I've never had much of a green thumb. I've been a successful plant parent a grand total of two times in my life: the first was when I was 24 and kept a random bamboo plant in the corner of my kitchen far away from natural light, occasionally watering the poor thing when I remembered to (so, maybe like, once a month?). For some reason, it thrived — I gave it to my friend when I moved away to Denver, where she promptly killed it by overwatering it. C'est la vie.
The second time was three years ago, also the second time I lived in San Francisco. Erlend's mom gifted me a potted orchid right before I left for Europe for two weeks. It promptly shed its flowers, but I kept watering its dead-looking bulb under Erlend's long-distance guidance. Nothing happened for a full freaking year; despite my constant watering, it looked as dead as it ever was... right until the week I moved to New York, of course. Literally days before my big move, the moldy looking bulb burst into life, sprouting thirty or so beautiful orchids all at once. I gave it to that same friend I gave my bamboo plant to; she promptly killed it. Again.
These days, my plant parenting duties are limited. After years of struggling to take care of and killing the trendy plant du jour (let's see... my plant casualties include a window garden box full of herbs, many small succulents, a fiddle leaf fig, an airplant or two, a potted string of pearls, cacti of different varieties, and probably more I'm forgetting), I've given up officially. My interaction with plants is now limited to the following: occasionally stopping on my bike rides across town to take photos of pretty flowering trees; purchasing overpriced blooms at New Seasons and the Portland Farmers Market for use on cakes; and using cookie cutters to recreate my favorite flowers and leaves on pies.
The problem with making dyed pie dough (either with a vibrant green powder like matcha, or with other vegetables like beets or freeze-dried fruit with blueberries) is that once cooked, the color tends to get usurped by the Maillard reaction and any coloring fades away to the generic golden yellow of pies. I tried to combat this in many ways (by sprinkling the top of the pie with matcha and/or dyed green sugar and finding that the matcha burned to an unattractive brown and that the sugar wasn't strong enough to fight the pie's golden color), none of which worked. I also thought that cooking the pie filling before baking would reduce the pie's overall bake time, allowing me to pull the pie out earlier when it was still green (yeah, no, all that ended up resulting in was a pie with an undercooked bottom crust and middle). And after everybody's enthusiasm for this pie's vibrant green color on Instagram, I was actually ashamed to post the final product, a generic golden pie, on this blog and considered scrapping it completely.
But then I took a bite.
The pie crust, despite its golden color, was perfect. Crispy, flaky layers, with just the slightest hint of matcha to compliment a deep, cherry vanilla flavor. The best part is that cooking the filling beforehand yielded the perfect pie consistency, the kind that didn't run or turn the pie crust soggy after slicing.
So maybe the baked pie doesn't stay as attractive and appealing as it is raw. But it sure as heck is tasty, and maybe that matters more? You tell me.
For the pie leaves, I used this monstera cookie cutter, which is a touch on the expensive side but worked perfectly. You can get different sizes too! In a pinch, if you don't want to pay $10 for the cookie cutter, you can print out a monstera leaf stencil and use a sharp paring knife to trace around the dough.
When I first wrote about matcha in 2012, I felt like I needed to explain what it was to my readers — these days, matcha is pretty ubiquitous and needs no introduction. Just remember that matcha is available in different grades; when baking, it's always best to opt for the culinary variety, which is cheaper and more strongly flavored than the ceremonial grade. I used the culinary matcha from Tea Bar, a local tea chain in town that also packages some of their most popular tea products for shipping around the country.
The first draft for #weeknightbakingbook is officially turned in and I am equal parts relieved, proud, and generally exhausted. Because I spent so much time on recipe testing and development, I felt like I rushed through the actual writing of the book itself — all I can say is that my editor has a whale of a task ahead of her, that's for sure. I was literally down to the wire, translating my manuscript from Google Docs to Microsoft Word* the midnight before my contractual deadline. I also can't relax just quite yet since I'm spending the rest of the month styling and shooting photos for the book. I still have about 70 shoots to get through before I can fully rest and relax, eeep.
