buttered rum shortbread cookies

December 4, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
These buttery shortbread cookies are from my cookbook, Weeknight Baking, but are glammed up for the holidays with a marbled butter rum glaze and Vermont Creamery’s new cultured butterjump to the recipe! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!

Best Holiday Cookies

A few years ago, I started the holiday tradition of doing a cookie swap with my friends! A cookie swap is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, everybody bakes a bunch of cookies and brings them to a potluck-style party. Then, you “swap” the cookies and everybody gets to take home a box full of homemade cookies! If you’re looking for a fun holiday entertaining idea this season, pro-tip: I highly recommend doing a cookie swap.

I love our holiday cookie swap because, well, traditionally, I’m the baker of my friend group. For parties and celebrations, I’m always the one in charge of making the cake or dessert for us all. While I don’t mind the responsibility, I do feel like I miss the chance to get to know my friends’ favorite recipes (since I always end up making a recipe that I already know and love, lol). The cookie swap is a chance for me to explore my friends’ best holiday cookie recipes, too. We usually set up a long table full of everybody’s cookies to admire and graze on as we hang out.

Often times, we end up with doubles of the same kind of cookie (usually chocolate chip, because people LOVE chocolate chip cookies no matter what) at our grazing table. I used to stress out about this, but let me share with you some advice: it is TOTALLY okay if there are doubles. Because even though they’re the same type of cookie, they’re usually made with different recipes. And there are a ton of chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, so it’s actually really fun to see what the differences between each recipe actually are! (Also, I did a lot of this type of sampling when I was developing recipes for my cookbook, ha.)

Holiday Cookie Recipes

For the cookie swap, I always take the time to research different holiday cookie recipes. But at our cookie swap, the most popular holiday cookie recipes are always the ones that are classic in flavor: buttery shortbread, mint chocolate, classic rollout sugar cookies, and so on. So if you’re looking to bring the most popular cookie of the bunch, here’s another tip: I definitely encourage you to stick with the classics.

That being said, I did bring a non-traditional cookie a few years ago that blew everybody out of the water. The cookie was made with ube, a purple yam popular in the Philippines and frequently used in desserts. People LOVED its vibrant color and unique flavor. So every year, I try and research and develop a “wildcard” recipe that folks will go crazy for.

Shortbread Cookie Recipe

I already had a vague idea of what I wanted my “wildcard” recipe to be. When I was developing recipes for Weeknight Baking, I was convinced that I’d found the best shortbread cookie recipe ever. My recipe testers went wild for it, telling me that it was the most delicious and buttery shortbread recipe they’d ever had.

The secret, I told one of them, lies in the quality of the ingredients. Because my shortbread cookie recipe contains such few ingredients—it literally only has flour, sugar, butter, and salt—each ingredient should be the very best quality available. Especially the butter! Because this recipe uses SO much butter, the butter needs to be the absolute best available. For this recipe, I rely on Vermont Creamery’s cultured butter, which has a rich flavor on its own—it has notes of buttermilk and hazelnut from a tireless fermentation process. And like my cookie recipe, their butter is so good that it only relies on a handful of the best-quality ingredients: just cream and cultures.

This year, I decided to glam up my shortbread cookie recipe with a “hot buttered rum” glaze to really amp up its buttery flavor. The glaze is made with a generous amount of brown butter and rum to give it lots of oomph. I then dipped each cookie in the glaze, after swirling the glaze with gold food coloring to achieve that marbled look. Needless to say, it was a success—these cookies were the first ones gone during our holiday swap! Be sure to check out my baker’s notes on how to bring these cookies together; even though they look super fancy, they’re actually an incredibly easy shortbread cookie recipe!

Best Shortbread Cookie Recipe Tips

  • The yield of your recipe will depend on the type of cookie cutter you used. I used a 2 ½-inch fluted round cutter, which yielded around 22 cookies.

  • Although I used a fluted cookie cutter for this recipe, I wouldn’t recommend doing so—because there’s so much butter relative to everything else in this cookie, the cookies spread a lot and don’t really hold their shape (no matter how long you chill them). Feel free to go ahead and use a plain round cutter instead! In fact, the original recipe in my book doesn’t even use cookie cutters; instead, I instruct you to roll out the dough into a square and slice them into square cookies. If you’re looking for a dough that will hold its shape well in the oven, I suggest taking a look at one of my rollout sugar cookie recipes on the blog or in my book!

