classic yellow cake with chocolate crème fraîche frosting

March 29, 2017

Spring is sorta here (despite that weird snowstorm we had a few weeks ago), and it seems that everybody is ready to play! After spending the winter inside, holed up at home in front of Netflix and ordering far too much takeout, I am making up for lost time. In the last few weeks I...

... enjoyed a bowl of poached eggs and butter fried English muffin croutons at a really cute Egg Shop with one of my blogging besties, Alana! She was in town for a super secret fun project that I'm very excited about! We rode the subway together and I showed her the Nutella bar at Eataly. She left us a box of her homemade furikake snax which Erlend and I promptly got into a fight over because it's so good and he was eating too much of it.

... feasted all the fried chicken at a restaurant of a former Top Chef chef with my friends Cale and Kyle! (The fried chicken was just okay though).

... grabbed a fancy dinner with Erlend and his parents at Cafe Altro Paradiso! I drank a lot of prosecco and have no regrets. I also ate a lot of delicious, buttery pasta and lived my best self (despite the rather horrifying number on my bathroom scale).

... made my own dim sum at Tuome with my new friends Matt and all my new friends! It turns out I am not very much of a siu mai folder, but it doesn't make the dumplings any less delicious.

... finally hung out and traded stories with Rachel, the awesome boss lady behind tahini/halva magic land, Seed + Mill! She gave me a giant box of halva samples and I died of deliciousness.

... ate my very first cronut! Even though I am several years behind the hype, I still had to pre-order it three weeks in advance and make a 40-minute detour on my commute to go pick them up. The flavor was blackberry brown sugar toffee!

And this weekend, I am blowing half a paycheck to dine at Eleven Madison Park! I'll report back, I promise.

With all the happenings, I am finding it very hard to find time to bake... with the exception of this cake! A few weeks ago, my friends at Vermont Creamery sent me a case of all their best ingredients, including tubs of my favorite vanilla bean crème fraîche. One of my favorite frostings of all time is this chocolate crème fraîche frosting — it's incredibly deep and silky, more akin to a ganache than traditional chocolate frosting. The last time I used it on a cake was in 2014, when I paired it with a chocolate cake for my mom's birthday. This time around, I wanted to pair it with a classic yellow one. It was delicious and I would do it again.


Some baker's notes:
  • For the yellow cake recipe, I used Sarah Kieffer's recipe from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. To make this cake, Sarah uses the reverse creaming method. Unlike the standard creaming method where sugar and fat are beaten together to create air in the batter, the reverse creaming method calls for all the fat to be added to the dry ingredients at the start. Doing so creates a more delicate and tender crumb, as opposed to a lighter one. You can read more about the science over at The Cake Blog and this awesome post by Joe Pastry

  • If you're a close reader of my blog, you'll know that I've used this crème fraîche frosting before. It's one of my all time faves — it's deep and decadent, more similar to a chocolate ganache than a fluffy frosting. At first, it's super liquidy, but will solidify as it comes to room temperature. As it cools, there's a perfect point somewhere where the chocolate is still lukewarm and will be just perfect for spreading smooth surfaces. But if you wait too long, it can solidify fairly quickly and be too difficult to spread. If this happens, just pop it in the microwave for 5 to 10 second intervals until the mixture warms up again. And yes, in a pinch, you can use sour cream instead of crème fraîche for a slightly tangier flavor. 

  • I decorated the cake with these crunchy pearls (toasted rice cereal dipped in chocolate!) that Valrhona kindly sent me. I'm completely obsessed! They come in four flavors — dark chocolate, milk chocolate caramel, dulcey white chocolate (which I have a love affair with), and white chocolate. All are delicious and are totally worth seeking out to add an extra special crunch to your cake. I have totally been eating them by the handful by myself in a dark corner, pretending that calories don't exist. Ehem. 

chocolate chip cookie sticks

March 22, 2017

Does it seem like the mood has been kinda gloomy around here lately? First this grumpy post, followed by a failed recipe. Bah! It's time to cheer up (buttercup)!

Luckily, the recipe I've got for you today does exactly that. Chocolate chip cookie sticks! These babies are a cross between a chocolate chip cookie and a shortbread one. Warm and fresh out of the oven, they taste like the beloved chocolate chip cookies we all love. But as they cool, they take on the texture of a buttery, crumbly shortbread studded with mini chocolate chips. They're so utterly addicting that I ate about a quarter of the pan in one sitting.

