December 30, 2012

Hummingbird on High's 2012 Review

I know, I know. It's another wrap-up post! And yes, I know that my last post was also a wrap-up post. But allow me to point out the ever-so-slight difference — while the last one was about holiday recipes, this one's a lookback at the year. Your favorite recipes, my favorite recipes, and most excitingly, recipes I consider a fail. Ready for it? Here goes:

Readers' Favorite Recipes of 2012:
That is, these babies are my blog's most viewed recipes in 2012. YOUR favorites. All from the Hummingbird Bakery incidentally, living up to my blog's namesake:

1. The Hummingbird Bakery's Recipe for Green Tea Cupcakes:


I must admit, I'm not a big green tea fan, but this recipe is pretty baller. The key is that the recipe actually uses cocoa powder in addition to matcha powder, so this recipe is really a chocolate and green tea flavor combination. Doesn't hurt that the presentation of cupcakes with tea labels is totes adorable — even Portland local Stash Tea gave me some lovin'! I guess I did use their tea labels. To be honest, in retrospect, the frosting itself looks a little like green slime. Maybe I'll revamp this recipe next year with a better frosting job. 



One of my readers said it best when she commented, "MMM... Nutella squared, in both the cake and the frosting". You can't go wrong with Nutella! These cupcakes are not only infused with Nutella, but its chocolate frosting also contains generous portions of that stuff. Too much goodness in this cupcake, I won't disagree with you there.



This is actually one of my least favorite recipes on the blog, simply because I think the Hummingbird Bakery wrongly calls these cheesecake cupcakes. Cheesecake cupcakes implies a small portion of cheesecake baked into the cupcake or something like that, right? Instead, these babies are actually vanilla cupcakes with strawberries mixed into the batter, topped off with cream cheese frosting. I added a graham cracker base (the idea I stole from Cako, a San Francisco cupcake bakery) to make them more cheesecake-like. Good enough, but definitely still not a cheesecake. Points off for false advertising @hummingbirdbakery!

December 22, 2012

Hummingbird on High's Holiday Roundup


 

Does anybody out there read Kinfolk magazine? I picked up my first copy for a 14-hour long flight. I was overwhelmed, and quite frankly, and almost embarrassed by the journal’s beauty.

Embarrassed is an odd emotion to use when describing reading a magazine, so let me explain — the issue I picked up was their winter quarterly. Almost all the articles discussed family holiday traditions, from spending days picking out pine trees during perfectly nippy mornings, or making brioche buns (filled with winter berries!) from scratch.

As the magazine described these complicated and elaborate seasonal rituals, I began to feel a bit embarrassed by my own paltry ceremony. I had no traditions of my own, unless you counted the awful 24-hour marathon plane hopping that I do every year just to go see my family in Manila. And even then, when I finally do arrive in the Philippines, I just plop upstairs in my old bedroom, turn up the air conditioning as far as it can go, and spend the rest of the week watching pirated movies that I bought for a dollar at the night market.

So it’s probably about time I changed that, right?

During my six hour layover, I spent some time scouring my blog for recipes that I think could become a holiday tradition. This list is made up of favorites and crowd pleasers like red velvet cupcakes and cream brulee cream puffs, as well as some seasonal and festive recipes like spicy gingerbread cake and caramel corn brittle. I’m sharing this list with you and hoping that, you’ll try and make one of these recipes a holiday favorite in your household. Which is what I’ll be doing this Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

December 19, 2012

French Yogurt Loaf


Looking through my more recent recipes, I see nothing but a dark color palette: spicy gingerbread and dark chocolate cakes filled deep browns and blacks. I guess it’s appropriate — since it’s winter in Portland (read: rain EVERYDAY), I haven’t been able to use natural lighting and therefore have been subconsciously attracted to darker, winter flavors like molasses, coffee, and chocolate to take advantage of the dark winter shadows. But sometimes, when you wake up to pouring rain EVERYDAY FOR THE LAST TWO WEEKS STRAIGHT, you need some sunshine in your life. You know, a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Something like this bright and lemony French yogurt loaf:


I’ve had this recipe dog-eared in a copy of Bon Appetit for a while now. The recipe is nothing but a simple lemon loaf, without even an accompanying glaze. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. The recipe uses a lot of Greek yogurt, giving lots of moisture and a slight tang that complements the lemon zest quite nicely. And while it’s not something incredibly decadent (like Momofuku Milk Bar’s Confetti Cake), it’s a pretty handy staple to have around that you can experiment with. For instance, you can dress it up and top it off with brown sugar, glaze, frosting, fruit — whatever you like. In my case, it’s jam:


Aren’t those little pots adorable? I found them at a local supermarket where they were selling packs of six as stocking stuffers. Too cute.

