peanut butter pumpkin trifle

November 12, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
This post is sponsored by the National Peanut Board. I received compensation, but all opinions and content are my own. Peanut butter and pumpkin combine in this luscious, creamy dessert packed with everybody’s favorite holiday treats and cookies. This large format dessert is perfect for holiday festivities like Friendsgivings, Christmas dinners and more—jump to the recipe!

Friendsgiving Desserts

This November, Erlend and I have been invited to a grand total of FIVE Friendsgiving celebrations! This is quite the change from prior years, in which we celebrated Thanksgiving with just the two of us. I am equal parts excited and stressed out—it’s a LOT of big dinners to get through, but I am confident we will survive (with the help of some stretchy pants, lol).

As the baker amongst my friends, I’ve been assigned to bring dessert to all five potluck dinners. Some of my friends have given me specific instructions like, “Bring the apple pie that was in your cookbook please; it was so good when you made it last month.” Others have given me vaguer ones like, “Make a dessert with sweet potatoes in it” and “I don’t know, bring whatever you want. I trust you; you wrote a cookbook after all.” At the end of the day, I was left responsible for three pies (apple, pumpkin and pecan, for those curious), a sweet potato dessert (which I will be posting on the blog shortly, I promise!) and a dessert of my own choosing.

Trifle Desserts

Naturally, I was most excited about getting to choose the dessert. Because as you guys already know, pie is not my favorite thing to make (even with my weeknight baking secrets, it’s still a lot of working with finnicky dough). And between you and me, when I do opt for pie, I am more of a summer fruit pie type of gal, preferring the pies made of fresh berries and stone fruit than the ones made with apples and nuts. I also think that most Thanksgiving meals should end with something light and creamy. What’s light, creamy and crowd-pleasing?

Why, this peanut butter pumpkin trifle. Hello.

Peanut butter desserts always crush it on my blog—you guys went bonkers for this peanut butter and jelly layer cake and this chocolate peanut butter cake from earlier this year. I figured I’d apply what I learned from you guys to real life and bring a peanut butter dessert to please all my friends. And besides that, I’m always impressed by how versatile peanut butter actually is. In my household, not only is it a staple ingredient in breakfast, lunch, and snacks (I mean, you get 8 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber for every 2 tablespoons—that’s a pretty good deal), but I’m using it a LOT in my dessert recipes these days too. I ended up experimenting and combined peanut butter with a classic fall flavor, pumpkin and ginger snap cookies. It was a perfect combination for a festive Friendsgiving celebration.

Peanut Butter Trifle

The best part about this trifle? Although it looks super fancy and impressive, it was actually the easiest recipe to make among the five desserts I was assigned to make. This is thanks to the instant pudding mix in the recipe—simply combine the peanut butter, milk, brown sugar and instant pudding mix in the bowl, mix, and you’ve got a creamy, luscious peanut butter pudding:

After you make the peanut butter pudding, repeat the same process, this time swapping out the peanut butter with pumpkin puree. The pumpkin puree is a little bit thinner, so you’ll also need to make whipped cream to fold it into the pumpkin puree (see my baker’s notes for more information). Next comes the fun part—gather everything you’ll be using in your trifle (I used peanut butter cups and ginger snap cookies!), and build your parfait by alternating generous scoops of peanut butter pudding, pumpkin pudding, peanut butter cups and ginger snaps:

See what I mean? I told you it was easy as pie (except easier, because that expression actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—pie is hard to make!). Check out my tips below for even more ways to customize this recipe. Now it’s your turn to spread the peanut butter love—share your favorite peanut butter recipe in the comments with the hashtag #HowDoYouPB, and check out this page for even more delicious peanut butter recipes for every occasion.

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Trifle Recipe Tips

  • Don’t be alarmed if you find that, when making this recipe, the peanut butter pudding is MUCH thicker than the pumpkin pudding recipe. That’s on purpose! I love the contrasting textures between two puddings—it helps you really taste the difference between the two puddings. The pumpkin pudding will also take longer to set than its peanut butter counterpart; I recommend making both puddings the day before assembling the trifle itself and allowing both puddings to “set” overnight in the fridge. That will help bring the pumpkin pudding to the right consistency for folding into the whipped cream, and keep the cookies crisp for serving. Alternatively, you can also assemble everything the night before serving to soften up the cookies to a more cake-like texture

  • I don’t know about your friends, but plenty of mine are vegan, gluten-free, or even both these days! The good news is that this dessert can easily be made both. Make it vegan by using canned coconut milk (well-shaken) instead of milk; make it gluten-free by using gluten-free ginger snaps. Easy as pie (OMG, I said it again)!

caramel apple butter sticky buns

November 8, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
This recipe for sticky pecan buns is made unique with Stonewall Kitchen’s caramel apple butterjump to the recipe! The caramel apple butter gives these buns a gooey filling with plenty of caramel and cinnamon flavors, making these buns the perfect fall treat. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!

