candy heart cupcakes

My senior year in college, I decided to procrastinate by making my friends Valentine's Day cards. In plain view of the whole library, I started cutting up the graph paper I was supposed to be using to chart economic theories into janky heart shapes. On each heart, I wrote song lyrics that reminded me of its recipient. For the freshman year roommate who introduced me to David Bowie, she received "hey babe, your hair's alright / hey babe, let's go out tonight" from "Rebel Rebel". For the friend that I worked out with, she received lyrics to "Eye of the Tiger". I kept the cards anonymous, mostly because I thought it would be a fun surprise and I was curious to see if any of my friends would be able to trace the esoteric lyrics back to me.

However, when it came time to writing the Valentine of my actual crush at the time, I balked. I could go the goofy route like I did for my friends, or I could legitimately put something that was indicative of my feelings. And there were so many songs with great lyrics about unrequited love and secret crushes that I could take advantage of! Besides — the cards were anonymous. Would he even trace it back to me?

Later that week, I jokingly asked him if he'd received any Valentine's Day cards from any secret lovers. He laughed and shook his head: "Nah, nobody loves me." I laughed too, but a small part of me was disappointed. My paltry Valentine had gone unnoticed, and I couldn't really blame him — what ended up in his mailbox was a crooked blob of a heart shoddily made from graph paper (which, let's be honest, is pretty much the least sexy Valentine's Day card material ever). But what's worse was that there was nothing written on it. Because even with the anonymity, fear got the better of me; I had left his Valentine empty.

And every year Valentine's Day rolls around, I find myself thinking a surprising amount over that botched Valentine. Not because I think that an anonymous declaration of love via an obscure lyric on a piece of scrap paper would have brought us together — on the contrary, we eventually did get together but fizzled out almost immediately due to timing and a lack of conviction on both our parts — but more because I'm sad at how afraid my 21-year-old self was.

Especially because, a few years later, I happened to be in his city and reached out to catch up over drinks. We hadn't kept in touch after school, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he remembered most of our shared experiences and even small details like how I used to ride my bike to school every day, or how the only books I had on my shelves at the time were the Harry Potter series (#truefan). Sending him a real Valentine that day would have been a gesture that he probably would have remembered too; a small and silly one, sure, but still a nice one to be remembered by.

So for all you folks out there hesitating on any Valentines — be brave. Because almost seven years later, I'm still not quite sure what I was afraid of that day I decided to make those Valentines. A real Valentine that day would have brightened up not only his day, sure, but also mine. It's easy to underestimate the impact of small gestures, which ones stay or go, and it's strange to me that this one has stuck with me for so long. So put yourself out there, and declare all the love you have for your friends and family. Make them your Valentines, and make them these cupcakes as a sweet gesture to remember you by. Because nothing says love like an incredibly moist chocolate cupcake topped with fluffy, soft meringue and a candy heart reading "PUGS & KITTENS". They deserve it. And YOU deserve it.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thank you to Canvas Home for sponsoring this post by providing all the pretty gold and white wares you see in the pictures. I first fell in love with their collections last October (in particular, I love everything from the AbbessesDauville, and Tinware collections), when Molly recommended Canvas for prop shopping in New York City. For Valentine's Day, Canvas is doing a fun little series on their Instagram account that feature different dessert recipes this week, and this is my contribution! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own; thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my sponsors!


Some baker's notes:
  • This chocolate cupcake recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cupcake recipes: the chocolate cupcake recipe from Miette. The original recipe makes a crazy moist, tender cake that is unfortunately a little fussy and takes you through some crazy steps like pouring the batter through a fine mesh sieve. Yeah, there's no need for that mess. I've eliminated some of the more high maintenance steps and left you with a more attainable recipe that produces basically the same result. Don't panic if the batter doesn't look as smooth and lump-free as you expect it to be — this is totally normal and the cake will come together in the oven as expected, I promise. Don't overmix or you'll end up with a dense and dry cake that will make me cry for you!

