spring flower sugar cookies

May 21, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

I made these cookies a few weeks ago, right when spring had officially sprung in Portland and the city was finally bursting with sunshine and fresh flowers. But since then, the weather has turned gray and rainy (everyday, yikes), which makes the "spring celebration" vibe I'd planned for this post a little debatable. Oh well. They're still pretty cute, right?

These cookies are inspired by Craftsman and Wolves' shortbread cookies, as seen in this beautiful spread by Bon Appetit magazine. Craftsman and Wolves is a fancy patisserie in San Francisco known for that cornbread muffin with the runny sunny side egg inside (it's so famous that it even has its own name—The Rebel Within). I used to live a stone's throw away from their location on Valencia Street and, whenever folks were in town, I'd always insist on meeting them there so that we could split The Rebel Within and one of their $12 pastries.

Although I never saw the flower shortbread cookies on sale, I think about them every time I see cakes decorated with flowers. Most flowers on cakes are inedible and need to be plucked off before eating; I really appreciated that Craftsman and Wolves used edible flowers for their cookies. For these cookies, I used a mix of cornflowers, calendula flowers, and radish flowers, as well as rose and lilac petals. Although my cookies look as fancy as theirs, they're actually a touch more simple—I've eschewed the shortbread dough for my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and flavored the entire thing with rose water. Enjoy!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:

  • Although Craftsman and Woves uses dried flowers for their cookies, I used a mix of both dried (cornflowers and rose petals) and fresh flowers (everything else) for mine. Dried flower petals are available at herb and spice stores—Kalustyan's has a great selection online (but it helps to know what you're looking for since their browsing experience isn't the best). I sourced the fresh flowers from our garden and the Portland Farmers' Market.

  • For this recipe, be sure to use rose water and NOT rose extract. Rose extract is much more concentrated, and will be too intense and floral in this recipe. In a pinch, you can use rose extract, but I suggest halving the recipe quantities if you do. Rose water is available in Middle Eastern grocery stores and specialty food markets.

  • To stamp out the cookies, I used cutters from this fluted circle set—I used a 3-inch cutter for the big circles and a 3/4-inch cutter for the small circles.

pistachio, rose water, and rhubarb semolina cake

May 15, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

This post is sponsored by Bob's Red Mill, who provided the ingredients and compensation to make this recipe happen! I use Bob's Red Mill products in all my baking, and I'm excited to be partnering with them all year long. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!

Rhubarb season is officially in full swing in Portland—both the farmers markets and grocery stores have bundles of the vegetable (apparently it’s a vegetable and not a fruit!). If I’m being 100% honest with y’all, it’s actually not my favorite thing to eat? Raw rhubarb is bitter and tough, while baked rhubarb can be stringy and astringent (however, I did have the opportunity to try “forced” rhubarb when I was last in London; forced rhubarb is when the vegetable is grown in dim lighting conditions, resulting in a pinker, softer, and sweeter stalks—it was delicious!).

And yet, despite my lukewarm feelings towards rhubarb, I can’t help but get excited when I see the first few stalks in the springtime. I think it’s maybe because of a combination of their vibrant pink color and the fact that their appearance in the supermarket means that spring is officially here and we have days of sunshine ahead of us. I’ve also noticed many talented bakers making fun, geometric patterns with their rhubarb on top of tarts (like this one and this one), and wanted to give it a try for myself:

The pattern itself wasn’t difficult to make; I followed this tutorial by Herriot Grace, who also has a video of how to cut and arrange the rhubarb stalks. The trick is to use a template made from a folded up piece of parchment paper or stiff cardboard to slice the rhubarb into even lengths—from there, it pretty easy street:

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already, but one of my favorite things to do while travel is to check out local grocery stores and supermarkets. Erlend and I recently just got back from a quick vacation to both London and Copenhagen, and I made sure to visit a handful of each in both cities. You can find all sorts of fruit, candy, and snacks that aren’t as easily available in the United States (to wit: Erlend found grains of paradise and cacao fruit in Torvehallerne in Copenhagen; while neither is native to Copenhagen, he was excited to see them since they aren’t sold in Portland AT ALL and spent a fair amount of krone sampling tiny amounts of each fruit).

While wandering the baking aisles of both London and Copenhagen, something stood out to me: both British and Danish folks seem to use more floral flavors in their baking. In both cities, the baking section had extracts like elderflower and rose water more readily available (in addition to some more unusual ones like sea buckthorn berries). In Copenhagen, I also noticed that the bread and pastries were almost always made with alternative flours like buckwheat and rye, giving them a more nuanced and tasty flavor.

