cherry streusel cheesecake bars

July 11, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

The first draft for #weeknightbakingbook is officially turned in and I am equal parts relieved, proud, and generally exhausted. Because I spent so much time on recipe testing and development, I felt like I rushed through the actual writing of the book itself — all I can say is that my editor has a whale of a task ahead of her, that's for sure. I was literally down to the wire, translating my manuscript from Google Docs to Microsoft Word* the midnight before my contractual deadline. I also can't relax just quite yet since I'm spending the rest of the month styling and shooting photos for the book. I still have about 70 shoots to get through before I can fully rest and relax, eeep.

*Also, if you missed it, I was doing some High Quality Content Creation at 12:30AM this past Monday, complaining about formatting my manuscript from Google Docs to Microsoft Word — on a whim, I did a quick poll and found that many of you guys still use Microsoft Word. What gives?!

Although I'll be pretty heads down for the rest of the month, I'm still making an effort to carve out some time for myself here and there. For 4th of July, we celebrated with a hot pot feast at my friends Sze Wa and Jeremy's place, before walking over to Broadway Bridge to catch the paltriest view of Portland's fireworks. It was also Erlend's 30th birthday this past weekend; Erlend's parents drove down from their summer cabin in Mount Hood to take us to dinner at Zilla Sake. We then feasted on the clafoutis that Erlend made me make for his birthday (instead of, you know, the layer cakes I usually like to make, eyeroll), for which he insisted that I leave the cherries unpitted since it's the traditional French way and apparently the pits impart an almond flavor? *whisper* I honestly couldn't tell, but not pitting cherries definitely saved me a ton of time so there's that. *endwhisper*

Speaking of cherries, we've been going through POUNDS of them ever since Northwest Cherry Growers sent me a huge box of Skeena cherries from Pasco, Washington. They're a beautiful deep red, and are incredibly juicy, ripe, and delicious. We've been mostly eating them fresh while saving the rest for #weeknightbakingbook pies, but occasionally I'll cheat and make another dessert like these cherry streusel cheesecake bars. These bars were inspired by this sour cherry streusel cake from last year, and a variation of the cheesecake bar recipe from my upcoming cookbook. The bars are incredibly creamy with a bit of tang from sour cream, and lots of flavor and crunch from the cherries, streusel, and Speculoos cookie crumbs. Enjoy!

A big thank you to Northwest Cherry Growers for the big box of cherries! Be sure to check out their website to find out more about different cherry varieties, recipes, and other fun facts and trivia about cherries.

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Some baker's notes:
  • Because this is a multi-component recipe, it can be a bit time consuming to make — there are some tips and tricks that you can take in order to cut down on how long you're working. Streusel can be made up to 1 week in advance; just keep it in the fridge in an airtight container until you're ready to use. Cherries can be prepped overnight in an airtight container; the juice will darken a little bit to a weird, unattractive brownish red, but it'll come out a beautiful maroon in the oven. There's also no need to wait for the cookie crust to cool completely before filling, so go hog wild.

  • Speculoos cookies are available at Trader Joe's or online for a premium via Amazon; in a pinch, you can substitute with graham crackers or even Oreo cookies. 

  • Cream cheese can be a little tricky to work with — if you use it while it's too cold, you'll end up with a lumpy batter. Be sure that both the cream cheese, sour cream, and eggs are at room temperature for the smoothest possible cheesecake filling. 

red, white, and blue linzer cookies

July 2, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

This post was done in partnership with Stonewall Kitchen, who sponsored this post by providing the compensation and ingredients used for this post. As always all thoughts and opinions are my own — thank you for supporting the brands that help Hummingbird High keep running!

Although Instagram gets a lot of criticism today for its ever-changing algorithm (especially from creatives, business persons, and other various folks like me who make a living from it), there are some aspects of the app that I really appreciate. To wit — I love Instagram Stories, which allows me direct access to your thoughts, comments, and general feelings as I bake in the kitchen. As much as I love sharing the final products on my blog, I feel like it doesn't do enough justice to the actual work involved: the various trial runs that failed, the sunken versions that came before it, the sink full of dishes, the flour on the kitchen floor. Instagram Stories is a way to let you guys in on all that, and to assure everybody that although everything looks perfect on the feed, my kitchen probably looks a lot like yours whenever you take on a recipe. Or maybe even worse, lol.

