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my first carrot cake

April 16, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

Here is the truth: despite vegetables' recent rise in popularity and uptick in reputation as something people actually like to eat (as opposed to, you know, have to eat), I've always been kinda meh on them. If we're being completely honest, I STILL am. Believe me, I try to be a vegetable person. I *know* it's better for me. So much that I make sure that at least half of me and Erlend's meals consist of vegetables. And even if I'm dining out, I'm the lame person in the group who suggests we go "somewhere with vegetables" and force the table to order at least one plate dedicated to the stuff. But push comes to shove, I'll never be able to scarf down a plate of vegetables in the same way that I can very enthusiastically do a burger or even an entire pan of pepperoni pizza.


I'm not disputing that vegetables aren't tasty. I pretty much love any deep-fried or roasted vegetable (especially if it's been doused in lots of butter, oil, and salt), and appreciate the lightness of a salad on a day where I'm feeling bloated and icky (likely from scarfing down too much deep fried stuff, Chinese or not, side eye). But I just don't get excited about them. And for a long time, I believed in clear boundaries between the food I need to eat (ehem, salads and vegetables) and the food I WANT to eat, like the cookies and cakes you see on Hummingbird High. And that's why, in my eight or so years of blogging, I have never posted a cake recipe that uses a vegetable like zucchini or carrots. My train of thought was genuinely this: I'm eating cake. Why ruin it with vegetables?


Which leads me to this carrot cake recipe. Now I'm STILL not exactly sure why I decided to make a carrot cake after literally eight years of avoiding it. But I figured I'd start with a tried and tested recipe from one of the baking greats, Stella Parks. This recipe is adapted from her cookbook, BraveTart; according to the recipe's headnotes, it's the cake that Stella baked for her own wedding, which is perhaps the biggest endorsement you can give to any recipe. Her recipe uses brown butter to highlight the earthy sweetness of the carrots, along with whole wheat flour to help absorb moisture from the vegetables and keep the cake light and fluffy. It's absolutely delicious and may even be enough to convert me into using vegetables in my desserts recipes on a regular basis.


To make it Easter themed (Easter is this Sunday, can you believe it?!), I lined the cream cheese frosting with these shimmery Cadbury mini eggs (yes, they are literally shimmery versions of those Cadbury eggs that everybody loves — not the ones with the gooey center, but the ones with the hard candy shell). To be perfectly honest with y'all, the Cadbury egg decor was a low-key disaster — although it looked great and was easier to decorate, than say, something more elaborate like this ruffle cake, cutting the cake was a bit of a nightmare and caused Cadbury eggs to fly violently off the cake and shatter everywhere. Not to mention the fact that after about an hour or so, the dye from the eggs started to run and drip down the cake because of their contact with the frosting! Ew. So although this egg design makes for a great Instagram photo, I'm sad to say I definitely wouldn't recommend this technique in the future and feel low-key betrayed by this recipe and this blog post that recommends something similar. Sorry to crush everybody's dreams, HAPPY EASTER.


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Some baker's notes:
  • To make this recipe, you'll need 24 ounces of peeled and shredded carrots. You can either buy them already peeled and shredded, but I noticed that a processed bag was literally three times the price of unprocessed carrots! I ended up following Stella's recommendation in the book and buying 2 pounds of carrots, trimming and peeling them, and then using the fine shredder disc blade in my food processor to shred them. The whole thing took about 10 minutes (shredding them in the food process took less than a minute — the majority of the work was peeling the damn things) and saved me a decent amount of cash.

  • Don't panic — this cake makes a LOT of batter. Make sure to use pans with at least 3 inch sides for each cake; in a pinch, you can always move up to 9-inch cake pans or use a fourth 8-inch cake pan.

  • Stella's cream cheese frosting is actually based on German buttercream recipes, which instructs the baker to first make a pudding and then beat it with butter (and cream cheese, for this  particular recipe) to make a more stable frosting than traditional American cream cheese frosting that still melts in your mouth. Unfortunately, like Swiss meringue buttercream, German buttercream can be unpredictable — if the pudding is added to the butter at too warm of a temperature, the buttercream will end up too loose and gooey. Alternatively, if it's too cold, the buttercream will feel stiff, dense, and taste oily. If the former, refrigerate the entire bowl for 14 minutes, then whip for 3 minutes on medium-high. If it seems too stiff. scoop out a cup of it into a small bowl and microwave until completely melted, about 30 seconds. Pour the melted buttercream into the rest of the buttercream and whisk on medium-high for 15 seconds.