It was with this in mind that my rhubarb geometry found itself under a pistachio, rose water, and semolina cake. The cake is adapted from Ottolenghi’s dessert cookbook, Sweet, and is made with a mix of ground pistachio nuts and Bob’s Red Mill Super-Fine Almond Flour. Because the pistachio nuts are coarsely ground and the almond meal is incredibly light and fine, there’s lovely, contrasting textures of nuts throughout every bite of cake. It’s also spiked with a healthy dose of semolina, a fine flour usually reserved for making delicate pastas in Italy. The flours give the cake a wonderfully earthy, nutty flavor, all the while remaining soft and fluffy like regular cake. The rose water complements the astringent rhubarb, tempering its sourness with a light floral flavor that would otherwise be too overpowering on its own. Enjoy!

Some baker's notes:
  • If you’re opting for the rhubarb geometric pattern, you’ll need around 2 pounds of rhubarb. For a super even design, make sure to get stalks that are equal in width (length doesn’t matter as much since you’ll be cutting and slicing them accordingly). Also opt for stalks that are incredibly pink and red—lighter stalks will lose their color in the oven.

  • Be sure to source rose water, and NOT rose extract, for this recipe—the latter would be too overpowering in this cake. Rose water is typically available in the baking aisles of grocery stores; in a pinch, check the international or Middle Eastern aisles of your store.

  • Bake Time is on the longer side because the rhubarb needs a fair amount of time in the oven to soften and cook; it will also vary greatly depending on how soft and ripe your rhubarb is. I’ve given you a starting point of 60 to 70 minutes, but I encourage you to rely on visual cues instead. Start checking for doneness at that mark; a done cake will have a perfectly set center that bounces back when gently poked, and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake will come out with few crumbs attached.

behind-the-scenes: shooting at restaurants

May 13, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

This post was done in partnership with Canon U.S.A, who sponsored this post by providing the compensation and the Canon EOS RP camera kit to make it happen! I've exclusively used Canon cameras and lenses since the start of my blogging career; learn more in my previous post about shooting a recipe. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that make Hummingbird High possible!

While most of my food photography happens at home, I also dine out in Portland frequently and find myself wanting to share my beautiful meals on Instagram (or maybe a fully-fledged blog post as part of a travel guide, like this one for Lisbon and Porto). I’ve noticed that, more and more, sharing your food on social media is now the norm — there are large social media accounts dedicated to nothing but sharing meals from restaurants all around the world, and restaurants themselves have even started designing dishes and interiors specifically for the camera. I say we embrace it!

But of course, it’s easier said than done. How many times have you snapped a photo of your beautiful meal on your phone, only to find that it looks far less attractive and nothing like itself in your photo? 🙋🏻🙋🏻🙋🏻 This used to happen to me all the time, but over the years, with lots of practice, I was able to improve my restaurant photography. Similar to the guidelines I follow when I shoot recipes at home in my makeshift home studio, I find that following the six principles below enables me to take great photographs at restaurants:

banana tres leches cake

May 7, 2019

London, UK

This blog post is sponsored by Almond Breeze. The content and opinions expressed here are mine. I'm especially excited to partner with Almond Breeze; their almondmilk is a weekly staple in my household. As I've grown older, my stomach has gotten more sensitive to traditional dairy and I’ve switched to nut milks for dietary and health purposes. I especially love the nutty, toasty flavor their almondmilk brings to my morning coffee, cereal, and desserts like this one! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own; thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and the sponsors that keep the lights on!

Greetings from London! I mentioned last week that Erlend and I were on a much-needed vacation—we’re doing a mini-Eurotrip tour with stops in London and Copenhagen. So far London has been a whirlwind of us hanging out with some old friends and eating a ton of delicious food and drink. I also expect no less from Copenhagen; we’re leaving for Denmark tonight! I’m especially excited since it’s Erlend’s first time there, and I haven’t been to Copenhagen for a few years now (the last time I went was in 2016, with Adrianna and Yossy for the Copenhagen Cooking and Food Festival, which was uhMAZING). Before I left Portland, however, I lined up some recipes for y’all on Hummingbird High (you don’t think I’d leave you guys hanging without anything, did you? 😜). Like this banana tres leches cake!

Truth be told, this banana tres leches cake is the result of a happy accident. I’d foolishly purchase a large bundle of bananas a few days before our flight to London, only to realize that we wouldn’t be able to finish them all before we left. Naturally, I decided to bake them into a dessert—I’m always game to try a new banana bread recipe, and I still dream about this triple chocolate banana layer cake that I made years ago. Except, of course, I immediately ran into a problem. Most banana recipes require you to wait until the bananas are SUPER ripe, to the point where their peels are completely spotted and almost black. Those spots mean that the bananas are incredibly sweet, soft, and flavorful; using bananas that are yellow (or worse, green) will result in mild and flavorless desserts. My bananas, of course, were solid yellow—they were perfect for eating, sure, but not so much for baking. I didn’t have time to wait for them to ripen before our trip, but I knew if I’d baked them into a banana cake right then, the cake wouldn’t be banana-y enough for my standards… unless I somehow found another way to infuse more banana flavor into the cake, like through a tres leches soak.