  • Be sure to use whole yogurt, the kind that's liquidy and pourable (and by no means, do NOT use fat-free or Greek yogurt — you won't get the same results) for the moistest cake possible. I used Strauss Family Creamery's, but realize that that's probably not an option for those who don't live in the west coast. In a pinch, you can also use buttermilk.

  • The icing is based on an Italian meringue recipe that produces an incredibly light and satiny cloud of icing. But because of the icing's nature, it tends to deflate, harden, and loose its shine if not eaten within the next four hours or so. So make sure you make the icing right before serving! It comes together pretty quickly, and is a dream to pipe. You can also torch the icing for a s'mores/toasted marshmallow sort of look, as seen in one of my favorite cupcake recipes from last year. 

churro donut holes

One of my blog resolutions this year (yes, blog resolutions are a real thing, and yes, one of those resolutions was to bake a pie a month) was to be more mindful of "bloggable holidays" and plan recipes around them. And nope, I'm not talking about the weird, fake made-up ones like "National Chocolate Cake Day" or "National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day" (where did those come from anyway???). I'm talking about making stuff like hamantashen for Purim, and Bailey's Irish Cream desserts for St. Paddy's.

But of course, this week is like, the Perfect Storm of bloggable holidays. It's Chinese New Year today, Mardi Gras tomorrow, and Valentine's Day this weekend. So do I make a round dessert for Chinese New Year ('cuz round foods eaten on that day symbolize reunion and being together with your loved ones), or make some beignets in the spirit of a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration? And how exactly do I throw Valentine's Day into the mix? Ugh, my head hurts.

But thank goodness for these donut holes.

These churro holes come from my extraordinarily talented blog friend, Aimee from Twigg Studios, and her awesome new cookbook Love, Aimee. They're pretty much exactly what they sound like — instead of piping churro batter into their traditional tube shapes, Aimee's recipe calls for rolling the batter into balls for donut holes!

And Aimee didn't know this when she sent me her beautiful book, but this recipe kills hella birds with one stone. They're pretty much the perfect dessert for all the holidays this week! They've got that symbolic lucky round shape going on for Chinese New Year, and their fried nature is a great homage to the famous beignets of New Orleans. And served with dulce de leche caramel on the side, that kinda ties in Valentine's Day too, right? Because isn't caramel usually associated with Valentine's Day? Am I trying too hard? Whatever, these are delicious. I'll gladly eat them any day, holiday or no holiday.

Happy Chinese New Year / Mardi Gras / Valentine's Day, folks!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • So if you've never made choux pastry before, this recipe will probably confuse you since churros are made from deep-fried choux dough. Choux dough is created by cooking butter, water, flour, and eggs in a pot over heat. These ingredients combine together to make a dough with high water content. You then cook off the water in the dough to create steam that helps puff the pastry. It's awesome and makes you feel like a bad-ass pastry chef. Unfortunately, because the end result is basically a dried out dough, it doesn't keep very well after a day or so and tends to go stale very quickly. Eat these churros as soon as you make them! Though let's be honest — that probably won't be a problem. 

  • These churros are deep-fried, but I assure you that you don't need any fancy equipment to deep-fry things at home. I usually just pour enough oil into my trusty Staub cocotte (which is apparently on sale now for a great price, good lord) and use a candy thermometer to get it to the temperature the recipe needs. Get a candy thermometer! It really makes the kitchen a much more wonderful place. I like digital ones, but the old-fashioned ones tend to work best for deep frying. 

breakfast tacos and mochi waffles for valentine's day brunch

Valentine's Day is coming up, and I've got two great recipes for a "Date Brunch In" with your significant other on Crate and Barrel's awesome blog (you can also read about me and Erlend arguing about brunch, but let's be honest — we're all here for the tacos and waffles).