  • The way the recipe is written for this blog post, there’s a lot of sitting around waiting for the dough to chill in the recipe. But in Weeknight Baking, I actually instruct you to break the recipe up over a series of 2 days in order to avoid doing so. After rolling out the dough into a slab, place in the fridge to chill overnight. The next day, use cookie cutters to stamp out the cookies and bake as instructed in the recipe.

christmas wreath cake

December 3, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
This mint chocolate Christmas wreath cake is beautiful and impressive showstopper perfect for any holiday table. The cake is made with chocolate cake that is layered and adorned with life-like florals made with mint Swiss meringue buttercream frosting—jump to the recipe! While the florals look impressive, they are actually incredibly easy to make thanks to the piping tips and tools provided by my partner, Wilton. For more holiday baking ideas, be sure to check out! As always, thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and the sponsors that help keep the lights on at my blog!

DIY Christmas Wreath Cake

A few years ago, I fell in love with the asymmetrical half wreaths that had taken over Pinterest. I appreciated how chic and modern they looked, and thought that they fit into my minimalist-yet-cozy home decor style perfectly. Unfortunately, I was a little ahead of my time—although half wreaths are pretty common now, back then, the trend hadn’t yet left my small corner of the internet. I went to multiple craft and holiday stores in my city, but found that they only offered traditional full wreaths. While these were plenty cute and festive, I was determined not to settle for anything other than my vision. But during my search, I ran into a lot of folks who were confused as to why I would want a wreath that was “half naked” (seriously—that is a direct quote from one of the sales ladies I spoke with!). I gave up pretty quickly after that.

But a particularly crafty friend of mine had taken note of my obsession and invited me over to try making them ourselves. After studying some tutorials online, we gathered some greenery from my yard and gave it a shot. In theory, it didn’t seem too hard—it was all about tying greens artfully around a metal hoop. My friend’s turned out beautifully, of course. She was a big DIYer, and had a lot of experience with that sort of finnicky craft work.

I wish I could say mine turned out well too, but the truth is, I’m much better at making baked goods like cakes and cookies! Which is why today, I’m sharing with you this recipe for a Christmas wreath cake—it’s the asymmetrical Christmas wreath I’ve been dreaming about for years and years...but in cake form.

How to Make a Christmas Wreath Cake

To make a Christmas wreath cake, you’ll need to start with your favorite cake recipe and a good, pipeable frosting (more on that, shortly). Since it’s the holiday season, I knew I wanted to incorporate more festive flavors into my cake. I personally was still dreaming about this mint chocolate cake I’d made over the summer, and figured that it would be the perfect cake base for my holiday Christmas wreath, too.

You’ll first need to bake and assemble the cake into layers, covering it all with a perfectly smooth base layer of frosting. If you’re working with a dark crumbed cake and combining it with a white buttercream frosting like this recipe, I recommend covering the entire cake with a crumb coat first. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that will help “seal” any loose cake crumbs in and prevent any unsightly bumps and cake crumbs in the final frosting layer of your cake—this is especially helpful when working with a soft crumbed cake, like this chocolate frosting. After chilling the crumb coated cake, you’ll need to cover the cake with the remaining frosting and smooth the sides and top perfectly. You’ll need a good cake turntable (like this one from Wilton, which also has some other awesome features—more on those in a hot second!) and an icing spatula or an icing smoother to do so. I’m not going to lie—frosting a cake to be perfectly smooth takes some practice; I like watching this tutorial on the Wilton YouTube channel as a refresher:

If I’m working with a cake that needs a crumb coat AND has an elaborate piping design like this wreath, I usually end up making two medium batches of buttercream: the first batch is specifically dedicated to crumb coating the cake and making the smooth base layer of frosting, while the second batch is dedicated to piping the cake’s elaborate design. Making two batches of buttercream seems like a lot, but it actually saves me stress during the process: I don’t have to worry about rationing my buttercream and can be as generous as I need to be for the base layers and design of the cake. Furthermore, any extra buttercream freezes really well and can be used in future cake decorating projects.

When making a cake with an elaborate piping design like this Christmas wreath cake, I like to use Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. Swiss meringue buttercream pipes really smoothly and easily, holding intricate shapes well. The only problem is that it can be time-consuming to make: you’ll first need to make a meringue out of egg whites and sugar, and then beat a generous amount of butter into the meringue to make the buttercream itself.

