s'mores chocolate chip cookies

July 17, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

You'd think that, after nearly eight years of baking and blogging at Hummingbird High, I'd have a better sense of which recipes will take off on the internet. Because a few weeks ago, when I posted this photo of these s'mores chocolate chip cookies on Instagram, I literally had no intention of even posting the recipe on my site—they were something I'd whipped up on a whim, as a way to procrastinate from awful book deadlines and to use both the cookie dough in my freezer and the bag of gourmet marshmallow squares I'd spontaneously bought at Target. But lo and behold, many of you demanded the recipe, and here it FINALLY is.

Now, because I feel your insane thirst for this cookie, I'm going to skip all the filler details us food bloggers usually tend to ramble on about, like the origin of s'mores, my undying love for chocolate chip cookies, or maudlin, gushing descriptions like how, when fresh out of the oven, these cookies taste like the love child of your favorite chocolate chip cookie and the best s'mores you ever made with your best friend in middle school while at summer camp together. Instead, I'm gonna give you all my best tips and tricks for making these beauties:

The first is this: use brown butter for the chocolate chip cookie base. In a pinch, regular melted butter is fine too (in fact, the first version I made with regular melted butter was plenty tasty), but brown butter always gives everything a nutty, toasted flavor that works especially well in these s'mores chocolate chip cookies. It's worth the extra step.

The second: graham crackers are a must. I'll admit, I made a few versions that used speculoos cookies as a substitute for graham crackers. They were also delicious, but graham crackers really are what make s'mores s'mores. In my earlier trials, I rolled each cookie dough ball in cracker crumbs, but found that I liked it much better with actual shards of graham cracker in the dough itself. The trick is to not think about it too much and break the graham crackers by hand into fairly large, random, and uneven pieces. Throw it all into the mixer all at once—the beater will crush some of the graham crackers into fine crumbs, while keeping other pieces in bigger shards, giving each bite of cookie lots of different graham cracker textures with every bite.

And finally, both the chocolate and the marshmallows you use are very, VERY important. Like a 7 on the INES scale important (Did anybody get that VERY dark reference? Sorry, I binge watched Chernobyl recently and it's still on my mind). Although s'mores are typically made with Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars, do NOT use them in these cookies. I tried. It didn't work. Hershey's chocolate bars contain too many additives to melt properly in the oven. Ditto with chocolate chips—I've already ranted about how cheap chocolate chips contain paraffin wax (yup, the same stuff candles are made out of—it's what helps them keep their shape in the oven). You want to shell out for the good chocolate here, whether it's Valrhona feves or your favorite expensive pretentious dark chocolate bar, chopped up by hand. Good chocolate will melt into puddles throughout the cookie, emulating the way chocolate melts in a classic s'more. If you're on a budget and/or don't want to order feves online, use Trader Joes' Pound Plus 72% cacao chocolate bars (it's made by Callebaut, a rival of Valrhona's who makes equally high-quality chocolate) or Ghirrardelli's 60% cacao bittersweet baking bars.

With marshmallows, you can get away with using the classic Kraft Jet-Puffed kind you know and love from your childhood. Just be sure to get the large kind—although smaller or mini marshmallows will work in a pinch, to get the EXACT look of my cookies, you need a big marshmallow to melt into a huge, gooey, glorious puddle. I used this fancy kind from Smashmallow, which I literally bought only because I liked their square shape (though apparently Jet-Puffed makes square ones too, even ones that stack!). The best part is that the Smashmallow Toasted Vanilla flavor literally comes pre-torched, which means that they've already got the Maillard reaction kickstarted in them. Not to mention they bake up beautifully too, giving the puddles a kind of ombre look. If you want that look for your cookies but can't find Smashmallows, use a chef's torch to gently and quickly lightly brown the tops of the marshmallows you're planning on using. Don't have a chef's torch? No problem—toasting them on the stovetop like you would over a campfire works just as well.

Okay, that is literally everything you could possibly need to make these cookies (also be sure to check out the baker's note below, because it's important). So go forth and enjoy. You know I got ya back.

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Some baker's notes:
  • When placing the marshmallow on top of each cookie dough ball, lightly place each one on top of its ball; it doesn't really stick since the cookie dough is too greasy. You can quickly pat the top of each dough ball too to make a plateau on which to rest the marshmallow on. Either way, know this—some of the marshmallows are going to fall off the cookies as they sink and expand in the oven. It's fine if they end up a little lopsided (it's what makes the cookies pretty!), but it's definitely a problem if they fall off completely: they'll melt into a puddle on the pan, and not on your cookie (and I will be very sad for you). I recommend peeking in the oven about 3 minutes into the baking time to see if any marshmallows have fallen off. If they have, don't worry about it too much! Quickly open the oven door, reach in there, and re-position it back onto its cookie dough ball. At this point, the marshmallow is still solid enough to handle, but don't squish too hard—it should already be getting a little melty. Peek into the oven again 6 minutes into the baking time and make any adjustments as necessary. You got this.

blackberry almond layer cake

July 11, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

Erlend's birthday was this past weekend, and, gasp, we did not celebrate with cake. In fact, he specifically requested that I *NOT* make cake and make him a cobbler instead. I was aghast, but to be honest with you guys, he'd been making this request for years and I've just been ignoring him all this time. Because, alas, while I've been #teamcake my whole life, he's been #teampie. Opposites attract, what can I say?

