a banana bread with less sugar

January 18, 2017


I promised myself I wouldn't overdo it over the holidays, but when I stepped on the scale at the start of January, it quickly became apparent that I had broken my promise.

I've never been a dieter. For most of my life, with the exception of a few years in college and in my twenties, I've always been active. I played soccer and ran track all throughout middle school and high school (something I find funny now, given how much I hate running these days). We rarely ate out as a family. My mom kept us well fed with plenty of home cooked meals, mostly of the Southeast Asian variety. And having moved to the US from the Netherlands and the Philippines, my family found most of the American processed foods mystifying and stayed away from them. I wasn't a big TV watcher, and social media wasn't even a thing yet. All of these things combined for a healthy, active life.

It was as an adult that I fell the bandwagon. Eating out in Portland was wonderful, and at the time, cheap. I ate out two, three times a week. I still biked around everywhere, and went through a rock climbing phase that was replaced by a three year Crossfit obsession before swinging back to rock climbing again. But if I'm being honest, none of these things were enough to offset the decadent, salt-and-fat laden meals at Pok Pok, Bollywood Theater, and more.


For me, it's always been a struggle to reconcile my love for food and my health all these years. There are a lot of bloggers who swing the other way on the pendulum — it seems that a surprising number of blogs are often started by folks recovering from disordered eating, folks who are trying to teach themselves to learn to like food again. And that's great, but I'm just the absolute opposite. Even with the full knowledge that flour, butter, and sugar have adverse effects on my health down the line, I'll indulge anyway because I love all of it so much. My self-control just ain't there. And I've tried. I gave up refined-sugar for a month; the feelings of bliss and peace with myself never came, even after my body allegedly detoxed itself and kicked my addiction. I've ran marathons and picked up weights three times my own, just so I could justify my weekly bagel and burger habit. All I learned was that these extremes don't really work.

For me at least, it seems that moderation is the key. There are other ways to cut back without going cold turkey or starting a new routine from scratch. For the last few weeks, I've been experimenting with cutting back on flour and sugar in recipes. Less flour leads to more moist (but less stable) bakes. Less sugar leads to less moist and flavorful bakes, but that can easily be compensated with the addition of more fruit and chocolate.


One of my favorite reduced sugar recipes I've tried so far is this banana bread recipe from the famed Flour Bakery in Boston. The original recipe had more than a cup of granulated sugar; this version only has 6 tablespoons. Joanne Chang, Flour's head baker and founder, compensates for the lack of sugar by using incredibly ripe (the point of being almost fully black!) bananas and cooking them to bring out their natural sugars. Enjoy!


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Some baker's notes:
  • I know that I'm probably going to get a troll in the comments criticizing the recipe for reducing sugar, but adding more oil and crème fraîche. Which, fair. But I belong to the school of thought that sugar is worse for you than fat, especially if the fat is not a gross trans hydrogenated fat like shortening. If that's not for you, feel free to make the original recipe with the full amount of granulated sugar, which is available in this recipe for banana bread french toast.

  • Like with any banana bread recipe, it's important to use really, really ripe bananas. For this one, you want to be almost uncomfortable with how ripe these are — they need to be almost black, to the point of needing to be thrown away. The longer you ripen the bananas, the sweeter and more sugary your bread will be (which is important for this reduced sugar recipe!). In a pinch, you can bake the bananas in the oven to ripen them faster, but it won't be the same. I also share some other ripening tips in this recipe for The Violet Bakery's banana bread; be sure to check it out!

  • While loaf cakes come together pretty easily, it can be a challenge to get the center to bake as quickly as the edges. I have some tricks that I use to ensure an even bake; check out my tips on baking with a loaf pan in this cake toast recipe

dulcey white chocolate macadamia cookies

January 11, 2017


As the years go on, I'm finding it harder and harder to write about my life here in this space. At first, blog posts used to come easily, and it seemed like there was so much to write about. It started out with the adventures in high altitude baking, then, the more personal stuff as I figured out my life in my mid-twenties. But I'm turning 30 this year, and it seems like life has mostly settled. These days, there are less high highs and low lows; instead, there's just the whir of routine and the mostly ordinary motions of work and life.