After making the buttercream, you’ll need to divide the frosting into batches that you’ll then dye with food coloring to use for different components of your wreath. For my wreath, I decided to keep it relatively simple and stick with six colors: white, a burgundy red, and a golden yellow for the base layer of the cake and its florals, a brown and two different shades of green for the wreath’s greenery. The colors I used all came from this Wilton Gel Icing color pack—I actually ended up mixing both the greens with a few drops of yellow and black to give it more of a natural green color (since its base color is actually more of a kelly green).

Tools You Need to Make a Christmas Wreath Cake

Once you have the layer cake assembled and your frosting dyed accordingly, it’s time to actually make the cake’s wreath design. First, you’ll need to organize your work station and start by piping the florals for your Christmas wreath cake with the following tools:

Six piping bags with couplers

You’ll need to fill each piping bag with a different color (white, burgundy, yellow, dark and light green, and brown). I like using smaller disposable piping bags for decorating, but you can also buy reusable ones or larger ones—whatever works best for you! But to keep things organized, I recommend investing in this Wilton Cake Decorating Icing Bag Stand.

Parchment paper squares

Unlike simpler cake designs where you can pipe buttercream dollops and dots onto the cake itself, more elaborate buttercream flowers are typically piped OFF the cake and onto individual parchment paper squares. These squares containing the piped design are then frozen; this allows the buttercream to harden and hold your design, making it easier to assemble onto the cake later.

For this Christmas wreath design, you’ll need to pipe the flowers for the wreath onto the parchment paper squares and then transfer them to the cake with with a pair of flower lifters (see the last tool on this list!) towards the end of the assembly process. Your parchment paper squares don’t need to be a specific shape—I eyeballed cutting mine and they all roughly turned out to be around 3 by 3-inches or 4 by 4-inches.

A flower nail

A flower nail looks like a thumbtack with a giant pinhead. Glue a piece of parchment paper onto the pinhead with a small dollop of frosting, then pipe your buttercream flower onto the parchment paper, using the long stake of the nailhead to rotate and help you as you draw the design. Think of the flower nail as a pint-sized version of a cake turntable, specifically dedicated for piping buttercream flowers. If you’re having a hard time envisioning what I mean, check out this video on the Wilton YouTube channel on how to use a flower nail to pipe buttercream flowers:

Wilton Tip #103

This is one of my favorite Wilton tips; it’s a tip specifically dedicated to piping petals and looks like a teardrop with a wider, round bottom that narrows into a tight tip up top. I used this tip to pipe the burgundy and white roses on my Christmas wreath cake.

To pipe a rose, I followed this tutorial on the Wilton YouTube channel:

Wilton Tip #1

To give some of the roses a unique look, I ended up piping tiny yellow dots to mimic flower stamens in some of their centers. I did this with Wilton Tip #1, which is a standard round decorating tip from Wilton. I like to think of it as similar to the shape of a standard pen tip; it’s great for piping letters, straight lines, and micro-embellishments. The only thing is that because the opening of the tip is so small, it can be hard to physically squeeze out the buttercream (especially if you’re working with a completely full bag!). I recommend only filling the piping bag a quarter of the way through.

Wilton Tip #81

Before this project, I’d never worked with this tip before but wanted to experiment with it after being inspired by this awesome video. I ended up making a brand new flower that kinda looks like those maroon succulents you see in specialty nurseries. I used a combination of this piping technique of making a leafy succulent and this one for making more spiky succulents to make the flowers.

After piping the flowers above, you’ll need to freeze them as you work on the rest of the cake’s Christmas wreath design. You’ll need to draw branches and greenery on the cake itself with the following tools:

Wilton Tip #5

This is another one of the standard round decorating tips from Wilton. I started out by coupling this tip with the piping bag filled with brown frosting and drawing half a circle on top of the cake to make the branch outline for my asymmetrical wreath. I then randomly drew other lines offshooting from the main circle to give the wreath a more rustic, natural look. I even drew them down the cake’s sides, with the help of this cake stand—the cake stand tilts upwards to make it easier, it’s amazing!

I also used this piping bag/tip combo to go ahead and pipe round blobs of frosting in the spots I planned to place the buttercream flowers on. Not only would the blobs help “glue” the flowers in place, but they would also give the Christmas wreath a more realistic, three-dimensional look.

Wilton Tip #4

This is a smaller version of Wilton Tip #5. I used this tip to pipe the dark green pine leaves of the Christmas wreath’s greenery—although it looks time-consuming, it was actually SUPER easy and less complicated than the flowers. All you need to do is pipe short, straight-ish lines that are perpendicular to the brown branches and around ⅛ inches long.

