April 22, 2015

Lilac Sugar Donuts


Hey guys, I know you're probably sick of hearing me say this (and I promise I'll stop soon), but Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog Award in Saveur Magazine's 2015 Blog Awards! There's only a few days left to vote, and I would really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog.


To vote for Hummingbird High, head on over to Saveur Blog Awards!


And now on to these donuts!

Whoever invents a camera that can capture smells will be a billionaire one day. Think of how different our world would be if our iPhones and laptops emitted smell. Because as much as I love taking photos of food, I sometimes think that the photos do a disservice to the dish at hand. Sure, it looks tasty, but that's just one component, right? Because what about the way the food smells? To me, there is nothing more comforting than walking into a house and finding it filled with the smell of something baking in the oven or cooking in the stovetop. For me, smells are more powerful than these photos could ever be — they can make me lose or gain an appetite immediately, or transport me back to a different time or place.

These donuts, for instance, were inspired by a smell. Specifically, the smell of my backyard in in the early spring at night time, after the rain. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but humor me for one second here. My neighbors to the east have a beautiful garden — come spring, the trees that divide our property burst into bloom, flowering lilac flowers that fill the air with their sweet, floral scent that intensifies as the sun sets. Erlend and I leave the back window open, hoping that the fragrance will waft inside the house, but it never does. It's almost like the flowers know how special they are, how much delight they add to our lives, and are saying: Bitch, please. We're not gonna be around that much longer — stop wasting your time inside doing whatever the hell you're doing and come appreciate me.

I say that jokingly, but Portland is changing every year, especially with new folks moving in every year and old properties like my house and the ones that surround it being torn down every day. There's a good chance that those ancient lilac trees will be gone within the next 20 years, and that magical smell of blooming flowers intermingling with the wet, mossy wood from my deck will be lost and gone forever. And I know that, several years down the road, when I no longer live in this house or even in this city, the smell of lilacs will always remind me of this house.


Which brings us to this recipe. This is my ambitious attempt to preserve some of that magic in a baked good. The donuts are adapted from my default donut recipe, which is made with the brioche dough from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, a cookbook that enables bakers to beautiful, delicious bread with hardly any work. Fresh from the fryer, I then tossed each donut in a generous bowl filled with homemade lilac sugar made with flowers from the neighbors' garden. The lilac scent in the sugar was subtle and almost ephemeral — it was almost lost in the brioche donuts' chewy, buttery goodness — but anything more intense would have been too perfumey.


Some baker's notes:
  • The lilac sugar is made by infusing granulated sugar with freshly bloomed lilac petals. If lilacs are no longer available in your area, you can replace the flower with fresh rose petals or lavender instead. The more fragrant the flower, the better! You can make the lilac sugar up to one week in advance — in fact, it's better if you do since the flowers will impart a stronger flavor the longer they're together. If using flowers from the garden or florist, make sure that they are organic and do not contain any harmful or inedible pesticides.

  • Remember that yeast is a living thing, so be nice to it. Don't activate it by using boiling hot water — if the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Instead, be sure to use water that's pleasant for a warm bath; you should be able to stick your finger in it and not scald yourself. I find that using water from the tap when it's just starting to get warm is the perfect temperature for activating dough. I've also included the specific temperature in the recipe.

  • The recipe requires you to roll out the chilled brioche dough before stamping out donuts. The dough may need to rest for about 10 minutes before you can roll it out easily. To get a bit more stretch in the dough, knead the dough for around 30 seconds by taking the ball of dough and folding it over on itself several times on a floured surface. It's the only kneading you'll need to do for this recipe.

  • You don't need a deep fryer to make donuts. I actually have a deep fryer, but prefer to use a cast iron skillet to fry donuts since I feel like it's safer and easier to clean. Make sure your pot is deep enough to hold at least 2 inches of oil, with at least 2 inches of clearance from the top of the pot. You also don't really need a candy thermometer, but it makes your life a lot easier if you've got one — it's the secret to pretty donuts, I promise.

