November 25, 2014

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Flan + A Giveaway!

Thanksgiving at my house has always been a very non-traditonal affair; neither Erlend's immediate family or mine really celebrates Thanksgiving, so we've been left to make up our own traditions. Slowly but surely, we're starting to build up a repertoire of Thanksgiving customs — for instance, for the last three years, we've roasted a duck instead of the traditional turkey and I've made momofuku's crispy roasted brussel sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette.

And although the menu is starting to settle, the company seems to be ever-changing. Three years ago, we celebrated with Erlend's family in Littleton, Colorado. My blog was just beginning, and I made this berry topped cheesecake (those iPhone pics, oh my god). The following year was less ceremonious and consisted of me and Erlend eating our roasted duck in a tiny attic apartment in Portland. Last year, it was a friendsgiving complete with my two housemates (one who steamed buns for the duck, the other made full-blown traditional Japanese ramen) and a recently transplanted friend from San Francisco who brought Greek salad.

This year, it's another friendsgiving of sorts — a BLOGGER friendsgiving. The ever lovely Renee from Will Frolic for Food has organized a bunch of my favorite bloggers together to celebrate a virtual friendsgiving, centering around one crucial ingredient in both cooking and baking: salt. But not just any old table salt, mind you. We're talking about JQ Dickinson Salt Works salt; that is, high-quality, flaky sea salt, hand-harvested from the Appalachian Mountains. It's the kind of salt that you want to throw on almost everything to just give it that extra something-something, with its beautifully coarse texture able to enhance your dish's flavors.

Each blogger was tasked to contribute a recipe that prominently used salt for a Thanksgiving course; undoubtedly, I signed up for dessert and whipped up these plates of mini salted caramel pumpkin flans:

Side note: is flans the plural of flan? That seems... strange. I feel like it should be fancier than "flans"? Is that just me?

I feel like I've been bad about baking seasonally this fall. I mean, I completely missed apple season and tried to whip up these mini upside down apple cakes at the last minute that, of course, turned out to be a disaster. But I'm not making that same mistake with pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, nope. Bring on the gourds and the root vegetables, bring it on, starting with pumpkin.

Although pumpkin is traditionally paired with pumpkin pie spices, I'm a big fan of throwing it together with unexpected (but still complementary!) flavors — for instance, like this chocolate and pumpkin babka and these salted caramel flans. Because have you guys ever had salted caramel and pumpkin together? It's like... the best. No, really. Once you've had it, you'll wonder why on earth nobody has made pumpkin and caramel a mandatory flavor. And these miniature salted caramel flans are the perfect introduction to the flavor pairing:

Seriously — if pumpkin pie married creme caramel, these caramel pumpkin flans would be their babies. Their creamy, perfectly balanced between salt and sweet and pumpkin and caramel babies.

And as a special Thanksgiving treat, I'm giving away a 1-ounce sampler jar of J.Q. Dickinson Salt, along with some other baking tools to help you out in the kitchen. Enter the giveaway by simply leaving a comment on this post telling me about your favorite Thanksgiving tradition. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Sunday, November 30th at 5:00 PM PST. The giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only.

Some baker's notes:
  • Making caramel can be a bit of a pain and a mess, especially if you have to divide the molten hot and burning liquid between tiny ramekins. So instead of cooking the sugar in one pot and doing exactly that, I've decided to caramelize the sugar in their individual ramekins by placing them on burners and cooking them one by one. Now although this method is cleaner, it does take some time and works best if you have a gas or electric burner — it won't work if you have an induction stovetop. If that's the case, you can also make the caramel by dividing it into their ramekins and broiling in the oven until the sugar is melted and caramel colored.

