January 28, 2015

Orange, Marzipan and Cardamom Swedish Buns

The start of the year can be hard months, especially in Portland. In the years I’ve lived here, January/February is usually when the winter depression sets in — the realization that we’ve got another five months of constant endless drizzle and gray skies ahead of us, and that my subsequent days will be spent doing the exact same thing: going to work and biking in grim weather.

At this time of year, it’s easy for me to fall into a trap of hating the city, thinking mean thoughts that are unbecoming of a supposedly lighthearted and whimsical food blogger like myself:

I hate biking, I’ll think ragefully to myself as I don my waterproof pants and high visibility jacket to armor myself against the rain. I hate Portland cyclists. They’re the most smug and entitled; think that their paltry 3-mile bicycle commute is a friggin’ race for the yellow jersey. In addition to these jerks, why is Portland considered such a good biking city anyway, especially if it rains like 300 days out of the year? Terrible.

I hate Portlanders, I’ll fume in my head, as I stand hangrily in line behind a woman toting a yoga mat and lengthily debating the merits of different nutrient-dense vegan foods with the cash register at New Seasons, Portland’s local, pricier answer to Whole Foods. Everybody here is so smug and preachy about their alternative diets and their healthy exercises. Why does she have to discuss this with some rando person? It’s only so she can righteously declare that she eats kale everyday and publicly congratulate herself. Terrible.

This year, my solution to such stormy thoughts was to take a vacation. I bought a ticket to Texas to visit Kiron, one of my best friends, who is currently spending a semester abroad at the University of Texas in Austin.

Fun fact about me — I actually went to high school in Houston, where I had a pretty stereotypical childhood. My memories of the place are filled with hours of soccer practice in the blistering heat, blasting music during a long commute to the private school I attended, suburban pool parties turned sleepovers and driving to fast food restaurants with friends. When I graduated from high school, my parents pretty much high-tailed it out of the city, and a result, this past trip was my first time back in Texas in almost ten years.

It was physically and emotionally overwhelming. Physically because Kiron and I ate like kings, and I gained back most of the weight I’d lost in a month (on this sad, mostly carb-free diet I’m on) over the course of four days with unnecessary stops — NO REGRETS. Emotionally because, walking around, I would suddenly get nostalgic flashes as a long lost memory was resurfaced. Oh, this was the Chipotle my friend and I ate at when we toured UT’s campus together! or Oh, I’ve had Amy’s ice cream before after all, there used to be one next to my high school!

Although I enjoyed the trip, the reliving of my past and being immersed in a new-yet-familiar made me grateful for the things I had now; specifically, for living in Portland itself. The fact that good food and neighborhoods were separated by short bike rides instead of congested highways, and the fact that I could easily buy healthy, wholesome foods at small mom-and-pop stores instead of massive, generic grocery stores. It was strange to me that this was my life once, so long ago. And though I have fond memories of living in Houston and had a great time in Austin, the trip made me realize how much I’d changed, especially with regards to the things I value and the way I live my everyday life. I now compost regularly and get irritated if I spend too much time driving. All those Portlanders that I was hating on earlier — the jerk cyclists, the pretentious yogis and smug vegans — they had rubbed off on me after all.

People travel and vacation for many different reasons — to learn, to find new things, to explore, to escape. But my favorite reason for doing so is that for me, traveling somewhere new always reminds me of how lucky I am to have found Portland, a place that I ultimately love and chose as my home.

For those of you who have always found regular cinnamon buns to be too intense and sickly sweet, Swedish buns provide the perfect compromise. Swedish buns are basically cinnamon rolls topped with beautiful Swedish pearl sugar instead of icing. My version of the pastry is filled with marzipan, orange zest and generous pinches of cardamom. When baking in the oven, the buns fill the kitchen with the most wonderful, aromatic scent that really makes the house feel like home.

Some baker's notes:
  • Swedish pearl sugar is available online — I like the Lars’ Own kind, but King Arthur Flour also makes their own Swedish pearl sugar variety. Do NOT confuse Swedish pearl sugar with Belgian pearl sugar, which is significantly larger and is intended for embedding into doughs. In a pinch, you can make your own Swedish pearl sugar by using a rolling pin to crush sugar cubes into smaller granules.

