crabapple blossoms and forsythia flowers. It makes you want to grab plastic sunglasses, tumble through grassy fields, and buy fish and chips from the roadside seafood shack.

The food in Maine is good. My theory is that the town is so small, your business has to be solid or people won’t come back. In the mornings I ate eggs, sunny-side up, blueberry pancakes, home fries and chewy bacon. I tried a sweet potato and carnitas burrito (mind-blowing) and a triple-decker crab BLT. For dessert, we gorged on soft-serve hot fudge sundaes.

The food at I-’s home was delicious too. My first night there, I practically inhaled my dinner. It was such a comfort to eat a hot, home-cooked meal that didn’t come out of a can or a microwave. For dessert, I-’s mother gave me a spoonful of strawberry rhubarb crisp and a generous scoop of ice cream.

“By the way,” she added casually, “the rhubarb is from the garden.”

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I can count the number of times I’ve eaten rhubarb on one hand. I know it’s not an uncommon ingredient, but we don’t grow it, and my family generally passes it as overpriced in the grocery store. Rhubarb is a luxury for me, something that elicits oohs and ahhs. “Will you make it again with me?” I asked.

I-’s family has made this crisp for years. I-’s mother pulled a card from a tightly packed box of recipes. His parents cut the recipe out of a newspaper 30 years ago – the paper is yellow and faded, and they can’t remember which paper it came from anymore. The clipping is full of cross-outs, changes and substitutions as they made the recipe their own over the years. I told them that made it officially theirs.

She cut a bunch of rhubarb from the plant outside. They sat on the counter, striped red and pink and cream, billowing into dark green leaves. I couldn’t believe how vivid and thick the stalks grew. Then I tried fresh rhubarb for the first time. I bit off an end, gnawing down the fibers, and slowly chewing. It was definitely more bitter and stringy than I’d expected, but I dipped the end into sugar and discovered tangy bliss. I-’s mother peeled off the rhubarb skins, like glossy ribbon on a birthday present.

We tossed the rhubarb chunks and strawberry halves into a bowl, and let them macerate in sugar and their own juices.

I-'s Family Recipe Box
Rhubarb Skins

After dinner, I made the topping with I-’s father. He popped the butter in the microwave until it was just shy of melty. I used my fingers to rub it into the almonds, oats, and flour. Together, we tumbled the fruit into a pan, blanketed it in crumble, and slid the dish into the warm oven. “It’s that easy!” he said, smiling at me.

As the fruit bubbled and I walked up the stairs, I realized how much I’d missed family time in the kitchen. It’s not just about good food, though I ached for that too. I missed the intimacy of standing side by side at the counter, slicing potatoes and whisking salad dressing. I haven’t danced around my parents in so long, the three of us weaving among each other to grab pots and pans in our too-small kitchen. I suddenly wanted to sit at the dinner table after a long meal, listening to water run while my mother filled the dishwasher, a sleeping dog against my toes.

In my year away, I’d started to forget that family is the smell of simmering beef broth, and that home is the warmth of hot oven air. I called my mom, dad, and grandma that night. As much as I loved Maine and half wanted to stay forever, deep down I also wanted to see my family.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I’m home at last. I already long for the bustle of Boston. Sometimes I get bored without the rush of classes, work, and extracurriculars. I miss my friends, my roommate, and especially I-.

But Seattle is sunny and even greener than I remembered. I love the familiar murmur of rain on the roof at night, the way the towering trees nestle around our house. When I came home my mother showed me around the yard, pointing out where the groundcover had spread and the plants that had burgeoned forth.

She led me to the vegetable garden, dotted with slender green stems and tiny leaves. I saw the apple trees, lush and fragrant with blossoms – I can’t wait to see the branches bowed over with ripe fruit. But most hopeful of all? Our strawberry plants, which have seriously flourished, carpeting the entire ground.

They make me crave rhubarb.

Striped Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

Lately it seems like I’ve had a lot of bad days. More like a lot of bad weeks. Everyone has those days where nothing goes right, where it seems like the flowers close when you walk by and the clouds begin to leak rain. But when those “once in a while” days turn into every other day, you start to feel discouraged.

I don’t know what it’s been. It started with an unpleasant day in school a few weeks ago, when one of my teachers gave everyone low marks on the final. We all protested but she stayed firm and unyielding. I heard the harshness in her voice and I felt in that moment that her only joy in life came from punishing us.

The following period only made matters worse. It’s a “bird class” – the kind that’s so easy, you fly through with a free A, but that day we had a substitute teacher and everyone acted up. I didn’t find it amusing, but found myself powerless and unmotivated to stand up and help her as she slowly lost control of the class. As the day drew to a close, I realized with dread I’d left some important paperwork at home, and that was the last straw as the sky opened up and began to pour.

A week later, I was spending my weekend afternoon on my bed, trying to sort out a college application. It was a particularly frustrating application, with all sorts of strange requirements and vague instructions that were testing my temper. I must have called twenty people for help on filling it out, but all I got was twenty different opinions, all conflicting. I sat there the whole day, just building up more and more tension until I had to stop looking at the unfinished page.

My friend chose that low, hopeless moment to call me with a complaint and a desire to fight, but I didn’t have any fight in me. As she yelled and I felt our friendship ending, I couldn’t take any more. My heart felt as tender as a badly bruised peach. I quietly hung up, feeling the worst I’d felt all week, and trying not to let it break me.