April 15, 2015

Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake with Graham Cracker Frosting


In case you missed it, Saveur Magazine recently announced that my blog is a finalist for the “Best Baking & Desserts Blog” award in the 2015 Saveur Blog Awards. I got the notification email from Saveur a few days before the news was made public the following Monday — it was around 9:30AM, and I was sitting in a meeting with my coworkers discussing the intern role we were hoping to fill, when my phone buzzed with a new email contaning the subject line:

Congratulations - You’re a SAVEUR Blog Awards Finalist

You know how in movies sometimes, when somebody receives any kind of shocking news, everything else goes blurry… the lights fade, the sounds mute, and there’s a strange ringing sound in your ears? Well, that’s kinda what happened to me! I spent the rest of the meeting fighting the urge to grab my phone, run out the room, shriek and do several cartwheels down the hallway. When the meeting finally ended, I took a couple of deep breaths, shakily opened the email, did a little jig, and spent the rest of the day grinning like a maniac.

I wish I could have ended there, but something odd happened. Later in the day, as the glow of the news faded, I proceeded to go into a weird state of denial. I spent the rest of the weekend in a mild state of quiet panic, regretting telling the handful of people I'd told since I was somewhat convinced that the entire thing was a cruel joke or hoax. I only finally chilled the frig out when, on Monday, I officially saw my blog listed along with the other finalists.


And if I sound absolutely crazy to you, it’s only because this nomination really, truly means the world to me. The Saveur Blog Awards are the equivalent of the Oscars in the food blogging world, and there’s really nothing like it — to have such a legitimate food magazine recognize the work that us bloggers do is an incredible honor. There’s even a big awards ceremony! It’s the one opportunity to finally meet all the folks and bloggers I’ve been following for years and years, all in one place, celebrating each others’ work.

This nomination is especially meaningful for me because, a few years ago, when I was first nominated in 2013 for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog Award, I wasn’t able to attend since the ceremony that year coincided with a rare family visit. I really, really regretted not being able to go — I felt like I had missed the opportunity of a lifetime, to say the least. I really didn’t think I would ever have the chance again, since it’s incredibly difficult to be re-nominated! So I cannot emphasize how grateful and thankful I am to have just made it to the finalists again this year (though of course, I wouldn’t mind if you took the time to vote for me in my category, winkwink). I can finally go to the ceremony!!! And of course, there’s no way I’m missing it this year, come hell or high water. Really. I think the only thing that could potentially stop me is a zombie apocalypse. (And gosh, I said really a bunch of times in that paragraph, didn't I? Sorry.)

To officially celebrate making it to the finals, I whipped up this wonderful banana and chocolate crunch cake. I’ve been wanting to make a banana cake for some time now to get rid of the crazy stack of frozen black bananas in my freezer. The banana cake recipe is adapted from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, whose recipe for banana cake is the best I’ve tried — the final product straddles the line between a banana bread and cake, maintaining all the fudgy denseness that I love from banana bread but light enough to be able to eat and layer with a generous amount of frosting. To make it a little extra special, I decked the top of each cake with a generous amount of Valrhona chocolate crunch pearls (literally rice puffs covered in Valrhona chocolate), which gave the cakes the texture of a Nestle Crunch bar.


As for the frosting… can we talk about this frosting??? Because it’s graham cracker frosting. It turns out that if you mix together any kind of cookie crumbs with a generous portion of milk, you can basically make cookie butter of your choice. You know, like Biscoff or Speculoos spread??? Imagine the world of possibilities though: cookie butter made from Oreos, chocolate and mint Milanos, those schoolboy cookies, and MORE. And you know what happens when you mix said cookie butter with some unsalted butter and a touch of sugar? You get cookie butter frosting. It’s amazing. In this case, I thought honey graham crackers would work best with the banana and chocolate cake. So yep, this is a banana and chocolate crunch cake slathered in graham cracker butter frosting. Oooh, baby, baby.

And again, thank you to everybody who took the time to nominate me. This cake is for you. And even if you didn't, please take the time to check out all the wonderful bloggers who were also shortlisted. It's an incredibly, incredibly talented and creative bunch and I'm honored to be a part of the ranks.


Some baker's notes:
  • Plan ahead for this one and use the ripest bananas you can find for this recipe. Buy bananas that are ripe and let them get overly black and brown — the riper they are, the more sugar in the fruit, and the more flavorful and caramelized the cake's flavor will be. Epicurious even has a guide that tells you how far in advance you should buy bananas and where you should them to get them to their ideal state. And if you're just not a planner, you can always use this neat trick from the Kitchn to ripen them in the oven

  • Valrhona chocolate pearls are available online at Valrhona's online store, or at Amazon. Alternatively, you can find some in the chocolate and bulk section of Whole Foods supermarkets.