One of my favorite things about Instagram Stories is the polling feature, which allows me to get feedback from you guys in real time. Take this weekend, when I was developing a quick-and-easy 4th of July recipe with some of my favorite Stonewall Kitchen jams. After publishing a complicated (but totally worth it 😜) American Flag cake recipe, I figure you guys would want something a little easier for your day off celebrations. My initial recipe idea was for some star-shaped pop tarts, made with some store-bought puff pastry dough and stuffed silly with Stonewall Kitchen almond butter and raspberry jam.

But when I opened my freezer to thaw the puff pastry dough, I saw some almond flour I'd forgotten about and a light bulb went off in my head: almond always works wonderfully with raspberries, and I was more in a cookie kind of mood anyway. I ended up baking both the pop tarts AND the cookies, asking you all which you preferred via Instagram Stories (the story is still up on my profile — be sure to click the story titled "tart vs cookie"!). I couldn't decide either, since both were plenty tasty to me.

And while the initial results were split evenly (literally 50% off you voted for the tarts, while the other 50% voted for the cookies), I was surprised by the surge of people who changed their minds in the next frame after I showed the cookies filled with jam and topped with confectioners' sugar. Over 10,000 of you guys (!!!) voted that you preferred the cookies (which is funny, since only about 2,000 people voted in the initial tarts vs. cookies poll in the first place), with a good portion of the folks who initially wanted pop tarts flipping over to the cookies. Nobody can resist those shiny, jammy centers it seems.

So, without further ado — red, white, and blue jammy almond linzer cookies, just in time for 4th of July!!! The red in the recipe is Stonewall Kitchen's Seedless Raspberry Jam, and the blue is Stonewall Kitchen's Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, which I love for its texture (you can see actual blueberries in it!) and contrasts wonderfully with the beautifully smooth raspberry jam. Enjoy!

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Some baker's notes:
  • To cut the cookies, I used a star-shaped cookie cutter set that had a range of sizes, ranging from small 1 5/8-inch cutters to 4 5/8-inches. I used "medium" 3 1/2-inch and "large" 4-inch star cutters, and used the smallest cutter (1 5/8-inches) for the smaller stars and cutouts. 

  • Because I wanted the cookies to stay pale, I used blanched almond meal, which is crushed almonds that have been separated away from their skins for a finer, paler meal. It tends to be pricier than unblanched almond meal, so in a pinch, you can substitute one for the other — just know that if you use unblanched almond meal, your cookies probably won't look as pale and white as mine. 

  • After filling with jam, the cookies tend to soften considerably and won't keep that well — so be sure to only assemble and enjoy right before serving! 

american flag cake

June 30, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

By the time you read this, I'll hopefully have finished the manuscript for Weeknight Baking. Don't get too excited though — I still have another month to finish up my photos (of which there are a LOT to do) before I can really relax. But for now, I'm spending the weekend with a bottle of rose, catching up on all the exercise I missed this week (I hurt my left arm and couldn't fully extend it for FIVE FREAKING DAYS), and returning all the ill-fitting clothes I panic-bought for my birthday. I know that those plans probably don't sound great to you, but they're everything I want right now.

chocolate, pistachio, and raspberry dust cherries

June 26, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

Keeping today's post short and sweet since I'm officially in CRUNCH TIME for #weeknightbakingbook! My manuscript is due next week (my stomach just did a cartwheel as I typed that) and I'm down to the wire — I'm working on what's known as "front matter", a.k.a. the stuff that everybody ignores before they plow straight into the recipes and photos of the book, lol. It can be a little bit heartbreaking to pour so much time and energy into something you know most people will skip, but it's important to me because I learned so much in the front matter of my favorite baking books (seriously guys — it's worth reading this section, especially if you own Momofuku Milk Bar or The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book) and want to do my own book the same justice. *shrug emoji*

And since we're on the subject of cookbooks (and will likely be for the next few weeks, sorry), I have a stack of books that I'm working through one by one. One of those books is Shelly from Vegetarian Ventures' newish cookbook, Platters and Boards, which is dedicated to building beautiful charcuterie and cheese boards. It's such a fun and original book, with tons of ideas for different themes and holidays — think: Flower Power Platters, S'mores Smorgasbords, and a Winter Solstice Platter. I've been super into it because we had spell where it was 90+ degrees every day and all I wanted to eat was cold salad and cheese, lol.

