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lemon drizzle cake

September 12, 2019

Burlington, VT, USA
Lemon drizzle cake is a classic British dessert made with a lemon flavored sponge cake soaked in a generous amount of tangy lemon simple syrup. This post was done in partnership with Stonyfield Organic, whose yogurt makes the cake base extra tangy 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 Lemon Cake

Lemon drizzle cake is a traditional British dessert; contestants frequently make a variation of the cake and its flavors on The Great British Bake Off. Classic lemon drizzle cakes start with a lemon flavored sponge cake that is then brushed with a generous amount of lemon syrup—this is “the drizzle”. The syrup adds extra moisture and flavor to the cake, making it more lemony than it otherwise would have been. The best lemon cake is punchy and sharp, with a strong, lip-puckering taste of citrus. It should be flavorful enough to remain unfrosted, with nothing but a slight sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar for adornment.


Lemon Pound Cake

Most lemon drizzle cakes are made with a delicate, light and airy sponge cake. But I wanted mine to be dense like a lemon pound cake so that it could withstand a GENEROUS amount of tangy lemon syrup. Additionally, because I wanted my lemon pound cake base to be tart and punchy, I wanted to incorporate as much acidity and tartness as I could. So in addition to flavoring the pound cake with fresh lemon juice, I used Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Greek Plain Yogurt.

I was recently invited to Burlington, Vermont by Stonyfield to learn more about their organic farming practices. I was excited because I frequently use Stonyfield yogurt in my baking as a substitute for buttermilk or sour cream in recipes. Their yogurt is delicious, yes, but it’s extra special to me because it’s oddly hard to find whole milk yogurt in Portland grocery stores. Everything is either 0%- or low- fat, and I use full-fat dairy products in all my baking (I’ll go over the reasons why in more detail in my cookbook, #weeknightbakingbook, but TL/DR is that you need all that fat for flavor and structure in dessert recipes). Stonyfield was one of the few whole milk yogurt brands I could consistently find. The fact that their entire yogurt line is organic didn’t hurt either.


What is organic farming?

I’ve always been an ardent believer that good ingredients are the foundation of good recipes. Most of that belief comes from personal experience—like how my lemon desserts tasted both sweeter and tarter when I used the lemons from the untreated tree in my old apartment’s backyard, how farmers market strawberries are more flavorful than the stuff in the grocery store (even despite their smaller size!), and how buttery baked goods ended up flakier when made with grass-fed European-style butter. As a result, over the years, I gravitated towards buying local and organic ingredients as much as I could. But I’ll be honest: the decision to do so wasn’t motivated beyond the way the ingredients tasted and looked.

Because here’s the truth—in the last few years, especially when I left my stable job as a software engineer and began to primarily rely on Hummingbird High as my primary income, one of the first things I cut from my budget was organic food. It was hard to justify the extra money for the organic version of the ingredient, especially if I was just using it in recipe development (which you can read more about in this blog post—but typically, I bake the recipes on my blog a minimum of at least three times before I’m happy with the results; the earlier versions of the recipes usually get given away or composted if they’re inedible). Sure, if I was making a tried-and-true recipe for a special occasion, I was going to shell out for the $8 organic, grass-fed butter, the $12 dozen of organic, cage-free eggs, and the $36 bottle of organic, fair-wage vanilla extract. But it didn’t matter as much for everything else, right?

Oh, how wrong I was.


What makes food organic?

The truth is, before my trip to Vermont, I didn’t really think about what buying organic, eating organic food, and supporting organic farming practices really, truly meant. I only knew the “textbook” definition of organic farming—that organic farming eschewed the use of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, growth hormones, and antibiotics. That the use of the label “organic” is the only one that’s super tightly regulated by the USDA, upholding organic farmers and producers to a strict certification process with frequent inspections to uphold organic standards and animal welfare.

But what does that actually mean?

Well, a LOT.


What does organic food mean?