  • If you want to instead use store-bought cookie spread like Biscoff or Speculoos instead of making your own, feel free to do so, but be sure to omit all the sugars added with the butter in the frosting recipe. Even if you do this, however, it will result in a much sweeter frosting than the one from the recipe I provide. I like making my own cookie butter because I can control the amount of sugar that goes in it (I prefer to make one that is less sweet than the store-bought version) and avoid the funky hydrogenated oils, though it admittedly doesn't last as long as the store-bought stuff.

April 8, 2015

Lucky Charms Marshmallow Ice Cream


Before we start, I'd really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog in the Saveur Magazine's Food Blog Awards. Hummingbird High is a finalist in the Best Baking & Desserts Blog category!!! I am beyond floored that my blog was even re-nominated in the first place; it's honestly because of all YOUR support. So thank you to everybody who took the time to nominate me, is taking the time to vote for me, or, honestly, is even just reading this at all. And a HUGE congrats to all the other nominees, of course — I can't wait to meet everybody in June!


To vote for me, head on over to SAVEUR Blog Awards.



There's an ice cream shop in my neighborhood that's famous for their crazy ice cream flavors. You'll frequently find flavors like Pear and Blue Cheese or Tomato Water and Olive Oil on the menu. On Thanksgiving, Salt & Straw rolls out a salted caramel ice cream that's flavored with turkey juice and caramelized onions. One summer, there was a flavor that combined berries, barbecue sauce, and baked beans.

As a dessert enthusiast, I dive right in. I'll try a scoop of everything, including the ice creams with the pig's blood (Blood Pudding flavor, usually shows up around Halloween, yup), the meat juices, and even sea urchin. Do I enjoy it all?

Er... no, not really.

I know that makes me a bad Portlander, and I'm sure as I write this, the locals are gearing up to throw me some sticks and stones like they did in the comments section of this article. But maybe I'm just a simpleton at heart because the flavors I like best are their "classic" ones: chocolate gooey brownie, coconut with caramel bars, and Stumptown coffee with bourbon.


Every so often, however, I'll try one of their seasonal flavors and be blown right out of the water. Last month, it was a flavor called "Pots of Gold & Rainbows", a cereal milk based ice cream that was studded with all the marshmallows from pounds and pounds of Lucky Charms cereal but without any of their whole grain companions (because let's be honest, the only people who eat Lucky Charms cereal do it for the marshmallows, AMIRITE). It was perfect. There's no other word for it — the ice cream hit the perfect mix of creativity and deliciousness, balancing somewhere between a timeless classic and a more disruptive future demanding change amongst tried and true flavors. I found myself craving the ice cream again and again, lining up in Salt & Straw's obscenely long lines twice a week to buy myself a rather pricey scoop of the stuff.

But since I've never been the most patient person, I figured it was time to learn how to make it at home:


To reverse engineer the ice cream at home, I started by flipping through the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. Cereal milk dessert isn't a Salt & Straw invention; instead, it was popularized a few years ago by famed pastry chef Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar fame. Her New York bakeries actually sell cereal milk by the bottle, and she has pretty solid recipe for cereal milk that I've used in previous recipes (like these cupcakes!). But honestly, it's something that you could easily make without one, AND, if you eat cereal for breakfast every day, you probably already even do. Because here's the secret: cereal milk is nothing but cereal-infused milk. Like you know how when you eat a bowl of cereal, the leftover milk in the bowl once you've eaten all the cereal will have all these tiny cereal crumbs and will taste a little bit like the cereal you just ate? THAT'S CEREAL MILK. That's it. That's all! Seriously.

And so after sorting out the marshmallows (more on that later, grumble), I used the leftover whole grain cereal to make the cereal milk, which I then used in my favorite vanilla ice cream recipe (from Humphry Slocombe, a San Francisco-based ice cream parlor also known for its crazy flavors), churned it all into my ice cream maker, and hand-stirred in the remaining Lucky Charms marshmallows. Oh! And let's not forget — because I am a hedonist, I also bought some waffle cones, dipped them in some melted chocolate and marshmallows and BOOM! Chocolate and Lucky Charms marshmallow-lined waffle cones. Thank you, and good night.


Some baker's notes:
  • To make this ice cream, I used the cereal and marshmallows from one family size (20.5 ounces) box of Lucky Charms cereal. I hand sorted out the marshmallows, which gave me around 1 1/2 to 2 cups worth of marshmallows (sorry, I'm not exactly sure since I ate a lot of them while I was doing the sorting, lol) that I needed for this recipe. HOWEVER, thanks to comments from my trusty Instagram followers, I found out that you can actually just BUY straight-up marshmallows from Amazon! So do yourself a favor and make your life easier and buy that instead. 