Easy Homemade Sticky Buns

When I was younger, my mom and I used to go to the movies at the mall every weekend. We’d also usually treat ourselves to a meal or snack before our feature film. My favorite treat, of course, was sweet—I would drag her to the cinnamon roll stand (which of course, smelled delicious a mile away) and alternate between ordering one of their classic cinnamon rolls and the pecan sticky buns.

Although I’m no stranger to making cinnamon rolls (see: literally every bun recipe on my blog, lol), it never occurred to me to make pecan sticky buns at home until this year. I decided to see if I could turn the overnight small-batch cinnamon rolls in my new cookbook, Weeknight Baking, into a pecan sticky bun situation.

And even though I say this about literally every recipe in my book, I especially love the cinnamon rolls because they are SO. FREAKING. EASY. One of my least favorite things about working with yeasted dough is how time-consuming it can be—you usually first have to make the dough, wait for it to rise for about an hour or so, punch it down and shape it, let it rise AGAIN, and then finally bake it. The whole thing can take at least four hours (often times, more)!

While I’m not saying that the cinnamon roll recipe in my book is faster (because unfortunately, there’s no way around waiting for the dough to rise), I did write the recipe in a way that makes it feel like you’re spending less time in the kitchen. Specifically, I instruct you to let the dough rise overnight in the fridge and break the work up over a series of two days—that way, you’re not stuck in the kitchen for hours at a time. I’m hoping that, when adapting the cinnamon roll recipe into a pecan sticky bun one, I’ll end up with a pretty easy homemade sticky bun recipe too.

Best Apple Butter Recipe

But here’s the rub: a few weeks ago, I was rushing through the mall while running errands. I was stopped in my tracks by that cinnamon roll stand’s signature scent. And lo and behold, they were also handing out samples of the pecan sticky buns that I remembered so fondly from my childhood!

Now, I wish I could say that it as delicious as how I remembered it to be. But that sadly wasn’t the case at all. My bite was sickly sweet, with no other flavors beyond sugar. I walked away disappointed, but with ideas for how to make my homemade sticky bun recipe better, too. I knew that a good sticky bun recipe shouldn’t just rely on sugar alone. It needed more flavors. Usually, I’d reach for spices like cinnamon, but I really wanted to make my sticky bun recipe distinct from my cinnamon roll one.

When I lived in New York City, I had an acquaintance who would take the train to work every morning from upstate New York. Although his commute was a nightmare, he was lucky enough to have several apple trees in his yard. In the fall, he’d walk around handing me and my other coworkers jars of homemade apple butter.

I’ve since lost touch with that coworker, but think about his apple butter every fall. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of making my own apple butter at home, so I decided to try and source some pre-made jars instead. I especially love this caramel apple butter from Stonewall Kitchen; I’ve worked with Stonewall Kitchen for many years now, and truly believe that their jams and jellies are the best you can buy. This apple butter has just the right amount of caramel in it too—it is just sweet enough to balance out the acidity of the apples. It was the perfect filling for these pecan sticky buns.

Apple Butter Uses

In addition to recipes like these sticky buns, you can use apple butter as a jam or jelly on toast, pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast treats. For something less decadent, Erlend actually likes to stir a spoonful into his morning oatmeal, making it a great substitute for refined sugar in the morning.

But I’ve seen apple butter used in unconventional ways too. My coworker from yesteryear liked to use his in traditionally savory recipes, adding spoonfuls of the stuff to mashed sweet potatoes and butternut squash soup. In fact, on my last day of work at the company (because fun fact: I quit that job in order to write Weeknight Baking!), he was even trying to convince me of the merits of using it on pizza as a substitute for tomato sauce!