A flower lifter

Once you’ve finished your cake’s Christmas wreath greenery, you’ll need to transfer your frozen florals onto the wreath. To ensure success, use a flower lifter to do so. Flower lifters look like scissors with blunt blades—simply wedge the blunt blades underneath the frozen flowers and use the handles (like you would scissors) to position them on the cake. You can see it in action in this buttercream flower tutorial post.

Wilton Tip #352

This is one of many of the leaf piping tips by Wilton. I used this tip with the light green frosting and simply “finished” any weird gaps in the Christmas wreath design by filling them in with short green leaves. For a tutorial on how to pipe leaves, check out this guide by Wilton. Try not to overthink it—whatever you end up doing will look great!

For a long time, I invested in individual piping tips. I kept them loose in my baking drawer and I’m not going to lie—it was a low-key disaster! I ended up losing half of them most of the time. If I still managed to hang on to them, I never remembered what shape they actually piped too, lol. Enter this amazing Master Cake Decorating Tips Set—not only does it keep my tips organized, but it has almost every shape you’ll ever need for decorating. All the tips I mentioned above are included with this set already, along with a couple of flower nails and couplers, too! It’s worth it, I promise.

Best Christmas Wreath Cake Recipe Tips

  • Here’s the truth: nobody ever talks about how time-consuming these more elaborate cake designs can be. If I were to make this cake all one day, I’d probably be in my kitchen for around six hours—it’d be like a challenge from The Great British Bake Off! But I rarely have that kind of time on my hands. So instead, I usually end up tackling a project like this over the series of a few days, breaking down the recipe so I’m only working on a single component per day (incidentally, this is the premise of my latest cookbook, Weeknight Baking). Luckily, a lot of components of this cake store well, allowing you to do so without compromising any flavor. I suggest breaking down the recipe over the span of 3 days: on the first day, make and bake the cakes. On the second day, make the Swiss meringue buttercream, assemble, and frost the layer cake base. You’ll likely end up with some leftover buttercream, which you can store in an airtight container in the fridge and re-use for decorations. On the third day, make some more Swiss meringue buttercream again for the floral components, pipe them accordingly, and finish the layer cake. Voila! That way you’ll be in you kitchen only for an hour to two hours or so over three days as opposed to spending that chunk of time all at once.

  • While the chocolate cake recipe is adapted from my cookbook, Weeknight Baking, the Swiss meringue buttercream recipe is adapted from my girl Stella over at Serious Eats. Now, I don’t recommend this often, but when making the frosting, I highly encourage you to add mint flavoring a half teaspoon at a time and taste as you go—mint extract can be a VERY overpowering flavor, and it’s one that is pretty relative to the person’s palette. That is, what tastes subtle to some will taste very, very toothpaste-y and gross to others. I use a whopping 2 teaspoons of mint extract in this frosting—which is a LOT. The frosting on its own tasted super intense and too much, but was really, really lovely and subtle when paired with the chocolate cake. But again, it’s really important to use your judgement and taste as you go with this recipe!

  • Like I said—Swiss meringue buttercream can be finicky. Make sure your butter is completely at room temperature (that is, between 65°F to 70°F) before adding it to the meringue. If it’s too melty, your Swiss buttercream will turn out like soup—but no worries, we can fix this! Simply stick it in the fridge for 15 minutes, before beating again. Alternatively, if your butter is too cold, the buttercream can curdle. If you find this happening, scoop out ¼ cup of the frosting (there’s no need to be precise—you can just eyeball it), microwave it for 15 seconds, then add it back to the frosting while beating it on medium-high speed. That should help bring the rest of the buttercream down in temperature and prevent any further curdling!

black bottom oatmeal pie

November 25, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
If you're looking for a unique and different Thanksgiving pie recipe, this black bottom oatmeal pie recipe is for you! First popularized by famed Brooklyn pie shop, Four & Twenty Blackbirds, this pie is inspired by the flavors of an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie—jump to the recipe! For even more flavor, be sure to use organic all-purpose flour and old-fashioned rolled oats from my sponsor, Bob's Red Mill. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the brands that keep the lights on at Hummingbird High!

Thanksgiving Pies

Every year, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I am faced with a dilemma. You see, I am not the world's biggest fan of traditional Thanksgiving pies like pumpkin and sweet potato. There, I said it. Have I failed you as a food blogger? But I honestly find those types of pies too heavy and starchy, especially after a large meal of turkey and sides like stuffing and mashed potatoes. I could skip serving them completely, sure, but a Thanksgiving table feels incomplete without at least one pie.