*Also, if you missed it, I was doing some High Quality Content Creation at 12:30AM this past Monday, complaining about formatting my manuscript from Google Docs to Microsoft Word — on a whim, I did a quick poll and found that many of you guys still use Microsoft Word. What gives?!
Although I'll be pretty heads down for the rest of the month, I'm still making an effort to carve out some time for myself here and there. For 4th of July, we celebrated with a hot pot feast at my friends Sze Wa and Jeremy's place, before walking over to Broadway Bridge to catch the paltriest view of Portland's fireworks. It was also Erlend's 30th birthday this past weekend; Erlend's parents drove down from their summer cabin in Mount Hood to take us to dinner at Zilla Sake. We then feasted on the clafoutis that Erlend made me make for his birthday (instead of, you know, the layer cakes I usually like to make, eyeroll), for which he insisted that I leave the cherries unpitted since it's the traditional French way and apparently the pits impart an almond flavor? *whisper* I honestly couldn't tell, but not pitting cherries definitely saved me a ton of time so there's that. *endwhisper*
Speaking of cherries, we've been going through POUNDS of them ever since Northwest Cherry Growers sent me a huge box of Skeena cherries from Pasco, Washington. They're a beautiful deep red, and are incredibly juicy, ripe, and delicious. We've been mostly eating them fresh while saving the rest for #weeknightbakingbook pies, but occasionally I'll cheat and make another dessert like these cherry streusel cheesecake bars. These bars were inspired by this sour cherry streusel cake from last year, and a variation of the cheesecake bar recipe from my upcoming cookbook. The bars are incredibly creamy with a bit of tang from sour cream, and lots of flavor and crunch from the cherries, streusel, and Speculoos cookie crumbs. Enjoy!
Because this is a multi-component recipe, it can be a bit time consuming to make — there are some tips and tricks that you can take in order to cut down on how long you're working. Streusel can be made up to 1 week in advance; just keep it in the fridge in an airtight container until you're ready to use. Cherries can be prepped overnight in an airtight container; the juice will darken a little bit to a weird, unattractive brownish red, but it'll come out a beautiful maroon in the oven. There's also no need to wait for the cookie crust to cool completely before filling, so go hog wild.
Cream cheese can be a little tricky to work with — if you use it while it's too cold, you'll end up with a lumpy batter. Be sure that both the cream cheese, sour cream, and eggs are at room temperature for the smoothest possible cheesecake filling.
This post was done in partnership withStonewall Kitchen, who sponsored this post by providing the compensation and ingredients used for this post. As always all thoughts and opinions are my own — thank you for supporting the brands that help Hummingbird High keep running!
Although Instagram gets a lot of criticism today for its ever-changing algorithm (especially from creatives, business persons, and other various folks like me who make a living from it), there are some aspects of the app that I really appreciate. To wit — I love Instagram Stories, which allows me direct access to your thoughts, comments, and general feelings as I bake in the kitchen. As much as I love sharing the final products on my blog, I feel like it doesn't do enough justice to the actual work involved: the various trial runs that failed, the sunken versions that came before it, the sink full of dishes, the flour on the kitchen floor. Instagram Stories is a way to let you guys in on all that, and to assure everybody that although everything looks perfect on the feed, my kitchen probably looks a lot like yours whenever you take on a recipe. Or maybe even worse, lol.
One of my favorite things about Instagram Stories is the polling feature, which allows me to get feedback from you guys in real time. Take this weekend, when I was developing a quick-and-easy 4th of July recipe with some of my favorite Stonewall Kitchen jams. After publishing a complicated (but totally worth it 😜) American Flag cake recipe, I figure you guys would want something a little easier for your day off celebrations. My initial recipe idea was for some star-shaped pop tarts, made with some store-bought puff pastry dough and stuffed silly with Stonewall Kitchen almond butter and raspberry jam.
