dark and stormy sugar cookies

December 11, 2017

This post was done in partnership with Pampered Chef, who sponsored this post by providing the baking tools used throughout the post and the compensation to make it happen. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I was incredibly happy to work with Pampered Chef because of their awesome selection of kitchenware. Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

We are in the midst of cookie season, and I am baking cookies left, right, and center. I suppose it's a nice change from my book — I'm still working on the cakes chapter of #WEEKNIGHTBAKING, but I've now graduated from loaf cakes to layer cakes. I'm not going to lie. I'm in a tough spot at the moment. I spent all of last week trying to perfect a white wedding cake recipe and failing, desperately texting the baking experts/friends I knew (shoutout to Molly, Erin, Tessa, and Stella for dealing with my needy questions) about my troubles. In the end, I was defeated. My friend Kumi had to take me out for a glass of wine and fries. I decided to take a break and focus on cookies.

Cookies are a welcome change of pace from layer cakes. They're much easier to come together — even the rollout cookie kind. Because can I tell you a secret? For a long time, I actually didn't enjoy making rollout cookies. I love the taste of them, but I always thought they were incredibly messy and far too fiddly for their own good. The wrong recipes have doughs that are hard to work with that produce doughs that either crack from dryness or wet ones that stick to the counter and lose their shape in the oven. But there are a few tricks that made my cookie rolling experience so much easier:

1. Designate a work area.
Rolling out sugar cookies can take up a lot of space. It can get messy fast, especially as the work surface needs to be floured in order to prevent the cookies from sticking. In order to minimize mess, I like to make sure I do all my work in one counter of the kitchen. I keep it fairly tight, and make sure that all the tools I need — my jar of flour, my rolling pin, my cookie cutters — are within an arm's reach.

2. Use the right tools.
The cookie rolling process will go a lot easier if you have the right tools for the job. For instance, I like to use a marble rolling pin (like this one from Pampered Chef) to roll out the cookies. The marble helps keep the dough cool to prevent it from getting too soft and sticking to the counter. It's heavy enough to help you roll out any tough doughs, but not so heavy to be hard to manage. For baking the cookies, I also like using this silicone baking mat from Pampered Chef. It has outlines to help you space out the cookies across the pan for even baking and help prevent them from spreading out and getting stuck to each other.

3. Know your weaknesses.
You'd think that being a fairly talented cake decorator (see: here, here, and here) would translate to being a decent cookie decorator. Nuh-uh. I am no Patti Paige or Vickie Liu. I have neither the time nor patience to fiddle around with royal icing. Which is why I always end up sourcing cookie cutters that stamp outlines onto the cookies. There's no need to worry about icing the cookies — they're already cute enough on their own! Find a cute or festive set right for the occasion. I especially like this holiday set from Pampered Chef; the cutters stack on top of each other, reducing clutter in my cupboards. Plus, look at that sassy polar bear with the shades. Lovin' the attitude. He's cooler than both of us. 😎

4. Chill, chill, chill.
You don't want all that hard work of rolling and stamping to go to waste. Chilling the cookies before baking helps them keep their shape in the oven and prevent from spreading too much. I know it's annoying, but don't skip this step, especially when working with a butter based dough! It's the secret behind any beautiful sugar cookie.

That's it. Now you know all my secrets. Plus another one — this dark and stormy sugar cookie recipe. I'm always trying to think up of new ways to modernize a traditional sugar cookie recipe. This time around, I developed a recipe based on one of my favorite cocktails: the Dark 'n' Stormy, made with dark rum and lime. This cookie is flavored with rum, lime, and molasses; it's very similar to a gingerbread or gingersnap cookie, but much softer and with the texture of a traditional rollout sugar cookie. You can use royal icing to fill in the patterns, or drizzle with some sort of lime icing glaze; however, the cookies' flavor is good enough to stand on its own without any of those extras. It's one of the presents I'll be handing out to friends and family this year. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe uses Dutch processed cocoa powder, as opposed to natural unsweetened cocoa powder. Dutch processed cocoa powder has been treated so that the acids in the cocoa are neutralized, leading to a milder flavor and a darker color. You can read more about it on this awesome Serious Eats post. It's what's responsible for the beautiful, dark hue of these cookies, so make sure you use the right kind of cocoa powder!

  • When using cookie cutters with outlines/stencils on them, there's a possibility your cutters will get stuck in the rolled out dough if they're not floured properly. Dip each cutter in a bowl of flour, tapping out any excess flour before stamping onto the dough. Don't panic if you accidentally get flour onto the cookies — after they've been chilled, they'll be hard enough to handle that you can pick one up and give it a gentle tap over the sink to shake out any excess flour before baking. 

  • The cookie dough recipe yield will vary depending on the shape and size of your cookie cutter. I made around 30 cookies using a three-inch round cookie cutter. 

winter botanicals

December 7, 2017

Can I share a secret with you guys?

I don't really do the whole Christmas tree thing. There's no rational reason and rhyme behind why not. I have no excuse: I celebrate Christmas; I live in a state that is abundant with beautiful spruces, firs, and pines perfect for Christmas trees; and my mother is a champion Christmas tree decorator who taught me her ways.