So every Thanksgiving, I try and research "alternative" pies to make for the occasion. A few years ago, when we still had the tradition of making an Asian-style Thanksgiving (we served a roasted Chinese-style duck instead of Turkey), I made a matcha buttermilk pie instead. I've also experimented with substituting the pie crust for a tart shell instead, and purple sweet potatoes instead of traditional orange ones to lighten up the pie. They were all delicious (but definitely still on the heavy side, lol).

This year, I decided to bake a recipe off my baking bucket list: black bottom oatmeal pie.

What is black bottom oatmeal pie?

Okay, hold the phone. What exactly is black bottom oatmeal pie?

This particular recipe comes from a New York City pie shop called Four & Twenty Blackbirds. According to the story in their cookbook, back in the day, thrifty folks who couldn't afford the pecans for pecan pie would substitute oats instead. Four & Twenty Blackbirds took one of these old-fashioned recipes and improved it by adding a layer of chocolate ganache at the base of the pie crust (hence the "black bottom"). Not only does the ganache prevent the pie crust from getting soggy, it also makes the entire pie taste like an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, too. It's absolutely delicious.

While making the oatmeal filling is fairly straightforward, the process for making the crust is a little more complicated. You'll need to blind bake the pie crust—check out my guide below on how to blind bake a pie crust (featuring some pie-making FAQs!), along with my baker's notes on how to make the best black bottom oatmeal pie ever!

How to Blind Bake Pie Crust

What is blind baking a pie crust?

Blind baking, also known as par-baking or pre-baking, is when pie dough is formed into a crust and cooked without the filling for a short period of time. After the crust is blind baked, it is then baked a second time, but this time with the filling in place. This is because some fillings bake faster than the crust in the oven—if you have a filling that bakes up fast, you'll either end up with a raw pie dough that needs more time in the oven OR a filling that's overdone. Baking the crust without the filling first and then AGAIN with the filling ensures that you'll have the perfect pie, no matter what.

When do you need to blind bake a pie crust?

Usually, recipes do a good job and tell you whether or not the pie crust needs to be blind baked. But if your recipe somehow fails to do this, a general rule of thumb is this: pie crusts filled with custard or cream need to be blind baked, whereas pie crusts filled with fruit and other solids can skip the process.

Why do you use pie weights when you blind bake a pie crust?

A recipe for blind baking pie usually instructs you to line the unbaked crust with foil or parchment and then pour pie weights into the center. You then bake the pie with the weights.
The pie weights act as "filling" that will help hold the crust in shape; without it, the crust will either puff up or slide down the sides of the pan as it bakes. You can buy specialty pie weights in a cooking shop or online; I prefer the ceramic ball weights to the metal chains because I find that heavier weights help the crust hold its shape better. In a pinch, you can also use dried beans, rice, or even coins from a jar of spare change.

What temperature should you blind bake a pie crust?

Traditionally, most recipes instruct you to bake the pie crust at a high heat like 425°F to "set" the dough by encouraging the butter to melt quickly. If the butter melts quickly, more steam evaporates all at once, causing the flaky texture that's desired in pie crust. However, I found that baking it at those temperatures causes the crust to shrink and lose its shape. Instead, I like to bake mine at a lower temperature for a longer period of time—you can read more about why in my cookbook, Weeknight Baking.

How long to blind bake a pie crust?

It depends on the temperature you bake the crust at (see previous question). If you choose to bake the pie at a higher temperature, you'll usually need to blind bake for around 20 to 25 minutes. With my method, you'll need to add an additional 10 to 15 minutes and bake for 35 minutes. There are also some recipes in which you’ll need to blind bake the pie FULLY because the filling itself doesn’t need to be baked—recipes for ice cream or pudding pies are an example. If you’re blind baking the pie fully, you’ll likely need to add more time to the approximations I just gave you. Again, I wouldn’t worry about this too much; most recipes will instruct you accordingly!

Best Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie Recipe Tips

  • While the pie filling recipe can be credited to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, the pie dough recipe actually comes from my cookbook, Weeknight Baking. Unlike most recipes that instruct you to make the pie dough in a food processor or by hand with a pastry cutter, I instruct you to make the pie dough in a stand mixer. IMO, it’s the best and easiest way to make pie dough! The recipe is technically for a 9-inch double-crusted pie; you’ll need to divide the dough into ¾ portions and ¼ portions. The larger portion will be used to make the bottom crust; you’ll need more dough than normal to help your pie crust keep its shape when blind baking. Reserve the final ¼ of dough to make pie dough cookies to decorate the pie with!