  • It's important that you cook the flan ramekins in the water bath (as instructed in the recipe). This will allow the flans to cook evenly throughout. But be careful NOT to overcook the flan. Overcooking will result in a weirdly crumbly and grainy custard texture and me crying tears of sadness for you. If you know your oven runs hot, constantly check your ramekins to see how done they are. Flans, unlike cake, are unaffected by the number of times you open your oven door. You can find the perfect custard texture by taking a heatproof utensil and giving each ramekin a gentle tap on its side. If the sides are firm but the center jiggles, you're good to go. If the center is firm, you've overcooked your custard. But note that the top of each flan will look weirdly spongy, instead of smooth and creamy — this is due to the pumpkin in the ingredients. If the tops start to brown too fast, loosely cover with an aluminum foil.

November 19, 2014

Salted Chocolate and Pumpkin Babka

I’m a crazy cookbook collector. I have shelves upon shelves of cookbooks, so many that I can’t even find a place for them all in my kitchen. There’s a cabinet in the dining room that holds a healthy stack, while the rest line the shelf in my study that’s slowly bowing in the middle as it attempts to hold their weight.

Because while the internet is an abundance and wealth of information, there’s something just really freaking nice about holding a book in your hands. I mean, the first thing I do after I unwrap a new cookbook is flip through the pages and mark (I know, I know, purists will gasp but I’m a shameless dogear-er all the way) the photos that inspire me and the recipes that I want to try. You don’t really get that same satisfaction with bookmarking in your browser or pinning on Pinterest.

And so I own different cookbooks for different purposes. There are the workhorses like The Flavor Bible or Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything that I use for reference almost every day. There are the showstoppers filled with stunning photos that I flip through for visual inspiration before I shoot (A Kitchen in France, Small Plates and Sweet Treats or What Katie Ate are all great books for getting inspired). Then, there are the ones filled with crazy recipes with advanced techniques that I can only aspire to — Dominique Ansel’s The Secret Recipes cookbook, for instance, which contains THE recipe for homemade cronuts.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks fall somewhere in between these three categories. His two that I have — Plenty and Jerusalem — are filled with stunning, inspirational pictures and a mix of recipes that range from achievable to aspirational. But oh boy, the moment I flipped through Jerusalem and spotted his recipe for chocolate krantz cake, I knew I was in trouble. It was the sort of stunning, delicious and yet oh-so-time-consuming recipe that straddled the line between achievable and aspirational.

What's a krantz cake? It’s basically a babka — that is, a cake made from a brioche dough that’s been twisted and sweetened with fillings like chocolate, cinnamon or fruit and nuts. In my version, I’ve filled my babka with dark chocolate and pumpkin:

Ottolenghi’s recipe divides the dough in two and braids the two strands together; with this method, my two toppings swirled into each other, creating a sort of marbled effect in the bread. One bite initially yields the dark chocolate flavor, while a second bite yields buttery, cinnamon-tinted pumpkin. The trick, however, is to get a bite of the two together — because is there really a better flavor combination than chocolate, pumpkin and cinnamon?

I don’t think so.

As for the recipe itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the babka wasn’t actually that hard to make. Sure, it takes a while — you’ve got to let the dough rise overnight, then for another few hours after you’ve rolled and braided it — but most of that time was inactive and spent binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. As for rolling it out and braiding it, the dough is incredibly forgiving and easy to work with, more similar to pliant Play-Doh that stays together versus a sticky, fussy pie crust. There are a couple tricky steps in the recipe, so I’ve included process shots with the steps.

Some baker's notes:
  • Plan ahead for this one! The dough requires you to make it ahead of time to allow it to rest and proof overnight. After that, there's another 2 hours or so of waiting around until it rises. You can try and make it in one day by letting it proof for 4 hours or so, but the dough is easier to work with when it's been chilled overnight. It's best to make the dough first, then the two fillings, before rolling out the chilled dough and stuffing it with filling.