They're from my dear friend Christina's newish cookbook, Sweet & Simple. Christina and I met last year on a business trip during a somewhat challenging client partnership. And even though I was a total zombie the day we met, almost incoherent with jet lag (I'm not joking about this; I'd flown in from Copenhagen the night before, and I was absolutely awful in the interview we filmed that day) and wearing my really dorky granny glasses from ten years ago, Christina stuck by my side and tolerated my incredibly lame jokes. We've stayed in touch since that trip, commiserating and laughing about our crazy blog lives.

Not only is Christina the sweetest and most hilarious person ever, but she's also one of the most talented bakers I know. She scales down all her recipes so that they come out in small batches, with servings and portions enough for just two people. Do you guys realize how hard it is to actually pull that off?! Baking is a lot more scientific than cooking — even the smallest changes in ingredient quantities can affect the whole recipe's ratios and entire chain of chemical reactions, leading to sunken cakes, rock-hard cookies, and other potential baking disasters. Her recipes are incredibly clever, making whole cakes out of loaf pans and using different substitutes for eggs. Seriously; go check out her blog if you haven't done so already!


Some baker's notes:
  • Use mini chocolate chips in this recipe! According to Christina's notes for the recipe in the book, her very scientific recipe testing (😉) concludes that mini chocolate chips equate to more chocolate per bite. I am very, very down with that.

  • I found it a little hard to tell when the bars were cooked; the center remained quite yellow and pale for me. Don't you dare overcook it though, or you'll end up with a brittle texture that will make me sad for you. Stick with the recommended cooking time of the recipe — a tell-tale sign will be when the edges have brown lightly and set. It's okay if the center is still a little poofy and soft; it will solidify as it cools.

winter break in portland, oregon

March 17, 2017

above: softserve sundaes from wiz bang bar

Since we moved away from Portland two years ago, I make it a habit to visit as often as I can. One of the patterns that's emerged is that I tend to visit around February. It's not the best time to visit Portland, by any means! In fact, it's possibly the worst: it's cold, wet, and everybody's fat and grumpy from not having seen the sun since September. But I love it anyway — the soggy socks, the rain jackets, and the short days. Because all that is balanced out by the cozy restaurants, the lush greenery, and the nights spent catching up with friends. It all feels like home.


What I Ate and Drank
(PS — Pardon the iPhone photos. I was too lazy to lug my monster of a DSLR around!)

Apizza Scholls
apizza amore
I know, I know — I can't believe I ate pizza in Portland, especially given that I have it once a week in the pizza capital of the world. I just wanted to compare how Portland's best would stack up against my beloved New York favorites. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it held its own! Go Portland.

Bowery Bagels
onion bagel with roasted vegetable cream cheese
Their bagels cannot compete with New York's (despite their name), but their roasted vegetable cream cheese sure is tasty.

Multiple Locations
tillamook cheeseburger, fries, chocolate hazelnut shake
Burgerville is the Pacific Northwest's high-end fast food chain. They use ingredients only sourced from the Pacific Northwest, and have seasonal specials like fried asparagus spears with garlic aioli and chocolate hazelnut shakes made with real Oregon hazelnuts. I always go out of nostalgia and it's tasty enough, but it actually can't compete with Shake Shack.

Belmont Station
Southeast Stark
The beer selection here is incredible, and I love how you can get different portions that range from 4 ounces to a full pint. Good alcohol is still really cheap in Portland!

Bless Your Heart Burgers
Downtown Portland at Pine Street Market
A newcomer introducing Martin's Potato Rolls to Portland! The burgers are not great though; skip this place and go to Little Big Burger instead.

Cheese and Crack
salami and fromage blanc cheese plate
Cheese and crackers, soft serve sundaes, and wine. That's all I ever want TBH.

Mount Tabor
fritters, hand-made butter, dungeness crab salad, roasted chicken, smoked almond chocolate chip cookie, cardamom and coffee marshmallow
This restaurant opened up after we moved away and is jokingly referred to by local food media as Portland's grown-up, Michelin-caliber restaurant. It was named one of America's Best New Restaurants by Bon Appetit in 2016 and has a handful of James Beard nods. It's good but I think I'm just numb to fine dining because I almost thought it was a little... boring? Controversial, I know. Soweeeeee.

above: froyo from eb & bean

Eb & Bean
marionberry pomegranate som frozen yogurt with dark chocolate magic shell and sprinkles, vanilla custard with nutella magic shell and sprinkles
Eb & Bean was around when I lived in Portland, but they opened up a new location a few blocks from my house and I am beyond excited! Current Plan: go here everyday when we move back, get really fat.