  • Making pie is always a process: first you’ll need to make the dough, chill it, roll it out and shape it onto your pie plate, then chill it again before baking. It’s even worse when blind baking since you’ll need to bake the pie TWICE. To make sure you’re not stuck in the kitchen for the entire day, I’ve divided the recipe up over 2 days so that you’ll only be working for half an hour at a time (this is literally the premise of Weeknight Baking, lol). You can also just do everything all in one day, but I’m warning you that doing so turns this recipe into an ALL-DAY baking project.

  • This recipe calls for dark corn syrup; I actually didn’t have any in my pantry, so I ended up using a can of Lyle’s Black Treacle that I’d been hoarding from my last trip to London. So if you don’t live in the US (where corn syrup is much more of a thing), take note: treacle and molasses can be substituted for the dark corn syrup in this recipe.

pumpkin pie spice pull apart knots

November 19, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Pumpkin Pie Spice Pull Apart Knots are a sweet twist on the beloved appetizer, pull apart cheesy garlic knots. Instead of being brushed with garlic butter and cheese, these knots are brushed with a generous amount of cinnamon and Land O Lakes® Pumpkin Pie Spice Butter Spread from my sponsor, Land O’Lakesjump to the recipe! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!

Pull Apart Knots

Recently, Erlend and I were at an Italian restaurant that served unlimited cheesy garlic knots as part of their appetizer. We ate basket after basket, relishing how soft and fluffy the knots were as we pulled them apart. If you’re not a crust person (like me—for a long time, I sliced the crusts off the bread in all my sandwiches), pull apart knots are for you—they are 90% fluffy bread, with just a small top and bottom crust.

Later, after we’d stuffed ourselves silly, Erlend asked me why I never made pull apart knots at home. To be honest, savory bread isn’t really in my repertoire. Aside from cinnamon buns and the occasional yeasted waffle, I’m all about making sweet baked goods like cakes and cookies. But that got me thinking: why are pull apart knots mostly savory? Their pillowy texture makes them the perfect vehicle for sweet toppings, too. And after searching a bunch on the internet, I confirmed that most of the pull apart knot recipes I could find were for savory garlic knots! I decided it was time to make a dessert version.

Pull Apart Knots versus Pull Apart Bread

Before I share today’s recipe, I need to point out the difference between pull apart knots and pull apart bread. I’ve made a sweet pull apart bread before—actually, around this time last year, I made a pumpkin pie spice pull apart loaf!

While pull apart bread is made by cutting the dough into squares (that then get folded up and arranged in a loaf pan to form a shingled loaf), pull apart knots are made by forming the dough into different lengths of “rope” and tying them into knots. The knots are then placed in a pan, where they rise together and bake into a (usually round) loaf. But instead of a traditional loaf, the knots almost form individual mini buns that are easy to pull apart.

Although the concept is pretty similar and results in a loaf that can be easily pulled apart, the two methods do yield different textures. Pull apart bread yields pieces that are flatter and more similar to untoasted sliced bread. Pull apart knots are definitely more bun-like than sliced bread-like, if that makes sense.

How to Make Pull Apart Knots

Since we have that very important distinction out of the way, I can jump off my soapbox and we can make these pull apart knots! First, don’t be intimidated. I don’t know about you, but when I hear “knots”, those very fancy Scandinavian breads that are braided in elaborate wreaths immediately come to mind. But if you’ve made cinnamon rolls before, you can make knots no problem—the method for doing so is almost the same. Almost, lol.

First you make the dough and let it rise. I used the cinnamon bun dough from my new cookbook, Weeknight Baking. I usually let the dough rise overnight in the fridge, too. Mostly so I’m not stuck in the kitchen for four hours at a time, but also because I find that doing so gives the dough the wonderful, yeasty (but still subtle!) dough flavor of good breads. After letting the dough rise overnight, punch the dough down and roll it out like you would when making cinnamon rolls. Here’s where the recipe starts to differ: instead of rolling up the slab of dough and slicing it into rolls like you would for cinnamon rolls, use a sharp knife to slice the dough lengthwise into “rope”. You then tie each rope into a knot, folding the excess length into itself to make a mini wreath.

When researching recipes, most of the garlic butter knot recipes encouraged you to have a pot of melted butter on hand and “dip” each knot into the butter for flavor. I tried that method, but found it too messy—I ended up with butter everywhere! What worked instead was using a pastry brush to generously brush each knot with melted butter.