For savory brunch eaters, I'm going all the way back to my Texas roots and giving you a classic Tex-Mex breakfast dish — breakfast tacos filled with crispy "smashed" potatoes, bacon, cheesy eggs, and all your regular taco fixings:

For sweet brunch lovers, I've got a really incredible recipe for these beautiful heart-shaped (Or maybe flower-shaped??? It's almost like a Rorschach test or something) mochi waffles. The mochi in the waffles makes them extra crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside; no regular waffle can ever compete. And when topped with warm, fresh cherry brandy compote?

It's the perfect brunch treat:




passionfruit curd donuts

A few months ago, I wrote about moving down to San Francisco and feeling lost. I didn't know the best places to eat, how to shop for obscure (and not so obscure) ingredients, and where to find a quiet coffee shop to get work done. At that time, the city didn't feel like home to me. I wandered around from store to store, trying to find some passionfruit for this recipe.

Well. It took me three months, but I finally freakin' found some!*

*Actually, that's a little bit of a lie. Erlend found it for me while he was looking for weird fruit (a hobby of his) at the Mexican markets down in the Mission. But WHATEVER. Passionfruit found. Mission accomplished.

These days, I'm a little more settled in San Francisco, but there are still stumbles here and there. Interestingly enough, my life here in the big city seems quieter and less adventurous than the one in Portland. Back there, it was easy to jump in the car or hop on my bike to find something to do on a whim. But San Francisco is a place where people routinely scramble to book dinner reservations months ahead of time (as well as reserve campsites six months out, which is just bananas to me), so it's a lot harder to be spontaneous and find something new without planning in advance.

So, living in San Francisco has made me more of a homebody. There are more weekends in, more hours spent perfecting my pies, and more days dreaming up new desserts. Adventure no longer comes in the form of seeking out new restaurants and bakeries; instead, it comes from reading about ones from far away places, both foreign and familiar, and trying to recreate them at home.

These passionfruit donuts are one such example. I first read about Leonard Bakery's malasadas in one of the earlier issues of Lucky Peach a couple years ago. If you're unfamiliar with malasadas, they're basically Hawaiian donuts — they don't have a traditional hole, and are originally based on a Portuguese donut recipe. Although the first malasadas were just rolled in sugar, Leonard's also offered ones filled with different custards and curds made from coconuts, pineapples, and passionfruit. Each of Lenny's malasadas is made to order, and the article described them as light and crisp pillows that melted in your mouth.

After reading the article and knowing I wasn't going to make it to Hawaii any time soon, I went ahead and tried the malasada recipe in Lucky Peach (adapted by Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi, no less). But somewhere along the line, I tripped and ended up with malasada donut holes instead. Tasty, sure, but not quite the real thing.

This recipe, however, strikes a little closer to the mark. These donuts are not only the right size, but they do indeed taste as promised: light, crisp, and melt-in-your-mouthy. It definitely helped that, for the first time in my donut making career, I was actually able to evenly fry the donuts! Each donut came out of the fryer in the perfect shade of gold, mostly thanks to my shiny new copper core All-Clad pots (seriously, copper core cookware rocks — check out the notes below)! I immediately filled each freshly fried, still-warm donut with the tangy and creamy passionfruit curd I'd prepared beforehand. The contrast between the warm dough and the cool curd was heavenly. Before I realized it, I'd eaten three in one sitting. If that isn't a good donut, I don't know what is.

Thank you to All-Clad for sponsoring this post by providing me with the All-Clad TK pots and pans that I used to make the donuts in this post.  The great Chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame actually helped design the pots himself! In particular, I loved the copper core of the stainless steel pots and pans I received. Stainless steel pots are great in the kitchen because they're durable and can take a beating, but they can also have a reputation for uneven, spotty heat distribution. All copper pots are kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum — they are extremely conductive and transfer heat evenly, but are a pain in the butt to maintain. Stainless steel pots with a copper core end up with the best of both worlds — durable and easy to clean, with the ability to heat up quickly and evenly. Check out the full All-Clad TK collection, but be sure to read the specs — only some of the pots and pans have a copper core.

