wellesley fudge cake

May 23, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

When I was a teen, I got it stuck in my head that I would go to college in Boston. I'm not exactly sure why — before applying for colleges, I'd visited Boston exactly once during my freshman year in high school for a Model UN trip (I'm a nerd, I know). Although I spent the majority of my time there in a stuffy lecture hall at Harvard, I guess the city must have left enough of an impression of me to want to spend the next four years there.

So I applied to a bunch of colleges in the city, and while I got into a handful, none of them were really my first choice. One of those colleges was Wellesley College, an all women's liberal arts college. Although Wellesley is a wonderful school (it's where some of my feminist heroes like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright graduated from), I wasn't sure I was ready to spend the next four years in an estrogenfest (I know, I know — I'm sure I'm going to get some angry women's college grads emailing me about how this isn't the case at all, but keep in mind that this was pre-Tinder and I was 17 when I was making these decisions).

And, if I'm being completely honest, the gender thing was actually a secondary concern. I was more alarmed by a campus legend that told the story of Wellesley's (male) founder, Henry Durant, declaring that, "pies, lies, and donuts should never have a place in Wellesley College." Aside from the obvious angry/exhausted feminist POV ("Why is some dude telling a bunch of women what not to eat?"), I worried that the school cafeteria might secretly put all its students on a secret, insidious diet without our consent (though this is obviously not the case — what can I say, I was a weird/neurotic 17-year-old, in case you couldn't already tell from the Model UN participation).

Anyway, this campus legend apparently has some basis in fact because Wellesley women apparently defied this Henry Durant dude and spent some time underground baking in their dorms to develop this Wellesley Fudge Cake. Wellesley Fudge Cake is a chocolate buttermilk defined by its square shape and chocolate fudge frosting. It's absolutely delicious.

Because the original recipe was apparently pretty labor intensive, the crazy talented America's Test Kitchen family updated the recipe in 2010 in a Cook's Country issue and modernized the cake to include more chocolate flavor and a silkier frosting. They did such a good job that Wellesley College itself uses a variation of their recipe in their own kitchens!

This recipe is included in America's Test Kitchen's new(ish) book, The Perfect Cake, a cookbook dedicated to all things cake. The book features a host of cake recipes, ranging from the modern favorites today (they have a gluten-free funfetti cake, y'all!) to classics like this Wellesley one. Enjoy!

A big thank you to America's Test Kitchen for sending me a copy of The Perfect Cake!


Some baker's notes:
  • This chocolate frosting is distinct from other frostings since it's technically a fudge candy frosting — this means that you'll need to cook some of the ingredients to create a fudge toffee situation, before stirring in chocolate and sugar to make it into a frosting. The recipe yields a frosting that is harder than traditional buttercream recipes, but with the fudge and silkiness of old school fudge candy. To make the very best frosting, be sure to sift the confectioners' sugar‚ if you don't do so beforehand (like I did the first time around, because I hate sifting), the frosting will come out a lumpy. It also helps if you stir in the confectioners' sugar when the chocolate mixture is still hot. Also, let me warn you that the fudge frosting will harden if not used fast enough; be sure to frost the cake within 10 to 15 minutes of making the frosting. And finally, the recipe makes a lot of frosting — don't be afraid to use a lot in the middle of the cake!

garlic and herb buttermilk biscuits (or: how i learned to stop worrying and love the biscuit)

May 16, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

This post was sponsored by Land O'Lakes, my favorite butter company! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I'm incredibly excited to be working with Land O'Lakes all year long because of their high-quality butter and dairy products. Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

I'm sure many of my Southern readers will roll their eyes in disbelief when they read this, but here we go: Portland, Oregon has a pretty good biscuit game. When I first graduated from college, I used to live right around the corner from a shop that specialized in fried chicken biscuit sandwiches; it was so close that I would wake up to the smell of those famous buttery biscuits in the morning. Between my proximity to that shop and the many others to choose from throughout the city, I never had the desire to make biscuits at home.

Well, that, and biscuits have a particularly tricky reputation. First of all, there's a lot of regional and familial pride that goes into the biscuit: Southerners will claim to have the best recipes and methods, and nobody's biscuit is better than Grandma's. It's a lot to compete with. Second, they *are* actually a bit finnicky to make: overhandling the dough leads to dense and flat biscuits without any of the signature layers, but underhandling the dough leads to huge, misshapen hunks of dough that everybody is weirded out by. I decided it was best to leave the biscuit making to the experts.