  • The original recipe in the cookbook calls for you to combine flour and yeast together with water, not specifying what temperature the water is. I was skeptical since in order for yeast to work, it needs to be "activated" by warm water between 80 to 90 (F). Indeed, I googled other folks who'd tried it, and found that their dough barely rose with cold water unless they were using instant or rapid rise yeast. Since I only had active dry yeast at hand, I decided to use warm water... with great results. This is how I've written it in my recipe instructions, so if you're following my instructions to a tee, it's important to remember that yeast is a living thing — it thrives when the water's not boiling, but just warm enough. A good test is to stick a finger in the water and see if it's a temperature you'd like to take a shower or bath in — if it's too cold or hot for you, it's likely the case for the yeast as well. 

  • Don't be worried if, while making this, your braid doesn't look like mine in the process pictures. It's really hard to screw this up — the braid bursts open in the baking process, hiding your mistake and making it seem like whatever you did was intentional. You can see from my pictures that my own cuts weren't that clean — there are strands of dough here and there, but it didn't matter in the end. In any case, it'll taste awesome no matter what.

November 13, 2014

Small Batch Whole Grain Chocolate Graham Muffin Mix

It’s kinda crazy to think about how much I’ve learned in the last three years of blogging. There’s all the stuff about baking and cooking, but also other things like and HTML/CSS skills from messing around with blog templates and taking photos manually with a big-girl DSLR camera. Then there's also the weird little facts and trivia I pick up, mostly from conversations with folks who read my blog for fun.

I mean, to wit — just last week, my coworker was telling me that she enjoyed reading my post about yellow cupcakes and was especially excited to find that I'd mentioned graham flour as one of my favorite ingredients. She and I attended the same college for undergrad, and had gone through the same process of writing a year-long thesis during our senior year which culminated in an orals defense in front of a board of professors. It was tradition for thesising seniors to bring food and drink to snack on during these orals as a kind of “bribe” to the professors. Sometimes, the food would be related to the thesis topic. In her case, she’d brought biscuits made from graham flour.

“Oh, like graham crackers?” I said.

“Kind of, but minus the butter. And the sugar.” She then went on to explain that graham flour was invented in the 1800s by a reverend named Sylvester Graham, who disapproved of the discarding of nutrients and artificial bleaching of making white flour and believed that using whole grain flours (like his namesake graham flour) was a remedy for the poor health brought on by the changes in diet during the Industrial Revolution. In addition to the whole grains, Graham also preached eating a vegetarian diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables and other high fiber foods, with dairy permitted in moderation.

“That actually sounds like what passes for a healthy diet today,” I said. “In fact, that doesn’t seem so bad at all.”

“Yeah,” she responded. “Except that he thought that his diet would stop people from masturbating.”


In any case, Sylvester Graham would probably be very disappointed to find that, not only did his masturbation prevention plan fail, but these days, graham flour is only ever used in baked goods like graham crackers that are full of butter, sugar and other ingredients that he loathed. I myself am guilty of swapping out all-purpose flour with graham flour in my favorite chocolate chip cookies and brownie recipes in an attempt to give them more fiber and protein. I also find that using graham flour gives chocolate baked goods a wonderful, unique flavor that’s very slightly reminiscent of toasted nuts and campfire s’mores.

So when I saw Izy’s recipe for whole grain chocolate muffins in her new cookbook based on her blog, Top With Cinnamon, I couldn’t resist using graham flour as my whole grain flour:

I’ve always been fond of chocolate muffins, but could never really justify eating them for breakfast — until now.

Izy’s recipe uses a generous amount of whole wheat and oat flours that will start your day off with plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fat from coconut oil to keep you going until lunch… all without sacrificing the decadence of a chocolate muffin. Because despite all that health, this chocolate muffin still tastes like a chocolate cake, especially since each muffin top is studded with plenty of chocolate chips.

Non-serious bakers don’t understand what a feat that is, throwing in whole grains and healthy fats without compromising any flavor whatsoever. But Izy’s always been a master of recipes that manage to balance healthful eating with, well, decadence (I mean, hello, anybody remember these coconut flour brownies or this chocolate chia ice cream?). Her cookbook is full of such recipes, and these muffins are just one example of her incredible cooking prowess.