As always, all the thoughts and opinions expressed just now are mine and mine alone. I just really like my sponsors! Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and all the folks who make it possible for me to bring you guys all the baked goods.


Some baker's notes:
  • You can use either fresh passionfruit juice (with the seeds strained out) or frozen passionfruit puree in this recipe. Fresh passionfruit was a little hard for me to source, but I would occasionally (and rather randomly) see it at major supermarkets like Whole Foods and even Safeway. You can also use passionfruit puree, which can be found in the frozen section of Latin American markets or even online (but for a much steeper price). Whatever you do though, don't use artificial/shelf-stable passionfruit juice. They put a ton of extra sweetener and artificial preservatives in there that'll just ruin your curd.

  • Plan ahead for this one! You should make the passionfruit curd first so that it's ready to go when the donuts are fresh and warm; the curd keeps in a airtight glass jar for up to two weeks. The dough works best if you make it ahead of time and let it chill overnight in the fridge — you end up with prettier donuts that keep their shape!

orange thyme upside down cake

When I started this blog a few years ago, I had no idea that I'd become part of this crazy community of folks all across the world, all brought together by one thing: a love of all things related to food. And this love has bled into my offline life in weird and wonderful ways. To wit — last summer, a fellow blogger and myself doggedly spent hours trying to hammer cookie dough in between two wire racks to make stroopwafels (spoiler alert: our method didn't work at all). And this last weekend, I spent my Saturday night with another close blogger friend figuring out the best way to fix a $300 Le Creuset pan, getting wayyy too excited when we finally managed to do so.

In some ways, I'm lucky to have been accepted as one of them. Because in real life, I'm not exactly sure if I would have even fit in at all. I've written about this before, but the blogging community is full of the nicest, sweetest folks ever. So nice that I kinda feel like a jerk around most of them. In fact, I know I'm the asshole in the group. Despite what this blog may have you believe, I'm really not as happy and sunny as I am here in real life. In the offline world, I swear a lot. I'm short tempered and get easily pissed off by lots of little things. Like people who don't take off their backpacks on crowded public transportation systems during rush hour, or the fact that Creed didn't get nominated for a "Best Picture" Oscar.

So I try to compensate for it in other ways. On Hummingbird High, for instance, I try to be the best version of myself — optimistic and friendly, relaxed and laid back, confident yet polite. But since those attributes don't come easily to me, I find myself looking up to the bloggers who are the epitome of those qualities.

One of those bloggers is Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen. Her corner of the internet is where I want to be, always. The company is sweet, the food is beautiful, and there's a cute corgi frolicking about. Her cookbook, The Year of Cozy, embodies the very values I was talking about above. Because not only is it filled with her tasty recipes, it also offers creative DIY projects and fun tips on how to live a happy, healthy life, encouraging folks to have different adventures and make new friends.

Adrianna actually sent me her cookbook a few months back, but like I said — being the jerk I am, I could only get around to baking something from it now. And I really wish that I could've found the time much earlier, because her recipe for this orange thyme upside down cake is just perfect. Take advantage of those blood oranges, yo. 'Tis the season.

Some baker's notes:
  • Blood oranges can be bitter to begin with, but they can turn extra bitter during the baking process. If bitterness is not your jam, I recommend with going with a variety of navel oranges, clementines, and satsumas instead. Since those oranges tend to be sweeter than blood oranges, I recommend cutting down the sugar in the topping from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup instead. Make sure to peel the oranges before you even start slicing them — it makes your life a lot easier. Believe me, I learned the hard way.

