apple cider crullers

October 11, 2017

Last year, when I first moved out to New York to join Erlend, I told myself that we would take advantage of living out on the East Coast. It was closer to Europe; think of all the budget flights we would be able to catch for long weekend trips! Plus there was the whole New England region that I hadn't explored since I'd biked across the country many years ago, and Southern cities like Nashville and Charleston that are much closer to New York City than anywhere from the West Coast. We got this.

Yeah, no.

Of course, that didn't happen. With the exception of a much needed vacation to Portugal (which, quite frankly, only happened because I had a free credit card/air miles situation that was expiring in a few months), both Erlend's and my schedules were far too busy to allow for anything else. The year went by, and I found myself moving back to Portland unceremoniously and plunging solo into house repairs and remodelling. Oh, and my book.

But as fate would have it, the moment I moved back to the West Coast, several opportunities popped up that enabled me to have the East Coast travels that I'd dreamed of nearly a year ago. With Stonewall Kitchen (one of the past sponsors of my blog), I took a lovely overnight trip to Maine full of lobster rolls, stunning views of rocky beaches and beautiful New England houses on cliffs, and of course, lighthouses. I then stopped in Boston, where I was schooled by a hotel pastry chef on how to make macarons and had a wonderful, mini-reunion with two old high school friends. As we ate lots of pasta, drank lots of wine, and talked about how lame all of our high school exes were, I deeply regretted not being able to see both of them more often. And then there was my week with Vermont Creamery, in which our lovely hostesses drove a wonderful group of bloggers and myself all around Vermont to tour farms, cideries, chocolate factories, and more — it was impossible not to fall in love with its quiet, rural beauty.

Today's recipe is a tribute to my New England travels, of sorts. For years, I'd wanted to make crullers after seeing them on an old school cooking blog, Use Real Butter. My first attempt many years ago was terrible—I didn't have the right pastry tip and wasn't as confident in my piping skills as I am now—the crullers came out shriveled and sorry. I vowed to make them again one day, but then found myself living in tiny apartments in both San Francisco and New York that would have caused all my clothes to reek of deep fried oil had I attempted deep frying anything in their kitchens. Fast forward to now: years of pastry piping experience under my belt and my somewhat more spacious kitchen in Portland afforded no excuse. So here we are. Classic crullers, but with an apple cider glaze vaguely inspired by autumn and my New England travels. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • I mentioned this in the post, but you will need to use a piping bag and the right tips in order to make the crullers of your dreams. I used a large star tip from this Ateco set, which I highly recommend as I use it for everything (but really, a star tip from any large decorating tip set will do). The process for making crullers is weird, and a little on the high maintenance side. Basically, you pipe a circle onto a square piece of parchment paper, let it fry for a bit, and then pull off the paper with a pair of tongs. There's no way around this — the paper helps keep the crullers' shape, and forgoing it will result in churros rather than crullers. They'd be just as tasty though, so go for it if that's your jam. 

  • Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a deep fryer to deep fry things. I like to use my trusty Staub cocotte, which has a heavy bottom and thick sides to help retain the heat. In a pinch, a cast iron skillet would work too, but watch out for oil splatters since its sides are considerably lower! 

  • The first time I made these, the crullers looked beautiful when I first pulled them out of the oil... only to deflate sadly within a few minutes. Turns out I was severely undercooking them. Pay attention to the temperature of the oil in the recipe — too hot and your crullers will get brown too fast, causing you to pull them out too early and leading to deflation. Too cool and your crullers will get too soggy and oil laden. The perfect temperature and cooking time is in the recipe and will help prevent these problems! 

vietnamese iced coffee cake

October 4, 2017

Here's a little secret about me: I am not a serious coffee drinker.

I'm embarrassed to say that, especially given that I come from one of the most serious coffee drinking regions of the country. There's also this weird perception that people who don't drink coffee are weak or mild-mannered or unsophisticated; I like to think I'm neither of those things, but maybe not? I really don't know.

But the truth is, I don't need coffee to survive. I love the taste of it, sure, but I function perfectly well without it. Caffeine affects me too much for it to be a daily thing — I want to be able to come home from a hard day's work and crash completely without laying awake in bed from any residual caffeine in my system. Even now, I only drink coffee socially with friends, when I'm fighting jet lag, or putting in long hours at an event or press trip situation like the one I'm currently on (CheeseCation with Vermont Creamery!!!).

Of course, living in such coffee oriented places like Portland and San Francisco spoiled me. The last tech company I worked for had an on-site barista that doled out free, made-to-order espresso drinks made with beans from indie roasters that rotated on a weekly basis. So even though I wasn't a frequent drinker, I developed a taste for it anyway, discerning the good coffee from my favorite small batch roasters from more generic and poorly roasted brands. AND YET — even with all that exposure to some of the best (and most pretentious) coffee in the world, I still retained a soft spot for the overly sweet and sugared coffees from my youth. In a pinch, I'll walk into any Starbucks and order a tall iced caramel macchiato. And of course, at any bahn mi, pho, or Vietnamese restaurant, I'll cave and order a Vietnamese iced coffee.