Now I’m normally a savory breakfasts type of person — although I love French toasts and donuts, I’d rather have lots of protein (eggs, bacon, sausage) and potatoes to start out my day. Sometimes though, just sometimes, I do get a hankering for a sweet breakfast pastry. And this loaf was perfect for that. Especially when warmed in the oven, with a bit of blueberry jam... bliss. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day after all, and this loaf is definitely worth getting up out of bed for. Even if it means facing the cold and rainy bike ride to work.

December 15, 2012

Texas Sheet Cake


About a week ago, my mom called me up to complain about my blog. "Why don't you make cupcakes anymore?" she demanded. "I want to make them for the Christmas party I'm having. As giveaways, you know."

I laughed and explained that I'd finished baking through the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, but pointed out that there were other relatively new recipes on my blog that would make great giveaways for the holiday season: caramel corn brittle, for instance, or chocolate crinkle cookies.

She seemed unimpressed. "No cookies... I want something novel. Can you make something that's cake-like, but not a cake? But something that will feed a lot of people? And looks good? And is delicious?"

Hm.

With my mom's requests on hand, I went forth and started pouring through my shelf of cookbooks, looking for a recipe that was "cake-like but not a cake" (uh, okay, Mom, that makes perfect sense), could feed a lot of people, and was delicious. Brownies? Nah, my mom probably wouldn't be too impressed with that. Besides, she wanted something novel, and as much as I love brownies, they're kind of your average, run-of-the-mill baked good. Cupcakes? They were "cake-like but not a cake", but I'd exhausted my one cookbook of cupcakes and since my mom had access to all the cupcake recipes I have, she obviously wasn't very impressed by them.

I was just about to give up home when I remembered I still had my coworker's copy of Vintage Cakes a cookbook from a local baker dedicated to upgrading vintage cake recipes and adapting them for modern tastes. One of my favorite recipes in the blog, Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake, originated from the book. Surely Vintage Cakes would have the answer?

And yes, yes it did:


Behold, my friends — Texas Sheet Cake.

What is Texas Sheet Cake, my friends? According to the book, it's "a large, thin layer of tender chocolate cake slathered with gooey chocolate frosting and spinkled with toasted nuts". The frosting gets poured onto the cake when it's still warm, cooling off to creating a delicious, fudgey, crust:


Since the recipe makes a giant jelly roll pan's worth (yep, you need a 15 by 10 inch baking pan for this recipe), I took about half the batch to work (and still had plenty left over at home). One of my coworkers took a bite, gave a whelp of surprise, and through a mouthful, assessed the cake out loud:

"What is this? I thought it was a brownie. But it's more like a cake. But with the frosting of a fudge brownie. It's a cake-like brownie, I guess. Maybe a hybrid. Whatever. Can I have another one?"

Bingo. Did I hear him say "cake-like, but not a cake" (or close enough)? Bingo.


Admittedly, this is not my first encounter with Texas Sheet Cake. I've always been a big fan of The Pioneer Woman's recipe. While I think I still prefer The Pioneer Woman's recipe, I couldn't believe how soft, light, and fluffy this version was. Normally when I have large quantities of cake, I feel a little sick to my stomach (despite being a food blogger, I am human after all). But not this time. It was almost a little dangerous, putting away square after square without feeling a thing.

This recipe makes a huge sheet pan's worth, so it's perfect for a holiday party. If you don't have a cup of coffee, a cup of warm water should also do the trick. Note that halfway through the cake's baking time, you need to start making the frosting so that it's ready to be poured onto the cake immediately after it comes out the oven. Sprinkle immediately with toasted nuts to get that beautiful look, or, if you're feeling particularly festive, feel free to top off with a sprinkling of crushed peppermints.

So what do you think Mom? 'Coz this one's for you. I hope you like it!