While in Vermont, we visited a few of the dairy farms that provide Stonyfield with organic milk. Stonyfield makes an effort to work with small family farms; indeed, the two farms we visited only had a herd size of around 50 or so cows. As a small business owner myself, I was immediately impressed by this. Personally, it’s a boon for me to work with big brands in my line of work—that sponsorship money is what gives me the freedom to work on layer cakes modeled after freak weather patterns and the means to make the same recipe over and over in pursuit of perfection. For small family farms, working with a big name like Stonyfield gives farmers the resources to make the very best product they can in a sustainable way that’s not harmful to the animals or planet.

It was especially inspiring and educational to hear why the farmers made the decision to go into organic farming, and the results they’ve seen since doing so. We spoke at length with two different farm owners, Julie and Greg, two farmers who had made the switch from conventional to organic dairy farming.


Initially, their decision to do so was financially motivated. Conventional milk prices in the United States are privy to a host of complicated regulations, subsidies, and opaque government pricing whims. As a result, many conventional farmers are frequently paid far less than the cost of producing the milk. This pricing practice leaves many farmers underwater and unprofitable. And while the government also sets a minimum price for organic milk, organic processors pay a premium over and above that price, allowing organic farmers to recoup more of the costs of production.


In fact, both Julie and Greg independently mentioned that their biggest fear in making the switch to organic farming had to do with their cow herd’s overall health. To keep their animals disease-free, conventional farmers typically rely on antibiotics, which are prohibited in organic farming. But both were gratified to see that, after transitioning to organic practices, the diseases that plagued their cows quickly abated. The organic standard requires that all organic dairy cows get 30% of their Dry Matter Intake from pasture (whose nutrients and soil quality can be directly controlled by the farmer), and to give the animals space to actively graze for at least 120 days a year. To me, this makes intuitive sense—because organic regulations promote a healthier diet for cows, they rarely got sick in the first place! Furthermore, healthy animals are beneficial to us too. There are studies that show that cows who actively graze on pasture produce milk that contains 62% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk.


At the end of our trip, we had dinner with Gary Hirshberg, the co-founder of Stonyfield. And although Gary said so many wonderful and inspirational things, what stuck most with me is this: cheap food isn’t cheap. We may not pay for it at the register, but sooner or later, we pay for it at the price of our health, animal welfare, and/or the environment.


Is organic food healthier?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! And not only is it healthier for the individual, it’s better for everybody in a Big Picture type of way, too:
  • On the individual side, folks who eat an organic diet are less exposed to harmful and synthetic chemicals that cause diseases like Parkinson’s, cancer, and more. There are actual studies that confirm that eating organic is one of the best things an individual can do in terms of preventative healthcare.

  • On the animal welfare side, organic farming practices create natural, pasture-based environments for the cows that lead to happier, healthier animals with longer lifespans and less disease.

  • On the environmental side, organic farming directly bans chemicals and pesticides that are harmful to the environment and help prevent Colony Collapse disorder by increasing bees’ polinator health and a diversity of flowering plants. Furthermore, organic soils can help reduce carbon emissions—organic soils sequester 26% more carbon than non-organic soil.

  • On the business side, organic farmers are better able to earn fair, livable wages that enable them to focus on sustainable and humane business processes.


Best Lemon Drizzle Cake Recipe Tips

  • I made the loaf in this citrus loaf cake pan, which made me incredibly nervous because it’s full of nooks and crannies that make it hard to unmold the cake. If you go this route, be sure to use a LOT of cooking spray to spray the pan completely. Unmold the loaf while it’s still warm and fresh from the oven, about 15 minutes into the cooling process. If that sounds like too much work, you can also just bake the recipe in regular 9 x 5-inch loaf pan; if you do so, there’s no need to unmold it while it’s still warm!

  • I used Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Greek Plain in this recipe—I went for one of Stonyfield’s Greek yogurt options because Greek yogurt is traditionally thicker and tangier than regular yogurt. Remember how I wanted my loaf to be dense enough to withstand a generous amount of syrup and super tart and tangy? In a pinch, you can substitute Greek yogurt for the regular stuff, as long as it’s whole milk and plain/unsweetened (may I suggest Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Smooth & Creamy Plain?). Regular yogurt will work just fine in place of the Greek yogurt, but your loaf will likely be lighter in texture and slightly sweeter than mine.