Some baker's notes:
  • Izy's recipe from her cookbook actually makes a muffin mix, which you can store at room temperature for up to 1 month (or 3 months in the freezer). In her cookbook, she breaks down the recipe so you can bake 4 jumbo muffins at a time. I'm including the recipe as it is from her cookbook, but when I made these I doubled the batch quantity and ended up with 12 cupcake sized muffins since I used a cupcake pan. However, if you use a jumbo-sized muffin pan, you'll likely end up with 8 jumbo muffins.

  • Graham flour is available online or in specialty health food stores. One of my favorite things about graham flour is that it lasts longer than other whole grain flours, so you can buy in bulk and use throughout the year. It especially works well in chocolate baked goods, and you can substitute graham flour for up to half of all-purpose flour in lighter baked goods. However, I wouldn't use it in white cakes or angel food cakes since it tends to be heavier.

  • The recipe also uses oat flour, which Izy says you can make at home by blending oats in a food processor until mealy. However, I purchased my oat flour from Bob's Red Mill, though plenty other varieties are available online.

November 10, 2014

Overnight Cinnamon Iced Coffee and Cream

Contrary to what this blog might have you believe, I do not live a perfect life. I’m aware that some of my pictures suggest otherwise, with pretty little desserts on gently marbled countertops adorned with flowers picked with the garden. But really, it’s all an illusion — the camera captures just a teeny tiny space of my life. Outside the frame are stacks of messy dishes, piles of laundry and smelly takeout lunches where I eat and hunch over my computer wearing unfashionable technical fabric gymwear.

Because in addition to this food blog, I work fulltime at a software company. It’s often hard to balance the two at the same time — something often gives. There are the lunches that I work through and try to get as much done as I can so I can go home and bake, and the times when I show up to blogger events looking like a slob because I’ve forgotten that it’s not really socially acceptable to wear plaid shirts and yoga pants anywhere else besides my office (where most of the dudes seem to think that Vibram toe shoes are the final word in fashion).

My frequently hectic life in which I balance both my career and my blog has led to an increasing envy to those who practice “slow living”; that is, those who deliberately choose to do less as “less is more”. In this practice, choosing to do less means choosing to do things that have more meaning and fulfillment. Popular advocates of this concept include Kinfolk, the purposefully minimal magazine/blog that the New York Times has dubbed as the “Martha Stewart Living of the Portland Set”, and Sunday Suppers, a family dinner turned blog turned communal cooking center and studio in Brooklyn, New York.

Indeed, the new Sunday Suppers cookbook serves as a something of a bible for slow living. Karen Mordechai, the creator of Sunday Suppers, fills the cookbook with several course menus for occasions like summer picnics, winter nights and other events focusing on gathering a crowd around a communal table. Her gospel? Good food fuels good conversation. The recipes are seasonally-driven, delicious, and most surprising of all, straightforward — to wit, a suggested entree for a children’s birthday party was a simple, nourishing recipe for black beans and rice. Upon receiving the linen bound book, I dog-eared several of the recipes for reference later, but found myself flipping through the cookbook again and again to browse through Karen’s beautiful photography and evocative menus.

The recipe that called out to me the most, however, was this recipe for overnight cinnamon-infused ice coffee:

To quote Karen, “Adding a little spice to your coffee is a neat trick; it makes it taste just a bit fancier.” No arguments from me there. The recipe was incredibly easy to make, prep time for the coffee is minimal and took less than five minutes of active time. Steeping it overnight really allowed the cinnamon to work its way into my full-bodied Stumptown coffee. This coffee was a great start to the day and definitely made my morning a little bit brighter.

Some baker's notes:
  • Not a fan of cinnamon? You could probably use other spices to infuse the coffee with. I would try fresh vanilla beans, cardamom pods, or chicory for starters. Don't be afraid to experiment! You can also combine different flavors and herbs together — just be sure not to use too many spices as it can get intense fast.