Usually at moments like that, I turn to the kitchen. But because of all my commitments, I haven’t had as much time to bake as I’d like. I’ve missed three of my friend’s birthdays to date, even though I’ve had their special birthday cakes planned out since the summer. There’s also baked goods I want to make for many people in my life I’m thankful for – teachers, college advisers, my SAT prep tutors. But those have to stay on hold a little while longer.

I decided to make these Striped Peppermint Meringues with Dark Chocolate Ganache as an escape from my stress. They looked beautiful, festive (hello, December) and delicious. Plus, I knew this was a recipe I could do in my sleep. I’ve made this meringue countless times as part of my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream, and I’ve never had difficulties with chocolate ganache. As I cracked the eggs, I felt calmness rise in me from my toes up, like a paper towel touched to water.

The meringue whipped into stiff peaks without trouble. I pulled out the whisk and examined the thick, glossy swirl of meringue and couldn’t help but feel peace. I pulled out my camera and took a photo of the meringue, thinking about this post. The last step before piping was to beat in a little peppermint extract. I measured out the half teaspoon and poured it into the meringue, and switched the mixer on.

I knew right away something was wrong.

The mixer began to churn and the meringue deflated in about two seconds right before my eyes. What had once been stiff, shiny meringue was now a soft, pepperminty mess, and I suddenly felt betrayed even by my KitchenAid. It felt like too much to handle.

My dad calls days like this “deviled egg days.” He told me the story as he drove me home on a particularly bad day. I was keeping my head turned and looking at the raindrops trail down the window so he couldn’t see my face, but he didn’t get discouraged.

He described a dinner party he was serving, where deviled eggs were on the menu. He threw dozens of eggs into the boiling water, only to look down and see that the eggs had broken. He went to the store and bought dozens more. On his second try, the eggs were impossible to peel, and he was forced to toss them as well. At his limit, he bought more eggs and tried a third time. He made them just right this time, and arranged them on a platter. He turned around to move the platter out of the kitchen and accidentally banged it on the counter. All the eggs slid onto the floor, unsalvageable.

I turned to look at him for the first time. “What did you do?”

He smiled and said, “I realized there weren’t going to be any deviled eggs. I just moved on, and as it turned out, nobody missed them.”

I was thinking about his words as I looked back down at the meringue. I’d whipped it another 10 minutes, hoping it would increase in volume again, but it stayed resolutely flat. But the oven was preheated, the sheets were lined with parchment, and I decided to go ahead and try them. I prepared the bag and piped them in neat stars, which drooped and failed to keep their lines. I pushed them into the oven anyway.

When they came out, they weren’t as tall or pointy as they should have been. But they tasted nice, like the holidays and after-dinner mints, so I made the ganache too. I decided they looked very cute, and the meringues were really complemented by the chocolate. In the end, I guess my kitchen wasn’t betraying me – maybe it was trying to teach me something.

I haven’t had any bad days since December began, and I’m glad to see the end of them. This morning was stunning. At dawn, I stepped outside with my camera to photograph the frigid beauty around me: a pale white sun in a cotton-candy sky and the frost-kissed Japanese maple leaves. I breathed in the fresh air and felt my fingers grow numb, and I smiled the whole way to school.


I did some research afterward, because I just didn’t believe that I would mess up meringue. It turns out, meringue doesn’t like peppermint oil, which some peppermint extracts contain. I checked the bottle and yes – sure enough, oil of peppermint was listed as one of the ingredients. I angrily rechecked the recipe, but it didn’t make any mention of this vital fact. Well, you live and learn.

If you plan to make this recipe, you can find a peppermint extract without peppermint oil or use a different extract/different colored stripes. Or, you can go ahead and throw in that peppermint oil and just bake flatter meringues. They were still delicious.

It’s very easy to make the red stripes. Before filling a piping bag with the meringue, you use a small food paintbrush to paint 3 long stripes of red gel food coloring inside the bag. Then when you pipe the meringue stars, they come out cheerily streaked with red. I was thinking about using different extracts and colors, like lemon extract and yellow, orange extract and orange, or lavender extract and purple (you get the idea.) If you aren’t into food coloring, the meringues won’t taste any different without it.

The meringues are crispy, light as air, and very peppermint-y. The chocolate helps keep the strong peppermint flavor in check and adds a bit of moisture and richness to an otherwise weightless dessert. I made the cookies very small, and it was hard to only eat one at a time.

12/4/09 Update: It’s Day 2, and the cookies have only gotten better. The chocolate has softened the meringue slightly, so while it still has a crunch, it dissolves into a sweet, creamy inside. The peppermint isn’t overpowering and the whole package is so good. It’s a definite make-again for me.

Striped Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache
From Martha Stewart’s Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

Meringue
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure peppermint extract (see extract notes above)
Red gel food coloring
Chocolate Ganache
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 175 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg whites and sugar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm and smooth between your finger tips, 3-5 minutes. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. Mix in the (peppermint oil free! see notes) extract.

With a small, clean paintbrush used for food, paint three stripes of food coloring inside a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (I used a drop flower tip). Then fill with 1-2 cups meringue and pipe small, 3/4″ high stars onto the sheets. If you need to refill the pastry bag, repaint the food coloring. Clean the brush every time you dip it into the food coloring, or use a new one.

Bake the cookies until crisp but not brown, about 1 hour and 40 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks before sandwiching with ganache.

To make the ganache: bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Pour over the chocolate in a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. The ganache should be thick enough to hold its shape. Fill it into a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip and pipe a small mound of ganache onto one meringue before topping with another.

Store cookies in a single layer in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.