But when I opened my freezer to thaw the puff pastry dough, I saw some almond flour I'd forgotten about and a light bulb went off in my head: almond always works wonderfully with raspberries, and I was more in a cookie kind of mood anyway. I ended up baking both the pop tarts AND the cookies, asking you all which you preferred via Instagram Stories (the story is still up on my profile — be sure to click the story titled "tart vs cookie"!). I couldn't decide either, since both were plenty tasty to me.
And while the initial results were split evenly (literally 50% off you voted for the tarts, while the other 50% voted for the cookies), I was surprised by the surge of people who changed their minds in the next frame after I showed the cookies filled with jam and topped with confectioners' sugar. Over 10,000 of you guys (!!!) voted that you preferred the cookies (which is funny, since only about 2,000 people voted in the initial tarts vs. cookies poll in the first place), with a good portion of the folks who initially wanted pop tarts flipping over to the cookies. Nobody can resist those shiny, jammy centers it seems.
Because I wanted the cookies to stay pale, I used blanched almond meal, which is crushed almonds that have been separated away from their skins for a finer, paler meal. It tends to be pricier than unblanched almond meal, so in a pinch, you can substitute one for the other — just know that if you use unblanched almond meal, your cookies probably won't look as pale and white as mine.
After filling with jam, the cookies tend to soften considerably and won't keep that well — so be sure to only assemble and enjoy right before serving!
By the time you read this, I'll hopefully have finished the manuscript for Weeknight Baking. Don't get too excited though — I still have another month to finish up my photos (of which there are a LOT to do) before I can really relax. But for now, I'm spending the weekend with a bottle of rose, catching up on all the exercise I missed this week (I hurt my left arm and couldn't fully extend it for FIVE FREAKING DAYS), and returning all the ill-fitting clothes I panic-bought for my birthday. I know that those plans probably don't sound great to you, but they're everything I want right now. get the recipe »
Keeping today's post short and sweet since I'm officially in CRUNCH TIME for #weeknightbakingbook! My manuscript is due next week (my stomach just did a cartwheel as I typed that) and I'm down to the wire — I'm working on what's known as "front matter", a.k.a. the stuff that everybody ignores before they plow straight into the recipes and photos of the book, lol. It can be a little bit heartbreaking to pour so much time and energy into something you know most people will skip, but it's important to me because I learned so much in the front matter of my favorite baking books (seriously guys — it's worth reading this section, especially if you own Momofuku Milk Bar or The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book) and want to do my own book the same justice. *shrug emoji*
And since we're on the subject of cookbooks (and will likely be for the next few weeks, sorry), I have a stack of books that I'm working through one by one. One of those books is Shelly from Vegetarian Ventures' newish cookbook, Platters and Boards, which is dedicated to building beautiful charcuterie and cheese boards. It's such a fun and original book, with tons of ideas for different themes and holidays — think: Flower Power Platters, S'mores Smorgasbords, and a Winter Solstice Platter. I've been super into it because we had spell where it was 90+ degrees every day and all I wanted to eat was cold salad and cheese, lol.
Anyway, Shelly has a recipe for dark chocolate covered strawberries that I've had bookmarked since receiving her book; unfortunately I sorta dropped the ball and just missed strawberry season in Portland!!! Now all the farmers markets are selling cherries, which I guess I can't complain too much about since cherries are pretty dope. I decided to substitute the strawberries for cherries in her original recipe and it worked so well that I wanted to share it with you guys today. Shelly's special twist includes sprinkling a colorful layer of pistachio nuts and freeze dried raspberries over the chocolate. Enjoy!
Trader Joe's sells a variety of freeze-dried fruits, including raspberries; I also recently saw that Whole Foods started carrying a variety. In a pinch, you can also order freeze-dried raspberries online.
I used Stemilt's Skylar Rae cherries, which are incredibly sweet with a firm and crisp texture, perfect for coating in chocolate and other toppings. I left my cherries unpitted because I found it easier to dip the cherries if the stems were still intact — you can use the stems as a sort of handle to dip the cherries in the chocolate and other toppings! Just be sure to serve with a pit bowl, similar to how you would serve olives.