But between you and me, the only reason why I finally caved and made him a birthday pie was because I'd accidentally bought a half flat of berries that needed to be used up fast (seriously—why do berries go bad so quickly?). Even after making a generous berry cobbler, we still had a few flats to burn through. So I made this blackberry almond cake!

I've always liked the combination of blackberries and almonds—the nuttiness kind of helps cut away the tartness of the fruit. I decided to take the white cake from my book, Weeknight Baking, but make it with almond milk and extract instead. I was a little worried that it wouldn't work out since almond milk is much less fatty than traditional whole cow's milk, but it worked out really well! The almond milk gave the cake a really fine and tender crumb. And for even more almond flavor, I topped it all off with an almond German buttercream frosting.

Are you guys familiar with German buttercream? It's basically my new favorite thing. Whereas Italian and Swiss buttercream recipes instruct you to make a meringue and whip butter into it, German buttercream is made by first making a pudding, then whipping butter into it. The result is a dreamy frosting that's easy as heck to pipe, with the taste of vanilla pudding. It's absolutely perfect with the blackberries and cake—every bite tasted like berries and cream. Enjoy!

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Some baker's notes:
  • This cake is made up of multiple components: a quick blackberry jam, pudding for the buttercream, and the cake and frosting itself. Both the blackberry jam and the pudding will need to be cooled to room temperature before using in the cake and frosting recipes. As a result, it can take a long time to make this cake from start to finish. I suggest breaking it up over multiple days, since both the jam and pudding will keep in the fridge for up to one week. Just be sure to warm both to room temperature before using in the full recipe! I made the blackberry jam and pudding on Day 1, the cake on Day 2, and then finished by making the frosting and decorating on Day 3. 

  • When making the cake batter, it’s especially important that your butter, milk, and egg whites are warmed to room temperature—this batter will curdle if some of the ingredients are colder than others.

the easiest brown butter chocolate chip cookies ever

July 8, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

This post was done in partnership with Café Appliances, who sponsored this post by providing the compensation and appliances to make it happen! I'm incredibly lucky to be a member of the Café Collective, a group of nine women with impeccable style and expertise in home design, fashion, lifestyle, and food. Be sure to follow along the next few weeks to learn more — as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that make Hummingbird High possible!

I cannot believe that, in my nearly eight years of blogging, I do not have a simple brown butter chocolate chip cookie recipe. I have all sorts of chocolate chip cookie recipes—one made with peanut butter cups, another with rainbow nonpareils, one made with just egg yolks, a slice-and-bake version, and even ones without any chocolate chips—but no brown butter. What on earth? Brown butter makes every dessert taste better, and chocolate chip cookies are no exception.

It’s funny because a few years ago, I just did not understand the hype around brown butter. It turns out it was me all along—the whole time I *thought* I was making brown butter, I was actually just melting it instead. Brown butter is made by melting butter and cooking it until the water in the butter evaporates and its milk solids caramelize. Most brown butter recipes come with intense warnings, telling you to watch what you’re doing like a hawk; just a few seconds too long on the burner will lead to burned butter. So being the insanely risk-averse person that I am, I skewed the opposite direction and never cooked the butter long enough for it to properly brown. It didn’t help that I had old-school electric coil burners on my range that took forever to heat up and cool down, despite how many times I fiddled with the knobs.

Finally switching to a gas range was such a godsend. Gas burners are a lot easier to control than their coil counterparts, with the size and heat of the flame easily controlled by knobs. My new Cafe Appliances range also has a whopping SIX burners, all of which are different sizes (including a large, pro-level, high-heat emitting one!) to really enable you to control your cooking. Browning butter has never been so easy—when I’m in a rush, I cook the butter on the high heat burner to melt it fast, then switch the pot over to one of the smaller, lower-heat burners to really control the color of the final product.

The best part? The Cafe range has two ovens, allowing me to cook multiple pans of cookies all at once. I know that most people just position their oven racks to be able to bake two pans at the same time, but I’m actually VERY against that—I find that the pan on the lower rack always leads to cookies with burned bottoms, while the upper pan takes forever to cook. I’m all about positioning the rack in the center of the oven and baking each pan on there one at a time. The problem is that most recipes make at least two to four trays of cookies, meaning that I’m stuck in the kitchen baking tray after tray. But with the new double oven, I’m able to cut this waiting time in half. Not to mention that my model is dual-fuel: whereas the burners are controlled by gas, the oven is powered by electricity, leading to much more consistent temperatures throughout the bake time.

