I made these cookies a few weeks ago, right when spring had officially sprung in Portland and the city was finally bursting with sunshine and fresh flowers. But since then, the weather has turned gray and rainy (everyday, yikes), which makes the "spring celebration" vibe I'd planned for this post a little debatable. Oh well. They're still pretty cute, right?
Although I never saw the flower shortbread cookies on sale, I think about them every time I see cakes decorated with flowers. Most flowers on cakes are inedible and need to be plucked off before eating; I really appreciated that Craftsman and Wolves used edible flowers for their cookies. For these cookies, I used a mix of cornflowers, calendula flowers, and radish flowers, as well as rose and lilac petals. Although my cookies look as fancy as theirs, they're actually a touch more simple—I've eschewed the shortbread dough for my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and flavored the entire thing with rose water. Enjoy!
Although Craftsman and Woves uses dried flowers for their cookies, I used a mix of both dried (cornflowers and rose petals) and fresh flowers (everything else) for mine. Dried flower petals are available at herb and spice stores—Kalustyan's has a great selection online (but it helps to know what you're looking for since their browsing experience isn't the best). I sourced the fresh flowers from our garden and the Portland Farmers' Market.
For this recipe, be sure to use rose water and NOT rose extract. Rose extract is much more concentrated, and will be too intense and floral in this recipe. In a pinch, you can use rose extract, but I suggest halving the recipe quantities if you do. Rose water is available in Middle Eastern grocery stores and specialty food markets.
To stamp out the cookies, I used cutters from this fluted circle set—I used a 3-inch cutter for the big circles and a 3/4-inch cutter for the small circles.
This post is sponsored by Bob's Red Mill, who provided the ingredients and compensation to make this recipe happen! I use Bob's Red Mill products in all my baking, and I'm excited to be partnering with them all year long. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!
Rhubarb season is officially in full swing in Portland—both the farmers markets and grocery stores have bundles of the vegetable (apparently it’s a vegetable and not a fruit!). If I’m being 100% honest with y’all, it’s actually not my favorite thing to eat? Raw rhubarb is bitter and tough, while baked rhubarb can be stringy and astringent (however, I did have the opportunity to try “forced” rhubarb when I was last in London; forced rhubarb is when the vegetable is grown in dim lighting conditions, resulting in a pinker, softer, and sweeter stalks—it was delicious!).
And yet, despite my lukewarm feelings towards rhubarb, I can’t help but get excited when I see the first few stalks in the springtime. I think it’s maybe because of a combination of their vibrant pink color and the fact that their appearance in the supermarket means that spring is officially here and we have days of sunshine ahead of us. I’ve also noticed many talented bakers making fun, geometric patterns with their rhubarb on top of tarts (like this one and this one), and wanted to give it a try for myself:
The pattern itself wasn’t difficult to make; I followed this tutorial by Herriot Grace, who also has a video of how to cut and arrange the rhubarb stalks. The trick is to use a template made from a folded up piece of parchment paper or stiff cardboard to slice the rhubarb into even lengths—from there, it pretty easy street:
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already, but one of my favorite things to do while travel is to check out local grocery stores and supermarkets. Erlend and I recently just got back from a quick vacation to both London and Copenhagen, and I made sure to visit a handful of each in both cities. You can find all sorts of fruit, candy, and snacks that aren’t as easily available in the United States (to wit: Erlend found grains of paradise and cacao fruit in Torvehallerne in Copenhagen; while neither is native to Copenhagen, he was excited to see them since they aren’t sold in Portland AT ALL and spent a fair amount of krone sampling tiny amounts of each fruit).
While wandering the baking aisles of both London and Copenhagen, something stood out to me: both British and Danish folks seem to use more floral flavors in their baking. In both cities, the baking section had extracts like elderflower and rose water more readily available (in addition to some more unusual ones like sea buckthorn berries). In Copenhagen, I also noticed that the bread and pastries were almost always made with alternative flours like buckwheat and rye, giving them a more nuanced and tasty flavor.
It was with this in mind that my rhubarb geometry found itself under a pistachio, rose water, and semolina cake. The cake is adapted from Ottolenghi’s dessert cookbook, Sweet, and is made with a mix of ground pistachio nuts and Bob’s Red Mill Super-Fine Almond Flour. Because the pistachio nuts are coarsely ground and the almond meal is incredibly light and fine, there’s lovely, contrasting textures of nuts throughout every bite of cake. It’s also spiked with a healthy dose of semolina, a fine flour usually reserved for making delicate pastas in Italy. The flours give the cake a wonderfully earthy, nutty flavor, all the while remaining soft and fluffy like regular cake. The rose water complements the astringent rhubarb, tempering its sourness with a light floral flavor that would otherwise be too overpowering on its own. Enjoy!