  • Plan ahead for this one! The dough needs to rise for about 3 hours total — the first hour and a half after the dough has just been mixed and kneaded, the second hour and a half after its been punched down and formed into rolls. If that seems like a lot of time, feel free to make the dough the day before and let it rise overnight in the refrigerator. This trick works better if you use instant/rapid rise yeast.

  • If your kitchen is cold and you don’t want to wait forever for the dough to rise, one trick is to set your dough in the oven with the light on. The lightbulb will increase the temperature around 5 or so degrees. Don’t try to increase the temperature more than that, a slow rise is good for flavor development, a fast rise is bad.

January 21, 2015

Flourless Chocolate and Red Wine Swedish Cake

Man, who else has a case of the Januaries?

I know that a new year is supposed to bring a whole host of new resolutions and new goals, but honestly, I'm just exhausted. Screw work, screw blogging and screw going to the gym. All I want to do is put on my polka dot sweatpants, camp out on my couch and watch episode after episode of Friends while drinking red wine and eating dark chocolate.

It turns out that red wine and dark chocolate are some of the only indulges I can have on this pesky new low-carb diet that I'm on. Ugh, I know, I said the d-word... but honestly after a week straight of eating three awesomeepicdelicious cookies a day and a mostly food-related trip to Texas, it was much needed. Don't let my Instagram fool you — currently my life is filled with nothing but spinach salads and eggs (which is probably why I've got such a bad case of the Januaries).

But oh well. At least I can still have red wine and dark chocolate.

A few months ago, Bridlewood Estate Winery asked me to create a recipe that would pair well with their pinot noir. I don't have much of a wine palette, but Bridlewood's wine definitely brought to mind fruit flavors like raspberry and cherry, but a little bit more tart and almost peppery. I thought that this little bit of a kick would go well with dark chocolate, as well as bring out the hints of caramel and toffee in the wine.

To keep the wine and dark chocolate pairing as pure as possible, I combined the two in a flourless Swedish chocolate cake recipe. Apparently incredibly moist, gooey chocolate cakes are a staple in the country — its Swedish name is "kladdkaka", which translates roughly to "gooey" or "sticky" cake in English. All though there are many variations of the recipe available, the basic premise is the same: a chocolate cake made without any leavening of any kind, resulting in a brownie-like cake with a soft, gooey center. In this case, red wine was added to the cake to keep it moist and gooey while giving it a hint of boozy, fruity goodness.

 Some baker's notes:
  • Because this cake doesn't use any leavener, it's really hard to tell when it's finished baking in the oven. Even though it looks like it's finished baking, be sure to cook it for the exact time that I listed in the recipe! Also, it's completely normal for the cake to sink in the center and kind of give off a flaky, crusted top (see Swedish blogger Call Me Cupcake's version, or Top With Cinnamon's) because of the lack of leavener in the cake — so don't panic if that happens!

January 14, 2015

Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake

In the weeks before Christmas, my Tumblr dashboard and Pinterest feed were flooded by images of people hand-making gorgeous, rustic and earthy holiday wreaths. They made it look so easy, gracefully tying together carefully foraged branches and casually slinging the final product over their shoulders while moodily looking off into the distance.

Well, I optimistically thought to myself as I scrolled through image after image of beautiful people holding even more beautiful wreaths. That could be me!

Indeed, it seemed like the wreath gods had smiled upon me: a particularly windy day had left many perfectly rustic branches from my neighbor’s bamboo farm strewn across my front yard. I unceremoniously gathered and stuffed them in a leftover Amazon box carefully hand foraged them and gave my craftiest friend a call and told her to bring over some floral wire.

40 minutes and one full cycle of 1989 later, I gave a roar of frustration. My hands were full of splinters and covered in tiny pricks from the pine needles. My dining table was covered in sticky sap from the branches. And worst of all, my wreath was beyond FUGLY. More circular in theory than in practice, it also appeared to have… antlers??? The metal floral wire that was holding the wreath together was very visible, as well as potentially deadly — picking up the wreath resulted in a host of new splinters and cuts in my hands. So much for throwing it over my shoulder. And just like that, there went my dreams of having a Pinterest worthy holiday wreath. The best my wreath could do was ceremoniously crown the paper mache wildebeest in my dining room; there was no way I was hanging that ugly thing on the door for the public to see.