Between you and me, I don’t think I’m ever going to try that recipe tip, lol. I’m boring—I like my pizzas to be savory and my desserts to be sweet. Instead, I think I’ll just stick with these caramel apple sticky buns—complete with a finishing of toasted pecans, they’re absolutely perfect! If you like the way the recipe sounds, be sure to head on over to Instagram—I’m doing a giveaway of a copy of Weeknight Baking and some of my favorite baking tools and Stonewall Kitchen ingredients, including:

I specifically asked Stonewall Kitchen to include certain things like seedless jams because they’re the ingredients I recommend for some of the recipes in the book. It’s the absolute fall care package, perfect for staying inside and having a cozy time in while baking. Good luck!

Best Sticky Buns Recipe Tips

  • Like I said above, this recipe divides the work over 2 days to allow the dough to rise overnight in the fridge. If you don’t like the idea of waiting a day for your sticky buns, you can expedite the process and make the recipe in 1 day, too. Follow the instructions for making the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, dark spot until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Then follow the instructions to shape the rolls, proof the dough, bake, and assemble the rolls as directed.

  • 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. If you’re short on time, check out this article in Bon Appetit (that I wrote, lol—it’s an excerpt from my book!) on how to bring your ingredients to room temperature quickly! For even more awesome weeknight baking tips, be sure to check out a copy of my book!

red velvet cupcakes + eight years of hummingbird high

November 6, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
This red velvet cupcake recipe is adapted from my new cookbook, Weeknight Baking, and is made modern with a hint of cocoa powder and orange zest—jump to the recipe! The red velvet cupcakes are then decorated with a fancy orange blossom-flavored Swiss meringue buttercream frosting in celebration of my blog's eight birthday. Cheers!

Happy EIGHT birthday to Hummingbird High! It's hard for me to imagine that, eight years ago, I randomly popped open my laptop and created this space from scratch. Since then, a LOT has happened. I've lived in eight different apartments/houses (including one of my own!), moved to Portland, San Francisco, New York, and back to Portland again, and held three different jobs in both finance and tech before quitting to blog full-time and write a cookbook (that came out last week!).

But I'm not going to lie—I procrastinated writing this post. It was not for lack of things to say; my initial plan was to have this post complete my #tenyearchallenge series and focus on me and Erlend's relationship (our unofficial TEN YEAR anniversary was last month). But then I started reading anniversary posts from previous years, and got particularly hung up on this post (featuring a really delightful-looking ube layer cake!) from last year and the year before (with a really pretty hummingbird cake, too).

In those posts, you can see my anxiety about the longevity of Hummingbird High. Although I still very much love this space, I find myself thinking about how much longer it's going to last on an almost daily basis. Because the blog world has changed dramatically in the last eight years. While I love to bake and will always continue to do so, blogging is a different matter entirely—over the last few years, the act of "blogging" has definitely shifted from "writing about the thing you love doing" to things like "how to monetize your passion", "how to grow your audience and social media following", and "how to write for SEO". Still a worthy endeavor, sure, but definitely less about baking and food (you know, the things that drove me to blogging in the first place).

I thought that writing a cookbook would help capture and bottle the magic of those early years of blogging—and in many ways, it did! As opposed to focusing on the business development aspect of blogging, my days instead were filled with developing recipes and staging and planning photoshoots. I worked my butt off, dedicating the last few years of my life to making Weeknight Baking the very best it could be. And that made my anniversary post from last year especially resonant—in it, I tell you guys all about the big plans I had to potentially prepare myself financially for a future without Hummingbird High. 

But the truth is, a year later, I literally have accomplished none of what I promised.

Almost all my energy went into Weeknight Baking instead. And while I'm very proud of the recipes in the book, I find myself wondering if that was the right decision I'd underestimated the amount of time, effort, and heart really needed to go into it all. And that was even with the understanding that the book was ultimately going to be passion project. In pouring all my resources into the book, I'd neglected, well... me. I am no closer to figuring out what's next after Hummingbird High.

Maybe that doesn't matter. Like I said last year, even if I stop relying on Hummingbird High as my primary source of income (like I did in the last two years), I'll still be here, baking new recipes and sharing them with you no matter what. I started this blog because I genuinely love to bake; everything else—the blogging, the photography, the sponsored posts, the followers, and the cookbook even—has been a wonderful yet secondary privilege. My hope is that my love for baking, desserts, and all things sweet will keep Hummingbird High going for many years to come.