  • Toasting the Lucky Charms in the oven before steeping them deepens the flavor of the milk. I didn't add any additional sugar to my steeped milk since I was going to be adding plenty in the ice cream custard base, but if you want your ice cream a little bit sweeter, add up to 2 tablespoons tightly packed light brown sugar. The recipe for Lucky Charms cereal milk below makes more than is needed for the ice cream custard, so you can drink the rest (and it definitely tastes better with a dash or two of sugar). It'll keep in a clean pitcher, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

  • The ice cream recipe I use is a custard base containing cream, milk, and eggs. Before starting the cooking process, make sure you have the bowl and ice bath ready to cool down your base as soon as its finished cooking. This is essential, since the hot custard will continue to cook for a while, and if you overcook the custard you'll end up with sugary scrambled eggs for ice cream. Which... no thank you.

  • To make the chocolate and marshmallow dipped waffle cones, I used about 1 ounce of melted dark chocolate and 1 tablespoon of Lucky Charms marshmallows per cone.

April 1, 2015

Sushi and Mushroom Salad... for Dessert!!!


So even though I've had this little April Fools' prank planned for a few weeks now, I'm going to go ahead and ruin it with this teeny, tiny announcement:


Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog in 

Saveur Magazine's Food Blog Awards!!!


When I found out the news a few days ago, I was completely stunned. I can't BELIEVE that my blog was re-nominated; all I know is that I'm pretty sure that it's because of YOU GUYS. I'm beyond grateful and thankful for all your support. It really means the world to me. Really and truly.


The winner of the award will be decided by votes, so I would really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for me. And of course, be sure to check out all the other amazing blogs that also made the shortlist. I'm beyond honored to be a part of the ranks!!!


To vote for me, click the badge below to head on to the SAVEUR Blog Awards:

http://www.saveur.com/content/blog-awards-2015-vote?dom=baking&src=2015blogbadge

And now back to my ruined April Fools' joke:

Today I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes: sushi and mushroom salad... for DESSERT.

Say what??!?

APRIL FOOLS!!!

Okay, wait. I can hear you thinking to yourself. What's the joke here? Has Michelle just lost her mind? I mean, is she just eating raw fish and mushrooms for dessert, or what???

Well, look at the pictures. Look closely this time.

Because things aren't exactly what they seem:


Still don't see it?

Here's the trick: nothing in those photos is what it looks like on first glance. Take that box of sushi — THAT'S NOT RAW FISH! The raw "fish" are actually dried mango slices prepared in three different ways. From bottom to the top, we have a regular dried mango slice, a dried mango slice brushed with a layer of cocoa powder, and a dried mango slice with its edge dipped in leftover black sesame sugar (leftover from these black sesame and goat milk rolls). Each slice sits up top a bed of sweet sticky coconut rice, mimicking traditional nigiri pieces:


And of course, you didn't really think that I would let you eat mango and coconut sticky rice with real soy sauce and wasabi now, did you? The little ramekin is filled with a chocolate dipping sauce, while the so-called "wasabi" is actually a little clump of marzipan that's been rolled in matcha green tea powder. That goes much, much better with the mango fruit and sticky coconut rice than, well, the real versions.

But as awesome as my fake sushi skills are, I must say that I'm prouder of the mushroom salad, whose mushrooms are actually made of flour, butter, sugar, and cocoa powder:


That's right. Those mushrooms up top are actually plain old sugar cookies! I rolled the cookie dough into little balls and used an empty beer bottle lined with cocoa powder to stamp out stumps in each cookie. It's a genius recipe from the cookbook of Sprinkle Bakes, who also happens to be one of my favorite food bloggers.

Happy April Fools' Day! I hope I didn't freak you out too much with this recipe. Because like, real sushi for dessert?! NO THANK YOU (although I will eat as much real sushi for lunch, dinner, and snacks as I can — it's one of my favorite foods). I'm really not crazy, I swear.


Some baker's notes:
  • Go crazy with this one! It's April Fool's Day, after all. You can use a ton of different dried fruit to mimic the look of sushi — I used mango because I felt like it mimicked the pastel colors of traditional sushi best, but dried papaya with its orange hue would also be a great substitution. And of course, you can always use fresh mango but I am a mango snob and only eat mangos when I'm in the Philippines

  • Sticky rice is available at Asian supermarkets, or online. You can also use Japanese short-grain rice, but your dessert won't be as sweet. I just cooked my sticky rice in a rice cooker, but you can be hella legit and steam it, or simply cook it in a regular saucepot. I won't include instructions on how to make the rice, however, since different brands instruct you to cook it in different ways, with slightly variant ratios of rice to the water. It's best to follow the instructions on the packet for the best results!