Later, as I was baking this bundt cake, it occurred to me that maybe I’d picked the wrong medium for a holiday wreath. Why did I bother trying with boughs and branches, when I could have just used flour and sugar? I mean, bundt cakes are basically the wreaths of the cake world:

As gorgeous and decorative as a holiday wreath, but with the added bonus of being able to EAT it. So take that! all you hipsters with your beautiful wreaths and your beautiful lighting. I’ll take my edible wreath anyday.

In this particular case, this is a classic sour cream pound cake with a seasonal twist: tangerines. I’ve infused the sugar in the cake with generous amounts of tangerine zest, as well as made a cake soak from tangerine juice. It’s dense but manages to remain oh-so-moist and fluffy from the generous amounts of butter, sour cream and tangerine juice in the recipe. Feel free to substitute tangerines with any winter citrus you might find!

Some baker's notes:
  • Traditionally, classic pound cake contains a pound of its four main ingredients: flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Although this recipe doesn't quite follow that ratio, it comes pretty close, meaning that it can end up too heavy and brick-like (because of all those ingredients!) if the cake isn't creamed properly. It's pretty important that you follow the recipe's instructions and cream the sugar and butter together on high speed for a minimum of 5 minutes, preferably the full 7 minutes. Creaming is the process of creating air bubbles in the cake batter, and those air bubbles are what makes cake light and fluffy in the end. If you don't cream this recipe well and then proceed to add the soak to the cake, you'll end up with a sad, heavy cake. Just be careful not to overmix it when you start adding the flour in — overbeating after the flour's been added results in the overdevelopment of gluten, which will make your cake heavy, tough and terrible. 

January 7, 2015

24 Hour, 24 Dollar Chocolate Chip Cookies

Behold, the infamous Jaques Torres chocolate chip cookie recipe, as adapted from the New York Times. The cookie that needs more than a pound of Valrhona feves, chocolates shaped into little disks (priced at a whopping $24.99 per pound!!!). The cookie that doesn't even provide any instant gratification, because, after mixing the batter together, you need to allow the dough to rest and chill in the refrigerator for 24 FREAKING HOURS. Do you know how long that is to wait for a cookie?! This is officially the world's fussiest chocolate chip cookie recipe, I kid you not.

So why even bother?

In my defense, it appears that I'm not the only one who's all hot and bothered by this cookie recipe. The Kitchn, a highly reliable and much trusted food blog, once devoted an entire series of articles around the recipe. Because along with the instructions on how to make the cookie, the New York Times published a lengthy, three-page-long article gushing on about what makes a chocolate chip cookie so perfect, concluding that Jaques Torres' version is one of the most perfect around. Why? It adheres to the ideal chocolate to dough ratio (40:60 is the golden ratio, according to the article). Each cookie is huge, weighing in at 3 1/2 ounces and roughly the size of your palm. Due to its larger size, the cookie actually encompasses three different textures: crispy on the outsides, chewier as it gets closer to the middle and a magical center that manages to be soft, chewy AND crispy all at once. And finally, that long resting period that I keep bitching about is apparently the cookie's ultimate secret weapon: 24 hours allows the flours in the recipe to absorb all the oils and fats from the other ingredients, melding together to create a more intense, richer cookie flavor complete with toffee and caramel notes. This is a legendary, mythical cookie.

So it's no surprised that somebody who's even somewhat invested in baking has heard of the recipe. I myself even have a weird history around it. The recipe was first published in the summer of 2008, right at the start of my senior year of college. As a way to procrastinate on my terribly boring and dry economics thesis (seriously — I wrote about ways to apply a taxation model to reduce airport congestion, what in the hell was wrong with me, could I pick a more boring topic?!!!), I decided I wanted to bake some chocolate chip cookies. Of course, the New York Times recipe came up pretty quickly in my Google searches. A quick browse through the ingredients list — which required two types of flour, and those damn chocolate disks — literally had me going "NOPE." I'm pretty sure I ended up eating cookies from premade Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough that night.