I don't exactly remember how or when Molly and I became friends, but over the last few years, she's become a significant fixture in my life. We text about everything and anything — mostly swapping baking stories/gripes/tips and brainstorming recipe ideas, but also random stuff like whether or not a microterry bodysuit is a good idea, which KitchenAid mixer and Mosser cake stand colors are best, and which of our two remarkably similar cats is more loaf-like. She's like my summer camp pen pal who would be one of my bestest buds if only we lived in the same city and saw each other more than once or twice a year.
And unless you've been living under a rock and/or don't give a lick about food (in which case, uh, what are you doing on my site exactly...?), you probably know by now that Molly will be premiering her new show, Girl Meets Farm, on The Food Network this coming Sunday, June 24th. Our little SLAMM squad* is so freaking proud of her, we all literally can't even. Molly talks about it some in her blog post about the show, but it's been especially exciting to see the TV show unfold behind the scenes! I feel like I was there for the beginning of it all, right from when she was in Portland a few years ago, starting to flex her TV muscles in front of the camera crew following her around (and we all ended up going to a strip club together, AMA) to our more recent text threads during her shoot days when she and Nick were hangry and couldn't make dinner.
To celebrate Molly's new show, we each decided to make some snacks for the occasion! The original idea was to develop a Molly-inspired snack recipe for her show's premiere (so, you know, lots of tahini and sprinkles, no bananas). I was going to make the za'atar monkey bread from her cookbook, Molly on the Range, but since it's been 90+ degrees in Portland AND it's Popsicle Week, I decided to make her famous funfetti cake into a cake popsicle! Unlike last year's Popsicle Week pop, which was strawberry ice cream with solid chunks of yellow funfetti cake, this year's pop is literally just Molly's funfetti cake crumbled and molded into these super cute ice cream bar molds. Then, I dipped each funfetti pop in a chocolate tahini magic shell situation that freaking ruled. I know I was supposed to save these pops for Molly's TV premiere, but they were so good that we busted through our entire batch throughout the week and only have two left for the show itself. OH WELL.
When molding the cake into the popsicle molds, you want to use a LOT of cake per cavity and really smoosh the cake crumbs into the mold to create a dense cake pop. A dense cake pop is easier to work with, and is less likely to fall apart when unmolded. The cream wash is essential to the recipe too — it helps keep the cake moist in the freezer, ensuring that the popsicles are surprisingly soft when eaten.
For the magic shell, be sure to use refined coconut oil, which is more neutral and flavorless than regular coconut oil. If you can't find refined coconut oil, regular coconut oil will do, but note that your magic shell will taste more distinctly like coconut than either milk chocolate or tahini.
It's my 31st birthday tomorrow and I'm celebrating with a re-do of my 30th birthday (which I cancelled last year because I stupidly decided to hold my book auction that day and it was traumatizing; also, it was supposed to be a picnic and it rained). We're starting off with a meal with Erlend's parents at Ava Gene's and karaoke jello shots with a small group of friends. Then on Sunday, Lauren of @lokokitchen pie fame and I are getting brunch and talking about our upcoming pie class at Feast (tickets sold out within 10 minutes, THANK YOU TO ANYBODY WHO BOUGHT ONE, I still can't believe it)! I only hope I'll be in okay shape for it (unlike last weekend, where I accidentally had too many cocktails at a tiki cocktail making class at House Spirits, blitzed my way through my college reunion, then found myself at a media brunch taste testing biscuits for an upcoming article with Eater — woo!).
Let me make this super quick, because it's Friday and I know you have better things to do: if you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that this was originally supposed to be a banana birthday cake, lol. Similar to the lime fiasco of last month (in which I accidentally bought 10lbs worth of limes from Costco before remembering I'd already developed the key lime pie recipe for #weeknightbakingbook and subsequently had to get rid of them by throwing an impromptu margarita party), I found myself with 10lbs of extra bananas after the recipe development for the banana cream pie went by super quickly. It turns out banana pie is really really good (soweeee Molly) and doesn't really need too much tinkering beyond adding a cookie crumb crust, say whattttt.