Everything I bake comes out perfectly, like these cookies: dense and chewy in the center, with crisp edges on their outer rings, all dotted with molten chocolate and the toasty, nutty flavor of brown butter. See what I mean? These really are the easiest brown butter chocolate chip cookies ever.

Some baker’s notes:
  • When browning butter, it can be incredibly difficult to tell what color the butter is and accidentally go overboard. The mixture will get incredibly foamy, too. It’s best to use a light colored pan to help you control the color and see what’s going on. When all else fails, dip a light colored spoon into the mixture to check its color, or even simply spoon out a small amount on a light colored plate. The longer you cook the butter, the darker and more flavorful it will be. But watch out! There’s a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter; you don’t want to go too overboard.

  • After you’ve browned the butter, you’ll see some dark flecks in the brown butter—these are the caramelized milk solids. Some folks like to strain out the solids and just use the butter, but I generally tend to keep them in since they tend to add more flavor to whatever I’m baking, too. To store brown butter, pour it into an airtight container and refrigerate for 1 to 2 weeks. You can use brown butter in place of butter in just about any recipe, both sweet and savory.

tayberry pie

July 1, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

I know that Memorial Day weekend is supposed to be the official start of summer, but for the last few years, 4th of July has held this place of honor for me. Part of it is that many big life events always happen around now—last year, the manuscript for Weeknight Baking was due this same week, and fast forward literally a year later (after SO MANY edits and design iterations), Weeknight Baking is finally going to the printers!

Honestly, I thought I would feel more joy or pride or something, but I'm mostly just relieved that Weeknight Baking will finally be out of my hands and I can catch up on sleep again. I know I keep saying this, but the last few weeks—no, months—were a little insane. My publisher set crazy deadlines; to wit, I'm currently waiting for the latest and last pass of the book, which is supposed to land in my inbox this afternoon. They asked for me to turn in feedback by first thing TUESDAY MORNING. That's 300 pages to comb through in less than 24 hours!!! To get it done, I'm going to have to pull an all-nighter, ugh. I literally have a six pack of cold brew coffee in the fridge, ready for the mad rush later tonight.

I wish I could say that these intense deadlines were atypical, but it has been like that for the last year and, well, I don't really know if I can say too much without exploding right now, lol. But rest assured—I know I keep saying this, but I'm working on a series about what it's like to really like a cookbook with all the details about the crazy scheduling and deadlines. And I have opinions and feelings, both of which I'll definitely go into more detail about. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait to read it until after summer's over, because I'm currently burned out and planning for a relatively chill next few weeks. What does that mean? I'm planning on doing as much as I can this month so I can hopefully take the entirety of August off. Expect lots of baking on Instagram stories this month (maybe I'll even try my first IGTV, but that seems ambitious, lol) as I get everything set up for the next two months—I'm planning on baking with all the summer fruits and making desserts like this tayberry pie.

What are tayberries? Tayberries are a cross between raspberries and blackberries; they look a little bit like raspberry-colored blackberries. They're a relatively recent cultivar, and, according to this Serious Eats article, were developed in the late 70s by the Scottish Horticultural Society and named after Scotland's River Tay. They're sweeter than traditional blackberries, and have a higher level of pectin, making them perfect for pie filling. One of my pet peeves are leaky pies, and pectin helps the fruit filling solidify without being too gummy. Not to mention leading to perfect slices, too. Enjoy!

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Some baker's notes:
  • Oregonians: I found my tayberries at my local New Seasons supermarket; I've also seen a bunch sold at the various farmers' markets around Portland. If you're not an Oregonian or Californian, it's likely that tayberries are harder to find. In a pinch, you can substitute the tayberries for blackberries. You may want to add 1/4 cup more sugar, as tayberries are significant sweeter than blackberries. If not, you might find your pie a little on the tart side (which, no worries—just serve it with ice cream). 

  • To make the pie pattern, I used a mix of cookie cutter sets: big stars from this Wilton set, and little stars from this fondant cutting set. You can use whatever shapes you have on hand to make other patterns and designs too! 


June 25, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

Last month, I had the privilege of touring Israel with Vibe Israel and some of my favorite baking bloggers to learn all about Israeli pastries, sweets, and desserts. It was there that I had my first bite of malabi, a Persian milk pudding. It was perfectly light and creamy, silky and delicious—the very definition of a good pudding. In Israel, they top malabi with a rose water syrup (that's so vibrantly pink that it doesn't need an Instagram filter!), along with a generous sprinkling of peanuts and shredded coconut.