But recently, as I was finishing up the recipe development for the scones section of my upcoming cookbook, I was inspired to try making biscuits at home. Although scones are NOT biscuits, they are remarkably similar in execution and are more about technique than the actual recipe itself. If you follow me on Instagram Stories, you'll notice that I spent an afternoon (or two) making the same recipe for biscuits over and over with varying results (parts of my adventure is actually still available on my profile, under the Instagram Story titled "biscuit hell"). Here are the tips and tricks that worked for me:

1. Keep everything as cold as possible.
When making biscuits, you want the ingredients to be as cold as possible, especially the fat. Most recipes use either butter, shortening, lard, or a combination of some two, but I'm a purist and like the flavor of all-butter biscuits. Butter creates steam as it melts in a hot oven, and when used in a cold dough, the steam from the melting butter expands between dough, creating flaky layers. For any biscuit recipe, cut up the butter into chunks the night before you plan on making the recipe and freeze overnight. Frozen butter will keep its shape better, and will make the dough easier to work with.

2. Don't be afraid to use the right tools to help you with the job.
To make biscuits, you'll need to cut fat into the dry ingredients, similar to how you would make pie. Looking through a ton of biscuit recipes, I saw three main ways to do this: flattening the butter into the flour by hand versus using a pastry cutter to mash it in versus using a food processor. Die-hards advocate for doing it by hand, saying that this leaves the biggest chunks of butter (which then puff up into dramatic layers). But it's messy and time consuming, and if your hands run hot, the butter tends to melt and defeat the whole point of the method completely. On the flipside, food processors tend to be a too aggressive; if you're not careful, there's a chance that you'll overprocess the butter too much and create chunks that are too small for definitive layers.

I've actually found that the best way is to use a stand mixer. A paddle attachment does a great job of flatting the fat pieces as your hands would, minus the warmth from your body. On low speed, it's also just not as powerful as a food processor, significantly decreasing the chances of over processing the butter. I'm breaking all the biscuit rules today, baby.

3. A tall dough leads to even taller restaurant-style biscuits.
The first time I tried making biscuits, I patted the dough too thin and ended up with biscuits that were tasty but short and squat. You want your dough to be on the taller side to really give it an opportunity to puff up in the oven and show you its layers. Most recipes advise you to pat the dough down into a block that's about an inch in height, but I like to take it a step further and use a dough that's an inch-and-a-half in height.

My friend Betsy also tipped me off to this Bon Appetit recipe, which first pats down the dough into a square, and then proceeds to divide the square into four smaller squares and layering those squares up again for a mega-layered biscuit situation. However, using this method does make it a little easy to overwork the biscuit dough, especially if you're fairly new to the process. Most recipes will instruct you to shape the dough into specific-sized squares and rectangles, but I would just use those as more of a guideline and focus more on the height and handling the dough as little as possible — you can always make your dough squares/rectangles prettier and more even by lopping off any jagged bits with a bench scraper.

The recipe from these biscuits are actually from Alison Roman's book, Dining In. I used her ingredient quantities, but completely changed up the instructions by using a stand mixer and mashing in other techniques from other recipes. Also, the first time I made them, I found them a little too neutral in flavor and wanted to liven them up (but not too much — biscuits, like bread, should be neutral and work as a side dish for a variety of savory and sweet dishes). Brushing the biscuits with melted flavored butter spread did the trick, as well as giving these biscuits a beautiful golden color. Land O'Lakes offers a wonderful variety of flavored tub butter spreads; for savory biscuits like these ones, I like to use the Land O Lakes® Garlic & Herb Butter Spread as it's packed full of real garlic and parsley that makes the biscuits taste like your favorite garlic bread. The best part is that the melted butter spread also acts as a kind of glue for other toppings! After brushing the biscuits with the butter spread, I sprinkled on fresh thyme leaves and sea salt flakes for even more delicious goodness. Enjoy!

also featured:
tray || plate 

Some baker's notes:
  • This is one of the few recipes on my blog where the tools you use are really important. A freestanding electric mixer is necessary for following the recipe; in a pinch, you can substitute with a food processor or a pastry cutter, but you might run into the issues I described above. A bench scraper is also essential to get straight edges for your biscuits.