If you're unfamiliar with Vietnamese iced coffee, it's basically this: think of the most boring, basic cheap coffee you can find, and brew it very strongly to the point of bitterness. On its own, it tastes forgettable and perfunctory, like the sad final dregs of the office coffee pot. But then you top it off with sweetened condensed milk and ice, give it a good stir, and bam! You have a weirdly, well-balanced iced coffee drink. Well... okay, it's a little on the sweet side, but in the way that a tall iced caramel macchiato and a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks is too.

And if you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I went and made this drink into a cake a few weeks ago. This is the first recipe of mine that nearly incited a riot: several of you kept DMing and hounding me in comments for OTHER baked goods, asking me when the recipe was going to go live. Good grief! I blame the frosting; I'd followed this frosting technique for galaxy cakes I found on Instagram to create mocha fudge swirls that looked like an iced coffee recently stirred. So without further ado, here it is — the recipe for Vietnamese "Iced" Coffee Cake. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe works best if you make the coffee fudge in advance. The recipe will make more than what's needed for the frosting technique in the photos; if you want to use it all though, you can go for a drippy cake look or an overall glaze. The fudge also keeps in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks; you can use it for other desserts, like your post-dinner ice cream sundae. 😜

  • To get the "swirl" effect, I used this technique for galaxy cakes that I found on Instagram. I try my best to walk you through it in the recipe instructions, but that video is probably going to be more helpful than whatever I say. It's pretty easy to pull off, but you do need to know basics like making a good, even layer of frosting for your cake for the technique to work properly. I recommend using a crumb coat, which is a thin layer of frosting that helps seal any loose crumbs in, before frosting the cake completely. If you're not feeling confident about your crumb coating and frosting abilities, I recommend watching Martha and Stella's videos and reading all about it on Tessa's blog. Oh, and a rotating cakestand (like this one, which made it on to my Essential Equipment list) is a freaking miracle worker. I also share some additional tips on how to frost cakes smoothly and evenly in this Cake Decorating 101 post

overnight babka french toast

September 27, 2017

I often times wish that I could build a city that would take all my favorite parts and elements of all the places I've lived and combine them all in one dreamy utopia. My city would have the greenery and space of Portland, the weather of the Bay Area, the diversity and culture of New York City, Amsterdam's bicycle network, and London's underground system. Then there'd be practical stuff too: the doctor in San Francisco that I love and the dentist in New York City that I love even more would all be in one place. Family and friends in Manila, London, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and New York would all live a bike ride away, and all my favorite restaurants and bakeries would be in the same city.

Unfortunately, that's not the real world and I'll have to make do with taking advantage of travel as much as I can to visit all my favorite places and people. I'm back in New York for a hot second and I've been spending the days running around with friends to eat all the delicious things that I can't get in Portland: pizza, bagels, and Jewish fare like lox, latkes, and babka. Okay, to be fair, most of those things actually do exist in Portland but are such inferior versions that they aren't worth the calories!!! If everything's going straight to my waistline, it might as well be the best version of everything possible... right?

Right, right.

Anyway, one of the restaurants I made a priority to visit while I was here was Russ & Daughters Cafe. It's a place that would definitely exist in my utopia of all my favorite things since I absolutely love the food there: their lox is incredibly fresh, their latkes crisp on the outside and soft in the inside, and their homemade Concord grape soda tastes like candy.

In real life though, wait times for a table are frequently over an hour and the space gets crowded and loud fast. I usually don't have any patience for lines and crowds, but their babka French toast keeps me coming back. It's thick and hearty, custardy but not too sweet, and griddled to crisp perfection. I've been playing around with some babka French toast recipes at home to try and recreate it, without much luck.

This recipe, adapted from Food52's Baking cookbook, isn't quite the same but has its own merits. Baked French toast never gets quite as crisp as griddled ones, but it's far easier to put together for a big crowd. It also takes on a soft and custardy texture more similar to bread pudding (for all you bread pudding lovers out there). Give the recipe a shot and let me know what you think!


Some baker's notes:
  • The Jewish delis, bakeries, and stores of New York City have a dirty little secret: most of them don't make their babka themselves. Dean & DelucaRuss & Daughters, and Zabar's are all known for their babkas, but all three repackage them after purchasing them from the same wholesale retailer: Green's. Green's makes a beautiful babka that's taller than most, allowing for large, dramatic swirls that ensure each bite has a chocolate custard flavor. If you're in New York City and on a budget, I recommend sourcing it from Whole Foods as their generic babka is also just another repackaged Green's loaf. For non-New Yorkers, now you know the secret. There's no need to fly here — just order Green's babka online

  • If you're looking for a bakery in New York City that actually does make their own babka, check out Breads Bakery. It's one of my all-time favorites in the city, and they also make incredible rugelach and marzipan cookies. This list from Grubstreet also has some other great-sounding suggestions. 

white chocolate and espresso bean cookies

September 20, 2017

Today's post will be short and sweet, as I'm still recovering from all the Feast festivities this past weekend. I'm also gearing up for about a month's worth of travel throughout the country: first I'm flying down to Colorado to meet Tieghan from Half Baked Harvest and celebrate her new cookbook, before heading up to New England for a retreat with Stonewall Kitchen in Maine and Vermont for Cheese Camp with Vermont Creamery! I'll also be dropping into New York City in the days I have in between to see Erlend, my cat, and my editor (which I'm slightly nervous about, since I haven't made as much progress on Weeknight Baking as I would like...).