Some baker's notes:
If you’re opting for the rhubarb geometric pattern, you’ll need around 2 pounds of rhubarb. For a super even design, make sure to get stalks that are equal in width (length doesn’t matter as much since you’ll be cutting and slicing them accordingly). Also opt for stalks that are incredibly pink and red—lighter stalks will lose their color in the oven.
Be sure to source rose water, and NOT rose extract, for this recipe—the latter would be too overpowering in this cake. Rose water is typically available in the baking aisles of grocery stores; in a pinch, check the international or Middle Eastern aisles of your store.
Bake Time is on the longer side because the rhubarb needs a fair amount of time in the oven to soften and cook; it will also vary greatly depending on how soft and ripe your rhubarb is. I’ve given you a starting point of 60 to 70 minutes, but I encourage you to rely on visual cues instead. Start checking for doneness at that mark; a done cake will have a perfectly set center that bounces back when gently poked, and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake will come out with few crumbs attached.
This post was done in partnership with Canon U.S.A, who sponsored this post by providing the compensation and the Canon EOS RP camera kit to make it happen! I've exclusively used Canon cameras and lenses since the start of my blogging career, and I've very excited to share with you all the reasons why in this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that make Hummingbird High possible!
Today I'm sharing the behind-the-scenes of a process that many of you have asked me about throughout my years of blogging: shooting a recipe!
First things first: I'm completely self-taught at photography. Back in 2011, the year that I started Hummingbird High, the food photography courses that are abundant today simply didn't exist! I taught myself by reading literally the ONE book about food photography that was available at the time, and perhaps more importantly, by practicing, practicing, practicing. I started by taking pictures of my baked goods with a cell phone camera (seriously!), before graduating to my very first Canon DSLR (a Canon Rebel XS, for those curious) and eventually building my way up to full-frame models like the Canon 5D Mark IV and the Canon EOS RP that I used for these pictures. And while I could probably write a book on everything I’ve learned about food photography in the last eight years, I figured I’d start by telling you all about the five principles I use to guide my photography while shooting a recipe: get the recipe »
In my high school, students had to take a "creative" elective during their freshman and sophomore years. Our options were limited to only three classes: art, choir, or drama. Because I couldn't (and still can't!) sing and at the time and had an intense fear of public speaking, I decided that art was my best bet to cruise through the two years relatively stress-free.
But alas; it turned out that I was no more an artist than I was a singer or an actor. I was terrible at literally every medium we tried—sketching, painting, and even plastering, during which I accidentally waxed off half my classmate's eyebrow when we were doing plaster casts of our faces. My art teacher thought that my ineptitude was on purpose, and responded by reacting with either hostility or indifference to my best efforts. Needless to say, that was the last time I have ever taken an official art class of any kind.
I sometimes wonder what my art teacher would say if she saw me now and found out that I was making my living from taking photos of food, developing recipes, and styling cakes like this one. I'm not sure if any of what I do qualifies as Real Art (whatever that means), but it didn't occur to me how closely related they were up until a recent FaceTime chat with my mom. My mom had called right at the start of my decorating process, and I figured I'd multitask by decorating the cake while we chatted. At the end of our conversation, my mom asked to see my progress and was surprised that the cake, had patches of uneven frosting and was partially naked at the beginning of our call, was now fully covered compete with perfectly smooth sides. "It's like you plastered it!" my mom exclaimed.
The cake is a simple vanilla cake topped with vanilla buttercream frosting. In addition to the "paint", the inside of the cake is swirled with different colors for a tie-dyed effect. I used natural food coloring that turned out a touch too pastel and sort of blended together—if you want a more dramatic look, opt for bolder colors like Tessa did in her book!
This post was done in partnership with Land O’Lakes. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I’m incredibly excited to work with Land O’Lakes because of their high-quality butter and dairy products. Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and the sponsors that help make the magic happen!
One of the questions I often get asked is how I come up with recipes to bake for Hummingbird High. Truthfully, I find inspiration all over: I read a lot of my fellow food bloggers’ recipes, subscribe to a ton of food magazines, and oftentimes try to recreate pastries and desserts that I I had while traveling (like these vanilla custard donuts) or even while out at a local restaurant or bakery (like these gluten-free double chocolate cookies inspired by my favorite Portland bakery).
Recently, Erlend and I went on a date night to a newish Polish restaurant in the city. Neither of us were all that familiar with Polish cuisine, but we absolutely loved it. We ordered crispy potato pancakes (very similar to latkes), pierogies (Polish dumplings, basically) filled with potato, truffles, and caramelized onions, and spaetzle with tons of gruyere and fresh herbs. It was all delicious, but the real star of the show were some Parker House rolls that they’d spiced with everything bagel seasoning and served with herbed cream cheese and smoked trout roe.