And still, I don't do it.

Part of it is habit. For most of my adult life, I spent Christmas at my parents' place in Manila. I'm not lying when I say that my mom is a champion Christmas tree decorator: she starts decorating in October, and would put Martha Stewart to shame. She picks different colors as her theme each year, and makes sure that every ornament and decoration matches that theme. In my family, decorating a Christmas tree wasn't a collaborative family affair. It's Mom's show all the way, and she always makes sure that it's a spread fit for the pages of Better Homes & Gardens or Martha Stewart Living. I'm not getting in her way, nope.

Part of it is space. On the years I stayed home for Christmas, I've always lived in shabby, tiny apartments in cities like San Francisco and New York where space was limited. Even if I had room for a small tree, what on earth was I supposed to do with the lights and the ornaments the rest of the year? Usually, I was already keeping kitchenware in my closet/under the bed/luggage. Plus, the thought of transporting a Christmas tree via MUNI or the subway always gave me an anxiety attack. Still does.

But here's the thing: even without a tree, you can make your house festive for the winter. The trick is to find smaller botanicals that you can display around your house. A lot of winter botanicals dry out easily and beautifully, lasting much longer than a single season. You see those cotton branches in the photos? I bought them almost three years ago now. True story. And if you're lucky to live in a place with lots of greenery, you can always just save your cash and forage your own botanicals. I picked up these red fir branches on my driveway after a particularly nasty wind storm blew them in from my neighbor's (much more verdant) property.

So without further ado, here is a roundup of my favorite non-Christmas tree winter botanicals around the interwebs. Happy winterizing, folks!

white ilex berry garland || olive and eucalyptus half wreath

PS — A lot of folks were asking where I got my cotton branches from. Unfortunately, I bought them at New Seasons, a fancypants supermarket that's local only to Portland. I did find these cotton stems from Magnolia Market that were very similar; you could also repurpose this cotton garland from Terrain.

PPS — I get a lot of DMs about my furniture on Instagram. Sources are included below:

Sofa: Rejuvenation
Side Table: Urban Outfitters (no longer available, but this table is similar)
Coffee Table: Urban Outfitters (no longer available, but this table and this table are similar)
Throw Pillows: Rejuvenation (patterned) and Rejuvenation (striped)
Leather Chair: West Elm
Sheepskin Rug: Crate and Barrel
Dining Table: Crate and Barrel
Dining Chairs: Crate and Barrel (chair) and Crate and Barrel (cushion)

a holiday cookie swap with friends!

December 4, 2017

This post was done in partnership with Pyrex, who sponsored this post by providing their beautiful wares you see throughout the post and compensation to make it happen. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I genuinely use Pyrex products in my kitchen almost every day. As a special thank you to my readers, Pyrex is offering 20% off your purchase via their website — use the code PYREX20Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

December is here, which means that we are in full swing for COOKIE SEASON. As much as I love baking cakes, I love how easily and quickly most cookie recipes come together. It seems like cookies are the most universally beloved baked good too — I know plenty of people who are 'meh' on cakes and pies, but I've never known anybody to turn down a chocolate chip cookie. They're just that magical.

This year, I've decided to go DIY for all my presents and give my friends and loved ones my baked goods instead of cards, gift cards, and other presents (to be fair, it's mostly because I'm in full recipe development mode for #WEEKNIGHTBAKINGBOOK, a lot of the presents are actually just "repurposed" trial versions of the recipes in my cookbook — but shhh, you didn't hear that from me!). And what better way to kick off the gift-giving with a cookie swap party with some of my closest friends?

If you've never been to a cookie swap party, here's how it works: you can either bake a bunch of cookies yourself, or ask each guest to bring their favorite homemade cookie and do it potluck style. Set all the cookies out buffet style along with a bunch of containers for everybody to take home, and let your friends load up on all the different goodies!

It's fairly easy, but there are a couple rules to make your cookie swap an even bigger success:

lemon, black tea, and vanilla bundt cake

November 29, 2017

This post was done in partnership with Pure Leaf, who sponsored this recipe by providing the tea in this recipe and the compensation to make this post happen. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

It rains a lot in Portland.

This is a fact that I've always been aware of, ever since I first moved here in 2005 for college and bought my first real rain jacket (a very utilitarian black and grey jacket from The North Face that I still own). It's a fact that I've always been acutely aware of when people come visit for the summer, when the city is sunny, glorious, and bursting in blooms, and tell me they want to move here. But then they find out that the statistics: an average of 300+ days of rain a year, with usually only 60 fully clear days. Never mind.

I don't mind the rain. It keeps Portland under the radar, and allows us to have our own special kind of fun. With short days, grey afternoons, and the kind of soggy cold that comes from the rainfall, you learn to make do. Winter in Portland is all about the rain, and for me, it's all about getting hygge with it.