  • Admittedly, the coconut sticky rice was a bit of a pain to form by hand (it's super sticky... like, really). You can buy a nigiri sushi mold to make your life easier, but I'm a cheapo who repurposed an ice cube tray in my fridge to mold the rice — hey, it also works!

March 25, 2015

Overnight Black Sesame Buttermilk Rolls with Goat Milk Glaze


Before I share today’s recipe, I just wanted to thank everybody who read and commented on my last post containing my thoughts about blogging. Those thoughts have been marinating in my mind for some time now, and I briefly wrote that I was initially hesitant to write about them in the first place. At best, I was worried that some people would think that I was knocking their careers and chosen professions as bloggers. At worst, I feared folks would call me hypocritical (since, after all, I monetize my blog and benefit from all the same sponsorships and networks too). But not publishing the post for fear of upsetting people and losing followers would have been the exact opposite of what I advised people to do, so I took a deep breath and hit “publish”.

Since publishing the post, I’ve received a number of comments and emails from other bloggers sharing their own experiences. It’s been wonderful and eye-opening reading everybody’s take, and it made me realize that what I wrote about was a pretty universal experience for bloggers. If anything, it made me realize that we need more opportunities to talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff and about the doubts and fears we all share. I don’t know exactly how to provide that (and, quite frankly, it’s kind of asking a lot from a food blog), but hopefully taking more risks will eventually pave the way for such opportunities.


Speaking of taking risks, the recipe I’ve got for you guys today is one that I’ve kept near and dear to my chest for fear of alienating some of my audience. Black sesame and goat milk aren’t exactly the most accessible ingredients, although black sesame is a staple in Asian desserts. Usually black sesame appears in subtle desserts like panna cotta or pudding, often accompanied by lots of honey, syrup, or sweetened condensed milk to take its slightly bitter edge off.

My favorite kind of black sesame desserts, however, are ones that are un-subtle and un-delicate in flavor. The kind that, where if you take a bite of it, there’s no hiding that black sesame at ALL. And that’s exactly what’s going on with these rolls; you’re not gonna find a “light, floral touch” here — there’s no mistaking the nutty, toasty and almost woody flavor from the sesame. And that’s because they’re filled with nothing but butter, sugar, and black sesame seeds; there’s nothing there to distract or take the edge off the main star of the dessert.


Well… except maybe the goat milk. Since I’m mildly lactose intolerant (though in severe denial about it), I’ve been playing around with goat milk as a substitute for regular milk. When I bought my first bottle, I’d envisioned it to have a flavor similar to kefir — tart, and almost yogurt-y. My imagination ran away, thinking that using it as a substitute for regular milk in baked goods would give the final product a subtle tangy flavor, similar to using sour cream or yogurt. I was more than disappointed to find that goat milk kinda tasted like... well, regular milk.

But goat cheese? Whole other story. Turns out that you can easily replace cream cheese with goat cheese in almost any recipe, giving you that awesome goaty, farmy taste. This goat milk glaze is more technically a goat cheese glaze, with that unique farmy goat cheese flavor playing very, very well with the black sesame, adding tang to all that toasty goodness.

And of course, if you’ve been sitting there wrinkling your nose this entire time, you can always, always just go with a more traditional cinnamon sugar filling and a cream cheese glaze. Which is always good too.

But I promise you’re missing out.


Some baker's notes:
  • Black sesame seeds are available in the bulk sections of fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods and Asian supermarkets. You can also find them online.

  • I let the dough develop overnight in the fridge because I found that the slower rise brought out more flavors in the bread. I also liked breaking up the work into two portions, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just sitting around waiting for things to happen foreverrr. But if you’d like to just get it all out of the way, no worries! After kneading the dough, allow the dough to proof for about 1 1/2 hours in a lightly greased bowl covered with plastic wrap. During this time, it should double in size — after it's done so, follow the instructions in the recipe to roll out and re-proof the rolls a second time.

  • If you don't have a deep-dish pie pan to bake these rolls in, you can also use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or sheet — simply lay them out in rows of 3, spacing each about an inch or so apart. They actually bake more evenly and consistently this way (but I liked the look of the rolls baked in a pie pan 'cuz I'm a sucker).