  • To make these biscuits even more epic, I used Land O Lakes® Extra Creamy Unsalted Butter, which is their European-style butter. European butter has more milkfat than American butter; in this particular recipe, it leads to flakier layers and a richer, more buttery flavor. In a pinch, you can always use regular unsalted butter, but it's worth going the extra mile and sourcing European-style butter for recipes where butter is one of the main ingredients, like shortbread cookies or these biscuits.

  • You'll notice that my biscuits are square, as opposed to the traditional round shape. I prefer square biscuits since you don't need a special biscuit cutter to achieve their shape (simply pat the dough into a rectangular slab and use a sharp knife or a bench scraper to cut out the squares). Plus, with this method, there's no need to re-roll the scraps and potentially overwork the dough even more. That being said, you can always use a biscuit cutter to stamp out round biscuits, but it's likely that the second batch of biscuits from the rerolled scraps won't be as flaky and tall. 

cookies and cream morning buns

May 9, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

It’s funny to me that food, like clothes, TV, and everything else, has its own trends. Things that were cool yesteryear are no longer so: the jello puddings of the 1950s, the chocolate soufflé cakes of the 1980s, and so on. In a few years, it will be really interesting to see which food trends and flavors will define this time. My bet is that it will be salted caramel and/or pumpkin spice (eyeroll).

Growing up, my second favorite ice cream flavor was cookies and cream (also known as Cookies N Cream), which was second only to classic cookie dough ice cream. Maybe it's because of the city and the neighborhood I live in, but these days, you'd be hard-pressed to find either flavor in an ice cream shop. The ice cream shop closest to me, a mere four blocks away, offers "standard" flavors of strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper and pear and blue cheese, whereas the second closest offers rosemary caramel and strawberry with rhubarb rose drinking vinegar. Don't get me wrong! I'm a frequent visitor of both, and I'm all about these more unique, modern flavors. But sometimes, just sometimes, I need a dose of nostalgia and want a throwback to the more classic flavors of my childhood. Give me a scoop of cookie dough and cookies n cream, please and thank you.

That being said, it strikes me as weird that cookies and cream isn't more timeless: it's just crushed classic Oreos (which are still holding strong, by the way, despite all their new crazy flavors) with vanilla cream. Since I am the (self-declared, ehem) cinnamon bun queen, I decided to create a cookies and cream bun. These buns are huge, each the size of your hand, and are filled with vanilla bean crème fraîche and crushed Oreo cookies to create the classic cookies n cream flavor from your childhood. In the oven, the cookie crumbs soften, creating a soft, fluffy textured bun but with a healthy dose of Oreo flavored MSG. They are so, so good that I ate one and promptly gave the rest away to my friend Kyle in order to avoid eating them all (who, I believe, immediately inhaled two upon receiving them). Enjoy!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • For this particular recipe, it's important that you pay attention to the temperature of the ingredients as listed in the instructions. The buns are leavened with yeast, which needs to be activated at certain temperatures to work — but don't go overboard, because if you use a temperature that's too hot, you might accidentally kill the yeast. Different types of yeast are activated at different temperatures; I like to use instant yeast, which is activated between 120 to 130 (F). You'll be stirring in an egg and oil to buttermilk that's been warmed up to that temperature; if you use a cold egg, there's a chance you might lower the temperature too much and it won't activate the yeast properly. 

  • For the filling, I used Vermont Creamery Madagascar Vanilla Bean Crème Fraîche, which is lightly sweetened and studded with real vanilla beans. If you haven't tried it yet, you should, because this isn't even sponsored and I'm genuinely just obsessed with it. If you can't find it in your store, regular crème fraîche will do just fine — just up the amount of granulated sugar in the filling from 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons, and use the beans from 1 fresh vanilla bean pod to stir into the filling.

ginger almond cupcakes with lilac buttercream frosting

May 2, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

This post was done in partnership with Watkins 1868 who sponsored this post by providing the ingredients and compensation to make it happen! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I was incredibly excited to work with Watkins 1868 — they offer a TON of different spices and baking extracts perfect for the kitchen, all in cute packages and bottles! Be sure to check out my Instagram account for a chance to win your very own Watkins 1868 prize pack full of fun ingredients and products. And of course, thank you for supporting Hummngbird High and all my sponsors! 

For the last two weeks, the weather in Portland has been unusually sunny and glorious: bright blue skies, flowering trees, and warm (and almost too hot) weather. And while you'd think that, as a resident of a place that gets less than 150 days of sunny days a year, I'd be pretty excited about it all. But I actually was not. Instead, it catapulted me in sheer panic mode: because sunny weather in Portland means that summer is here, which is also when my cookbook manuscript is due and oh my god, oh my god.