Even if I don't have too much to write about, maybe it's not such a bad thing, having things be leveled and (if I'll admit it to myself) slightly boring. As much as I would like to live each day as if it's my last, I'm not sure I have the energy for that? I'd get pretty fat, first of all (since really, my last day would probably be spent feasting on all the gross fatty foods I like... mmm non-stop all-you-can-eat pork belly and duck buns). Getting me and Erlend's calendars in sync for a spring break vacation was already pretty exhausting. And some of the stuff I did in my early twenties — spending all day building the perfect playlist to send to friends, walking home from the bar as the sun rises, spontaneously booking flights across the world for a tenuous love — seems frivolous and even overly dramatic now.


And maybe it's less about the big things and more about the day-to-day. After all, that's what the concept of hygge is all about: savoring the little things. Seemingly ordinary things like "wooden bowls, cuddling, brushing your teeth next to your partner, vintage textiles, pendant lights, circular tables, burned spatulas, honking geese and line-dried laundry" are supposed to keep us cozy and happy in our old age. While I'm not quite 100% there (because quite frankly, I'm not sure a wooden bowl—however pretty— will ever compare to closing out a rooftop bar in Berlin by watching the sun rise over the Fernsehturm), I will admit that these days, I'm perfectly happy sitting at home with my cat on my lap with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk by my side.


Should I talk about these cookies now? They are a fairly standard white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie situation, but with one twist: I used dulcey blond feves. If you're unaware of dulcey chocolate, think of it as caramelized white chocolate — that is, white chocolate that's been slightly roasted, bringing out butterscotch and almost dulce de leche flavors in the chocolate. It's absolutely wonderful, and goes great with the salty macadamia nuts. Enjoy!


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Some baker's notes:
  • Dulcey blond chocolate is made by fancypants Valrhona and is available to buy online, or, in some Whole Foods stores (usually by the cheeses, where they sell giant chunks of chocolate wrapped in plastic wrap). In a pinch, you can buy white chocolate feves (but not chips — it's important to use feves, the chocolate discs, here!) and attempt to caramelize it yourself, but you'd need to get it back into solid chunks somehow. I've never done it myself, but I'm happy to brainstorm ideas to help figure it out!

  • I based the cookie dough on the classic Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough recipe. The recipe is generous with brown sugar, and results in a toffee, nutty flavor that works really well with the dulcey white chocolate. However, brown sugar and white chocolate together results in a really, really sweet cookie. I balanced it out by increasing the salt quantity in the recipe by a touch and topping off each cookie with giant, flaky salt. I like the pyramid sea salt from Trader Joe's or classic Maldon sea salt!

  • For a more flavorful cookie, I like to scoop the batter out into cookie dough balls and freeze overnight. It really makes a big difference! I recommend this for almost all cookie recipes (there are a few exceptions here and there, but I'd say the freezing trick works 99% of the time). If you're baking a frozen cookie dough ball, you'll likely need to add a few minutes to the baking time.

red wine hot chocolate black tap milkshakes

January 4, 2017


Happy 2017!

Does anybody have any resolutions they want to share? I used to be super gung-ho about very specific goals and resolutions, but now I'm just trying to have broader "intentions" instead. And so far, they're pretty simple: eat well (I am turning The Big Three Zero this year and my metabolism and skin elasticity is not what it once was), save money for this SUPERTOPSECRETBIGDEALWHYAMIEVENTALKINGABOUTTHISAGAIN long-term kindasortamaybe blog-related project (and no, it's not a book, sorry guys), explore New York as much as I can, and travel to all the places that's closer to the East Coast than the West Coast. I realize those last two are in direct opposition to the first one, but whatever. Intentions, NOT goals. Or resolutions. Whatever.