  • Because the pudding needs to be cooled to room temperature, I actually ended up making this cake over 2 days. On the first day, I made the cakes and the pudding for the cream cheese frosting; on the second day, I finished making the cream cheese frosting and decorated the cake. If you're going this route, make sure you let the pudding come to room temperature by taking it out of the fridge at least 1 hour before using. It needs to be rewarmed to 68 (F). If you're planning on making the cake all in one day, I suggest make the pudding first, then the cakes; let both the pudding and cake come to room temperature before finishing the frosting and decorating the cake.

hawaiian sweet bread rolls

April 9, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

Are you a Shake Shack or an In-N-Out person? Don't cop out and say you're both, because there is no such thing in the EPIC battle between the two mighty and very delicious fast food chains. I'll go ahead and say it myself: I'm on Team Shake Shack. I used to work across from the original location in Madison Square Park, and, on days that were particularly rough (or, if the line happened to be short, lol), I'd treat myself to a cheeseburger, crinkle-cut fries, and, if work was REALLY bad, a milkshake.


Although it's been a couple of years since I lived in New York, I still find myself craving Shake Shack regularly (Portland happens to be one of the last places in America that STILL doesn't have a location — what gives!). To curb these cravings, I bought a copy of their cookbook and decided to try and recreate their burgers at home. While I nailed their secret sauce and the perfect sear on my patties, the bread situation was a little lacking. The problem? Martin's Potato Rolls aren't as much of a thing out in the West Coast, and I didn't want to pay a bizzaro amount of money to buy multiple bags online.


So I started looking for substitutions: the potato rolls here were far inferior to anything you can buy out east, but there were plenty of Hawaiian sweet rolls to choose from. In particular, I was fond of King's Hawaiian — they had the same light and fluffy texture as my beloved Martin's potato rolls, with just the right amount of chewiness to hold up to any filling. Pretty soon, I was addicted and eating King's even without the burger accoutrements.


It never occurred to me that I could easily make them at home until I flipped through my good friend Alana's new cookbook, Aloha Kitchen. Aloha Kitchen is all about Hawaiian cuisine and its many influences from all around the world — for instance, these Hawaiian sweet bread rolls are actually based on pão doce, a sweet bread from Portugal. Alana's version pays homage to my beloved King's Hawaiian rolls, but also notes that every island has its own local sweet bread spot.


Confession: I've never actually been to Hawai'i (except for a brief stopover when I was flying from Portland to Manila — I don't think that counts). But Alana's book really transported me there; it's filled with beautiful images of the island, with recipes, stories, and even history lessons. Never has a cookbook given me such a complete sense of place. I'm especially proud of Alana because she started the cookbook process a few months before I did — I see her years of hard work on every page, and hear her warm voice and deep passion for her home in every word of Aloha Kitchen. Her book is an incredible accomplishment beyond what I can describe here, so be sure to check it out for yourself!


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book || pan || plates

Some baker's notes:
  • Although Alana's version has you make and bake the rolls in one day, I split the recipe over two days to make an overnight version to cut down the time I spent waiting in the kitchen. To expedite the process and make the rolls all in one day, skip chilling the dough in the fridge overnight and instead let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Proceed with the rest of the instructions on Day 2 as instructed.

  • To roll the dough into balls, I use the pinch and claw grip as taught by this video and the Bread Ahead cookbook's method for shaping donuts. The video will explain it much better, but you basically fold the seams of the dough inwards to make a rough ball shape, then use your hand in a claw shape to roll the dough into a perfect circle. If that didn't make any sense, just watch the video, lol. 

caramel stuffed brownie cookies

April 2, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

Currently as I write this, my life is a sh*itshow: I'm still recovering from a months long throat and eye infection, I'm inhaling my way through a bag of sour cream and cheddar ruffle chips roughly the size of a small pillow, and I've been listening to the Counting Crows' "Big Yellow Taxi" on repeat for the last two hours. Both my living and dining room look like they've been hit by a hurricane of papers, props, kitchen tools, and even appliances (there's literally been a new oven sitting in the middle of the living room for a month now). And I haven't gotten my hair cut in a year and a half. Ooof.