  • The cake base is adapted from Simple Cake; all in all, it’s a great cross between a dense pound cake and a typical Victoria sponge cake and did a wonderful job of absorbing the lemon syrup without me having to poke holes in the loaf. However, if I were to make this recipe again, I’d definitely opt for something just a touch denser—like this yogurt loaf recipe of mine from yesteryear.

join the #weeknightbakingbook launch team!

September 9, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

What is Weeknight Baking?

A few years ago, I announced that I was working on my first cookbook, Weeknight Baking. The book tells the story of how I balanced baking for this wonderful space, Hummingbird High, with my day job as a software engineer. As a result, I didn’t have much time to bake—in fact, all I had were weeknights. To bake for my blog, I frequently found myself gravitating towards desserts recipes that came together quickly and easily… or coming up with ways to make more elaborate recipes work over the course of several weeknights.

Weeknight Baking contains all my favorite “fast” baking recipes (specifically, ones that take less than 30 minutes to make), as well as all the secret tricks, techniques, and shortcuts I have to make elaborate and complicated recipes for layer cakes and lattice pies more accessible within a busy schedule. The best part? 90% of these recipes are brand new and exclusive to the book itself—no repeats or recycled recipes from Hummingbird High (Because what is the point of paying for something you already get for free?! I get it!). All in all, Weeknight Baking contains 80+ baking and desserts recipes (each complete with its own color image!), all accessible to make on any night of the week you want.

The book is officially out in stores on October 29th, but it would mean the world to me if you pre-ordered a copy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, or the indie bookseller of your choice. But I also know that a single book is $35, and that’s a lot of money to pay in advance of something you haven’t even thumbed through or seen in real life.

So what if I gave you an advanced copy… FOR FREE?

Join the #weeknightbakingbook Launch Team!

In exchange for a free advanced copy of Weeknight Baking, I’m looking for a handful of folks to help get the word out about Weeknight Baking.

What does that mean?

I’ll send YOU an advanced copy of Weeknight Baking a FULL MONTH before it officially comes out.

But in order to receive a copy, I need you to tell the world about Weeknight Baking in these three ways:
  1. Post one recipe from Weeknight Baking on your Instagram feed anytime before October 29th, 2019.
    You’ll need to bake at least ONE recipe from the book and post the final product on your Instagram feed with the hashtag #weeknightbakingbook. May I suggest the Single Lady Chocolate Chip Cookie, which comes together in less than 15 minutes (with Baking Time!) and makes one single monster of a cookie meant for you (and only you!)?

  2. Post one Instagram Story explaining the concept and story of Weeknight Baking anytime before October 29th, 2019.
    I want to hear about why you’re excited about the book in your own words, and why Weeknight Baking matters to you and your life.

  3. Post one picture of Weeknight Baking itself with the cover on full display on your Instagram feed OR Instagram Stories before October 29th, 2019.
    I want to see my book in different kitchens, countertops, book shelves, and coffee tables, across the world.
And of course, you’ll need to tag me, @hummingbirdhigh, on all the posts so I can regram you on both @hummingbirdhigh and our exclusive Instagram account, @weeknightbaking (more below!).

Benefits to #weeknightbakingbook Launch Team Members

In addition to an advanced copy of Weeknight Baking, you get to officially join the #weeknightbakingbook secret society launch team with the following perks:
  • Exclusive Behind-The-Scenes Stories
  • I’ve set up a private Instagram account, @weeknightbaking, where I’ll be posting exclusive behind-the-scenes stories about the book that won’t be found anywhere else (because shit definitely went down when I was writing the book, and I want to #realtalk). This account is SO exclusive that the only folks allowed to join are launch team members—I’m not even giving my own mom access (sorry, mom, love you, lol)! 

  • Extra Weeknight Baking Recipes
  • I’ll be sharing all the extra recipes that didn’t make it into the book exclusively on @weeknightbaking by way of Instagram Story videos and feed photo recipes! 

  • A Super Fast Hotline for All Your Burning Baking Questions (#weeknightbakingbook related or otherwise!) 
  • Through the account, you’ll be able to directly DM me with any questions you have about baking, life, love, and whatever else is on your mind. I get flooded with messages and DMs everyday, but the #weeknightbakingbook launch team will be my first priority. Seriously, this is your chance to AMA. 