I know that the New Year is all about forward thinking (especially January), but for me, the end of the year really came up fast. I'm still recovering and reeling from it. There were so many things that seemed to spring out of nowhere and hit all of us (or maybe just me?) by surprise. For starters, there was Hillary's devastating election loss and Carrie Fisher and her mom's death. On the lighter side of things, there were also rumors of Drake and Jennifer Lopez's conscious coupling, the extremely bizarre-o and straight-outta-nowhere ending of The OA, and the New York Times's sudden and weird interest in red wine hot chocolate.


Yes, red wine hot chocolate. Apparently it's a thing. It sounds gross, but after trying a homemade red wine and Coca-Cola cocktail* in England several years ago and finding it to be tolerable, if actually tasty once you get over the initial shock factor of the flavor combos, I was up for giving red wine and hot chocolate a shot together. YOLO.

*My British friends had imported the recipe from Spain, where they claimed it was called Jesus Juice by the Spaniards and consumed with much enthusiasm. I don't think it's actually called Jesus Juice. A quick Google search reveals that it's actually called kalimotxo. I don't know where Jesus Juice came from; pretty sure my friends were just drunk.

The trick is to use mulling spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger in addition to the red wine. The spices make the chocolate taste like winter, but with an added richness and unique silkiness from the red wine. Inspired by New York restaurant Black Tap and their now infamous crazy milkshakes (see: this, this, this, and this), we went a little crazy with toppings and added New York style cookies (specifically, Italian Rainbow and black-and-white deli cookies) and a salted caramel donut from Dough to the standard marshmallow and whipped cream hot chocolate toppings. Enjoy!


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mugs || map || flip clock || cookie dome || vase

This post was done in partnership with Schoolhouse Electric, one of my favorite Portland-based companies who graciously provided some of the beautiful housewares you see in this post to help decorate my New York apartment. Although Schoolhouse Electric is primarily known for their beautiful, vintage-inspired lighting fixtures, they also sell other housewares for the office, kitchen, and more. Their stuff reminds me of my home in Portland, and their pieces really make New York feel like home too. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and all my sponsors!

Some maker's notes:
  • For this recipe, I used cheap red wine — you don't want to use the good stuff here, save that for the chocolate (see next bullet point!). Personally, I used Two Buck Chuck Merlot from Trader Joe's, which has a peppery and almost slightly bitter edge that is reminiscent of cocoa and coffee. You can also aim for a slightly acidic variety, like a Cabernet Sauvignon, which will compliment the spices in the rest of the recipe pretty well. But in general, aim for a dryer and less sweet wine, otherwise it just gets to be too much.

  • The secret to a good hot chocolate is to use good quality melted chocolate and mix it with cream and/or milk. You're already using bad wine; balance it out with the good stuff! Don't use chocolate chips — chocolate chips have an edible paraffin wax that helps them retain their shape after being baked. You definitely want to use pure unadulterated chocolate here.

  • To mix the red wine and hot chocolate together, I combined the two in a mason jar and gave it a good shake. It is a literal milkshake. In a pinch, you can use a handheld immersion blender or simply just whisk it together in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.

hummingbird high's 2016 review

December 30, 2016

Can you believe another year has come and gone, just like that? Time for my annual lookback, where I review your favorite recipes and my favorite recipes. Ready for it? Here goes!

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Readers' Favorite Recipes of 2016
The following recipes are YOUR favorites from the year — that is, the most viewed recipes of mine from 2016. In years past, you guys have been focused on all things chocolate, especially cakes and cupcakes. This time around, you guys sorta switched things up! Expanding your palettes — I like it.

1. Quick Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls

http://www.hummingbirdhigh.com/2016/04/quick-whole-wheat-cinnamon-rolls.html

These are quick cinnamon rolls, minus the fuss of yeast and infused with hearty, nutty flavor from whole wheat. Because the recipe uses baking powder, the rolls come together in an hour and taste like buttery scones. It's a great way to start the day (but you guys obviously knew that).