And like I said before, because I was aiming for a sweet version, I used Land O Lakes® Pumpkin Pie Spice Butter Spread. Every year, I wait for this product to come to season since it’s only around during the fall. I love using it not only in baked goods like these knots, but as a special treat on breakfast toasts, too. It tastes what you imagine fall would taste like! After brushing the knots with it, I sprinkled each with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar, too. The cinnamon sugar really brought out the pumpkin pie spice flavors!

Best Pumpkin Pie Spice Pull Apart Knots Recipe Tips

  • This recipe splits up the work over two days—on the first day, you make the dough and let it rise overnight in the fridge. On the second day, you roll out the dough and form it into the knots, let it rise once more, and then bake. But don’t worry, you can also make the knots all in one day—simply skip the proofing process in the fridge and let the dough rise in a dark place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours. After that, follow the instructions for forming the dough into knots and let it rise a second time before baking.

  • For this recipe, it’s important that the egg is warmed to room temperature. You’ll be mixing the egg with buttermilk warmed to the perfect temperature to activate instant yeast. A cold egg might lower that temperature significantly and prevent the yeast from activating.

brown butter sweet potato bars

November 15, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
These brown butter sweet potato bars are the perfect Friendsgiving dessert: easy to transport, perfect for a crowd, and delicious to boot! The bars are topped off with a fluffy, marshmallow meringue and are on a brown butter shortbread cookie base made even more delicious with Vermont Creamery’s new cultured butterjump to the recipe! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!

What is Friendsgiving?

Historically, over the last few years, Erlend and I have celebrated Thanksgiving by ourselves. Both our families lived too far away—the flights were always too expensive and much too long for such a short holiday, and with Christmas and Hanukkah only a few weeks later, it was better to save up our limited PTO time for then.

As a result, we made our own Thanksgiving traditions. We started by celebrating with just the two of us, whipping up epic meals with non traditional, Asian-themed dishes like Chinese-style roasted duck, fish sauce brussels sprouts and rice cakes with caramelized potatoes and Korean gochujang sauce from the momofuku cookbook, and pumpkin coconut egg tarts and matcha cream pie. We had fun, but still—it was a lot of food for just the two of us!

Over the years, we invited other friends of ours—the ones also marooned by expensive flights and limited PTO—to our makeshift Thanksgiving meal. These friends would bring more traditional Thanksgiving offerings like green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes, and sometimes even a whole roasted turkey to our dinners. This year, as I looked around our table, I realized that our Asian-style Thanksgiving had fully evolved into an official Friendsgiving complete with a full turkey, stuffing, and all the Thanksgiving table trimmings.

So what is Friendsgiving? To me, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a Thanksgiving celebration, but with your friends instead of your family. Beyond that, Friendsgiving is what you make of it—it can happen instead of a traditional Thanksgiving with your family, or in conjunction with one (most folks celebrate Friendsgiving a week or so before the official dates of Thanksgiving itself). You can serve the traditional Thanksgiving table meal, or serve a menu of your choosing with a different centerpiece (ie, roast duck instead of turkey) like Erlend and I did in those early years. You can enlist friends to each bring a dish potluck style, or gather everybody early in the same kitchen to cook together. Because it’s a relatively new tradition, there are no rules—well, except one: share a wonderful meal in each other’s company. After all, your friends are the family you choose, right?

Friendsgiving Dessert Ideas

These days, our Friendsgiving celebration has evolved into more of potluck type situation. And being the baker of the group, I’m always assigned my favorite part of the meal: dessert.

And here’s the truth: bringing dessert to a potluck is more challenging than it seems. I’ve been burned in the past and brought something too finnicky and elaborate, or something that was too sensitive to temperature changes. I spent the entire car ride fretting nervously that it was going to collapse/melt on the way over and that we’d be left dessert-less (a legitimate worst case scenario for me). Honestly, it’s just not the worth the stress! Similarly, I’ve brought desserts that were too “fancy” and flavored with non-traditional flavors that barely went touched at the table. It turns out that, especially at Thanksgiving, people just want the comfort foods that remind them of home.

So here are my best tips for Friendsgiving desserts:
  1. Make a dessert that keeps well, with different components that you can make ahead.
    I don’t know about you guys, but the holidays are ALWAYS the busiest time for me. There are work deadlines to meet, a ton of personal errands to run, and so on. The last thing I need to be doing is spending hours in the kitchen.