Interestingly enough, that date night was the first time I’d ever tried a Parker House roll. I was immediately obsessed with its incredibly fluffy and pillowy interior, and how it contrasted with a slightly crispy shell. When we got home, I immediately started researching Parker House roll recipes and discovered a wealth of new-to-me information all about Parker House rolls. Like the fact that their namesake comes from the Parker House Hotel in Boston, where they were invented all the way back in the 1870s! I also discovered that, although most of the Parker House rolls recipes I’d seen online came in a variety of shapes and sizes, a folded-over roll (think: a taco made out of bread dough) is the original shape. The story is that an angry pastry cook, angry after an altercation with a hotel guest, distractedly threw a batch of unfinished rolls into the oven. The unfinished rolls then baked up into their distinct taco shape.
Needless to say, I definitely took some liberties with MY recipe for Parker House rolls. For my recipe, I opted for a more “modern” bun shape, similar to these Hawaiian sweet bread rolls I made a few weeks ago and am STILL obsessed with. Of course, as an homage to our recent date night at the Polish restaurant, I topped each bun off with a generous amount of everything bagel seasoning (be sure to check out the baker’s notes for sources). And finally, because today is apparently National Pretzel Day (who comes up with these holidays?!), I brushed each roll with “pretzel wash” to give them the signature dark pretzel color and slightly salty flavor. Enjoy!
Some baker’s notes:
Traditional Parker House roll recipes use vegetable shortening, which I swapped out with Land O Lakes® Butter because I think it’s more delicious. Note that, unlike many of my baking recipes that call for unsalted butter, this recipe uses SALTED butter. For bread recipes, I find that salted butter really adds a deeper and more umami flavor. Because I tend to rely more on unsalted butter and tend to use less salted butter in my baking, I opted for Land O Lakes® Butter in Half Sticks. Unlike most butter, which tends to come in ½ cup sticks, Land O Lakes® Salted Butter in Half Sticks come in ¼ cup portions. They’re perfect for small batch recipes like this one and help keep your butter tasting fresher for longer (since you’re less likely to have a partially unwrapped stick sitting in the fridge for an extended amount of time).
Bagel seasoning is available online. If bagel seasoning is unavailable in your area, make your own: in a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, 1 ½ tablespoons dried garlic flakes, 1 ½ tablespoons dried minced onion, and 2 teaspoons flaky salt.
To shape the dough into balls, I use the pinch and claw grip. You basically pinch and fold the seams of the dough inwards to make a rough ball shape, then use your hand in a claw shape to roll the dough into a perfect circle.
Here is the truth: despite vegetables' recent rise in popularity and uptick in reputation as something people actually like to eat (as opposed to, you know, have to eat), I've always been kinda meh on them. If we're being completely honest, I STILL am. Believe me, I try to be a vegetable person. I *know* it's better for me. So much that I make sure that at least half of me and Erlend's meals consist of vegetables. And even if I'm dining out, I'm the lame person in the group who suggests we go "somewhere with vegetables" and force the table to order at least one plate dedicated to the stuff. But push comes to shove, I'll never be able to scarf down a plate of vegetables in the same way that I can very enthusiastically do a burger or even an entire pan of pepperoni pizza.
I'm not disputing that vegetables aren't tasty. I pretty much love any deep-fried or roasted vegetable (especially if it's been doused in lots of butter, oil, and salt), and appreciate the lightness of a salad on a day where I'm feeling bloated and icky (likely from scarfing down too much deep fried stuff, Chinese or not, side eye). But I just don't get excited about them. And for a long time, I believed in clear boundaries between the food I need to eat (ehem, salads and vegetables) and the food I WANT to eat, like the cookies and cakes you see on Hummingbird High. And that's why, in my eight or so years of blogging, I have never posted a cake recipe that uses a vegetable like zucchini or carrots. My train of thought was genuinely this: I'm eating cake. Why ruin it with vegetables?
Which leads me to this carrot cake recipe. Now I'm STILL not exactly sure why I decided to make a carrot cake after literally eight years of avoiding it. But I figured I'd start with a tried and tested recipe from one of the baking greats, Stella Parks. This recipe is adapted from her cookbook, BraveTart; according to the recipe's headnotes, it's the cake that Stella baked for her own wedding, which is perhaps the biggest endorsement you can give to any recipe. Her recipe uses brown butter to highlight the earthy sweetness of the carrots, along with whole wheat flour to help absorb moisture from the vegetables and keep the cake light and fluffy. It's absolutely delicious and may even be enough to convert me into using vegetables in my desserts recipes on a regular basis.