  • A Special Thank You Care Package
  • Furthermore, once Weeknight Baking is officially out in October, I’ll send each member of the launch team who completes all the requirements above a care package of my favorite #weeknightbakingbook tools and ingredients. 

  • REALLY Freaking Good Odds to to Win A Brand New KitchenAid Stand Mixer
  • I’ll also be giving away a brand new KitchenAid stand mixer to a lucky launch team member, chosen at random via a #weeknightbakingbook launch team sweepstakes. Every post you do that’s related to Weeknight Baking on Instagram will earn you a new entry to the giveaway (just be sure to use the hashtag #weeknightbakingbook so I can keep track). This means that the more you post about the book, the higher your chances of winning a brand new mixer are! But that’s not even that important, because #realtalk: I only have a handful of advanced copies to give away, so there’s only going to be a small number of folks on the #weeknightbakingbook launch team. That means that even if you do the bare minimum of three posts, the odds of winning a new stand mixer are very, very much in your favor.

How to Qualify for the #weeknightbakingbook Launch Team

To join the #weeknightbakingbook launch team, all you need to do is fill out this form:


It’s only five questions long (actually, four—one of the questions is extra-credit and not mandatory). It will literally take you less than a minute to fill the form out.

And here’s the rub: I don’t care what part of the world you’re in, how many followers you have, or if you’re a long-time reader or brand new fan of Hummingbird High. All I’m looking for are folks who are PASSIONATE about baking, interested in using #weeknightbakingbook as a resource to find the time to bake, and help spread the word about doing so. My only rule is that applicants MUST have a public Instagram account so that your posts are visible to everybody on the app (that means your content and account will be visible to folks that don’t follow you).

I only have a handful of advanced copies to giveaway, so membership to the #weeknightbakingbook launch team will be very, VERY limited (see what I mean by secret society?). SO DON’T HESITATE, and fill out the form ASAP because the application process closes this Friday, on September 13th. That’s less than FIVE days from now! I’ll notify #weeknightbakingbook launch team members on September 16th.

Let’s do this, y’all.

raspberry lemon lofthouse cookies

September 4, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Lofthouse cookies are cakey sour cream sugar cookies with a texture between your favorite sugar cookie and a cupcake top. Each cookie is topped with a generous swirl of colorful buttercream frosting and rainbow sprinkles. My homemade version uses fresh raspberries and lemon zest for extra flavor—jump to the recipe.


Lofthouse Cookies

I know I'm supposed to be gushing about these lofthouse cookies right now, but here's the truth: a few weeks ago, I received a heartbreaking message from my mom. She found a small lump in her left breast. She went to the doctor for a mammogram, ultrasound, and a biopsy. The results came back. The tumor was malignant. She has Stage 1 breast cancer.

The news was especially devastating, because less than two weeks ago, she came to Portland for a quick visit. She was in town for a week, after having spent the last few weeks with some girlfriends hiking around Banff, Canada. We went to all my favorite restaurants, where we polished off bottles of wine and ate decadent meals every night. She even went to the rock climbing gym with me and Erlend. There had been no indication that she was unhealthy or sick in any way.

The good news is that the type of cancer she has a high survival rate. She's still relatively young and active to boot, increasing her chances of beating the cancer even more. Furthermore, during her lumpectomy, they discovered that the tumor was even smaller than the scans initially showed. Her lymph nodes were unaffected. She doesn't even need chemo—just 15 days of radiation treatments. She and my dad are even going to Europe before her treatment. Her oncologist puts her odds of survival very, very high because of my mom's early detection and high levels of fitness and activity for her age. It's all good news. Except for the fact that it's cancer.

Even though the prognosis is so positive, it's still hard not to feel helpless and scared. But I can give into that despair, or do other things to distract me instead. Like how I've been baking the same recipes over and over, because always, without fail, baking brings me joy and keeps me centered in the chaos of it all. I decided that I needed another big project like cracking Levain Bakery's blueberry muffin recipe. This time around, I decided to reverse-engineer lofthouse cookies.