December 12, 2012

Spicy Gingerbread Cake


Isn’t it funny how tastes change how our tastes change when we get older? Take beer and coffee. Both of them are prime examples of the kind of foods that we grow into liking. Remember in college, how girls used to wrinkle their nose and say “I don’t like the taste of beer”? Now a days, everybody I know is a beer connoisseur or some kind of coffee expert! I’ve seen friends of put away pints of super-hoppy double-IPAs, licking their lips with relish, when four years ago they couldn’t even handle the taste of Corona Light... too funny.

Gingerbread is one of those flavors and foods I kinda grew into — these days, I can't get enough of its rich, complex flavor:


But let me tell you, I really hated gingerbread as a kid. My mother wasn’t a baker, so I remember being incredibly excited when I saw a pack of homemade gingerbread men at my fourth-grade bake sale. I wish I had a picture of the cookie — it was your quintessential gingerbread man, right down to the gumdrop buttons and white gel frosting. I’d never had a gingerbread cookie before, so I didn’t know what to expect. My fourth-grade self could barely contain my excitement at the cookie.

But then I bit into it. I almost immediately spat it out. What was this black magic? The cookie was, well, spicy — cookies weren't supposed to be spicy — and didn’t taste at all like the chocolate chip cookies and Oreos that my fourth grade self always wanted. I guess that was the moment that traumatized me, because from that point on, I always avoided ginger-flavored desserts and baked goods.

It wasn’t until my time in San Francisco that I began to realize that ginger baked goods weren’t the root of all evil. My friend Matt and I sometimes went to Chow, a restaurant in the Castro neighborhood known for its mediocre food, but fabulously gorgeous waiters. Although I enjoyed our eye candy, I always left the restaurant particularly wanting. Until I tried their signature dessert, ginger cake with salted caramel and pumpkin ice cream. It was then that I realized how good ginger cake could be — dark, spicy, and complex, perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the caramel and pumpkin.

And this gingerbread cake is all those things:


I didn't succeed in finding Chow's recipe online, so I went ahead and chose a recipe from another one  San Francisco's famous and beloved staples: a bakery called Miette.

I'm pretty sure my fourth-grade self would have wrinkled my nose at this cake — it's got all the flavors I grew into the last few years. With lots of ginger, dark molasses, spicy cloves, and even stout beer(!), this gingerbread cake packs a lot of dark, spicy flavor. Thanks to the stout beer and molasses (the secret ingredients), it's also incredibly moist, which is key for any ginger-baked good. The cake gets its sweetness from the cream cheese frosting, which is the cream cheese frosting of my dreams: creamy and sweet, but with a slight tangyness.  

Keep in mind this recipe makes two petite cakes — one for sharing, and one for yourself.

December 8, 2012

Earl Grey Pots de Creme


Guys, I recently discovered Martha Stewart's site. And it is AMAZING.

I know I'm a little late to the party, but forgive me, I didn't grow up in the US — we didn't have Martha Stewart TV shows and magazines in the Philippines and the Netherlands. So the first time I had actually ever heard of Martha Stewart was not due to one of her famed recipes or arts-and-crafts tutorials; instead, it was back in 2004, when she was accused and subsequently convicted for insider trading. Although I found the whole thing a little bit hilarious and tragic at the same time, as you can imagine, it certainly didn't inspire me to start trying out her recipes anytime soon.

But recently, a friend of mine sent me Martha Stewart's recipe for Earl Grey Pots de Creme, with the tagline: "This looks very you." She was right — I love tea-flavored things, as made evident by my recipe index. Not a lot of people have a section dedicated to tea-flavored baked goods.

Looking through Martha's recipe, I realized it had everything I loved in a recipe: simple ingredients, simple instructions, but with a unique twist. I'd never heard of Earl Grey flavored pots de creme before; only vanilla and chocolate. How would this turn out?


The pots were lovely. The custard was creamy and rich, with an strong Earl Grey flavor that wasn't too floral. Since I rarely make custards/mousse type desserts, I was nervous that I would screw up the process somehow. But this recipe was foolproof — nothing but deliciousness over here. And did I mention how adorable they look in the little mason jars?

So just like that, I was hooked onto Martha Stewart. Finally jumping on the bandwagon after all these years. Can't wait to try her other recipes!