2. Passionfruit and Blueberry Cream Tart

http://www.hummingbirdhigh.com/2016/07/passionfruit-and-blueberry-cream-tart.html

Yay! I'm so glad you guys loved this recipe; it was one of my favorites from the year too! I took one of my all time favorite recipes—Tartine Bakery's lemon cream (as seen in this ancient post of mine with amateur hour photos)—and infused it with a healthy amount of zesty and tart passionfruit. The result was out of this world incredible! Definitely one of the best recipes in Hummingbird High, ever.

3. Red Wine Gin Sour

http://www.hummingbirdhigh.com/2016/04/red-wine-gin-sour.html

Sooo I'm not actually the world's biggest fan of cocktails — you never know what you'll get, and most professionally made cocktails are either too sweet or too alcoholic. This cocktail, however, was perfect. Tart, light, tangy, refreshing, beautiful. And you guys thought so too! I don't blame you. Look how gorgeous that ombre is! I should probably make more cocktails for next year, huh?

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My Favorite Recipes of 2016
Similar to previous years, it was really, really hard to narrow it down to just three recipes. Talk about choosing between your children! Here are the three that made the shortlist, but really, this is just a small selection from a great year's worth.

1. Leche Flan


In which I got super uppity and defensive about Filipino food and encouraged y'all to go out and try more of it, starting with one of my favorite desserts EVER (Filipino or not): leche flan! And pro-tip — if any of you guys are ever out in DC, this place sounds amazing. Can we all please go? Then we can all march in the Women's March, yes?

2. Candy Heart Cupcakes


These is my absolute favorite chocolate cupcake recipe: a moist, light crumb with a fun topped with fluffy old-fashioned icing that tastes like marshmallow. But alongside the recipe, I share a bittersweet memory about secret crushes, irrational fears, and the importance of being brave and putting yourself out there. Take that shot. PS — sorry for all the run-on sentences in that post.

3. Princess Bakery Funfetti Cake


Quite possibly my most favorite birthday cake ever. Molly's famous homemade funfetti cake, but with Princess Bakery extract, strawberry cream cheese frosting, and cotton candy. I hesitate to call it a unicorn cake, but it's kind of what it is, isn't it?

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Highlights



On November, I celebrated five years of blogging! It's hard for me to imagine that I've been doing this for half a freakin' decade. I am excited/motivated/lucky/nostalgic/thankful/tired. 



One of my New Year's resolutions was to work on my pie skills and bake a pie a month. While pie baking is still not my favorite pastime, I think I managed to improve my skills some? What do you guys think?

3. Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/hummingbirdhigh/

This isn't really a highlight, but I do like the #bestnine Instagram memes that come out at the end of the year. These were my most liked Instagram posts! You guys have great taste. As for Instagram itself though, I pretty much fell out of love with the whole thing after their new algorithm came out. Oh well.

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Other 2016 Highlights

What a year it was! Thanks for following along and be sure to check out the highlights from the previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012. Happy New Year!!!

funfetti buttermilk chess pie + 12 months of #humhipieamonth

December 27, 2016


Did everybody have a good Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa? Mine was pretty wonderful! On Chrismukkah Eve, Erlend and I saw the new Star Wars movie at the fancypants brew-and-view in downtown Brooklyn. On Christmas Day, I attempted and failed to make a white chocolate and black tahini babka (but eventually succeeded, yay!), before we trekked over to the Upper West Side with his parents, where we exchanged presents. I got this awesome cake box that I've been coveting for years now, a vintage cake stand, and at least a dozen Compartes chocolate bars in my stocking. I am feeling very fat and happy and seasonal and whatnot, but I guess it's time to talk about New Year's now.