Lofthouse Sugar Cookies

I have fond memories of lofthouse cookies from growing up; after soccer games, an enterprising parent would always bring a box of the sugar cookies for us to eat, regardless of whether we won or lost. But truthfully, lofthouse cookies didn't hold up in my adulthood. I bought a box to prepare for this blog post, and between you and me, I could only manage to eat one. It was oddly starchy yet soft, and artificially sweet. And indeed, looking at a store-bought lofthouse cookie's ingredients, I can confirm that the store-bought ones are made with a scary amount of chemicals. Which is sad, because in theory, a lofthouse cookie should have pretty basic ingredients. Lofthouse cookies start with a soft sugar cookie base; traditional recipes usually include sour cream to add tang and flavor to the cookies. The cookies are then topped off with a simple (but delicious!) vanilla American buttercream frosting.

Luckily, there were many recipes online that paid homage to what a good lofthouse cookie should be. Unfortunately, many of them required you to chill the dough for a few hours to prevent the cookies from overspreading. While I'm sure that those recipes yielded delicious cookies (in particular, I had my eye on my friend Cindy's lofthouse cookie recipe on Simply Recipes), I was too impatient to wait. Besides—lofthouse cookies need to be cooled to room temperature completely before frosting. I wanted to reduce wait time as much as possible!


How To Make Lofthouse Cookies

The trick to finding a fast lofthouse cookie recipe is to find a recipe that has a high flour to sugar/eggs/butter ratio to help prevent the cookies from overspreading. Because you're using so much flour, using cake flour (which contains cornstarch, one of the ingredients listed in the store-bought lofthouse cookie recipe) is key. Cake flour has less gluten than all-purpose flour, and will result in soft and tender sugar cookies that are a cross between a sugar cookie and a cupcake top.

Despite using the very best ingredients, my first few lofthouse cookies came out a little too bland. Although the flavor was infinitely less chemically, it was definitely missing that something that made "lofthouse cookies" lofthouse cookies. Swapping in almond extract for traditional vanilla and adding lemon zest to the cookie base recipe actually gave the cookies the lofthouse taste that I remember from my childhood.

And although lofthouse cookies typically come frosted in different colors like blue and yellow, I stuck with an all-pink color scheme with mine in honor of my mom's battle with breast cancer. A pink ribbon is the international symbol of breast cancer awareness (although I'm a month early, since National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is actually in October). If I lived in the same city as my mom, these are the cookies I would bake for her doctor and nurses as a small thank you for their incredible hard work. But for now, this recipe is the best I can do.


Best Lofthouse Cookies Recipe Tips

  • For this recipe, it's important to use a 2-tablespoon cookie dough scoop. Eyeballing the dough will lead to irregular and uneven cookies, defeating the whole point of a traditional lofthouse cookie! You can use a 3 tablespoon or 1 tablespoon cookie dough scoop too, but doing so will lead to bigger or smaller cookies. After portioning out the dough, you'll need to use something to press down each dough ball since they won't spread out too much on their own. Grease the bottom of a glass and dip it into flour and use it to press down each cookie dough ball into a traditional drop cookie shape. If the edges of the drop cookie end up rough and ragged, you can dip your finger into a bowl of cold water and "smoothen" the edges with the tip of your finger. If you're aiming for picture-perfect cookies, this is an absolutely necessary move since the cookies won't spread too much and smoothen out on their own.

  • True to my mission of avoiding unnecessary chemicals in my lofthouse sugar cookie recipe, I tinted the buttercream with a homemade raspberry syrup. The syrup is very subtle, but gives the cookies an extra unmistakable "something something" to take them to the next level. I also used these India Tree confetti quin sprinkles, which are made with all natural food coloring made from vegetable dyes.

better-for-you banana muffins

August 28, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

This blog post is sponsored by Almond Breeze. The content and opinions expressed here are mine.

Here’s a fun fact: banana baked goods are my favorite sweets, ever. Are you surprised? As much as I love cakes and cookies, my desert island pick would actually be banana anything—banana bread, banana cake, banana cream pie, banana muffins, banana whatever else. I love it all. I don’t think I would get sick of eating a banana baked good every day. In fact, I actually know that’s true, because in college, I got up early every morning just to get to the cafeteria early so I could grab a banana nut muffin before they ran out for the day. And my college cafeteria’s version wasn’t even that good! It was just my thing.