November 6, 2014

Homemade Funfetti Cake with THE Chocolate Frosting

Three years ago, I opened my laptop on a brisk Sunday night in Denver, Colorado. I was supposed to be preparing for the week, pulling together some reports that my boss wanted in his hands by 8AM the following morning. But instead of working through the necessary Excel spreadsheets, I was thinking about cupcakes.

I was thinking about how, in college, I would always bake a box of Funfetti cupcakes to de-stress from whatever paper or final I was worrying about and distribute them to my classmates the next day. How the last decent cupcake I’d had was in London, when I’d stopped inside a bakery in Kensington to buy a cup of coffee and instead fortuitously discovered some of the best cupcakes I’d ever eaten in my life.

I was also thinking about how much I hated my job, what a mistake it was to move Erlend and myself to a city where we didn’t know anybody, and how, as a girl who’d spent most of her life living in places where the ocean was an hour or less away, I hated living high up in the mountains where water boiled at a different temperature and the air was so thin and dry that it caused me to feel lightheaded if I moved too quickly (true story — I’m just not built for the mountains).

So at that point, sitting at my cheap Ikea dining table with all that unhappiness and regret and loneliness crushing down on me, I did what I always do when I’m stressed out — I started writing.

Lots of people come to this blog for many reasons, though the majority come for the recipes and (hopefully) the pictures. I’m sure that there are plenty visitors who probably scroll through the blocks of text on my blog, either skimming through my writing or ignoring it completely until they reach the coveted recipe. But the truth is, Hummingbird High didn’t start out as a food blog, a baking blog, or whatever it gets categorized as today — it started out as just another diary. A way to distract myself from the misery of my job; a way to keep in touch with the friends I’d so foolishly moved myself away from.

But at that point, I knew enough about the internet to know that privacy was an illusion, and I worried that my relatively new employers and old college frenemies would find the blog with negative consequences. But even if that weren’t a concern, I didn’t want to write about my depression. I didn’t want my friends in Portland, San Francisco, and London to worry about me, especially since so many of them had been confused by my move to Denver in the first place. So instead I wrote about a neutral topic that I was more than familiar with, one that I knew would remind my friends of a happy me: cupcakes. I wrote about what it was like to bake in high-altitude, and that time I tried making my favorite and highly-dependable vanilla cupcake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook only to be completely blindsided when it failed miserably.

At the time, I had no idea that it would eventually turn into… well, this. I wasn’t new to blogging, by any means. Throughout the years, there were many half-hearted attempts at other blogs — a blog dedicated to bicycles and riding my bike that lasted about three months, another blog about the strange, strange period in my life when I lived in the Philippines, and another one about my move to San Francisco that only ever amounted to three entries.

But in that period of unhappiness, this blog became my lifeboat. At first, it was just how I communicated with the friends I’d left behind in the cities that I missed and longed for. And then, surprisingly, it allowed me to discover that I actually had a creative bone in my body even after years of maths and economics studies, even after 14 hour workdays at a job I hated. Eventually, it became my purpose and a much-needed anchor in a city and a job that I felt so disconnected from. Talking about baking and eating desserts allowed me to pretend that things were okay until they were actually, really, and truly okay again.

So to celebrate the three years, I figured I’d go back to the beginning. I frequently mention that the first thing I ever baked was a batch of Funfetti cupcakes from a box mix in my college dorm’s kitchen; this is true. But I also began this very blog with a box of Funfetti cake mix as well. This time, after all those years, it’s time to make the cake from scratch:

For the homemade Funfetti cake, I used this wonderful recipe on Food52 by one of my blogger heroes, Molly from My Name is Yeh. Molly spent weeks researching the best kind of cake base, ingredients and sprinkles to make Funfetti cake from scratch at home, and let me tell you — her work really paid off. This cake was exactly like the box mix, but minus the artificial taste that cake mix tends to have from all the weird, un-pronouncable chemicals used to make it last as long as possible. I made almost no alterations from her recipe, with the exception of using real vanilla extract (probably why my cake didn’t turn out as white as it could have) and an additional half teaspoon of ground vanilla bean powder (my new favorite ingredient) to make it as vanilla-y as I could.