Fifty Licks
coconut lemon saffron ice cream
Also included in my Get Really Fat plan. This is probably my favorite ice cream place in Portland. Controversial, I know.

above: figlia's pretty space

Southeast Industrial District
avocado toast, latte
This cafe is fairly new and is located within one of my favorite stores in the city, Rejuvenation (and also a sponsor of Hummingbird High!). It's so freaking adorable; I considered going back multiple times, despite having only a limited amount of time to spend in Portland.

Garden Bar
The Pearl
a custom salad that they screwed up
These folks are gunning to be the sweetgreen/Chop't of Portland. It's fine. We all know I'm betrothed to sweetgreen, so I can't say anything nice about this place.

Henry Higgens Boiled Bagels
onion bagel with scallion cream cheese
Not bad for a West Coast bagel, but a little on the small side. And it's still no New York bagel.

Killer Burger
killer burger
This divey burger bar used to be one of my favorite places in Portland (not alone on this one — it was one of Carrie Brownstein's regular spots too!). I think Shake Shack has corrupted me forever and ever though. I didn't enjoy it as much as I used to, and I am actually very sad about it.

above: la moule's pretty wallpaper

La Moule
au safran moules, frites with sriracha kewpie and aioli
Beautiful space, and tasty moules and frites.

Little Big Burger
Multiple Locations
cheeseburger, truffle fries
This is probably now my favorite burger in Portland. Their sriracha ketchup is SO addicting.

above: khao kha muu from nong's khao man gai

Nong's Khao Man Gai
East Burnside
khao kha muu
I'm the rebel who gets the pork and rice at that famous chicken and rice place. True story.

The Pearl
rose croissant, chocolate almond croissant, lemon sable, double chocolate cookie
This is my favorite bakery in Portland, if not one of my favorite bakeries ever in the whole wide world. I'm not exaggerating. Their laminated dough is unparalleled with any that I've had, even when compared to renowned places in New York City. Services can be snotty and a little slow, but in general, I daydream about their pastries.

Poke Mon
garlic salmon poke
I like this place, but I am no Alana Kysar so I don't know if my opinions on poke are legitimate.

above: poke bowls from quickfish poke bar

Quickfish Poke Bar
Central Southwest
island bowl
Quickfish is the poke bar of Bamboo Sushi, the country's first certified sustainable sushi restaurant (how Portland, I know). Again, I'm no Alana Kysar, so I don't know if the addition of sesame brittle to poke is blasphemous or what. But I dug it.

Roman Candle Baking Company
steamed duck egg on an everything bun, hashbrown
One of my favorite breakfasts in the entire city!

Salt & Straw
Multiple Locations
That famous ice cream place.

Saint Cupcake
Multiple Locations
big top cupcake, chocolate with buttercream frosting cupcake
This is the baker that made me fall in love with cream cheese frosting. Their vanilla and chocolate cake bases are classically delicious and are the very model of what cupcakes should be.

Stumptown Coffee
Multiple Locations
That famous coffee place.

Central Southwest
salmon crudo bite, dungeness crab bite, grilled shiitake bite, ocean scallops
This was a fun little place! From the famed couple behind Ox, it's a really interesting and original concept that focuses on, well, literally superbites of food packed with a ton of flavor and ingredients.

above: tea bar on southeast division, looking so fresh and so clean

Tea Bar
Multiple Locations
One of my favorites in the city; their tea lattes are perfect.

el diablo arepa bowl
Another frequently underrated spot that's great for lunch. Gluten-free arepas and slow cooked meats!

Trifecta Tavern
Southeast Industrial District
ham and hot rolls, bread and butter, roasted brussels sprouts, crispy pork shank, fried chicken in dashi
Their bar program here is out of control! The menu is pretty large, but sit at the bar and let the bartender guide you. He'll do no wrong. Also, get the bread and butter. Everything's good, especially if you're into smoky, wood-fired flavors.