Before we talk about this year's resolutions, can we talk about one of mine from this year? At the start of the year, I committed myself to #humhipieamonth, a project where I'd planned to make at least one pie for every month of the year. Why? Masochism. Prior to the project, I was not a very talented pie baker, with most of my pastry crusts turning soggy and losing their shape in the oven. And truth be told, I wasn't even sure I liked pie all that much either. I wanted to teach myself how to become a better pie baker by trying out all the different ways you could make a pie crust, as well as find a flavor of pie I really, truly loved.

So here it is, the year in pies:


JANUARY PIE
Sour Cranberry Pie
Crust: Lard and butter from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, made by hand with a pastry blender.
Notes: Before this recipe, I'd only ever made all-butter crusts! I loved how much flakier and stable the lard made the pie crust. The pie itself was pretty good, but a little one-dimensional in nature.

FEBRUARY PIE
Matcha Buttermilk Chess Pie
Crust: All-Butter from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, made by hand with a pastry blender. Blind-baked.
Notes: I'd never blind-baked a pie before, so I went with a simple crust design that worked pretty well and kept its shape during the blind-baking process. All-butter crusts are definitely more flavorful than butter-and-lard ones, but finickier to work with (especially when blind baking).

MARCH PIE
Pear Pie with Crème Fraîche Caramel
Crust: All-Butter from Sweeter Off The Vine, made by hand with no tools.
Notes: This was one of my favorite pies from the year; Yossy really is THE PIE QUEEN. Her crust, while delicious, was a little more difficult and messier to put together since you just use your hands and no extra tools. But boy, was this a delicious pie! Flaky crust, tasty fruit filling, and just a stone cold stunner.

APRIL PIE
Passionfruit Curd Pie
Crust: Lard and Butter from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, made by hand with a pastry blender. Blind-baked.
Notes: After the way my crust turned out the first time I blind-baked a pie (see: Matcha Buttermilk Chess Pie), I got a little cocky and tried to do a huge crimped border for my next blind-baked project. The Pie Gods know when you are cocky. This pie nearly burst into flames, and was not the most photogenic as the crust shrank more than I expected. But that filling was pretty on-point though (do people still say that?).

MAY PIE
Rhubarb and Peach + Strawberry and Balsamic Pie
Crust: Lard and Butter from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, made with a food processor.
Notes: Using a food processor to make pie crust is a lot easier than manually blending by hand. However, it's easy to overblend the ingredients, which results in significantly less flakey pies. This was also the first time I used cookie cutters to stamp out shapes in the dough, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the whole ordeal worked. I thank the Lard.

JUNE PIE
Pineapple and Peach Pie with a Coconut Oil Crust
Crust: Coconut Oil and Butter inspired by various sources (mostly Food52), made by hand with a pastry blender.
Notes: Despite its gorgeous appearance, this was probably one of the worst pies of the year. I was frazzled from having to move from San Francisco to New York, and initially posted the incorrect recipe to the dismay of some readers. Still feel bad about that — sorry guys! And while coconut oil helps hold the pie dough shape in the oven and is much easier to work with than all-butter crusts, it also result in a heavier and less-flakey crust. Also pineapple in pies is weird. It turns like, astringent. The peach balances it out, but it would be better if it just wasn't thereun the first place. There, I said it.

JULY PIE
Cherry and Blueberry American Flag Pie
Crust: All-Butter from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, made by hand with a pastry blender.
Notes: Pretty classic pie for Forth of July! My default all-butter crust with cherry and blueberry. There wasn't too much contrast in color between the fruit though; I should have used strawberries for greater effect. Oh well.

AUGUST PIE
Blackberry and Passionfruit Curd Pie
Crust: Shortening with a recipe inspired by Magpie Artisan Pie Boutique, made by hand with a pastry blender.
Notes: First time using shortening, which grosses me the EFF out. Although it was easiest to work with, holding its shape and being slower to melt (especially during the city's sweltering summer), I thought it made the pie crust taste bland and turn a weird, greyish color.