And of course, I slathered the cake with this unstoppable chocolate frosting:

This isn’t the sophisticated and classy chocolate ganache frosting that you see on this yellow cake and these chocolate crème fraîche-topped cupcakes, nope. Those recipes use fancy dark chocolate, with full cream and no sugar... and while I love all those things, it's not really the kind of frosting you want on a funfetti cake.

Instead, you want THIS chocolate frosting. This is THE chocolate frosting of your childhood — the kind that causes tantrums because you would have happily eaten spoonfuls of it had your mom not wrestled the bowl away from you. The secret? Lots of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and a touch of cream cheese. Because believe me, once you throw a little cream cheese in your chocolate frosting, it’s hard to go back.

I know that it’s quite the epic cake, but it’s one that really is suited for the occasion. I still remember the elation I felt from the first comment on my blog from a person I didn’t know, the pride I felt when my first picture was featured on Foodgawker, the delight from my first press mentions and the first time I saw one of my pictures on Pinterest that wasn’t pinned by me. During those lonely months in Denver, you guys are what helped me get on my feet again. Thanks for visiting, reading and baking along with me.

Some baker's notes:
  • Ground vanilla bean powder is available online, specialty spice shops and in the bulk spice sections of fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods. If you can't find it/justify the expense, feel free to omit the recipe, but your cake will likely be less vanilla-y than mine.

  • I used pure vanilla bourbon extract, which gave my cake a slightly yellow color. For a whiter cake, substitute pure vanilla extract for McCormick's Clear Imitation Vanilla. McCormick's will also give your funfetti cake a more box mix-y taste.

  • As Molly's research shows, for best results, use artificially dyed store-bought sprinkles! If you're hardcore and/or want to pick your own colors, you can also use my recipe for homemade sprinkles, but be sure to make bright, bright, BRIGHT colors that pop out against the white cake.

November 4, 2014

Breakfast Cereal Cake Donuts

Today's post is a recipe for Jessica of How Sweet It Is, one of the most incredible and seriously kick-ass food blogs out there. Jessica has been one of my favorite bloggers for a few years now — her blog is full of stunning pictures and crazy delicious recipes like chocolate peanut butter fudge stuffed caramel apples (I know, right? I know.) and creamy caramelized leek soup with maple glazed bacon. From the looks of her blog and Instagram, this year looks like it's been pretty exciting for her — in addition to publishing her first cookbook, Seriously Delish, Jessica's expecting a baby!!! AHHH!!!

To celebrate, a bunch of us decided to throw her a virtual babyshower true to Jessica's spirit, filled with trashed up recipes to the max. What does it mean to trash up a recipe? It means going all the way over the top. Like these homemade Shake Shack burgers, but spruced up with pimento peppers. Or these chocolate truffles... rolled in pop rocks candy.

With that, I channeled my inner Jessica and decided to combine two of my favorite foods — oh-so-sweet breakfast cereal (that I really should have grown out of but never did) and donuts — to make these BREAKFAST CEREAL CAKE DONUTS:

I took my classic vanilla bean cake donut recipe learned from Sprinkle Bakes and simply topped it off with a simple vanilla glaze and cereal handfuls from this Kellogg's variety fun pack. I've always, always wanted an excuse to buy one of those fun packs! Almost all my favorite childhood cereals were represented—the only one missing was Cinnamon Toast Crunch—but the rest were there: Fruit Loops, Cocoa Krispies, Frosted Flakes and Apple Jacks.

Although Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks made the prettiest donuts, I decided I liked the taste of both the Cocoa Krispie and Frosted Flake donuts better. But that was just my own preferences — Erlend preferred the Fruit Loop and Apple Jack donuts, stating that they were more "festive". We both agreed, however, that these donuts tasted exactly like cake... that tasted like a bowl of milk and cereal.

And if that's not trashed up, I don't know what is.

