chocolate sugar cookies

I've partnered with HERSHEY to give you guys a quick tour of my pantry and bring you this recipe for chocolate sugar cookies! These chocolate sugar cookies come together from just the basic ingredients found in e very baker's pantry. Packed with a ton of chocolatey goodness flavor from HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa, the cookies are soft and crumbly in the center, with crisp edges and crunch from the sanding sugar.

I'm a sucker for trying out unexpected flavors and new ingredients. Like, heck yeah, I'll put saffron and rosemary in my cakes, beets and hibiscus in my frostings! Obscure, regional ingredients like root beer milk, gianduja, and lavender extract? Sure, I'll give it a try.

Let's be honest though — not a whole lot of people want to go out and source stuff like candy cap mushrooms for blondies and lilacs for sugar donuts. And sometimes, the most amazing things are made from the ingredients that can be found in everybody's pantries with no extra shopping necessary. The best shortbread cookies, for instance, are made from nothing but flour, sugar, and (a TON of) butter. Sprinkles can be made from just powdered sugar and a couple of eggs.

So today I'm going to show you guys the simple staples that are always in my pantry (well, open shelves) and refrigerator, as well as share a recipe that you can make with just those basic ingredients.

We'll start with the basics:

  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Milk
At any given point in time, I always have these three items in my fridge. They're incredibly flexible and can be used in both sweet and savory recipes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals, etc. They're also the ingredients that primarily give baked goods their structure with their fat and protein components.

  • Flour
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Kosher Salt
Even if you're not a big baker, flour is still a must-have in your pantry. Flour is incredibly versatile and can be used as a thickener, stabilizer, or coating for extra flavor. And almost all dishes can be brightened up with a dash of sugar and a generous sprinkling of salt. I like kosher salt as its texture is prone to sticking to crevices and absorbing more flavor.

Baker's Pantry
These are the items that, as a baker, I'm prone to always having in my pantry. Baking powder and soda are the leaveners that give baked goods their rise. The rest — brown sugar, HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa, and vanilla extract — are literally the most classic flavors in baking. In particular, I always like to keep a generous store of both cocoa powder and vanilla extract in my pantry. Because with the addition of just those two ingredients to any regular pantry, you can make almost every classic baked good! Think: chocolate chip cookies, brownies, pound cakes, and these chocolate sugar cookies:

Indeed, these chocolate sugar cookies come together incredibly easily from just the basic ingredients in every baker's pantry. Their texture is soft and crumbly in the center, with crisp edges and crunch from the sanding sugar. And despite their simplicity, they're packed with a ton of chocolatey goodness flavor — it's almost like a brownie met a cookie and came together to form a cross between the two.

Some baker's notes:
  • I used sanding sugar to make the cookies extra-textured and sparkly since sanding sugar is traditionally coarser and has larger granules than regular granulated sugar. Sanding sugar can be found in specialty baking and/or craft stores. In a pinch, you can also use demarara (raw) sugar, which is just as coarse as sanding sugar and more readily available in almost any supermarket. It will give the cookies a slightly golden sheen though. And finally, regular granulated sugar will work too — your cookies will just look less sandy and sparkly.

  • I refrigerated my dough for an hour or so to make it easier to work with, but you can also just bake it without this process if you're strapped for time. They'll taste exactly the same, but the cookies will be flatter and craggier without the chilling process.

Thanks to HERSHEY'S for sponsoring this post by providing the compensation and ingredients to make it happen! I'm one of the bloggers participating in HERSHEY'S Bake Happy Challenge, where we'll be spending the next few months sharing our best recipes, tips, tricks, and anything to encourage all you lovely folks to bake. Be sure to check out my Facebook page to participate in the challenges for a chance to win HERSHEY'S products! Thanks again for supporting Hummingbird High and all my wonderful sponsors!

maple pear pie with a cream cheese crust

When I told folks that I was moving to New York City, I usually got two reactions. The first, usually from friends who either lived in New York or had spent a significant amount of time there, was one of disdain and/or confusion. "Really?" the current residents asked, crossing their arms as if to defend the territory I was clearly about to usurp on. "Why?" The former residents usually smirked at me. "Good luck," they wrinkled their noses, before detailing the many, many reasons why they decided to leave the city, usually involving some combination of steep rents, smelly garbage, extreme weather, and the sight of too many people pooping their pants in public.