To make it Easter themed (Easter is this Sunday, can you believe it?!), I lined the cream cheese frosting with these shimmery Cadbury mini eggs (yes, they are literally shimmery versions of those Cadbury eggs that everybody loves — not the ones with the gooey center, but the ones with the hard candy shell). To be perfectly honest with y'all, the Cadbury egg decor was a low-key disaster — although it looked great and was easier to decorate, than say, something more elaborate like this ruffle cake, cutting the cake was a bit of a nightmare and caused Cadbury eggs to fly violently off the cake and shatter everywhere. Not to mention the fact that after about an hour or so, the dye from the eggs started to run and drip down the cake because of their contact with the frosting! Ew. So although this egg design makes for a great Instagram photo, I'm sad to say I definitely wouldn't recommend this technique in the future and feel low-key betrayed by this recipe and this blog post that recommends something similar. Sorry to crush everybody's dreams, HAPPY EASTER.
To make this recipe, you'll need 24 ounces of peeled and shredded carrots. You can either buy them already peeled and shredded, but I noticed that a processed bag was literally three times the price of unprocessed carrots! I ended up following Stella's recommendation in the book and buying 2 pounds of carrots, trimming and peeling them, and then using the fine shredder disc blade in my food processor to shred them. The whole thing took about 10 minutes (shredding them in the food process took less than a minute — the majority of the work was peeling the damn things) and saved me a decent amount of cash.
Don't panic — this cake makes a LOT of batter. Make sure to use pans with at least 3 inch sides for each cake; in a pinch, you can always move up to 9-inch cake pans or use a fourth 8-inch cake pan.
Stella's cream cheese frosting is actually based on German buttercream recipes, which instructs the baker to first make a pudding and then beat it with butter (and cream cheese, for this particular recipe) to make a more stable frosting than traditional American cream cheese frosting that still melts in your mouth. Unfortunately, like Swiss meringue buttercream, German buttercream can be unpredictable — if the pudding is added to the butter at too warm of a temperature, the buttercream will end up too loose and gooey. Alternatively, if it's too cold, the buttercream will feel stiff, dense, and taste oily. If the former, refrigerate the entire bowl for 14 minutes, then whip for 3 minutes on medium-high. If it seems too stiff. scoop out a cup of it into a small bowl and microwave until completely melted, about 30 seconds. Pour the melted buttercream into the rest of the buttercream and whisk on medium-high for 15 seconds.
Because the pudding needs to be cooled to room temperature, I actually ended up making this cake over 2 days. On the first day, I made the cakes and the pudding for the cream cheese frosting; on the second day, I finished making the cream cheese frosting and decorated the cake. If you're going this route, make sure you let the pudding come to room temperature by taking it out of the fridge at least 1 hour before using. It needs to be rewarmed to 68 (F). If you're planning on making the cake all in one day, I suggest make the pudding first, then the cakes; let both the pudding and cake come to room temperature before finishing the frosting and decorating the cake.
Are you a Shake Shack or an In-N-Out person? Don't cop out and say you're both, because there is no such thing in the EPIC battle between the two mighty and very delicious fast food chains. I'll go ahead and say it myself: I'm on Team Shake Shack. I used to work across from the original location in Madison Square Park, and, on days that were particularly rough (or, if the line happened to be short, lol), I'd treat myself to a cheeseburger, crinkle-cut fries, and, if work was REALLY bad, a milkshake.
So I started looking for substitutions: the potato rolls here were far inferior to anything you can buy out east, but there were plenty of Hawaiian sweet rolls to choose from. In particular, I was fond of King's Hawaiian — they had the same light and fluffy texture as my beloved Martin's potato rolls, with just the right amount of chewiness to hold up to any filling. Pretty soon, I was addicted and eating King's even without the burger accoutrements.
It never occurred to me that I could easily make them at home until I flipped through my good friend Alana's new cookbook, Aloha Kitchen. Aloha Kitchen is all about Hawaiian cuisine and its many influences from all around the world — for instance, these Hawaiian sweet bread rolls are actually based on pão doce, a sweet bread from Portugal. Alana's version pays homage to my beloved King's Hawaiian rolls, but also notes that every island has its own local sweet bread spot.
Confession: I've never actually been to Hawai'i (except for a brief stopover when I was flying from Portland to Manila — I don't think that counts). But Alana's book really transported me there; it's filled with beautiful images of the island, with recipes, stories, and even history lessons. Never has a cookbook given me such a complete sense of place. I'm especially proud of Alana because she started the cookbook process a few months before I did — I see her years of hard work on every page, and hear her warm voice and deep passion for her home in every word of Aloha Kitchen. Her book is an incredible accomplishment beyond what I can describe here, so be sure to check it out for yourself!
Although Alana's version has you make and bake the rolls in one day, I split the recipe over two days to make an overnight version to cut down the time I spent waiting in the kitchen. To expedite the process and make the rolls all in one day, skip chilling the dough in the fridge overnight and instead let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Proceed with the rest of the instructions on Day 2 as instructed.