  • The recipe starts by instructing you on how to make black sesame sugar using an oven and a food processor, thanks to this utterly genius recipe by Mandy of Lady and Pups. The recipe will make slightly more than what's needed for the rolls, and you can store whatever's leftover in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month (similarly, you can make the sugar in advanced for up to 1 month). It's important to refrigerate the sugar since black sesame seeds have a ton of oil in them and go rancid fast. However, my leftover sugar never lasts that long — I often find myself reaching for it and stirring it into my green tea or coffee. 

March 18, 2015

Pomegranate Citrus Meringue Cake & Some Thoughts on Blogging


In the last few weeks, I saw several incidents and articles that led me to think about why I blog. First there was the whole Food52 Piglet controversy between two popular bloggers, Mimi Thorrison and Adam Roberts. From that hot mess came several wonderful nuanced and articulate articles from Eater, Lottie + Doof, and Design Sponge that offered differing perspectives on the incident, and each said a lot about the world of blogging and food media.

This post kind of came from me thinking about and digesting all of that. And let me be up front: It’s long and a tad controversial. For a while, I even struggled whether to publish it in the first place. But below are some thoughts about my blog, blogging in general, and the direction I worry it’s headed in the long run (and if you want to skip my rambling and head straight to the recipe, I promise I won’t be offended at all!):


So, first some background: I started this blog back in 2011 as a way to keep up with friends and family, as well as distract myself from a job I hated. Back in 2011, even though it wasn’t all that long ago, Blog Land was an entirely different landscape. Pinterest was just getting started and only accepting new users via email. People still used Instagram in the way they use their personal Facebook profiles today; that is, folks only followed people they knew in real life as Instagram’s content was primarily blurry photos with overwrought filters.

Back in the day, the only way to get your food blog noticed immediately was submitting to content aggregation sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Unlike Pinterest and Instagram, there was actually some sort of quality control — you submitted your picture, and you waited with baited breath to see if your recipe would be published on the site. In the beginning, especially when I was just starting to figure out my DSLR camera, I got a lot of rejections. Rejections often came back with blunt feedback: bad composition, harsh lighting, white balance issues, etc. That feedback, while harsh, was really helpful in helping me figure out how to take good photos! I still remember the butterflies in my stomach when Foodgawker finally accepted and published one of my pictures, a not-that-great, slightly overexposed and underfocused picture of this hazelnut crepe cake (whose pictures are… well...eek!). But still. If I had to point to one thing that put my blog on the map and bring in, you know, readers who weren’t my immediate friends and family, I’d probably have to credit Foodgawker and that picture, which eventually got republished by The Huffington Post.

And this is where my memory starts to get hazy. Because it was around here, sometime between my multiple, frustrated attempts to get published on these sites, that I got bit by The Bug. You know, the feeling of awe that people you don’t know are reading your work and interested in what you are saying; the feeling that your blog could be something MORE… a fully fledged cookbook, a full time job with a steady paycheck, and a stream of sponsorship opportunities with cool companies. You name it, the sky was the limit. Blogging was a new, uncharted world full of financial opportunity and internet fame that I — or anyone, really — could easily tap into. That was The Bug.

I’m not going to lie. I definitely got suckered into all that, especially after Saveur Magazine shortlisted me as one of the Best Baking & Desserts Blogs and the press mentions, sponsorships, and free SWAG came rolling in. I did sponsored posts for the money and wrote nice things about products I was just “meh” on but felt guilty because I’d gotten it for free. These days, I’m extremely picky about the people, companies, and products that I work with. Because after a while of saying “yes” to everything, I started to realize that it just wasn’t my jam. The extra money was nice, sure, but every sponsored post took me further away from why I was blogging in the first place: learning how to cook new baked goods and play with different ingredients. And of course, there was less talking about my life and the things I ate with friends who were far away — instead, I was talking about products and events I attended in a weird overly-smiley, way-too-shilly way. It wasn’t sincere or authentic.

And then there was a whole other gross thing I caught myself doing: pandering. What does that mean, exactly? One of my blogger friends, Kathryn, wrote a thoughtful, articulate post about baking for the sake of blogging that’s worth checking out. As for myself, as recently as a few weeks ago, I noticed that my Instagram follower count would decline as I posted lots of photos of my trip to Singapore and the Philippines. I realized that the majority of my followers only followed me for my dessert pics, and my dessert pics alone. Why else would a picture of a pie recipe of mine have twice as many likes as a picture of some cool architecture in Singapore or dropdead gorgeous ocean views in the Philippines? My initial reaction to the fluctuation was, Oh, shoot! Gotta keep my Instagram followers high; I’ll scale back on my trip pictures and just keep posting pictures of sweets. And I actually freaking restrained myself, holding back photos of mountains and oceans in order not to annoy anybody!