It’s been about ten years since I graduated from college, and looking back, I’m surprised I legit spent four years of my life eating a banana muffin every day. I honestly don’t think I could get away with that now—I’d probably immediately crash from the sugar, not to mention the fact that they’re not the healthiest for you. Unfortunately, the healthy banana muffin recipes you can find on the internet skew a little too healthy, if you know what I mean. I wanted to see if I could develop a recipe that was better for you than your traditionally decadent banana muffin recipe, but not compromise any flavor.


Enter these banana muffins: I’ve made a few substitutions that make them better for you, but still incredibly tasty. I’ve swapped out some of the all-purpose white flour with whole wheat, which will help keep you full until lunch time. I’ve replaced butter with coconut oil, which gives these muffins a tropical flavor that complements the bananas. Refined white sugar is replaced with natural honey, which helps keep the banana muffins sweet and flavorful without any of regular sugar’s drawbacks. And of course, for the best banana muffins, be sure to use bananas that are incredibly ripe and spotty—these bananas have more natural sugars and flavors in them, leading to extra flavorful baked goods. But these muffins have a secret ingredient in them too, that makes them even more banana-y and delicious: Almond Breeze almondmilk Blended with Real Bananas.


Almond Breeze’s latest almondmilk blends their Unsweetened Original Almond Breeze almondmilk with real banana fruit, giving this almondmilk a thick, creamy texture and the perfect touch of banana flavor. Although you can use regular almondmilk is this recipe, Almond Breeze almondmilk Blended with Real Bananas really gives the muffins an extra banana boost. The best part? Because it’s made with real fruit, it has all the extra vitamins and nutrients you’d get from bananas and is sweet with no added sugar. Enjoy!


Some baker’s notes:
  • Because I was making this for a crowd, I made 24 muffins, which is double the batch I would traditionally make if I were baking for a smaller group. But no worries! This recipe scales up and down really easily. For a dozen muffins, just cut all ingredient quantities in half.

  • Watch out! If any of the liquid ingredients are cooler than room temperature (which is usually considered between 70 to 75 (F)) and added to the melted coconut oil, the coconut oil has a tendency to solidify and turn into weird, gritty pebbles in the mixture. To avoid this, make sure all your ingredients—especially the eggs and Almond Breeze almondmilk Blended with Real Bananas—are at room temperature. When I was making these, I even popped the almondmilk in the microwave and blitzed it in short, 10-second intervals until it was properly warmed. This is one of the few recipes where it’s better to err on the side of slightly warmer ingredients than cooler ones.

potluck chocolate sheet cake

August 26, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Looking for potluck dessert ideas? Potluck chocolate sheet cake is an easy potluck dessert to feed a crowd; made with an incredibly moist and (almost!) one bowl chocolate cake recipe, the cake is then topped off with a tasty chocolate cream cheese frosting that doesn't melt in warm weather. It's the perfect summer potluck dessert—jump to the recipe.


Potluck Desserts

Here are a few facts about me, your friendly blogger who has been serving you dessert recipes on Hummingbird High since 2011:
  • I eat almost everything I bake and make. You'd be surprised how few food bloggers actually do this.

  • As a result, I probably weigh 10lbs more than what is considered to be an ideal weight for somebody my height. Oh well. My bloodwork is apparently perfect, so... shrug emoji?

  • This excess weight is also in spite of the fact that, yes, I go to the gym everyday. And when I say the gym, I mean the gym. No slow slogging away on a treadmills, elliptical, or machines—instead, I take an hour long HIIT class five days a week with lots of burpees and sprints, and then go indoor rock climbing the other two days.
Going to a gym class everyday makes for an interesting routine. I take the same classes with the same trainers week after week. As a result, we're all kind of friends, but the kind of friends you don't go to brunch, but instead get sweaty and gross in front of (but not in a sexual way, lol). None of my gym trainers have ever seen me in jeans or with makeup, but we are on friendly enough terms that we chat about any upcoming races or events they're training for, wedding and travel plans, and even stuff on my blog and my own upcoming cookbook, #weeknightbakingbook.