I'm sure by this point you've heard the Danish word "hygge". Although I like to say "higgy" in my head, it's actually pronounced "hoo-guh". I like to think of it as the Danish coping mechanism to dealing with their winters, which is harsher and wetter than ones in Portland. The word has no direct translation in English, though "cozy" comes close. But it's so much more than that. It also means appreciating the good and satisfaction in the everyday. Wool socks, a warm cup of coffee, a roaring fire place — these are all considered to be hygge, or, if we're being technical, hyggelig (hygge's adjective form).

Hygge will mean different things to everybody. For me, it's this: turtlenecks, bundt cakes, and enamelware tea pots. Sitting at my dining room table and listening to the rain outside. Basically, staying cozy inside with a steaming mug of black tea and a slice of this bundt cake:

The tea is Pure Leaf's Home Brewed hot Black Tea with Vanilla: so fragrant, floral, and flavorful. My favorite of their entire collection. I've baked it into my favorite lemon bundt cake for an extra hygge lemon, black tea, and vanilla flavor. Enjoy!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • I baked this cake in a 2-liter pudding mold that holds around 4 cups of batter, creating a European-style smaller-than-average-but-not-quite-small-enough-to-be-called-mini bundt cake. In a pinch, you can divide the batter between two 8-inch pans and make a layer cake instead. Don't try and make the cake in a regular bundt pan; this recipe does not make enough batter to do so.

  • Because my bundt cake was so tall, I had a hard time getting the tea syrup to soak all the way through the cake. Instead, it only soaked halfway through, creating an ombre effect in the slices. I was into it, I thought it gave the cake a really cool, marbled look! But don't be surprised if you've baked your cakes in traditional cake pans and the color is different; because those cakes will turn out thinner, your syrup will soak all the way through, creating a uniform, darker cake that both Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry will instantly approve of

purple sweet potato pie

November 21, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving week, y'all!

Does everybody have their Thanksgiving menus planned? Or is everybody feeling calm and settled and ready with a game plan? Or somewhere in between?

Unfortunately, Erlend and I won't be doing our traditional Asian-style Thanksgiving this year (since he's still in New York). Instead, I'm hitting up two Friendsgivings on Thanksgiving day, where I'll be depositing a speculoos cheesecake at one (recipe on the blog sooooon) and this purple sweet potato pie at another.

Soooooo I actually credit this recipe entirely to Erlend. Erlend likes food as much as I do, but in a different way: while I'm always experimenting in the kitchen or reading about new restaurant openings, he's always reading about various ingredients, cuisines, and their various histories. Erlend sometimes makes requests for recipes on my blog, most of which I actually ignore because I'm not the best girlfriend and/or his suggestions are usually not very good or photogenic. Sometimes his ideas are just too flat out weird for most people — he's always finding and buying rare/obscure ingredients at international supermarkets and online, insisting that I could totally try incorporating this weird root/extract/mushroom into one of my desserts. Yeah, no. I saw how some of y'all reacted to the poll on my Instagram Stories about this purple sweet potato pie; I don't think you guys could handle the rest of his suggestions.

Anyway, I do occasionally oblige Erlend when he has a good idea that won't scare most of you all away. And this was one of them: purple sweet potatoes in a dessert. Have you ever walked around a fancy organic grocery store like Whole Foods and seen a pile of purple sweet potatoes next to the regular ol' orange ones? They're basically the same thing, but purple. But don't get purple sweet potatoes confused with regular heirloom purple potatoes — purple sweet potatoes are as sweet as a sweet potato, and just like regular potatoes, you wouldn't want to bake the regular ones into a pie.

For a long time, I dragged my feet on this concept. I was worried that the purple would turn a dull, brownish color when baked, but it actually worked out and turned into a vibrant (almost magenta?) color. The secret is to use an acidic fruit like lemon, which brightens the color. The overall result is a creamy, citrusy sweet potato pie with bursts of cinnamon and nutmeg. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • I noticed on Instagram Stories that some of you mistakenly thought I was baking this pie with ube, the sweetish purple yam that's popular in Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines (holla at my mom!). Not quite. There are a ton of purple sweet potato varieties, and there are distinctions between them: purple yams, winged yams (a.k.a. ube), taro and its varieties, different types of purple sweet potatoes like Okinawan and American purple, etc. I'm not really sure; Erlend is the person to talk to about all these varieties if you're really super interested. For this recipe, I used American purple sweet potatoes from a company called Frieda's that I found at my local Whole Foods. Oh wait! It turns out Frieda's has a guide to the different types of purple potatoes — no need to hassle Erlend, lol. Also yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing, people!

  • If you're planning on making this pie for Thanksgiving Day, I suggest planning ahead some because it's a bit of a labor intensive process. First you'll need to make the pie crust and blind-bake it before roasting some sweet potatoes for the filling. I like to make the pie dough up to a week in advance and blind-bake the pie before the day I'm going to be serving the pie itself to split up the work and make it so that I'm not stuck in the kitchen for 3 hours. Similarly, you can roast and puree the potatoes up to 2 days in advance and have them ready to go for when you make the filling. Just be sure to store them in an airtight container until then! 
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