SEPTEMBER PIE
Bacon Apple Cheddar Pie
Crust: Cheddar and Butter with a recipe inspired by Valerie Confections, made by hand with a pastry blender.
Notes: A lot of people were weirded out by the cheddar in the pie, but I assure you that cheddar and apple are a classic combination! The cheddar made the pie crust a dream to work with, taking on a texture and pliability similar to a lard and butter crust; the only disadvantage is that cheddar flavor doesn't go with too many fillings besides apple.

OCTOBER PIE
Maple Pear Pie
Crust: Cream Cheese and Butter with a recipe from The Baking Bible, made with a food processor.
Notes: If you're looking for a pie that's a good compromise between flavor and workability, cream cheese is the answer! Less gross than lard, and easier to work with than an all-butter crust. The pie crust kept its shape wonderfully after baking, and tasted delicious. One of my favorite pies from the year too.

NOVEMBER PIE
Pumpkin Meringue Pie
Crust: Speculoos Cookies with a recipe by yours truly, made with a food processor.
Notes: The only non-pastry pie crust of the year. Speculoos cookie crumbs. Always delicious.

DECEMBER PIE
Funfetti Pie
Crust: All Butter and Sprinkles with a recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, made with a food processor. Blind-baked.


I've turned one of my favorite cakes — funfetti — into a pie. That's right, funfetti pie! The filling is based on buttermilk chess pie custard that I've amped with both vanilla beans AND fake vanilla (a trick from Momofuku Milk Bar) so that it tastes like birthday cake in liquid form. There's sprinkles in both the filling AND the crust, giving you bursts of rainbow with every bite. If you close your eyes and sniff the air when the pie is from the oven, it smells exactly like the funfetti birthday cake we all know and love. I had to celebrate the completion of a resolution and end the year with a showstopper, right?

Happy New Year, you guys! And thanks for following along with #humhipieamonth.


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Some baker's notes:
  • The ingredients are pretty standard except for a couple things: vanilla bean powder and clear imitation vanilla extract. Vanilla bean powder is literally dried vanilla bean seeds in bulk, sparing you from sourcing expensive vanilla bean pods and scraping them out yourself. You can find vanilla bean powder in spice stores, or online. I like buying a bulk bag so I can throw a teaspoon or two into any baked good for extra flavor! As for clear imitation vanilla extract, I'm usually a vanilla extract snob (Nielsen-Massey or bust!), BUT clear imitation vanilla extract is one of the key ingredients to boxed funfetti mix. It's really what makes the pie taste like the funfetti cake we all know and love. You can find a big bottle of it online or at your local grocery store for only a couple of dollars.

  • Like most custard pies, the pie crust needs to be pre-baked before filling. In general, when baking a pie with a liquid-based filling (like custard or cream), you'll need to "pre-bake" the pie beforehand. Pre-baking, also known as "blind baking", basically gives the crust the additional baking time that it needs to turn into the crispy and flaky pie crust that we all know and love, since custards and creams usually don't need as long to bake. Also, pre-baking helps to prevent the pie crust from getting soggy, which is incredibly important — you don't want a sad, soggy-bottomed pie! Blind baking can be a tricky process though; if you've crimped the crust, it tends to shrink a rather surprising amount (even if you use pie weights to hold down the center of the pie). Be sure to create a large, dramatic crimp to ensure that your pie comes out looking the way you want it to! And for more pie crust tips, check out this recipe for salted honey pie using all my best pie crust tips.

  • Despite the simplicity of the ingredients, the pie filling is actually a little tricky to pull together — it took me a couple times to get it right! The mixture tends to curdle quickly, so it really helps to use a freestanding electric mixer with a whisk attachment (or a handheld electric mixer) to keep it emulsified. Be sure not to skip the step of straining the filling before pouring it into the pie!

  • If you've got a finnicky oven with hot spots, the filling will likely brown faster than it will set. Check on the pie often and use a sheet of aluminum foil to cover the filling and crust to prevent it from browning too quickly!
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