But later, as I was standing watching my old boss dance around in the best Darth Vader costume I have ever seen (complete with a glowing light saber), I realized that there was no way I could NOT take a photo of this for my Instagram feed. There were a handful of old friends and coworkers who I know would just DIE with laughter seeing the photo. It seemed ridiculous to text them all individually, especially since they all followed me on Instagram. Why was I censoring myself, restraining myself from posting and sharing pictures of experiences that I was enjoying? Because a bunch of anonymous followers who I didn’t know personally were unfollowing me?!! Like… really???

Ugh.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, that in the last three and a half years of blogging, I’ve found myself too easily caught up in the “fame and fortune” side of things. And whenever I am in that funk, I always get really depressed and down on my blog — beating myself up for not making more money, not having as many followers, not being re-nominated for that award, etc. And I hate that. Because it’s not why I started blogging in the first place, and perhaps more importantly, it’s not why I continue to blog, and certainly not what I love about it at ALL. But it’s incredibly easy to forget, and I have to take a step back and remind myself of that every so often.

My big concern, however, is that blogging appears to be moving in the opposite direction, especially with the turn of Instagram and Pinterest as legitimate growth tools. It’s a lot easier to share the pretty pictures of your recipes on either medium, and watch the likes, hearts, and ultimately, pageviews to your blog roll in as algorithms serve it to people around the world. It’s much easier to amass a big following fast, as long as you have a decent eye for what’s hot right now and use the right hashtags. The Bug is easier to catch more than ever, as folks become famous practically overnight with one Pin or regram.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with blogging to become rich and famous, the chance to break into a new industry, whatever. Blogging deserves to be recognized as a perfectly legitimate career (we all certainly work hard enough on our blogs for that to continue being unrecognized), and it’s well on its way to becoming one. But I just hope that we also don’t lose sincere, authentic, and heartfelt content in the process. Because if everybody’s trying to get big all the time, everybody’s cooking and presenting recipes that they know are popular, taking and styling photos that are on-trend and everybody else will like… right? Which is… fine. But also, not really.

Because it’s like what Tim was saying in his post: we need less pandering, especially the kind that I’ve been guilty of in the past. That is, a little less blogging for the sake of blogging, press mentions, likes, hearts, and much less of that self-censorship that prevents us from posting the content that we actually want to. We need bloggers who are unafraid to bring new criticisms, ideas, and perspectives to the table. And certainly, we need more bloggers who are unafraid to lose followers while doing so.

So post that picture that has nothing to do with food, or publish that recipe that you know is a little bit off-the-rails.

I promise that I won’t unfollow you.


On that note, after emotionally sorting all my feels, I just wanted to bake something that was pretty, tasty, and time consuming enough to be therapeutic… like this pomegranate citrus meringue cake. Why pomegranate? I’ve been drooling over the pink buttercream cakes on Pinterest lately, but since I’m a hater of artificial food coloring, decided to try and find an ingredient that would provide natural color instead. Pomegranate won the fight (though beet, hibiscus, and red wine (!!!) came close), giving the buttercream a wonderful pale pink tint. From there, lemon curd and crunchy meringue crumbles seemed to pair naturally with the subtle fruit flavor. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe has a lot of individual components to it: meringues, lemon curd, cake and frosting. I ended up using store bought meringues because I ran out of time, but my Christmas e-book from a few years ago contains my go-to recipe for vanilla meringues. If you're making everything from scratch, I suggest making the meringues first, then the lemon curd (which can be refrigerated up to 1 month), then the cakes and finally the frosting.

  • This recipe actually makes a three-layer cake; I baked mine in three 6-inch pans, divided two of the cakes in half to create four layers and froze one layer for a later recipe that I'm working on. I've included the instructions for three 8-inch pans, so don't be confused if your cake doesn't look exactly like mine.

  • For this recipe, I tried out a neat trick learned from a new cookbook I recently bought: Decorated: Sublimely Crafted Cakes for Every Occasion by April Carter, the extremely talented blogger behind Rhubarb and Rose. In the book, April instructs you to fill cakes with jam by first piping a buttercream border around the edge of the cake to create a "well" for the jam. I used this method (seen in the gif above) to trap in my lemon curd and meringue crumbles.