The second group, however, was far kinder. Usually these consisted of friends who had visited for a handful of days, or had never been but only seen experienced it through books, TV shows, and movies. "Oooh, you should get a loft like the one in Friends!" one of my acquaintances exclaimed, gleefully oblivious to the very scary reality that is the New York real estate market. Several of these friends promised to visit, forwarding me lists like "The Best Rooftop Bars in New York City" with the words "LET'S GO!" I imagine they saw me traipsing around the city in the style of Sex and the City, running in heels to different events every night with an iPhone in one hand and a cupcake in the other.

But here's the dirty truth: it's all of those things, yet none of those things.

Because mostly it's boring.

Okay, okay, before you guys get all up in arms about me saying that New York City is boring, it's not. Not really. There's a lot to do here. There are so many restaurants, museums, shows, and for the first few months I got here, it definitely seemed that I was going to an event — not a party, but an event — every night.

The reality of New York is that it's somewhere between the two camps of what I described above: there's the glamor, the glitz, and the celebrity alongside the grit and the grime. Because sure, there are comped dinners at Eater 38 restaurants, bike rides along the glittering Manhattan skyline, and random celebrity sightings at Equinox. But there's also getting yelled at by taxi drivers, standing in line in heels for a shitty table in a VERY loud restaurant, and having to haul bags of groceries on the crowded L-train during rush hour. And after several months of juggling work, chores, and events alongside the daily grit of New York City, I've retreated back to my shell, where the jars of flour and sugar are very clean and organized and nobody is yelling or shrieking for any random reason. Days are now spent working, Netflixing, sleeping, and maybe leaving my apartment for an event once a week. IF I feel like it.

So it's me. I'M boring. But I'm okay with that.

This pie is the tenth installment in my #humhipieamonth series (the one where I'm baking a pie a month — you can read about the origin of the project over on this sour cranberry pie recipe). One of the hardest parts about moving out east has been getting used to what produce comes into season and for how long. In California, stone fruits would still be in abundance! In New York, they're long gone and we're in the heart of apples and pears season. To get into the fall spirit, I sweetened this pear pie with maple syrup and brown sugar. I used a cream cheese crust, which added a nice tangy flavor to compliment the maple flavor. Enjoy!

linen ||  salt cellar || candle sticks (short + tall) || server + knife || plates

Some baker's notes:
  • For this crust, I used Rose Levy Bereanbaum's cream cheese pie crust from The Baking Bible. According to this Food52 article, the cream cheese in the crust makes a tender, flaky, and super forgiving crust. In addition to the cream cheese, it also uses a combination of actual cream and vinegar for the liquid, with the cream serving to tenderize the crust and the vinegar to relax the gluten formation (the Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie crust recipe also uses this trick). There's also a touch of baking powder, which I think helps keep the pie from shrinking. You can read the rest of her notes about the recipe over on Epicurious. I personally didn't find the cream cheese any more forgiving than a lard crust, but I did like the flavor that it brought to the pie. It did come out slightly paler than my usual lard and/or butter crusts, so if you want a deep golden color, I recommend using an all egg-yolk egg wash.

  • In this recipe, I use two somewhat specialty ingredients — King Arthur Flour chai spice mix, and dark maple syrup. The chai spice mix is easily replaceable with any of your favorite fall/pumpkin pie spices; if you really need guidelines for flavor ratios, I recommend checking out this pear pie with crème fraîche caramel recipe from earlier this year. As for the maple syrup, maple syrup used to come in grades (A, B, and C) but merged together last year — you want the darkest maple syrup that you can find (formerly known as grades B or C). 

italian rainbow cookie salad

"Where are you? And why are there hamburger and artichoke stickers everywhere?"