But now that the sun is gone (sun never stays in Portland for too long; we're back to our rainy gray days) and I spent the last two weeks finishing up the Breakfast chapter of my book, breaking in a new KitchenAid mixer, and hiring an assistant to help with photography shoots, my panic has subsided a little bit. I've been catching up on some things that I've put on the backburner for far too long. Like remember how I promised my friend Kate that I'd make her a wedding cake and I was secretly testing out different designs for her approval?

Well, she recently floated the idea of doing wedding cupcakes as opposed to a wedding cake, which I am completely on board for since they are so much less pressure than a cake itself. I made these cupcakes as a trial run for her wedding, using some of the wonderful spices and extracts that Watkins 1868 sent me. The cupcakes are flavored with ginger and almond, which also happens to be the (not so) "secret" ingredient in Kate's incredibly tasty homemade granola that she gifts us all every Christmas (in mason jars, no less).

For the frosting, I was inspired by lilacs, which are everywhere in Portland right now and are 100% completely edible! They taste a bit like lavender, but not as intense, which is a good thing for all you haters who think lavender tastes like soap. I made some lilac sugar based on my friend Linda's recipe and this Food52 recipe, but unfortunately, the sugar didn't turn purple the way I hoped. So I used a few drops of The Watkins Co. Assorted Food Coloring to get the job done — a few drops of red and blue each to make the light lavender you see in the photos. Since Kate is a big hippie (I mentioned she's getting married on a campground in the forest, right?), she balked a little bit when I told her about the food coloring, but calmed immediately when I told her it was all natural and made completely from vegetable juices and spices. Yay, wedding cupcakes!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • The lilac sugar is a little temperamental to make and requires a long drying time before using in the frosting recipe. I suggest making the sugar up to a week in advance, giving you plenty of time to prep it before the recipe and adjust for drying as needed. Once it's prepped, it can live in your pantry for several months but will lose its flavor and scent the older it gets.

  • If lilacs aren't available where you live, you can substitute with another edible flower like rose or lavender instead. Similarly, if floral flavors aren't really your jam, no worries! Use 3/4 cup regular ol' granulated sugar in place of 3/4 cup lilac sugar in the frosting recipe for a classic vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.

dulcey yogurt pretzels

April 26, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

Happy National Pretzel Day!

I wish I could tell you guys that I was savvy enough to plan this recipe to coincide with that made up holiday, but the truth is, I just wanted an easy and tasty recipe for the week. Between my travels in Istanbul and Cappadocia, work-related trips in Los Angeles, and a wedding in San Francisco, I’ve been away from the kitchen for about three weeks now.

Three weeks doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but in Book Time, that puts me A LOT behind. It’s taken an average of a week to finalize a single recipe for my book (not including photos, which I’m even more behind on, but that’s another story). According to all my blog friends who are all already authors, that’s wayyyy too slow – most of them were busting out 5 recipes per week, if not 5 recipes per day! At first, I figured that that production rate was a bit of unfair to follow; baking recipes take much longer to perfect than savory ones, after all. But now I’m definitely feeling the crunch and wish I had heeded my all my friends’ advice sooner rather than later (though there's definitely no way I can complete 5 recipes per day).

Which leads me back to this post. Because I’ve upped my production rate for the book to 3 recipes per week (and I really don't think it's possible for me to do any faster than that without slacking on the quality of the recipes), I've been gravitating towards easier recipes to blog about, like a dump-it chocolate cake with box mix brownie in the middle and, of course, these yogurt pretzels!

This is a recipe from my dear friend Molly and her new Short Stack cookbook, Yogurt, which is a baby cookbook full of recipes that feature yogurt (duh) as the main ingredient. Although the recipe is a mix of savory and sweet dishes, I of course found myself gravitating towards these yogurt pretzels, which were one of my favorite childhood snax growing up. My twist, however, drenches the pretzels in Valrhona's Dulcey caramelized white chocolate. It's one of my favorite ingredients to play with since it tastes a lot like dulce de leche, but with the texture and consistency of regular chocolate. Although this recipe is fairly straightforward, it does use a handful of odd ingredients (mostly, Dulcey chocolate and yogurt powder) that you'll likely need to source online or at a specialty store — be sure to check out the baker's notes for sources!


Some baker's notes:

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