    So when I find myself strapped for time, I turn to recipes whose work I can divide up over a series of days to ensure that I’m only in the kitchen for a half hour at a time. What exactly does that mean? I take a complicated recipe like a pie, which would probably take around four to five hours to make consecutively, and split up the recipe steps: on the first day, I’ll make the crust (a 10-minute long project); on the second day, I’ll make the filling and assemble the pie (a 30-minute long project), and on the final day, I bake and serve the pie. This is actually the basis of my new cookbook, Weeknight Baking!

  2. Make a dessert that can feed a crowd.
    I don’t know if it’s just my friends or what, but I’m actually always surprised by how little mileage a regular 9-inch pie actually gets. We always end the night with barely enough slices for everybody, with folks competitively jockeying for seconds (true story: the winner of the last slice of pumpkin pie at last year’s Friendsgiving was determined by an arm wrestling match). As a result, I’ve started turning to “large format” desserts made in half sheet pans and 9 x 13-inch baking trays to ensure that there’s enough dessert for everybody.

  3. Make a dessert that transports easily.
    I mentioned this before, but it’s VERY important, especially if Friendsgiving is being held somewhere other than your house, to think about how well a dessert will hold up when being transported in a car, bus, or even subway ride (which I used to do all the time when I lived in New York City!). Avoid making layer cakes held together by airy and unstable toppings like whipped cream; avoid making desserts like souffle or ice cream, which are temperature sensitive and must be eaten immediately.

  4. Make a dessert that is “classic” and comforting.
    The most crowd-pleasing desserts are always the ones with classic flavors like chocolate, salted caramel, brown butter, and more. They are classics for a reason!
With those Friendsgiving entertaining tips in mind, I have the perfect Friendsgiving dessert for you: Brown Butter Sweet Potato Squares.

Sweet Potato Pie… Kinda

These brown butter sweet potato squares were inspired by a classic Thanksgiving dessert: sweet potato pie. Think of it as sweet potato pie, but in bar form—their bar format makes them easier to transport and feed a larger crowd of people.

Although I came to close to dubbing these “sweet potato pie bars”, they’re definitely more “cookie bar” than “pie”. That’s because, instead of a traditional flaky pie crust, the bars are set on a brown butter shortbread crust. The shortbread crust is made with Vermont Creamery’s Unsalted Cultured Butter, which I love for its delightful tang and rich, silky notes of buttermilk and hazelnut. Their butter is made with only two ingredients—cream and cultures—and you can really taste how fresh and high-quality it is.

The bars are then topped off with a fluffy marshmallow meringue inspired by the sweet potato casseroles topped with mini marshmallows. For a show-stopping effect, I actually like to torch the meringue in front of my friends!

Best Sweet Potato Bars Recipe Tips

  • At first glance, the recipe seems daunting: I’ve divided the work up into FOUR days. It’s a lot, I know, but there’s actually a TON of flexibility within the schedule, and most of the recipe time in inactive—that is, you’re just sitting and waiting for something to bake as opposed to prepping ingredients and making the dough/batter. The most time-consuming part of the recipe can be attributed to roasting the sweet potatoes; they officially take an hour to roast in the oven, but you’ll need to cool them with the oven too—this is the trick that gets them extra sweet and caramelized. You can roast the sweet potatoes up to 1 week in advance of making the shortbread crust and assembling the bars. If that still sounds like too much work for you, go ahead and replace the sweet potatoes with canned pumpkin puree! It’ll be just as tasty. You’ll need around 2 ⅔ cups for this recipe.

  • Similarly, I instruct you to cool the bars and refrigerate them overnight before topping them with meringue and serving. This is because many of my friends preferred the bars chilled as opposed to fresh and warm from the oven—it’s the most classic taste/flavor they associate with Thanksgiving. But if you don’t mind being non-traditional, you can go ahead and serve the bars warm and save a day. Cool the bars on a wire rack for around 30 minutes before making the meringue and topping/serving the bars.

  • Alternatively, if you want to make the bars all in one day, I suggest making the sweet potatoes first, then the crust. As the crust is in the oven, make the filling—once the crust is out of the oven, there’s no need to wait for it to cool before pouring the filling over the crust. Bake as instructed.

  • Finally, if you want to wait another day and serve the bars a day after the meringue has been made and added to the bars, this works too. The meringue will keep overnight, but will lose some of its fluffiness. However, I wouldn’t torch them—instead, I highly recommend torching the meringue right before serving.

  • To slice the bars cleanly, use a *hot* serrated knife. Bring a pot of water to boil and pour it into a tall, heatproof glass—stick the blade of the knife into the glass and wait 15 seconds. Wipe the blade off and slice the bars, repeating as needed.

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