"I'm at the Taste Talks awards with Molly! We are drinking an Oreo Black Tap milkshake and eating Earl Grey cotton candy! And those are sugar beets, not artichokes. And they're tattoos! "

- actual text message exchange between me and Erlend a few weeks ago

Can I be honest with you guys? I don't quite remember when I first stumbled onto Molly's blog, or how she and I got to be friends. Maybe it happened because I bought her a hot dog at the Saveur awards last year? I don't really know. All I know is that it seems like I've been reading her blog for forever, and that, these days, it seems that we text each other almost every day. From topics as boring and business-y (like which sponsors are good, and whether blog agencies and virtual PAs are actually worth it), to more ridiculous and hilarious ones (like whether or not she should wear a cape dress to the aforementioned Taste Talks awards, or what kind of Sia themed cake will we finally make, or what it's like to bring our very quiet and very Scandinavian significant others to loud parties), we've got each others backs. She's become a good friend, and is someone I can rely on to tell it like it is and to find the good in every and any situation (and bring sprinkles if necessary).

Plus, she wrote a book!!!

So I'm a little late to this party, I know, I know. Molly on the Range actually came out at the start of the month but I've been knee-deep in sponsored posts/moving/events and haven't been able to find the time to make something until now. Plus, I didn't even know where to start! Should I bake one of the awesome cakes that she's known for? Or one of the intriguing (and vaguely dirty sounding) savory dishes like meatless balls or a pair of nice buns?

In the end, I settled for this Italian rainbow cookie salad:

I have never lived in the Midwest, so my reaction to "cookie salad" was very similar to Molly's when she first moved there a few years ago and discovered it for herself at a buffet: confusion, fear, then acceptance. Traditional Midwestern cookie salad consists of a concoction of Cool Whip, pudding, crushed cookies, and mandarin oranges. It sounds weird, I know. I was scared. Erlend was a non-believer. But with Molly reassuring me that it was similar to one of my favorite English desserts, Eton Mess, I persevered.

And you know what? It was delicious. Molly's version uses fancy pants pastry cream and Italian rainbow cookies, which are basically super moist and jammy almond cakes with a dash of chocolate. Each spoonful was like a bite of cake and ice cream, with a dash of citrus here and there. Give it a try! I promise you won't regret it.

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • Molly includes a recipe for homemade Italian rainbow cookies, but they're on literally every corner in New York and I was lazy sooooo I bought some. You can too (online)! In a pinch, you can also use other cookies, but to get the full Molly Yeh cookie salad effect make sure that you use a spongey or cakey cookie. 

chocolate pretzel tart

I’ve partnered with HERSHEY to create this intensely bittersweet glazed chocolate ganache tart on a salty, crunchy pretzel crust. Chocolate lovers, this one’s for you!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging about baking and desserts for almost five years. It’s been quite the journey, growing this blog from something that I started as a side hobby into my very own small business.

However, as much as I love my blog, I sometimes get into a funk where the things that I enjoy so much–baking, photography, writing—feel more like work. It’s easy to fall into a trap where I get stressed about my social media numbers and try to keep up with all the fast-moving trends.

So every so often, I need to stop, take a deep breath, and remove myself from all those stresses by baking something just for myself without worrying about all of all that. And when I do, all those memories and stories come flooding back, and I'm reminded of why I started baking in the first place:

A Brief History of Why I Bake:

- Sophomore Year of College, Portland, Oregon, 2007. My friend Leah and I were procrastinating on our homework and wanted cupcakes. We drove up to the grocery store and were unimpressed by how sad their cupcakes look in the supermarket display cases. We came up with the half-baked idea to make cupcakes ourselves, and loaded up our cart with all the baking gear we can find: a $20 hand mixer, an aluminum foil muffin tin, a box of cake mix. It was a half-baked operation: we forgot measuring cups and eyeballed the oil needed for the recipe using a grubby pint glass. We made a huge and loud mess in the tiny dorm kitchen and annoyed all my fellow dorm mates. However, all was forgiven when we handed out the still-warm, slightly-lopsided (but very delicious) cupcakes.