December 5, 2012

White Chocolate, Honey, and Chamomile Cupcakes


Cupcake, oh cupcake, how I've neglected thee. When I first started this blog, I baked nothing but cupcakes, baking through my favorite cookbook (and namesake), The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. But now, whither the cupcake recipes? The last cupcake recipe I baked, tiramisu cupcakes, was back in October. Pretty pathetic, considering cupcakes are allegedly my favorite dessert.

But I think I know what happened — there was a while in which I was obsessed with trying out new recipes from foodgawker.com. I even kept a really detailed Google Doc full of them. But here's the thing: the list contained hardly any cupcake recipes. Why? Cupcake recipes on foodgawker are either far between or simply blah. Okay, to be fair, by blah, I really just mean your standard classic flavors like vanilla/chocolate/red velvet... good, yes, but stuff I'd already made. I wanted to try something new, something exciting, something unique.

Something like these white chocolate, honey, and chamomile cupcakes:


I'm lucky enough to live in Portland, Oregon, where ridiculous* things like artisan supermarkets and specialty food stores are in abundance.

*I say ridiculous, because yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, that show Portlandia is sometimes painfully accurate. But god knows how much I love it here, especially with all the artisan supermarkets and specialty food stores, and how lucky I am to live in a place like Portland.

And one of my biggest weaknesses is, yep, artisan chocolate. And you'll bet that every supermarket a stone's throw away from me sells a ton of such chocolate — you know the kind. Gourmet, small batch, local, fairtrade, buzzword, buzzword, etc.

One of my recent discoveries is a brand called The Tea Room, that sells tea-infused chocolates. Yep, you heard that right. Tea-infused chocolate. I know, I know, my life is so Pinterest. I've tried most of their flavors: milk chocolate infused with jasmine, dark chocolate with Earl Grey, so on. And as I was scarfing down my favorite, a white chocolate bar infused with honey and chamomile, I thought to myself: wouldn't this make a great cupcake?


And yes, yes it did.

Now, I started out by searching my usual food sources to see if a recipe for white chocolate, honey, and chamomile cupcakes already existed. The closest I found was a recipe for honey and chamomile cupcakes from the renowned and much beloved Joy the Baker.  I eagerly whipped up a batch but found her cupcakes to be too... well, grainy. Don't get me wrong, I love Joy, but these cupcakes weren't what I was looking for. The problem was, she'd left the chamomile tea leaves in the batter, leading to an odd texture that reminded me of banana bread. Good, yes, but not the fluffy and delicate crumb I seek in a cupcake.

So it got me thinking — what if I followed my beloved Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook's trick (as seen in their recipe for lavender cupcakes) and infused the milk with chamomile tea instead, leaving all the flavor of the tea but none of its grit behind?

It worked wonders. The cake was light and fluffy, but with a strong flavor of chamomile complemented by honey and white chocolate. This cupcake is like a cup of warm tea on a cold winter's day.

A steady reminder that, when in doubt, always trust the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook's method. They know what's up. Please note you'll have to make the chamomile infused milk a day in advanced for this recipe; but rest assured that it's worth it.

December 1, 2012

Caramel Corn Brittle


What's that? A bowl of caramel corn, one would think. But look again. More closely this time. Yep, that's right. This isn't your average bowl of caramel popcorn, baby. No sir-ee.

It's a bowl of caramel corn brittle:


Yep, caramel corn brittle.

Now, where on earth did I get the idea to create caramel corn brittle? Not gonna lie, I initially set out to make plain old caramel corn. The recipe I used called for pouring molten caramel onto sheets of popcorn, letting the caramel-covered popcorn cool into hard candy, and shattering the solidified panes to get caramel corn. But as I was breaking the panes, I couldn't help but notice how aesthetically pleasing the shards of brittle were:


Separating each kernel of corn from the solidified candy shards was also proving to be more meticulous than I would have liked, and so I thought to myself: why bother? A quick taste of one of the shards told me that it had the wonderfully brittle, sugary, and caramelly taste of brittle. And so caramel corn brittle was born.

Now the holiday season is approaching fast and oh boy, if you're one of those overachieving folks who likes to make their own Christmas/Hanukkah presents, this recipe is for you. This'll be the perfect DIY holiday present or stocking stuffer — all you need are some cute paper bags, ribbons, and voila! Because what is more festive than a bag of caramel corn? Nothing... except maybe a bag of caramel corn brittle!