Truthfully, I was surprised to find malabi in Israel in the first place. From my understanding, malabi originated from Persia—I'd first heard about it on my trip to Turkey last year—and featured more prominently in Arab cuisine. But I'd also underestimated how multicultural Israel was, and how much of its cuisine is interwoven with that of its surrounding neighbors. One of my favorite things we did on our trip was visit Hatikvah Market in Tel Aviv, where we saw and experienced the extent of this diversity. At Hatikvah Market, we sampled börek and katmer from a Turkish bakery, kubaneh and jachnun from a neighboring Yemenite one, amba and different types of kubbe from an Iraqi deli, lepyoshki bread from Uzbekistan, and cups of Iranian faloodeh. Not to mention that there were lots of traditional Israeli pastries like babka and challah, too. All of this wouldn't have been possible without the expert guidance from our tour guide, Moni from Bhuka Tours. Moni actually lives in Hatikvah and it was such a joy and privilege to learn about everything from the point of view of somebody with such love and pride for the neighborhood.

Everything was delicious, but I just couldn't get the malabi out of my head. I'm usually pretty resistant to sweets and desserts flavored with flowers. It's a fine line using those extracts, and a heavy-hand can lead to a soapy tasting desserts. But this malabi was perfect. It wasn't too sweet or overwhelmingly floral—the floral rose water is balanced out perfectly by the silky cream of the milk pudding.

So of course, I've been trying to reverse-engineer the recipe since arriving back home. While researching recipes, I learned that malabi has different names (also "muhallebi" and "mhallabiyeh"), and is made with different types of flours (rice flour, cornstarch, etc) and milks (almond, coconut, regular), all depending on the region or country you're from. For my recipe, I chose to make an Israeli-style malabi, which is made with a combination of milk, cream, and cornstarch. Traditional recipes also use pomegranate syrup or molasses to give the rose water syrup's distinctive pink color. I initially started out with these ingredients, but kept ending up with syrups that were too tart and overwhelmed the malabi's delicate flavor (not to mention too dark in color, too). Eventually, both Moni and Majid from The Cinnaman saved me and let me in on the secret to modern malabi syrup: food coloring, lol.

With the mystery of the rose water syrup concluded, I'm happy to report that this malabi looks AND tastes pretty similar to the one I had in Hatikvah Market. But is it as good as the real thing? I honestly think I need to go back to Tel Aviv and find out. Who's coming with?! 😜

A big thank you to Vibe Israel; although I wasn't given compensation for this post, Vibe Israel organized our entire pastry-focused trip to Israel, including airfare, transport, accommodation, workshops, and tours. Our Hatikvah Market tour with Bhuka Tours was one of the activities of the trip. I feel like I barely skimmed the surface of what we did at the market, so I encourage you to learn more about Hatikvah Market here, here, and here. I also highly recommend taking the food tour if you happen to find yourself in Tel Aviv; our group all unanimously agreed that Moni was one of the best tour guides we'd ever had. All photos in this post were my own, with the exception of the baklava and kubaneh—those photos were taken by our talented group photographer, Amir Menahem

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Some baker's notes:
  • For this recipe, it's important to use rose water and NOT rose extract. Rose extract is far more concentrated than rose water, and will make your malabi taste like soap. If you insist on using rose extract, I would decrease the recipe's quantities significantly, down to 1/4 teaspoon. And because rose water is so delicate, it's important to add it to both the pudding and syrup after they've been cooked and cooled slightly. Cooking with rose water will cause it to lose much of its fragrance and flavor quickly.

  • Alright, let's talk about the hot pink rose water syrup. According to Majid, the color is from Wilton's Rose Paste. I didn't have any on hand, so I ended up using Americolor's Deep Pink from their Nifty Fifty Gel Set. With food coloring, always start by adding a few drops at a time and whisking. Keep adding drops until you achieve your desired color. I've given an approximate amount of the coloring I used for this syrup (I ended up using way more than I thought I would!)—the syrup looked almost orange in its bottle, but turned out pink when spooned over the white malabi. The more you spoon over the malabi, the pinker the syrup will be (I was pretty conservative with mine, as you can see from the pictures), but watch out! You might end up with a super rose watery pudding. You'll likely have some rose water syrup left over. 

  • Because malabi is made with a higher-than-usual cornstarch to liquid ratio, so it can be hard to ensure that the cornstarch fully dissolves. Other recipes, including Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe in Jerusalem, even encourage you to use your hands to dissolve the cornstarch clumps. But I've found that there's no need for that—just make sure to follow my instructions about whisking the cornstarch into the milk slowly, tablespoon by tablespoon. Similarly, because the pudding contains so much cornstarch, it's important to cook it for the time specified in the recipe in order to cook out the taste of the cornstarch. Undercooked malabi will have a starchy taste and you deserve better than that. 

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