Traditional tres leches cake is made by taking three different types of milks and creams (usually a combination of cream, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk), mixing them together, and pouring them over a light and airy sponge cake. The sponge cake then absorbs the milks, resulting in wonderfully moist, decadent, and creamy slices of cake. Almond Breeze recently released a new flavor that I thought would be perfect for my banana cake’s soak: Almond Breeze Almondmilk Blended with Real Bananas. It’s their Unsweetened Original Almond Breeze Almondmilk, but blended with real banana puree to give the milk a thick and creamy texture similar to regular cow’s milk. Each serving has half a banana, loading the almond milk with just the right amount of banana flavor (and adding a ton of potassium too!) without going overboard. It was just what my cake needed to really amp up the banana flavor and take it to the next level. It was so good that we just started eating the cake out of the pan by the spoonful—enjoy!

Some baker's notes:
  • Because I had a ton of bananas I was trying to use up before our trip, I ended up accidentally making a LARGE cake to use up all the bananas. Each slice, while tasty, was a bit of an epic journey. If you’re not feeding a crowd, I suggest halving the recipe’s ingredients quantities and reducing the recipe’s bake time for 25 to 30 minutes. If you’re committing to the full recipe, be sure to use a 9 by 13-inch pan with sides that are at least 3 inches tall.

  • Traditional tres leches cake is made with no butter, oil, or other fats to keep the sponge as light as possible in order to soak up the moisture and prevent the cake from getting overly soggy. This recipe’s banana cake base, however, uses both (AND buttermilk!) to provide structure and support for the recipe’s large amount of bananas. To make sure I didn’t end up with soggy cake, I used less soak than what’s traditionally used in a tres leches cake. It’s also especially important to source Almond Breeze Almondmilk Blended with Real Bananas for this recipe — almond milk is lighter than cow’s milk and will help prevent the cake from getting too overly soggy. In a pinch, you can substitute with Unsweetened Original Almond Breeze Almondmilk.

  • To allow the cake to fully absorb the soak, I actually let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. I find that the chilling time in the refrigerator also helped prevent the cake from getting too soggy. However, it’s important to soak the cake BEFORE it’s been refrigerated, while the cake is either still warm from the oven or a few hours later at room temperature. If you try and soak the cake after it’s been refrigerated, the cake won’t be able to absorb the soak completely and the soak will end up pooling on top of the cake in the pan.

#tenyearchallenge: chocolate champagne eclairs

May 3, 2019

London, UK

Remember the #tenyearchallenge from the start of the year, when everybody was posting photos of themselves from 2009 and comparing them to now? I'm doing an extended version of the challenge and doing a three part series, re-baking the desserts I made ten years ago (when I was still a senior in college, omg!), and sharing stories and photos from then and now. First there were these white chocolate and peanut butter cup cookies, and today, these eclairs (along with some hilarious photos of 21-year-old me)—enjoy! 

Greetings from London! By the time you read this, Erlend and I will have hopefully arrived in London in one piece. We're here for an all-too brief vacation, which I very much need after the last few weeks, no, months of editing for my upcoming cookbook, Weeknight Baking.

With the exception of Instagram, where I'll occasionally post stories of The Cat sitting on my manuscript trying to get my attention, I haven't really talked about the the process of editing my book all that much. That's because, contrary to popular belief, it was not a very glamorous process at all—there was no leisurely editing in coffee shops, or even meditative introspection in cozy sweaters with my cat on my lap (the photo below is the one exception in which, two years after starting my book, I was finally able to make it to a coffee shop, lollll).

Instead, here's how it all went down:

So far, my book has gone through a few major rounds of edits. The first happened at the end of last summer after I turned in my manuscript for the first time. My editor read the whole thing through, making comments and suggestions on how to make the content fit the overall theme of the book better. For me, this was the hardest part of the editing process. There was a fair amount of conflict between my vision for the book and what my editor wanted. Every edit felt like a compromise—or worse, an argument. I spent many nights rewriting the same passages over and over, as well as going back and forth between drafts, with two monitors literally dedicated to comparing versions side-by-side.