So I was determined to make myself a banana cake (especially after a bite of Palomar's rum-soaked banana cake at the Feast launch party this past week, yum) with the leftover bananas, but then found myself with with 6 extra egg yolks leftover from a lemon meringue pie #weeknightbaking book shoot. That seemed to me like a sign from the baking gods telling me that yellow cake was the way to go, especially since bananas freeze well in a way that egg yolks do not.
But really, I'm mostly excited about the cake because underneath all that pink and magenta frosting is the tastiest yellow cake you'll ever eat. At first glance, it seems like it uses a scary number of egg yolks (8 total!), but don't panic. I'm not going to leave you with a bowl of egg whites to eat throughout the week for sad, healthy omelettes (or at least, that's what I reluctantly do with all my leftover egg whites). Instead, I've been on a Swiss meringue buttercream kick ever since making my friend's feminist birthday cake last week — usually, I find Swiss meringue buttercream to be a pain the butt because a standard recipe requires so many egg whites. In this case, it actually makes the perfect companion to this yellow cake since it uses up most of leftover egg whites from the cake recipe! Since I had a ton of leftover strawberries, blueberries, and cherries from various #weeknightbakingbook projects, I spiked the buttercream with fruit puree for some subtle summertime flavor. Enjoy!
Okay, if you looked at the yellow cake recipe and got scared off by the number of yolks required (which again you will be needing for the frosting, so really, this panic is unnecessary, but whatever, I get it), you can substitute 3 large whole eggs for the 8 egg yolks and still make a perfectly good yellow cake! If you go that route, you'll need 6 large whole eggs total for the cake recipe.
Because I was baking for a crowd, this cake is bigger than what I usually prefer and bake for myself. In retrospect, I probably should have baked the recipe in three 9-inch pans as opposed to 8-inch ones. You can still opt for 8-inch pans, but just make sure they have tall sides that are at least 3-inches; Amazon has a great selection.
This recipe uses Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, which can be time consuming and finicky to make but produces a silky frosting that is a dream to pipe. For this recipe, it's important that all your ingredients are at the temperature required for the recipe, especially the butter and berries. If you add cold berries to the buttercream, there's a chance that the frosting can curdle and separate. To ensure that this won't happen, I actually zap the berries in the microwave for 15 seconds just to make sure that they'll fully incorporate. If you find your frosting curdling, no worries! Microwave a rough 1/4 cup (you can eyeball it) of the frosting in a separate bowl for about 30 seconds, or until its melted and liquidy, warm but not hot/boiling. With the mixer on low speed, add the melted frosting back into the larger batch — that should fix any curdling! If you have the opposite problem and your frosting is too liquidy, stick the entire batch in the fridge for 10 minutes to stiffen, then beat on medium speed for 3 minutes until silky smooth. As for the berries themselves, I used a mix but recommend you just commit to one fruit that's super ripe and juicy (I recommend strawberries — I initially tried cherries, but found them to be too dry and flavorless); using the mix I did sorta drowned out an overall flavor.
The recipes for #weeknightbakingbook are all done and I am so very excited. Don't get me wrong — there's still lots left to do. Headnotes and essays still need to be written, photos still need to be taken, etc, etc. But recipe development was definitely the most time consuming portion of the book and my body is happy to be taking a break from all the taste tests for the time being. It turns out my 30-year-old body (31 next week, ugh) cannot handle all that sugar the way it used to, eeeeep.
This weekend, Erlend and I went to the Portland Farmers Market and a nice elderly lady convinced me to line up at the Unger Farms stall to buy a half flat of strawberries. I was worried that it was still too early in the season (we went last week and although strawberries were out, they were fake ripe and not sweet at all), but a taste test revealed otherwise (so much for being done with taste tests, lol). The berries were perfectly sweet and juicy. I spent the rest of the weekend baking the fruit into pies for #weeknightbakingbook, a feminist birthday cake for my name-twin friend Michelle, and this yogurt shortcake from my friend Melissa's new(ish) cookbook, The Minimalist Kitchen:
If you don't follow Melissa (a.k.a. The Fauxmartha) on her blog or her Instagram, you're missing out! She writes about all things minimalist — recipes, interiors, general life living — and does so in an approachable and attainable way. Like this yogurt shortcake! It's perfect because you'll likely already have the ingredients needed for the cake on hand, and the recipe only really requires two bowls. Despite this simplicity, it produces a cake with a wonderful light crumb and a subtle tangy flavor that works well with the berries and cream.