Recently, my gym hosted a potluck picnic in the park. I was seriously considering skipping it, because, even though I like all my trainers very much, I wasn't sure if I was ready to be friends outside of the gym. But again and again, as my trainers would announce the potluck after class, almost every single one of them would turn to me and ask me what I was bringing from my blog. Things then came to a head when Paulie, the trainer I probably see most frequently, yelled , "Michelle is gonna be there and bringing cake, y'all! And her cakes are famous on Insta!!!"

Oh boy.

After the class, several attendees approached me to tell me that they'd looked me up on Instagram.

"Will you bring the Vietnamese iced coffee cake?"

"What about this peanut butter and jelly layer cake?"

"Ooh, or this Japanese cheesecake!"

The problem was that everybody's requests weren't exactly potluck friendly. As much as I love my elaborate layer cakes, each one is a significant project that I didn't have time for. Some didn't make enough to feed a crowd, while others were made with elaborate frostings that would melt if left too long in the sun. A good potluck dessert is tasty, feeds a crowd, will hold up in the sun, and is easy and fast to make too.


Easy Potluck Desserts

In any other circumstance, I likely would have brought these chocolate chip cookies or these supernatural brownies (both of which are recipes that I've updated in Weeknight Baking). They're my default potluck dessert recipes—quick and easy to make, and incredibly delicious and crowd-pleasing since almost everybody loves chocolate. But it seemed like everybody was clamoring for cake!

Knowing what a hit chocolate desserts usually are at a potluck, I decided to bring the chocolate sheet cake from my cookbook. Unlike layer cakes, sheet cake is typically better for a crowd. You can slice it in more dividable ways, and they're definitely easier to transport from one place to another since there's no need to worry about layers slipping and sliding. Besides that, this chocolate cake is a breeze to make at home. You don't even need to use a stand mixer—all you need is a few big bowls and a rubber spatula.


Summer Potluck Dessert Ideas 

The only remaining obstacle had to do with frosting. I look at a lot of cakes on Instagram, and occasionally, my Explore feed will serve me a sad photo of a beautifully elaborate wedding cake melting away in the sunshine. The caption usually has a warning for enterprising wedding cake bakers and brides-to-be: REFRIGERATE YOUR CAKE UNTIL YOU NEED TO SERVE IT.

It's true. Most frostings will start to melt in less than 20 minutes of direct sunlight. Some are more notorious than others, which makes bringing a frosted cake to a summer potluck a bit like playing Russian roulette. Luckily, I found this King Arthur Flour blog post, in which their test kitchen bakers "melt" different kinds of frosting under a hair dryer to see which ones hold their shape in the heat. Spoiler alert: of the seven different frostings they tested, cream cheese frosting was one of the frostings that came out on top.

I've always been a lover of cream cheese frosting. Not only does it pair well with chocolate cake, it's a breeze to make too, fitting into my standard for making an "easy potluck dessert". But seriously—to make cream cheese frosting, simply throw together butter, cream cheese, and confectioners' sugar in a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. For my potluck chocolate sheet cake, I decided to double down on the chocolate and make one of my favorite chocolate cream cheese frostings (as seen on this funfetti cake from many moons ago). It was delicious.


Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Recipe Tips

  • Make sure to use BOILING hot coffee in this recipe! The boiling coffee will "bloom" the cocoa powder, giving the cake its signature midnight black color. To save time, I like to buy bottles of cold brew coffee and heat it up on the stovetop while I prep the rest of the ingredients. At first, the cake batter will seem lumpy, but adding the coffee will smoothen it out—just be sure to continually whisk as you do so or you'll risk accidentally scrambling the eggs in the batter. And be sure to mix/whisk the batter for the time specified in the recipe; undermixed batter will lead to a weird texture on top of the cake. 

  • For perfectly smooth frosting, make sure both the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature. The frosting will be perfectly smooth and silky, but will harden and "crust" the longer it sits, so be sure to use it immediately after making. 

  • To get into the spirit of the potluck, I decorated the cake with sprinkles in my gym's signature color (orange) and fondant letters spelling out some of the most common exercises we do. My fondant came pre-made from Waitrose (a souvenir from my trip to London this past May), and I used these Wilton alphabet cutters to make the letters. 

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