- My First Real Job Out of College, San Francisco, CA, 2010. I remember feeling lost in a new city and feeling broke with my entry level salary and my comically high rent. Unable to afford to do anything I want, I figured that baking for myself would be a fun and marginally cheap hobby. I eventually graduated from box mixes to making things from scratch. I started with giving the final products to my roommate and our neighbor next door. Soon, people flitted in and out of the apartment, making requests for birthday cakes and certain recipe favorites. I happily obliged.

- The Hummingbird Bakery, London, 2011. Visited one of my best friends in London. He takes me to a bakery that he says reminds him of me. We bought a box of cupcakes and he shoved their cookbook, The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, into my hands. "Here," he said. "This book makes people better bakers." I'm reminded of him every time I bake from the book, somewhat making up for the fact that he lives an entire ocean away.

- The Terrible Finance Job That I Hated, Denver, CO, 2011. In another new place. I found myself working a horrible job that makes me cry almost every night and decided to bake my favorite cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. Was mortified to find that the recipe, one I've made so many times that I know all the steps by heart, resulted in a muffin tin full of sticky puddles of batter. Eventually discovered that high-altitude baking is a completely different game. Decide to explore it more by trying to adapt all my favorite recipes to work at high altitude. Start to record all my discoveries using this blog. Found support from strangers and readers from all around the world.

Over the last few years, I've realized that baking has the power to make others happy, and to bring back memories of the people and places I love. For me, blogging is about connecting with people who love baking—whether it's the process, or the final products—as much as I do. So have a slice of this chocolate pretzel tart filled with a rich, deep and dark chocolate ganache and a salty pretzel crust, and know that you're a big part of what inspires me to bake!!!

Some baker's notes:
  • No rectangular tart pan? No worries, the recipe also works with a standard 9-inch round pan. No need to alter the recipe! Both the pretzel crust and chocolate ganache filling will make slightly more than what's needed for the pan; if you have mini tartlet pans, now is a good time to use it!

  • It's rare that my recipes can be easily converted to gluten-free ones, but this one works like gangbusters! All you need to do is use gluten-free pretzels instead of regular ones, and you've automatically got a gluten-free dessert!

Thanks to HERSHEY for sponsoring this post by providing the compensation and ingredients to make it happen! I'm one of the bloggers participating in Hershey's Bake Happy Challenge, where we'll be spending the next few months sharing our best recipes, tips, tricks, and anything to encourage all you lovely folks to bake. Learn more about it on my Facebook page (and participate in a giveaway!), and thanks again for supporting Hummingbird High and all my wonderful sponsors!

cream cheese kolaches

Most people assume that I grew up in Portland because I call it home and speak of it so fondly, but here's a fun fact: I actually went to high school in Houston, Texas. I had a very boring and typical suburban childhood experience: a trampoline in the backyard, movies every Friday, and hitching rides from friends to eat lunch off-campus at fast food places. The only really remarkable thing was the amount of crap that I was able to eat without too much consequence. My senior year (the year we upperclassmen were allowed to take lunch off campus), my friends and I would rotate through the slew of fast food options near our school: Burger King, McDonald's, Whataburger, Pizza Hut. Rinse and repeat. On Fridays, someone in my first period Spanish class would usually bring in Shipley's Donuts for breakfast. I ate it all, indiscriminately and with much enthusiasm, and only weighed about 110lbs soaking wet. Yep, those were the days.