Another fun, newish place! Tapas — all extremely buttery and flavorful — in a cosy, warm environment. I unfortunately don't remember all that we ordered, but I do know that it was delicious.

above: them famous spicy fish sauce wings from pok pok at whiskey soda lounge

Whiskey Soda Lounge
spicy fish sauce wings, crispy pork belly bun, BBQ pork bun
The waiting room of that famous Thai place. Classic.

Wiz Bang Bar
Downtown Portland at Pine Street Market
malted vanilla with black raspberry shell and homemade oreos
Honestly this is the best. Their magic shell situation is out of control.


For more Portland recommendations, check out my culinary guide from 2015 and my long weekend guide from 2016!

hummingbird low: beef and guinness stout pie

March 14, 2017

Before we get started on the regular programming, I just wanted to give a shout-out to all the wonderful folks who sent me a response—whether by comments, text messages, emails, tweets, and otherwise—to last week's cynical post about the state of food media. You all brought up such wonderful points (some in agreement, some in direct opposition of my own), and I only wish that I can share them all so we can keep the conversation going. Keep an eye out for more posts like that in the future! I'm currently trying to think of more ways we can continue ruminating on such an important topic and bringing more representation to the food communities we all love so much.

As I was looking through my photos of this pie, I realized that Hummingbird High was a collection of victories. Each recipe that I share on this site represents a success in the kitchen; all Hummingbird highs, if you will (see what I did there? 😜). I don't ever share the failures in the kitchen — the Hummingbird lows.

Enter this pie.

This beef and guinness meat pie was supposed to be a celebration of two things: today, Pi Day, and the upcoming St. Patrick's Day on Friday (because I used Guinness and the Irish like meat pies, I guess). Instead, it was neither.

I mostly blame the Hot Water Crust. I first heard about hot water crust pastries via The Great British Bake Off (a.k.a. The Great British Baking Show to Americans, really, they're the exact same show, why change the name?), where contestants breathed a collective sigh of relief upon finding out that hot water crust pastry was one of the challenges of the episode. One baker explained that hot water crusts were easier to work with than the traditional all-fat versions that we Americans are so used to working with — at this, my ears perked up. I'd struggled with traditional pie dough many, many times. I watched with rapt attention as one of the judges, Paul Hollywood, used the pastry to construct an elaborate deep dish pies shaped like an ancient Greek ruin. You couldn't do that with regular pie crust. Or at least, I couldn't.

I mostly forgot about hot water crust pastry until my incredibly talented acquaintance, Erin McDowell, posted a rapturous love letter to the crust on Food52. After reading her tribute, I decided to give it a shot — besides, Erlend had been begging me to make a savory meat pie for years, probably since I made him watch that Great British Bake Off episode with me — dreaming of an elaborate deep dish structure with cut-outs of Pi numbers swirling around the lid.

But that didn't happen, NOPE. I made the crust twice. I still don't know what went wrong. When the pastry was still warm, I rolled it out to a perfect circle as I would a traditional pie crust. No dice. It would not hold its shape, bending and coming apart at its own will. This was fine when constructing the pie's sides and base — I ended up just working it like it was clay, using my hands to pat it into place. But what was I supposed to do about the lid? I couldn't pat the pastry on top of the rather liquidy beef and guinness stew.

I figured that I'd been too impatient and hadn't let the pastry cool enough for handling. So I made a second batch specifically for the lid, rolled it out, and waited for it to cool. My mistake this time was letting it cool too much. The lid shattered at the slightest touch, and had taken on the consistency of extremely brittle fudge.

I gave up. At that point, I was nearly out of the $10 bottle of small batch/organic/artisan lard that I'd indulgently purchased at Whole Foods for the occasion. I'd been in the kitchen for three hours, not even counting the hours spent the night before to get the beef and guinness stew in order. I salvaged what I could, threw it unceremoniously on top of my patted bottom and sides, and stamped out these numbers from the leftover shattered pieces (don't get me started on that — that was another pain in the ass, with the pastry actually shattering and crumbling out of the cookie cutters). I halfheartedly took some photos with my brand new Canon 5D Mark IV, and realized hours later (after the pie had been mostly consumed by Erlend) that I'd left the camera on factory settings and it had captured everything as a JPEG file instead of my usual RAW.