I'm not sure exactly when Melissa and I became friends, but last year we finally had the chance to hang out IRL in New York (we were very basic: dinner at Parm, banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery) and Melissa is every bit as funny, smart, and talented as she is online. Her new cookbook captures her philosophies perfectly, filled with simple but tasty everyday recipes and tips for organizing your kitchen minimally and more. Enjoy!
Maceration refers to the process of tossing berries in sugar and, traditionally, a little bit of alcohol to encourage them to release their juices. Your berries might not need this if they're super ripe and juicy — if you macerate super ripe and juicy berries, they might turn too mushy. It's best to serve super ripe berries as they are. The process really only works best with slightly underripe berries that are not at their best and are a little crunchy, so use your judgement! Also, note that the more underripe your berries are, the longer the maceration process will take, so plan accordingly.
When I was a teen, I got it stuck in my head that I would go to college in Boston. I'm not exactly sure why — before applying for colleges, I'd visited Boston exactly once during my freshman year in high school for a Model UN trip (I'm a nerd, I know). Although I spent the majority of my time there in a stuffy lecture hall at Harvard, I guess the city must have left enough of an impression of me to want to spend the next four years there.
So I applied to a bunch of colleges in the city, and while I got into a handful, none of them were really my first choice. One of those colleges was Wellesley College, an all women's liberal arts college. Although Wellesley is a wonderful school (it's where some of my feminist heroes like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright graduated from), I wasn't sure I was ready to spend the next four years in an estrogenfest (I know, I know — I'm sure I'm going to get some angry women's college grads emailing me about how this isn't the case at all, but keep in mind that this was pre-Tinder and I was 17 when I was making these decisions).
And, if I'm being completely honest, the gender thing was actually a secondary concern. I was more alarmed by a campus legend that told the story of Wellesley's (male) founder, Henry Durant, declaring that, "pies, lies, and donuts should never have a place in Wellesley College." Aside from the obvious angry/exhausted feminist POV ("Why is some dude telling a bunch of women what not to eat?"), I worried that the school cafeteria might secretly put all its students on a secret, insidious diet without our consent (though this is obviously not the case — what can I say, I was a weird/neurotic 17-year-old, in case you couldn't already tell from the Model UN participation).
Anyway, this campus legend apparently has some basis in fact because Wellesley women apparently defied this Henry Durant dude and spent some time underground baking in their dorms to develop this Wellesley Fudge Cake. Wellesley Fudge Cake is a chocolate buttermilk defined by its square shape and chocolate fudge frosting. It's absolutely delicious.
This recipe is included in America's Test Kitchen's new(ish) book, The Perfect Cake, a cookbook dedicated to all things cake. The book features a host of cake recipes, ranging from the modern favorites today (they have a gluten-free funfetti cake, y'all!) to classics like this Wellesley one. Enjoy!
This chocolate frosting is distinct from other frostings since it's technically a fudge candy frosting — this means that you'll need to cook some of the ingredients to create a fudge toffee situation, before stirring in chocolate and sugar to make it into a frosting. The recipe yields a frosting that is harder than traditional buttercream recipes, but with the fudge and silkiness of old school fudge candy. To make the very best frosting, be sure to sift the confectioners' sugar‚ if you don't do so beforehand (like I did the first time around, because I hate sifting), the frosting will come out a lumpy. It also helps if you stir in the confectioners' sugar when the chocolate mixture is still hot. Also, let me warn you that the fudge frosting will harden if not used fast enough; be sure to frost the cake within 10 to 15 minutes of making the frosting. And finally, the recipe makes a lot of frosting — don't be afraid to use a lot in the middle of the cake!