One day, my Spanish teacher (who, in retrospect, was tired of dealing with the consequences of us cracked out on sugar, shortening, and lard at 8AM on Friday morning), surprised us with a box of pastries from The Kolache Factory. Surprisingly, most of the class (including myself) had never heard of the Czech pastries before (despite the fact that, hey, kolaches were actually pretty ubiquitous in Houston). We peered cautiously into the box — some looked like ordinary dinner rolls; others mini danishes with a fruit topping but lacking in the traditional pastry glaze. A bite into one of the dinner rolls revealed a fluffy brioche bun stuffed with sausage and cheese, similar to a pig-in-a-blanket. The sweet ones were like a cross between a jelly-filled donut and a cream cheese danish. And just like that, we were hooked and Donut Fridays became Kolache Fridays.

After graduating from high school, I rarely came back to Houston. Kolaches became a distant memory — they're not as easily available outside of Texas. Sure, there was a place in Portland (run by Houston expats) and interestingly enough, there's a kolache place in my new Brooklyn neighborhood (also run by Texan expats). But they're rare, and most of the time when I say the word "kolaches" (pronounced ko-LA-cheese), I'm greeted with "BLESS YOU!" #dadjoke

And until receiving a copy of America's Test Kitchen's new book, Bread Illustrated, it never occurred to me to try making them at home. I've never been much of a bread baker, you see. I've always found the entire thing to be laborious and intimidating. Braiding challah, twisting garlic knots, and shaping perfectly round buns — I've always found all of those to be such daunting challenges. But the carefully outlined instructions and incredibly detailed step-by-step photos in the book were able to convince me otherwise. And sure enough, after an afternoon of baking and with no loss of any blood, sweat, and tears, I found myself with a batch of kolaches that tasted exactly like the glorious ones I remembered from high school: fluffy and buttery, with a tangy and very faintly lemony cream cheese center.

This post was done in partnership with America's Test Kitchen, who provided a copy of Bread Illustrated and some additional baking tools to make this post happen. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I genuinely believe that the folks at America's Test Kitchen are some of the most trustworthy cooking and baking experts out there. As always, thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and all my awesome sponsors!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • This is one of those recipes where it's important to pay attention to the ingredients and their temperature. The recipe uses instant yeast, which is distinctive from active dry yeast in that it doesn't need to be activated at a warm temperature. However, it does work best if all the other ingredients it's mixed with (like milk and eggs) is at room temperature. 

  • Not a fan of ricotta? Feel free to substitute it with an equal amount of cream cheese for an all cream cheese kolache. You can also create a fruit-filled variation by swapping the cream cheese with jam instead!

bacon apple cheddar pie

Wandering around the aisles of supermarkets, it's easy to feel disconnected from your food. The overflowing bins of shiny and uniformly shaped apples and oranges give off the impression that fruit is man-made; the refrigerated, sterile aisles of plastic-wrapped chicken and beef that make you forget that what you're buying was once a living animal. With this accessibility, it becomes easy to take your food for granted. As much as I hate to admit it, I've definitely been guilty of buying too much produce at once, letting it languish in the fridge, and eventually throwing it out without a second thought to the work that went into its production.

But I recently had the chance to tour several apple and pear orchards run by Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, Washington. Stemilt reminded me of how much care and thought goes into the process of growing and making food. We learned that picking fruit by hand without damaging the fruit and next year's crop is an art, and that human hands will always do the work better than machines. We learned about the H2-A visa programs that enabled this family-owned farm to grow and sustain their production while providing lifelines and steady sources of income for less fortunate families in Mexico. We learned how to train trees to produce different type of fruit than the ones they originally bore, and how the flavors of apples that we get today—honeycrisp, piñatas, sweetangos—came to be.

Perhaps most importantly, we also learned how wonderful and hardworking all the folks involved in every aspect of the apple and pear growing business, (whether out in the field, factory, or office) really, truly are.