  • The cake is best the day it's made — the meringue crumbles will loose their crunch fast, especially when sandwiched between cake and lemon curd.

March 14, 2015

Blueberry, Apple, and Caramel Pi Day Slab Pie


Guys.

Do you know what the date is, today?

March 14, 2015.

Or, 3.14.15

Which matches up with Pi and the first four numbers that follow its decimal point:

3.1415

MIND BLOWN.

This is a once in a lifetime coincidence; the next calendar occurrence will be in 100 years in 2115! In order to mark the occasion, I spent last weekend battling intense jetlag (I had just gotten back from Asia) to test and bake a number of recipes to find one worthy of the celebration. I believe this baby is it:


A couple of things:

Yes, yes, I know it's technically not a "pie" but instead a galette. Yes, yes, yes, a truer homage would have been to keep the pie in a circular shape (because Pi, after all, is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter), as opposed to the oval above. But come on, cut me some slack! At this point, I was 3 test pies deep, running on about 5 hours of sleep, and just wanted to find a crust that was a) unfussy, b) allowed me to stamp out such HUGE numbers for Pi, and c) tasted good. Because I'm insistent on using all butter crusts (no shortening allowed in my household, them's the rules), the first two recipes that I tried had illegible numbers since the pie crusts kept shrinking. Oh well.



In the end, I used a heavily adapted version of Martha Stewart's pâte brisée recipe. Pâte brisée is basically French pie crust, but instead of blending the butter in by hand, the French instruct you to use a mixer or food processor to do so. The theory is that a food processor will better distribute the butter throughout the dough, which leads to a flakier, sturdier crust (most French patisserie tends to require a heartier crust to hold all the cream in the pastry). However, with a food processor, it's easy to overmix the dough, often leading to a crust that's dense and flat. I ended up finishing the mixing process by hand in order to avoid this problem. My resulting pie crust had a texture that was in between pâte brisée and traditional pie crust: a stronger, heartier crust that allowed me to stamp out and maintain my shapes, but also stayed true to the texture and flavor of good ol' American pie. Ace.

As for the filling, I was inspired by this blueberry caramel sauce recipe from Bon Appetit that I've had bookmarked for many years now. I worried that it might be too intense on its own, so at the last second I added in some Opalescent apple chunks to add some tart bursts of flavor here and there. My worries were in vain — the caramel flavor chilled out in the baking process and blended in wonderfully with the blueberries and apples. It's definitely a flavor combination I'll be exploring again soon!

Happy 3.1415 Day!!!


Some baker's notes:
  • Not a pie baker? Me either. But I've done it enough times to be able to fake it — check out this salty honey pie recipe for some of my ultimate pie baking tips! Tips for this particular recipe include using the coldest ingredients and equipment possible (I froze my butter overnight before using, as well as stuck my food processor bowl and blade in the fridge overnight because I'm anal like that), flouring your work surface and equipment liberally, and yep, letting the dough rest overnight for a tender crust. Plan ahead for this one!

  • Don't overdo the liquid in the pie crust recipe. When I was testing recipes, I found it difficult to make pie with a food processor because I would overshoot the liquid and end up with a crust was sticky, soggy, gooey and gross. It's hard to see how much you're adding to the crust when you use a food processor — this is why I have you stopping the food processor early and finishing the rest by hand. Use your judgement and add the liquid provided a tablespoon at a time, just until the dough starts to come together. Add only as much as that, and no more — you want to get to the point where it's still a little bit dry and you're having a little bit of difficulty keeping the dough together; it's okay to have a few pea-sized bits of dough fall off here and there as you're patting it together. Less liquid means a flakier, crispier and ultimately more tender crust.

  • A note on the filling — it will seem like there's not enough filling for the pie, especially when you're spreading out the ingredients on the base before covering and baking. That's on purpose; I deliberately skimped on the filling because I wanted a larger crust to filling ratio, ensuring that each bite would have an almost equal amount of crust to filling. I like to think of this pie as a giant pop tart, basically. But if you're a traditionalist and want more filling than pie filling than crust, up the filling quantity by adding half of the amount provided to the filling's ingredients list.

  • To stamp out the numbers, I used these Wilton alphabet and number cookie cutters. For clean, well-defined numbers, dip the sharp edge of each cookie cutter in flour before stamping out the shape.