Best Red Velvet Cake

When brainstorming recipes to celebrate my blogiversary, I found myself drawn to the idea of red velvet cupcakes repeatedly. I've actually made a red velvet cake for a few of my blog anniversaries, trying out new recipes here and there. That's because in many ways, red velvet cupcakes marked the start of my baking career—I was baking them long before Hummingbird High was officially a thing! Red velvet cupcakes were the first recipe I ever baked from scratch (ie, not from a box mix) in my college dorm kitchen. I'd tried making them from a box mix, but was really dissatisfied by their flavor. I ended up googling a recipe, and baking the first search result. They happened to be for Paula Deen's red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

For my 21-year-old palette, Paula Deen's recipe was the height of sophistication—they were made with lots of oil, butter, and cream cheese. With that much fat (seriously, look at how much oil is in that recipe, lol), anything is delicious! It was only later, in the summer after I'd graduated, that I had a slice of red velvet cake that then became my gold standard. I was in New York City for the summer visiting Erlend (we were not officially dating yet!) and he took me to a Morningside Heights BBQ restaurant that also offered slices of red velvet cake from a nearby Harlem bakery. The BBQ wasn't very good, but the red velvet cake was no other: incredibly moist with deep notes of buttermilk, cocoa, and even orange zest.

What flavor is red velvet?

It was that cake that I had in my mind when I was developing the red velvet cake recipe for Weeknight Baking. In the past, bakers used beetroot to naturally dye the cake its signature red color. However, when I tried incorporating beets into my recipe, I found that it tasted too much like vegetables (which is no bueno—you're eating cake, after all)! I've also heard folks describe red velvet as a cross between chocolate and vanilla cake; some food historians argue that the red color comes from cocoa powder's reaction to the buttermilk and vinegar in the recipe. This is what red velvet tastes like to me—mostly buttermilk and vanilla with just the slightest hint of cocoa. My own recipe only uses about 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder.

But of course, no red velvet cake is without a creamy frosting. Traditionally, red velvet cakes were topped with ermine frosting. Unlike traditional American buttercream frostings, ermine frosting is made by cooking flour, sugar, and butter together to make a roux (similar to the roux you make for casseroles, lol). I gave it a try a few years back and found that it was a lot of work without that much pay off. I recommend sticking to something like cream cheese or buttercream frosting instead.

Although I ordinarily prefer a simple American buttercream frosting, for these cupcakes, I used a fancier Swiss meringue buttercream. Swiss meringue buttercream is less sweet than its American counterpart and has a perfect silky, smooth texture that's easy to pipe into shapes. For these cupcakes, I used a variety of tips and just piped swirls, spirals, and dollops at random. I didn't really think about it too hard, but they still came out pretty cute! To complement the orange zest in the cake batter, I also flavored the extract with orange blossom water—but in a pinch, you can use vanilla or orange extract, too.

And finally, before I leave you with the baker's notes, I wanted to include a photo of the first batch of red velvet cupcakes I made from scratch:

Like I said earlier, I made these cupcakes my senior year of college (a solid ten years ago!!!) using Paula Deen's red velvet cupcake recipe. For the second picture, I even put some of the frosting in a Ziploc bag and cut off a corner to "pipe" the frosting! I was SO proud of them at the time (I posted these guys on FACEBOOK, lol), but let's be honest—my red velvet cupcakes today (and my food photography!) are definitely a #glowup, lol.

See previous anniversary posts here:

Best Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe Tips

  • Red food coloring is essential for this recipe. It’s available in most grocery stores in individual large bottles or in a small bottle as part of a pack of four colors. The red food coloring in a pack will be just enough for this recipe. I suggest buying the large bottle so you always have some on hand for spontaneous baking projects!

  • When making this cake, it’s especially important to prep the baking soda and vinegar in their own separate ramekins. You’ll combine the two ingredients in the final step of the recipe. When you do, the mixture will bubble and hiss—throw it immediately into the batter and mix, mix, mix. This helps give the cake a light and airy texture that is unique to red velvet.

  • Let me warn you now—Swiss meringue buttercream can be finnicky to make. 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!

  • To pipe the cupcakes, I used three tips: Ateco's #847, and Wilton's 4B and 1M tips. I divided my buttercream into three batches and colored each batch with varying amounts of maroon food coloring to create three shades of pink, maroon, and red. You can also just leave the buttercream white—it'll still be plenty cute!

candy corn cookies

October 31, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Italian rainbow cookies are a common East Coast treat and are made with colorful layers of almond cake, jam, and chocolate to represent the Italian flag. This particular version is made with different colors to celebrate Halloween, and uses extra Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter from my sponsor to make the cake even more moist and flavorful—jump 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 Halloween Candy

Happy Halloween!