Fast forward another few years later to the fall of 2011, when I was just getting this blog up and running. I'd just moved to Denver, Colorado, and had a hankering for chocolate chip cookies. I did my usual Googling of recipes, and of course, stumbled back into the New York Times recipe. This time, I actually went out and found the damn disks but made one fatal error — I hadn't read the recipe beforehand and therefore hadn't realized that the dough needed 24 hours to rest. When I did find out, I believe I swore loudly, cursing the recipe and making these guys instead (check out that link for vintage Hummingbird High, complete with cell phone pictures and now-expired Instagram filters). I wanted my cookies NOW, you see. I suppose I could have just ignored the instructions and made them without the rest period, but honestly, that's just not the kind of person I am. I usually follow recipes to a TEE, unless I've purposefully decided to deviate from its instructions beforehand.

So, now it's 2015. I've been wanting to make that recipe for almost seven years, ever since I first found out about the recipe back in 2008. And this time, I did everything absolutely by the book, following the ingredients and instructions perfectly. I weighed everything out and used the best ingredients I could possibly find — cake and bread flour from Bob's Red Mill, cultured butters from Organic Valley, real chocolate feves from Valrhona, and flaky gourmet sea salt. I chilled the dough overnight, waiting a full 24 hours before scooping out dough balls and actually weighed each one to make sure they matched the suggested 3 1/2 ounces.

And how were the cookies?

Worth every article, hour, and dollar.

Every step and ingredient that gave me additional hassle had its purpose after all. The cake and bread flours in the recipe combined to create the perfect texture, giving the cookie a hearty crunch but a tender crunch. The chocolate feves melted just enough to ensure that every bite contained a generous dollop of chocolate. The overnight rest brought out the promised toffee and caramel flavors, as well as notes of brown butter and butterscotch. This really, truly is the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.

If only they weren't such a damn hassle to make.

Some baker's notes:
  • Please, please — no substitutions or exchanges on this one. Follow the listed ingredients and recipe to a tee, or you won't be getting the full experience. The whole point of this cookie is that it's a bit of a pain to make. If you can't be bothered to use the different flours, source the chocolate feves (which are available online or at Whole Foods), or wait overnight, I seriously suggest finding another chocolate chip recipe. There are plenty of other great ones out there. I don't mean that snottily — usually I'm all about making things as pain-free as possible, but again, that's just not the point of this recipe. 

December 31, 2014

Chocolate Champagne Cake

Happy Birthday, 2015!!!

Does anybody have any exciting New Year’s resolutions? I’ve never been a believer in resolutions (I’m more in the “no time like the present” camp; that is, why do we need a new year to set goals?), but this year, I thought it would be fun to have some. Off the top of my head, I finally want to learn how to make macarons (mine always come out sad and cracked) and climb my first 5.12.

I don’t know how attainable either of those resolutions are, but personally, I’m just glad that 2014 is over. It’s been a little bit of a rough year, having to deal with first-time home ownership woes and weird hiccups in my day job. I’m ready to start fresh and new. I’ve already started with small changes here and there; things like walking to work instead of riding my bike, and quitting my Crossfit membership in favor of other exercise. After doing both for years and years, it feels good to finally switch things up.

So in celebration of change and the new year ahead of us, I want to welcome 2015 and celebrate its birthday with this beautiful chocolate champagne cake:

I’ve had my eye on this recipe for years now, ever since I first spotted it in the pages and on the front cover of Valerie Gordon’s wonderful cookbook, Sweet. A decadent cake for the new year, this cake is made of four levels of champagne-soaked golden butter cake, layered between chocolate ganache frosting and a milk chocolate glaze. In honor of the occasion, I pulled a Molly Yeh and decked the cake out with marzipan decorations; in this case, a constellation of yellow marzipan stars shooting across the chocolate glaze.

Happy New Year, you guys!