And that, friends, is what a Hummingbird Low looks like.

tahini and halva floss brownies

March 7, 2017

In the last few weeks, several major food publications and leaders have finally stood up and recognized (what I like to call) their unbearable whiteness of being. After the Muslim Ban, Food52 started highlighting recipes from the targeted countries, before finally going all-in with this post and declaring that they were making efforts to hire a more diverse staff. Bon Appetit, arguably the most influential of all food publications, proudly dedicated its March issue to immigrant food and placed two markedly non-white ladies on the cover.

And here's where it gets tricky: 99% of me fully appreciates all these efforts, especially as both an immigrant to the United States and a POC. But there's this 1% in the back of my head that I can't quite ignore. The one that's whispering: this is cool and all, but why now?

Of course, the answer to that question is simple: because of President Trump, duh. The last election and our new president (yes, OURS — I hate the folks who say #notmypresident, take responsibility, this is all our faults regardless of what way you voted) exposed the country's divide and deep-seated prejudices. With Hillary's defeat, the Coastal Elite finally got #woke and realized that a lot of the diversity and multiculturalism that they were taking for granted didn't exist without effort. Instead, it was coming from an increasingly vocal minority who was shouting that yes, Black Lives Matter, and that, no, it was not okay that Scarlett Johansson was going to be playing a beloved Asian character named Major Kusanagi. And perhaps from that came the realization that the best way to really, truly give credence to these other voices was to give them representation on majority platforms like the Oscars (heck yes, Moonlight!) and The Bachelorette. In the food world, that translates to the staff pages of Food52 and the cover of Bon Appetit Magazine.


It's cool and all, but where was this #wokeness after Bon Appetit hired that white guy to teach us how to eat our pho? How, a few weeks after that incident, despite the outrage that it caused, they went on to insult another Asian food's culture by severely whitewashing it? And how come there was no apology for that incident at all?

What gives me pause is that I personally find it hard to understand how sincere these efforts actually are. Because let's be honest — it's trendy right now to be #woke. Which means that it's also lucrative. Hillary won the popular vote by nearly 3 million people, guaranteeing that at least half the country believes in the ideals that are supported by democrats. And the women's march! The numbers aren't official, but it's estimated that between 3.6 to 4.6 million people demonstrated for these principles.

That's a whole lot of folks to be pandering to, for sure.

I'm not saying that these magazines are making these efforts just for the sake of selling issues and subscriptions. And even if they are, does it even really matter? More representation, diversity, and inclusion benefits us all, even if the initial motivations to get us to that place are a little murky. So you know what? Perhaps the best thing to do is to just whole-heartedly embrace these efforts and measures. But maybe let's not all pat Bon Appetit and Food52 on the back for something that they should really have been aware of and started improving a long time ago. Real credit goes to the folks at Lucky Peach and Cherry Bombe, the ones who made an effort to research other cuisines and showcase underrepresented groups before it became trendy and mainstream to do so.

I know that this is a persnickety thing to rage on about, and probably not what you were looking for when you came to look at these beautiful brownies. But as the days go on and the Trump administration becomes the new normal, I'm trying to find ways to keep us thinking, talking, and questioning everything as much as we can. And that doesn't just mean The Other Side — I think it's equally important that we stop to ask ourselves what we're doing and why too.

Stay #woke, y'all.

PS - Here's a list of food media outlets, both big and small, who are doing a kickass job of talking about food and diversity, as well as helping to bring more voices to the table. Leave any recommendations that you have in the comments too! I'll update the list as I explore them:

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • These brownies were adapted from an old Ottolenghi recipe that I bookmarked years and years ago. The brownies are intensely chocolatey and are on the bittersweet side, made even more so with the addition of unsweetened tahini and halva floss. For those unfamiliar, halva floss, also known as pismanye or "Turkish cotton candy", is made by flossing thin strands of halva with wheat and sugar until it takes on the texture of cotton candy. Halva floss is available online, or in Middle Eastern specialty stores (I got mine at the Damascus Bread & Pastry Shop near Sahadi's in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn). In a pinch, you can also just use regular halva.

  • I was expecting the tahini topping to have the texture of cream cheese in a cream cheese brownie; however, the tahini was a little too liquidy when spread onto the brownie top, and probably could have used an egg yolk and a pinch of sugar to thicken it up. I also found that the tahini ended up cooking faster than the rest of the brownie batter because of its thin and liquidy consistency. To help prevent it from bubbling and burning, I suggest covering the brownie pan with aluminum foil halfway through the baking time.
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