  • The original recipe called for making the cake in a cast-iron skillet, but since my cast-iron skillet is fairly new, I thought it would be under-seasoned and ill-equipped for the job. So instead I used a 9-inch cake pan and found that it worked quite well. Be sure to use a 9-inch pan with high sides (at least 3-inches), and one without any patterns on the bottom (or else you'll end up with a cake like mine, whose top is faintly imprinted by my cake pan's fluted bottom). 

sour cranberry pie

Every time I make a pie, it feels like a freaking marathon: the constant rolling and re-rolling of the dough, the chilling and re-chilling of the pie, the crimping, the latticing, the filling. And I don't even rest easy after the pie has been transferred to the oven; instead, I spend almost the entire hour crouched by the oven window, coordinating my Spotify to the pie's progress (a crust that loses its shape and melts slowly away usually gets a soundtrack of Bon Iver), all the while texting friends and tweeting panicked updates. Because after all that work, I don't even know if my pie will turn out well — I've talked about this before, but I've never been the world's best pie maker. Despite my best efforts, my pies never turn out as pretty as the ones I see on Pinterest.

Until now.

There's a myth out there that the best pie crusts are all-butter. It's perpetuated by big food blogs like Food52 and established culinary experts like Serious Eats. An all-butter crust is a right of passage—no, a medal—for people and a chance to brag about bullshit like how their naturally cold hands helps them shape the finnicky dough easily. Right. Whatever.

And for a long time, I bought into that myth. Every recipe I ever tried was made with butter, and butter only. Artificial and highly processed fats like shortening and margarine were out of the question 'cuz... well, gross.

But what about lard? Lard is also kinda gross if you think about it too much; I mean, after all, it is just PORK FAT. But at least it isn't as highly processed as shortening and margarine? And although animal fat kinda gets a bad rap in general, more and more studies are showing that it's actually beneficial for the body to consume a moderate amount of animal fats on occasion.

I don't know what compelled me to finally try using lard in my pie crust, but I'm glad I did. Every lard crust I've made has been incredibly flaky and tender — I actually prefer its flavor and texture than that of an all-butter crust. But what's best about a lard crust is that it's forgiving. Unlike all-butter crusts, it's less sticky, more malleable, and perhaps most importantly, almost always holds its shape when baking in the oven.

So with the help of pork fat (of all things!), I might have just conquered the picture perfect pie. Watch out, Pinterest! Me and my lard crust — we're coming for you. No, really. One of my resolutions this year was to bake more pie. I'm aiming for one pie a month. Is that too ambitious? I don't know. We'll find out. Watch this space.

Thank you to Falcon Enamelware for sponsoring this post by providing all the pretty pie plates, tumblers, and prep bowls that you see in the photos. I'm especially excited to work with them as I've spent many years lusting after their products at Schoolhouse Electric. These pictures were featured in their December newsletter, which you can sign up for on their site or check out on their Tumblr. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my sponsors!


Some baker's notes:
  • I know lard sounds really grim and gross, but I promise you that if you go with a good quality one, it won't be. First, you want a rendered lard — that means that excess water and other impurities have been taken out of the raw fat, leaving you with a shelf stable, white-ish, creamy fat. You'll also likely want leaf lard, which is from the kidney region of the pigs and doesn't have as many vessels or meat in it. It's especially creamy and soft and perfect for pies. I like using Fatworks' Leaf Lard, which I know is pricey, but is really worth the quality since it comes from pigs that are free-range and pasture raised by small, family-owned farms.

  • We're at that terrible part of winter where no fruit is really in season except for citrus and cranberries; hence the cranberry filling for the pie. I like my pie fillings to taste like fruit, so the filling tastes exactly like cranberries — not that sweet and pretty tart. It works wonderfully with the crust (and together kind of taste like those shortbread cookies with jam in the middle, a.k.a. DELICIOUS), but on its own, can be kind of intense. So taste the filling as you go, and after cooking the cranberries, feel free to add extra sugar to the filling (I recommend going up to 1/4 cup extra) if you find it too sour for your taste. Alternatively, you can also just leave the recipe as is and serve it with ice cream or whipped cream!