After (literally) months, we were able to get the manuscript to a good middle ground. That meant it was ready for the next stage: copy edits. While my editor primarily handled Big Picture edits like, "Does this recipe fit the overall theme of the book?" or "Describe why this recipe is good for a weeknight.", the copy editor handles Small Picture stuff like correcting grammar, spelling, typos, and more. I actually enjoyed this process and learned/re-learned a lot about grammar rules and sentence structures that I hadn't thought about since I was in school. Unlike the previous editing phase, where a lot of the edits felt subjective and personal, this type of editing felt more like solving a set of math problems with clear right or wrong answers. That being said, the copy editing process was a LOT of work. You're given a very short amount of time to fix the manuscript: I had a week and change to go through the 360+ pages of my manuscript, and almost every page had something that needed to be reviewed. Furthermore, because the copy editor is also given a short time with the manuscript, I found other mistakes and/or inconsistencies that were missed throughout the text. It was a Sisyphean task and, to complete it, I actually had to pull a few all-nighters.

In many ways, the copy editing process was very reminiscent of my some of my final days in college. I went to a college where, in order to graduate, all students spent their senior year writing a thesis that was meant to be a culmination of our four years of study. My college prided itself on this fact, and had many dedicated resources and rituals around it: seniors would get their own dedicated desk in the library ("the thesis desk"), and completed theses would be bound in a hardcover and forever stored in a dedicated tower in the library ("the thesis tower"). The last weekend of the seniors' final semester kicked off with a "thesis parade", in which all graduating seniors would burn previous thesis drafts in a bonfire while dousing each other with bottles of cheap champagne:

While writing a thesis felt like a Very Big Deal at the time, it's something I look back on today with a mix of amusement, nostalgia, pity, and embarrassment. But here's the kicker—I've basically found myself in the same position exactly ten years later, both literally and figuratively. The way I see it, Weeknight Baking is basically a summary of all the baking knowledge and expertise I've acquired in the last eight years of blogging; it is the thesis of Hummingbird High. In fact, in order to get my copy edits done, I actually went back to my college library to pull the all-nighters (it was the only place open late enough that was quiet and without the distractions of my cat). I even sat in the exact same spot that I used to do all my homework in (sadly, my old thesis desk was occupied):

Ten years ago, despite all the all nighters and time in the library, I still baked a decent amount; specifically, I procrastibaked a TON in my senior year to avoid working on my thesis. Usually it was something simple like Funfetti box mix cupcakes or these white chocolate and peanut butter cookies, but apparently I was also ambitious enough to try making eclairs from scratch! I even documented the entire thing via a Facebook album and dug up the photos for y'all:

Although I recognize that the eclairs definitely do not meet my standards today, 21-year-old me was SO proud of them. Similar to these white chocolate and peanut butter cup cookies, I decided to recreate them today as part of my ongoing #tenyearchallenge:

Unlike the cookies—in which you can see an obvious improvement in my baking skills—these eclairs don't look that much different from the ones I made in 2009. They're marginally better, sure, but they still baked up rather unevenly and resulted in bulbous pastries. I genuinely have no idea why!!! TBH, this entire recipe taught me that I need more practice with choux pastry—which makes sense, given the last choux pastry item I made was back in 2014. Oh well. Can't win 'em all. And they were still plenty tasty, so 🤷🏻🤷🏻🤷🏻.


Some baker's notes:
  • Exactly ten years ago on this day, I finished writing my thesis and celebrated by marching in my college's thesis parade (see photos above, where I'm throwing drafts of my thesis in the air  😂😂😂) while students from my school doused us in cheap champagne (congratulations to my college's Class of 2019, who are literally doing this exact same thing today!). To mark the occasion, I spiked the pastry cream in my eclairs with sparkling wine champagne extract. Champagne extract is available online; use any remaining extract in this pink champagne cake recipe and these champagne shortbread cookies

  • While the pastry cream recipe is adapted from my upcoming book, Weeknight Baking, the choux pastry recipe is directly from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Like all Thomas Keller recipes, it is incredibly detailed and meticulous to a fault (I usually avoid his recipes, but wanted to pull out the stops for the #tenyearchallenge). The recipe works best if you use gram measurements (which I've included for the choux pastry recipe, as opposed to the ounce measurements I tend to favor—those are still around for the pasty cream and glaze recipes). Pay careful attention to the egg quantities; instead of using specific numbers of eggs, Keller uses weights. That means you break the eggs into a bowl, whisk them all together, and then weigh out what's needed for the recipe. For this recipe, you'll need about 6 large eggs. 

  • Because of this recipe's time-consuming nature, I highly recommend making the pastry cream in advance of the choux pastry. I've split the recipe up over 2 days, instructing you to make the pastry cream the day before the choux pastry, but really, the pastry cream will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week. However, I do strongly recommend making the choux pastry, assembling the eclairs, and serving them all in the same day—the choux pastry has a tendency to go stale/soggy as soon as it's filled! Read the recipes in full to help you plan—the choux pastry will need to be chilled before piping (similarly, you can make the choux pastry way in advance of piping and baking them—it'll keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator), and after baking, will need to be at room temperature before filling and glazing. The glaze will need to be used immediately since it has a tendency to harden—make it right before assembling the eclairs.

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