Anyway, Shelly has a recipe for dark chocolate covered strawberries that I've had bookmarked since receiving her book; unfortunately I sorta dropped the ball and just missed strawberry season in Portland!!! Now all the farmers markets are selling cherries, which I guess I can't complain too much about since cherries are pretty dope. I decided to substitute the strawberries for cherries in her original recipe and it worked so well that I wanted to share it with you guys today. Shelly's special twist includes sprinkling a colorful layer of pistachio nuts and freeze dried raspberries over the chocolate. Enjoy!

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book || bowl || trays

Some maker's notes:
  • Trader Joe's sells a variety of freeze-dried fruits, including raspberries; I also recently saw that Whole Foods started carrying a variety. In a pinch, you can also order freeze-dried raspberries online

  • I used Stemilt's Skylar Rae cherries, which are incredibly sweet with a firm and crisp texture, perfect for coating in chocolate and other toppings. I left my cherries unpitted because I found it easier to dip the cherries if the stems were still intact — you can use the stems as a sort of handle to dip the cherries in the chocolate and other toppings! Just be sure to serve with a pit bowl, similar to how you would serve olives. 

funfetti cake pops with milk chocolate tahini magic shell

June 21, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

I don't exactly remember how or when Molly and I became friends, but over the last few years, she's become a significant fixture in my life. We text about everything and anything — mostly swapping baking stories/gripes/tips and brainstorming recipe ideas, but also random stuff like whether or not a microterry bodysuit is a good idea, which KitchenAid mixer and Mosser cake stand colors are best, and which of our two remarkably similar cats is more loaf-like. She's like my summer camp pen pal who would be one of my bestest buds if only we lived in the same city and saw each other more than once or twice a year.

And unless you've been living under a rock and/or don't give a lick about food (in which case, uh, what are you doing on my site exactly...?), you probably know by now that Molly will be premiering her new show, Girl Meets Farm, on The Food Network this coming Sunday, June 24th. Our little SLAMM squad* is so freaking proud of her, we all literally can't even. Molly talks about it some in her blog post about the show, but it's been especially exciting to see the TV show unfold behind the scenes! I feel like I was there for the beginning of it all, right from when she was in Portland a few years ago, starting to flex her TV muscles in front of the camera crew following her around (and we all ended up going to a strip club together, AMA) to our more recent text threads during her shoot days when she and Nick were hangry and couldn't make dinner.

*SLAMM squad = Steph, Lily, Alana, Molly, Michelle (me), also seen in this Cake Toast post, last year's pudding pop Popsicle Week celebration, and the SLAMM text thread in our various iPhones.

To celebrate Molly's new show, we each decided to make some snacks for the occasion! The original idea was to develop a Molly-inspired snack recipe for her show's premiere (so, you know, lots of tahini and sprinkles, no bananas). I was going to make the za'atar monkey bread from her cookbook, Molly on the Range, but since it's been 90+ degrees in Portland AND it's Popsicle Week, I decided to make her famous funfetti cake into a cake popsicle! Unlike last year's Popsicle Week pop, which was strawberry ice cream with solid chunks of yellow funfetti cake, this year's pop is literally just Molly's funfetti cake crumbled and molded into these super cute ice cream bar molds. Then, I dipped each funfetti pop in a chocolate tahini magic shell situation that freaking ruled. I know I was supposed to save these pops for Molly's TV premiere, but they were so good that we busted through our entire batch throughout the week and only have two left for the show itself. OH WELL.

(above photo by brett and chantell!)

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Some baker's notes:
  • Molly's OG cake recipe makes a double layer, 8-inch cake which I then cut in half to bake in a 8-inch square pan. I waited for the cake to cool, before breaking it down into different crumbs by hand and molding the crumbs into the popsicle molds in the style of Christina Tosi's funfetti birthday layer cake. If that seems like a lot of work, you can always go Steph's route and bake the funfetti cake in the popsicle molds themselves — I legit just didn't have enough molds to pull this off and opted for making the pops in batches throughout the day instead.

  • When molding the cake into the popsicle molds, you want to use a LOT of cake per cavity and really smoosh the cake crumbs into the mold to create a dense cake pop. A dense cake pop is easier to work with, and is less likely to fall apart when unmolded. The cream wash is essential to the recipe too — it helps keep the cake moist in the freezer, ensuring that the popsicles are surprisingly soft when eaten.

  • For the magic shell, be sure to use refined coconut oil, which is more neutral and flavorless than regular coconut oil. If you can't find refined coconut oil, regular coconut oil will do, but note that your magic shell will taste more distinctly like coconut than either milk chocolate or tahini. 

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