  • To stamp out the stars in the top crust, I used a mini star cookie cutter from this mini cookie cutter set, but Amazon has a wide variety of shapes that you can choose from. But you can also go the traditional route and just create a classic lattice top — you can do whatever you like! However, just because this crust is partially made out of lard, doesn't mean that the usual rules don't apply. In order to keep your crust looking the same way as it did before baking, make sure you keep all the ingredients and crust as refrigerated as possible. Be sure to check out all my best pie baking tips

any time you need 'em slice-and-bake chocolate chip cookies

For a long time, I thought the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe had ruined me for good. Based on a recipe from famed chocolatier Jaques Torres, it makes a cookie SO GOOD that I find myself daydreaming about baking and eating it once a week. And I probably would, if it weren't incredibly, incredibly, incredibly fussy to make. The uses two types of flour and rare (not to mention, expensive!) disk-shaped chocolate chips called feves. And to add insult to injury, it makes you wait at least 24 hours before you can eat it.

So what happens when I just need a chocolate chip cookie right here, right now?

Tara, the incredibly talented blogger behind Seven Spoons, saves the day with her recipe for Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies. The recipe, found in her beautiful cookbook, is pretty much the exact opposite of the New York Times recipe. It's the least fussy thing ever. There's no need for a mixer; heck, you don't even need to bring the butter in the ingredients list to room temperature before using! And even with the incredibly simplified baking process, it produces a chocolate chip cookie that's just as good as the one from the New York Times — crisp on the outside, chewy in the center, and the perfect balance of sweet and salty:

The only problem is that with Erlend all the way over in New York, it's literally just me, my cat, and two dozen incredibly delicious cookies in my apartment. And if you know me in real life (which, shameless plug, follow hummingbirdhigh on Snapchat for a glimpse, though I'll admit I have no idea what I'm doing or how to really use the damn thing), you know that I can plow through 24 chocolate chip cookies in just one sitting. Without even taking a breath. For real.

So in order to prevent myself from gaining 200lbs, you know what I do? I allow myself one on the day that I make the dough, and freeze the rest. After measuring the dough out into cookie dough balls, I unceremoniously stuff them into a square baking pan to basically create a homemade version of the Nestle Tollhouse slice-and-bake cookies from my childhood that I loved, loved, loved. Only this time, with homemade quality dough that doesn't use and any weird preservatives or ingredients.

Plus, the kicker? There's some crazy voodoo cookie dough magic that happens the longer the cookies sit in the freezer. That is, the longer the dough rests (and these babies keep for AGES — I'm still going through a batch that I first made about two months ago), the more flavorful and amazing the cookies will taste. Think: a chocolate chip cookie with strong notes of brown butter, toffee, and salted caramel. It's all there, even though I used none of those ingredients. I don't know how or why. The reigning theory is that the flour fully absorbs all flavored oil from the chocolate, butter, and other ingredients to produce all those new flavors, but honestly, I don't really care.

Because it's that good.

Now if you'll excuse me, writing this post actually made me crave one of these damn things again. I'm pretty sure I have one or two left in the back of my freezer somewhere. And if I don't, no biggie. Thanks to Tara, I'll just whip up another batch, give or take twenty minutes. Just like that.

Life is good.

Some baker's notes:
  • Please note that the recipe calls for chocolate feves (that is, round chocolate disks) and NOT chocolate chips. Chocolate chips have some weird edible paraffin wax that helps them keep their shape while baking — we don't want that for these cookies! Chopped chocolate, on the other hand, melts into the cookies and helps infuse the dough with chocolate. This is an especially important quality if you're freezing the dough for an extended amount of time. If you can't find any feves, you can substitute with a bar of good-quality chocolate (if you're on a budget, consider using Trader Joe's Pound Plus bars — they're great quality considering their price). Be sure to chop the chocolate up unevenly and coarsely to create an interesting texture throughout the cookie; I even left some feves whole and it was awesome!