Some baker's notes:
  • Although I usually prefer baking with dark or bittersweet chocolate, in this case, it’s especially important to use milk chocolate for both the ganache frosting and the glaze. Dark chocolate will drown out the subtle, delicate flavors of champagne.

  • The cake requires both a ganache and a glaze because on its own, the ganache will be dull, lackluster and not very pretty to look at since it contains gelatin. I know, I know, it’s weird that the ganache contains gelatin, but it’s there to give the frosting the structure it needs. If you’re looking for less work, feel free to omit the glaze, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you about its appearance.

  • If you prefer to make a wider (as opposed to taller) cake, you can bake the cake in three 9-inch pans as opposed to the four 6-inch pans that I used for my cake. Just be sure to adjust the baking time and bake it for 25 to 35 minutes as opposed to the baking time I listed in the instructions below.

December 28, 2014

Hummingbird High’s 2014 Review

Time for my annual lookback, where I review your favorite recipes and my favorite recipes. Ready for it? Here goes:

Readers’ Favorite Recipes of 2014

The following recipes are YOUR favorites from the year — that is, the most viewed recipes of mine from the last year. Looks like you guys are big cake fans; four out of the five recipes listed below are cakes of different varieties!

1. Blueberry Brownies

Classic chewy, chocolatey brownies with a flaky top... but with a seasonal twist of fresh blueberries sprinkled on top and throughout the batter. Perfect in the summer!

2. Chocolate Crème Fraîche Cake

I whipped up this cake to honor my mom on her birthday, and to date, it's still one of my favorite cakes I've made. The most wonderful chocolate crème fraîche frosting sits on top of a perfect chocolate cake, ever-so-moist with a tender crumb.

3. Coconut Cream Crêpe Cake

Crêpe cakes are beautiful and look difficult to make, but really they're easier than regular cakes. This cake has an Asian twist and is layered with kaya, a Singaporean coconut egg jam, and topped with coconut cream whipped cream. You guys have good taste ;-)

4. Tres Leches Cake with Coconut Chantilly Frosting

Another coconut dessert, which is strange to me since I've always thought of coconut as a highly divisive ingredient — that is, some people really, really, really like it, while others hate it. This is a classed-up tres leches cake full of regular milk, cream, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut cream frosting.

5. Lemon, Lavender and Earl Grey Mini Cakes

Remember last spring when all the food bloggers were making mini cakes? This was my contribution to that craze — lemon and lavender paired with my favorite tea, Earl Grey. Delicious and adorable.


My Favorite Recipes of 2014

It was really, really hard to narrow it down to just five recipes that I liked the most. It was a great year for baking and I made a lot of recipes that I really liked and am keeping in my repertoire forever. I managed to narrow a long list of favorites down to just these five (though, if you pushed me, I could easily come up with another five that should also be on this list).

1. Key Lime Bars

This recipe didn't seem to get a whole lot of love, which surprised me since it's incredibly easy to make and oh-so-delicious. Key lime pie in a portable bar form, without the hassle of having to deal with plates and forks. Who doesn't want that?

2. Rhubarb and White Chocolate Blondies

Oh yes, remember these bad boys? Brown butter blondies spruced up with fresh rhubarb. I'm pretty sure I ate half the batch in one sitting, they were that good. Not to mention beautiful too!

3. Salted Chocolate and Pumpkin Babka

I've never been the world's most confident bread baker, so I was beyond delighted when this salted chocolate and pumpkin babka came out as beautiful and tasty as it did. It's based on an utterly genius and foolproof recipe of chocolate krantz cake by Ottolenghi, and the only negative I could think of about this bread is that it went stale rather quickly (but quite frankly, it didn't really last that long).

4. Homemade Funfetti Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Molly Yeh gets all the credit for this cake that I made for my blog's third anniversary — she spent weeks researching and testing funfetti recipes, and came up with the uttermost perfect one there is. The only spin I had on it was that I used my out-of-this-world chocolate cream cheese frosting. And funfetti + chocolate cream cheese frosting = unforgettable. Make this cake NOW!