So today's recipe is actually an old one that I baked up when I was still living in Brooklyn and completely forgot about until now. In an attempt to rid my pantry of perishable things before moving back to Portland, I spent several weeks cooking and baking everything that was in my cupboard. I had a sudden fit of inspiration and ended up using a leftover bag of chocolate covered espresso beans in place of chocolate chips in one of my favorite CCC recipes. The result was delightful! The espresso beans cut down on the sweetness of the white chocolate chips (which I also had a bag and needed to get rid of, but usually find to be too sweet on their own), and added a wonderful and unexpected crunch throughout the cookie.



Some baker's notes:
  • You can find chocolate covered espresso beans online, at Trader Joe's in the snack aisle filled with all the addicting snacks in the plastic tubs, or any candy store. I used a mix that were covered in dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and some identified caramel marble swirl (this blend looks similar to what I used). In a pinch, you can use coffee beans, because did you know that espresso beans and coffee beans are actually the same thing? I didn't until I started researching this post! Crazy. 

  • To give the cookies an extra coffee flavor, I threw in a generous amount of espresso powder (which you can get online directly from King Arthur Flour). Note that espresso powder is not the same thing as instant coffee powder; used by bakers, instant espresso powder is like an MSG for chocolate bakes. Small quantities of it makes dark and milk chocolate taste more intense and flavorful. You can read more about it in this article by The Kitchn. For these cookies, it doesn't really matter if you use instant coffee powder though — I used a large enough amount of the espresso powder to give the cookies a coffee flavor, and instant coffee powder will achieve the same thing.

  • The base cookie recipe is based on a chocolate chip cookie recipe from The Violet Bakery; it uses egg yolks as opposed to whole eggs to give the cookies a more tender crumb, looser texture, and a unique golden color. I used 4 egg yolks because I had a spare one left over from another recipe that needed to be used, but you can use 3 and achieve the exact same results. 

butterscotch blondies

September 13, 2017

Not to be a major drama queen or anything, but doesn't it feel like the apocalypse is nigh? First there was Charlottesville, and then a series of natural disasters that are a little too close to home: Hurricane Harvey in Houston (where I grew up), the West Coast heat wave (both in California and the Pacific Northwest) and the resulting fires in Los Angeles and nearby Portland in the historic Columbia River Gorge. Not to mention the Russian election hackers that nobody really seems to care about, or the rapidly escalating North Korean nuclear threat...

Aye. Sorry, did I stress you out? My bad.

With all the terribleness in the world, it can feel a little silly to be in the kitchen making the same variation of a pound cake recipe ten different times in order to figure out the final recipe worthy enough to be in your cookbook. It can also be a little frustrating too — my standards for the recipes that will be published in Weeknight Baking are much higher than the standards that I post for my blog, so I've been experimenting with a ton of different recipes, methods, and variations to try and get the final recipe to be as perfect as I can. And no joke: three-quarters of the time, my tweaks don't work out the way I want them to, leading me to roar in frustration, scrap the whole thing, and start over from scratch.

Which is why on the days that I'm not baking for my book, I find myself reaching for recipes from tried and true sources. Like Stella Parks' new cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.

If you guys don't know Stella's work, you're missing out. Stella is one of the OG baking queens of the internet; when all else fails, I turn to her blog to look at her recipes for pastry classics like creme pat and Swiss meringue buttercream. She's pastry-school trained and is currently the resident pastry wizard at Serious Eats, specializing in remaking American classics like Oreos and Sno Balls at home.

These blondies are from her new cookbook, and are everything you would want in a blondie: all butterscotch flavor with a crisp, sugar crackly top and the fudgy texture of a classic brownie. I was particularly enamored by her use of malted milk powder and roasted white chocolate, both of which give the blondies an extra caramelized flavor. Her cookbook has instructions for roasting your own white chocolate at home, but I'm partial to Valrhona's Blond Dulcey feves.

For a copy of Stella's new cookbook, head to my Instagram and like/comment the picture of these butterscotch blondies! I'll be selecting a winner randomly next week.

cookbook || jar || tray || linen || knife

Some baker's notes:
  • Blond dulcey chocolate is available at Valrhona's online shop, or on Amazon. In a pinch, you can make your own by roasting your own white chocolate! Food52 has great instructions on how to do so, and of course, if you buy Stella's book, she's got a recipe on how to do it too. You can also use traditional white chocolate in this recipe (and it'll still be tasty, I promise!), but know that your blondies won't be as butterscotchy as mine if you do.  
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