And so this month's #humhipieamonth project is dedicated to all the incredibly kind and diligent folks who showed us around the Stemilt Growers orchards. I've been making pies at least once a month since the year began, and for me, the task hasn't gotten any easier. Pie making requires a lot of time, patience, and care—three things I often don't have a lot of— but I knew I wanted to come up with something spectacular to honor the sweetango apples I received from Stemilt. Which is why I'm sharing this extravagant recipe for bacon cheddar apple pie:

Cheddar cheese and apples is an old-fashioned and time-tested combination; the cheddar in the pie makes the dough easier to work with, and its sharp flavor compliments the sweet fruit wonderfully. For a little extra richness, I quickly sautéed the apples in bacon fat to give the pie a slightly smokey, unique (yet somehow still classic) flavor.

also featured:

This post was done in partnership with Stemilt Growers, who provided the apples for this post and sponsored a trip out to Seattle and Wenatchee to tour the orchards and learn about the apple production process. All thoughts and opinions are my own and I was genuinely impressed by the hard work of everybody I met on the trip — I learned so much about farming apples and pears, and more! As always, thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and all my awesome sponsors — this blog wouldn't be here without you guys. 

Some baker's notes:
  • For this pie, I used the sweetango apples that Stemilt provided not only because they were tasty, but they paired particularly well with the sharp cheddar cheese I used for this pie. Sweetango apples are a relative of the more commonly known honeycrisp, and are as equally sweet, tangy, and crisp. 

  • On that note, a sharp cheddar cheese works best in this recipe — I initially used a mild one, but found that I couldn't distinguish the flavor from a regular pie crust. Even if you don't like sharp cheeses, it's best to use it here since a mild cheddar will be drowned out by the rest of the pie. 

weeknight dinner: spaghetti aglio e olio

I came home this Monday exhausted from two weeks of travel in the Pacific Northwest. When I left New York, we hadn't fully decamped from our temporary summer home over in the Upper West Side. It was strange to come home to our brand new Brooklyn apartment, with its white walls still smelling like paint and construction dust. Having never spent a night there before leaving for my travels, the space felt like another hotel/airbnb/friend's couch.

But we're slowly getting there. There are corners that are Instagram ready (as long as you don't look outside the frame), and mementos from friends that are bringing colors to the walls. We've unpacked the boxes, Erlend's hung up the curtains, and I've color coded the kitchen cupboards (like a major dork). This space is slowly turning ours.

One thing that took us an embarrassing amount of time to do, however, was to cook our first meal there. With Jamaican patties and fried chicken a couple blocks from our doorstep, it's been easy to just fall back on meals eaten with plasticware from greasy takeout containers. And as much as I love eating out and ordering in, a house isn't really my home until I've made a mess of my own in the kitchen, dessert or otherwise.

Which is why instead of my usual baking recipe, I'm sharing this one for spaghetti aglio e olio. This was the first dinner that Erlend and I cooked together in our new apartment, and the first meal we ate with our own silverware and fancy new plates from Canvas Home. At first glance, the recipe, while comforting and tasty, is simple: just spaghetti tossed in olive oil, garlic, and chili flakes. It could easily be mistaken for just another boring weeknight recipe, and honestly — this is what makes it so special. With its comfort and simplicity, it tastes like home.

salad plates in grey and white || tidbit plate in grey || salad serving bowl || round serving bowl || kaffe tumbler in grey and white 

Thank you to Canvas Home for sponsoring this post by providing all the pretty plates and glasses that you see in the photos! I first fell in love with their collections last year, and I've since then decked out the open shelving system in my kitchen with the Shell Bisque collection! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own; thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my sponsors!

Some maker's notes:
  • Traditional spaghetti aglio e olio is made with traditional flour or semolina spaghetti. For our version, I used spaghetti made from farro to try and feel better about gorging during the food festival I attended this past weekend. Pastas made from different grains will yield a slightly different taste; whole grains will make it earthier, while regular pasta will be lighter in flavor. Whatever pasta you decide to go with, just adjust accordingly for its recommended cooking times and work with my recipe from there. Watch out though — the recipe actually requires you to initially undercook the pasta at the beginning!

  • Be sure to read the recipe in full and make sure to remember to reserve some pasta water for the final step in the recipe! Using regular water would work too, but the starchy pasta water makes it more creamy and flavorful.