5. Olive Oil Citrus Cake

I use a lot of chocolate in my baked goods, so it was nice to have another ingredient come along and be the star. This cake was an absolute dream — so moist and flavorful from the olive oil and citrus. I suspect I'll be using olive oil more in my recipes in the upcoming year.


Other 2014 Highlights
  • There were lots of amazing food events this year in Portland. My favorite two were Portland's Taste of the Nation and Feast, which I was an official events photographer for. Check out my photos of the Sandwich Invitational and Night Market!
  • I remodeled my kitchen (I now have a dishwasher! A disposal! A range with a hood!) but since I'm the worst, I don't haven't done a before/after post yet. Here are some pictures from Instagram though. Yeah, sorry, I know I'm the worst. A fully-fledged post will hopefully come sometime next year? Maybe? 
  • Erlend and I eschewed away from traditional Thanksgiving food this year and had an Asian-style Thanksgiving. It was epic. I think we'll be doing that every year from now on.

December 24, 2014

Hot Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

i'm dreaming of a white christmas
just like the ones i used to know
where the tree tops glisten
and children listen
to hear sleigh bells in the snow

i'm dreaming of a white christmas
with every christmas card i write
may your days be merry and bright
and may all
your christmases be white

im dreaming of a white christmas
with you

It doesn’t really snow here in Portland. In the 10 or so years that I’ve lived here, it’s only snowed a handful of times. Most of the time I’m pretty happy about this fact (since I'm probably one of the rare folks who absolutely hates snow), but it does sometimes leave me daydreaming about a white Christmas (because it’s a lot easier to appreciate how pretty and picturesque everything is when you don’t have to deal with bad drivers, dirty snow and soggy shoes).

But with no snow on the horizon, I guess I’ll just have to make do with this cake I made specifically for Christmas Eve. Everything about it screams winter wonderland, with animals galumphing around on a fluffy snow frosted mountain. And by "mountain", I really mean hot chocolate cake. I’ve been daydreaming about turning hot chocolate into a cake for some time now and have finally succeeded in doing so:

This is literally hot chocolate in cake form: chocolate chunks melted in hot cocoa liquid, mixed together with some flour, sugar, oil and eggs to give it structure. The trick for a super chocolatey cake that isn’t too heavy or sickly sweet is to find an instant hot cocoa mix that is primarily cocoa powder, without too much added sugar or sweeteners. If you’re a purist, you can even use regular old boiling water (or even coffee, for you coffee lovers out there) and it’ll be amazing! I promise.

And true to a classic hot cocoa, I’ve topped it off with incredibly fluffy, vegetarian-friendly marshmallow fluff frosting straight from Food52, one of my much trusted recipe sources. The frosting is just egg whites, sugar, and corn syrup, with no gelatin whatsoever. Together, the ingredients whip up to a texture similar to meringue, but fluffier and stickier — the way marshmallow fluff should be. I was tempted to use a chef’s torch to brulee the marshmallow topping on the cake, but I was worried it would ruin my cake’s winter wonderland effect. I mean, the bears are just so damn darling, right? It actually looks like they’re romping around in the snow!

Merry Christmas!

Some baker's notes:
  • Contrary to what my pictures have you believe, this recipe actually yield two 8-inch cakes! I froze the other one for later. But you can stack the two and layer marshmallow fluff in between each layer for a rustic, unfrosted look (which is so popular right now!). The marshmallow fluff recipe makes enough for you to do so. 

  • For this recipe, it's important to use natural, unsweetened cocoa powder for the cake batter as opposed to Dutch-processed cocoa. Dutch-processed cocoa has been treated with an alkalizing agent that gives it a prettier color, but also a milder flavor since it takes away some of chocolate's acidity. It's important to use natural cocoa powder in this cake for a deep, dark chocolate flavor.

  • Like I said in my post, it's important to use an instant hot cocoa mix that doesn't have too much added sugar or sweeteners. Epicurious has a great guide comparing instant hot chocolate mixes, as does The Sweet Home and The Daily Meal. You can also make your own (I like this recipe from Craftsy), which would probably best since you can control the amount of sugar that goes in it. Whatever you decide, just make sure that it's mixed thoroughly and boiling when you add it to the chocolate in the recipe.