I usually post a Halloween recipe well in advance of the day itself, but this year I’ve been a little busy. My new cookbook, Weeknight Baking, came out this past Tuesday! I can hardly believe it—I’ve been working on it since 2017! It’s been really awesome seeing folks bake recipes from the book and some of my favorite magazines and publications recommend the book, too.

Personally, I celebrated the book quietly and took out some of my closest friends—Carroll and Sze Wa, both of whom helped a LOT with the editing process for the book—to a burgers-and-beer dinner at a dive bar. It was the perfect opportunity to show off our Halloween costume, too. Being Asian ladies, we went as the three sisters from the book series/movie where that girl accidentally sends love letters to all her crushes:

While we were planning our Halloween costume, we got into a passionate discussion about which candy was THE BEST Halloween candy. This year, it’s Sze Wa’s first time handing out candy in her neighborhood, and she admitted to buying bags of candy corn for the occasion. I was aghast—candy corn was THE WORST kind of candy you could hand out! I heatedly argued that I wasn’t even sure WHAT the flavor of candy corn was (or what it was trying to be—certainly not corn, right?). Carroll came to Sze Wa’s defense, saying that she loved candy corn for the nostalgia factor. According to her, it wasn’t Halloween without seeing candy corn’s distinct yellow, orange, and white stripes.

Carroll’s comment got me thinking. She did have a point about candy corn being pretty cute. I was wondering if I could apply the things that she liked about candy corn—the nostalgia, the cute color scheme—to another dessert to make it Halloween-themed.

Italian Rainbow Cookies

Truth be told, I’d been wanting to make Italian rainbow cookies for some time now. When I lived on the East Coast, Italian rainbow cookies were seemingly available at every bodega and deli. But out in Portland, I never saw the cookies anywhere! It must be one of those East Coast versus West Coast things (like how you can’t really get good bagels out here either). I missed being able to go down to the corner store and easily pick up an Italian rainbow cookie.

If you’re unfamiliar with Italian rainbow cookies, you’re in for a treat. The cookies are made of three cake layers, each dyed a color of the Italian flag (red, white, and green). The layers are then held together with a thin layer of apricot jam and topped off with chocolate. The cookies are super moist and light, making them the perfect afternoon snack.

Candy Corn Cookies

Italian rainbow cookies seemed like the perfect recipe to make Halloween-themed; instead of dyeing the cakes the color of the Italian flag, I decided to dye them orange, white, and yellow as an homage to candy corn. Additionally, I flavored each color with a different extract, too—for my cookies, I used orange blossom water for the orange layer, almond extract for the white layer, and lemon extract for the yellow layer.

However, after researching Italian rainbow cookie recipes, I found that many of them were on the more complicated side of things. Many recipes instructed bakers to make a genoise-type sponge, requiring the baker to fold lots of ingredients into a delicate egg white mixture that easily deflated if overmixed. To avoid the drama, I decided to make the layers with a more traditional cake base. The cake base allowed me to use lots of Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter, which really helped bring richness to the delicate almond, lemon, and orange blossom flavors of each layer. Be sure to read my tips below on how to make the best Italian rainbow candy corn cookies!

Best Italian Rainbow Cookie Recipe Tips

  • Although this cookie recipe skips the folding method, it’s still a fairly time-consuming and equipment-heavy recipe (see my next note). You’ll need to bake the three different layers and wait for them to cool before assembling the cookies. After assembling the cookies, you’ll need to chill them in the fridge for an hour to get them to hold their layered shape. Plan accordingly!

  • To make the very best cookies, it’s worth investing in some special equipment. You’ll need at least three 8-inch square cake pans and an oven that can fit all three pans at once, lol. If you don’t have enough pans, don’t worry about it—you can bake each layer one at a time, washing out the pan after every round. It just takes longer that way. For the cutest and most professional-looking cookies, it’s worth pulling out a food scale and measuring out the batter to divide it evenly among the pans. I’ve included instructions with exact weights on how to do so. It’ll seem like there’s not enough batter for each pan, but trust me, that’s normal—Italian rainbow cookie layers are traditionally very thin. Don’t panic - you got this!

#weeknightbakingbook is here!!!

October 29, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

Today's the day!!!

My first cookbook, Weeknight Bakingis officially out in the world.

Grab your copy wherever books are sold. 😘

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