So congratulations, Jessica! So, so happy for you two!!! And seriously, what a very lucky baby — that kid is gonna eat all the most delicious food ever.

Some baker's notes:
  • This goes without saying, but feel free to experiment with different cereals! You don't have to stick with the ones I used. 

  • You will need a donut pan for this recipe; you can also use a mini donut pan, but bear in mind that the recipe will probably leave you with around five or six dozen mini donuts. No, really.

  • Be sure to eat these donuts immediately after decorating with cereal — cereal goes soggy and stale fast, especially when it touches something liquidy like the glaze. These donuts won't keep well for more than 3 hours. If you must make in advance, make the cake donuts first and store them unglazed in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Glaze and top with cereal immediately before serving — the glaze should come together in less than 10 minutes. You can even have an interactive sort of breakfast where people can glaze and top their own donuts too!

October 30, 2014

Chocolate and Pear Dutch Baby Pancake

I hate admitting this, but I'm not much of a brunch person. Like this New York Times article, I am the curmudgeon who stays at home wondering why people would bother waiting in line for two hours just to pay an exorbitant amount for eggs and bacon they could make for themselves at home.

"But Michelle!" people will often argue. "There are some brunch things that are just too difficult to make at home."

To which, I'll often snort: "Like what?"

Most responses often relate to eggs Benedict, which I will admit is a bit of a pain to make (because let's be honest here, anybody who says poaching eggs is easy is probably cheating and using one of those weird specialized devices they sell at Sur La Table).

But sometimes, people will bring up breakfast sweets like pancakes as part of their defense. A friend who was severely offended by my stance on brunch once argued that it was hard to make pancakes like they did at brunch places. Hers were never as fluffy or well-shaped, and she always made a big mess when she tried to make them at home. Plus, at brunch places, they always had funner toppings and more variety anyway... so why bother at home?

Thinking about her pancake problems, I realized I had the perfect solution — this epic recipe for a chocolate and pear Dutch baby pancake:

Why is this recipe so epic? Because it's so stupidly easy, that's why. All you need is a cast iron skillet, a large bowl and nothing else. Sauté the pears in some butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, before pouring in the rest of the chocolate batter over the fruit and sticking the entire thing in the hot, hot, hot oven. The batter then bakes and puffs up to create this beautiful pancake that has a wonderfully Yorkshire pudding texture that's almost flan-like. Think of it as a giant popover with chocolate and fruit:

The best part is, with this recipe, you can experiment with different fruits and flavors — swap the pears for apples or bananas, or omit the cocoa powder for a more classic pancake flavor. Experiment with different spices and add ground vanilla bean powder, cardamom and more.

Other awesome brunch recipes? The crazy-talented Steph from I Am A Food Blog does a brunch series with posts every Sunday that I love, love, love with recipes like chili and cornbread waffles and eggs and avocado grilled cheeses soldiers. Kathryn, one of my favorite bloggers over at London Bakes, also has some great gems like chocolate and coconut buckwheat waffles and rhubarb and polenta muffins. I've also been dying to make Izy's whole grain double chocolate muffins (seen in Cynthia's beautiful, beautiful post), Molly's eggs Benedict Cumberbatch (ha, geddit, geddit?!) and one of Melissa of The Faux Martha's pretty donut recipes (but especially these baked apple cider donuts).

So why bother heading out for brunch? I'll skip the long lines and overpriced any eggs any day. All I need is my cast iron skillet and the internet, and I'm set for life.

Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe works best with firm, ripe pears like Bosc pears, which hold their shape when cooked or baked. I also like the contrasting texture that Bosc pears provide. Although they are still delicious, softer pears like Comice or Bartlett pears will get mushy when cooked and will kind of blend into the batter.

  • This isn't really a "baker's note", but if you're a visual learner, check out this illustrated version of my Dutch baby pancake recipe. The illustration is by Task and Tool, a startup that helps bloggers illustrate their recipes; check out their site to see their full collection of illustrated recipes.