Why the hot mess? I'm in the middle of what is (hopefully) one of the final pushes for my book, Weeknight Baking. Can you believe that I've been working on the manuscript for almost two years now? It's been quite the journey and a real test of my patience (something I've never had much of, lol). Things in publishing happen very slowly until they happen ALL AT ONCE (with little to no warning to boot). It really upends your life — you just gotta hang on for the ride. I'm sure y'all are sick of hearing about it, but I promise I'm close, so close. And everything will go back to normal. Maybe. *laughs manically*


In the meantime though, let me give you guys a taste of what I've been working on these last few years. I'm currently in the editing process of Weeknight Baking, and along the way, we've had to cut out some awesome recipes that I really love but didn't quite fit the theme of the overall book.

Like these brownies cookies!


Although they are a little too time-consuming to make on a weeknight, they are seriously one of my favorite cookie recipes. Each cookie tastes like a brownie edge piece, with fudgy centers and crispy, cracky edges. For extra fun, I stuffed each cookie with a caramel candy. During the baking process, the caramel melts and turns into a gooey puddle in the middle of the cookie. So good!


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Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe works best if you have a 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop. The 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop is a major workhorse in my kitchen, and is responsible for the pretty and generous bakery-style cookies you often see on my blog and Instagram. It ensures you get perfectly round cookies that are the same size and shape each time, along with minimizing the mess in the kitchen. You're going to use your hands to mold and shape these cookies by pressing two cookie dough balls together. It's pretty important they're all the same size — if they're uneven, the caramel leak out and create a giant mess. If you're a serious baker (or planning on being one), a 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop is worth it, I promise. Here's the exact one I use that I apparently bought back in 2013 — there's no stopping that baby! 

  • For this recipe, you'll need to source caramel candies that are both soft and chewy — not the kind that's hard and more like a lollipop. Those don't melt properly in the cookies and won't result in the gooey, molten caramel centers. For these cookies, I used Werther's Original Chewy Caramels, which is available in the candy aisle of most major supermarkets and pharmacies. In a pinch, you can also substitute other candies; when I was testing this recipe for Weeknight Baking, I baked them with Junior Mints, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and even marshmallows. All were delicious. 

filipino ensaymada

March 28, 2019

Portland, OR, USA

This post was done in partnership with Land O'Lakes. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I'm incredibly excited to work with Land O'Lakes because of their high-quality butter and dairy products. Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and the sponsors who keep the lights on!


I'm very, VERY excited to share this recipe for Filipino ensaymadas today! When I choose what recipes to bake and share on Hummingbird High, I usually pick the recipe because it sounded tasty and like something I'd want to eat. I'm sad to admit this, but I'm not one of those food bloggers whose recipes come from a deep and rich family history, each with a story of its own. Truth be told, I'm the first "serious" baker in my family (though my mom is a great savory cook, and my grandma made a killer leche flan). But in addition to being tasty as heck, today's recipe actually has some cultural and historical significance to me too.


First of all: what are ensaymadas? They're a Filipino pastry, often eaten as breakfast or a sweet afternoon snack in the Philippines. Ensaymadas are made with brioche dough that is rolled with butter and sugar to make a small bun; each bun is then topped with more butter, sugar, and a special type of Edam cheese called queso de bola (which tastes a lot like mild cheddar cheese). Ensaymadas are actually based on ensaïmadas, a Spanish Mallorcan pastry; this is likely due to the fact that Spain colonized the Philippines for over 300 years. However, the cheese topping is a uniquely Filipino twist — many Filipino dishes often have both sweet AND savory elements, and ensaymadas are no exception.


Now, why are ensaymadas a big deal for me? If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I was born in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, and lived there up until I was 9. My family then moved to the Netherlands, and then to Houston, Texas, where I attended high school before moving to Portland for college. I was very lucky to have grown up internationally; from a young age, I was exposed to many cultures and international customs that I eventually embraced as my own.

But food is what keeps me tied to my Filipino heritage. Even while living in the Netherlands, the US, and England (my parents moved to London after I graduated from high school; I spent many of my college breaks and summers there), my mom made sure to cook Filipino food on an almost nightly basis. I was also lucky to live in both San Francisco and New York, both of which have large Filipino communities. While there, I frequently dragged Erlend to hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Daly City and Woodside, just so I could have a taste of Filipino classics like adobo, crispy pata, and more.

And as the years have gone by, I've also found myself trying to recreate my mom's recipes and many Filipino dishes at home too. While nothing can really compare to my mom's cooking, I've found a lot of success in incorporating Filipino flavors like ube in desserts (see: this babka, these cinnamon rolls, and this layer cake) and baking traditional Filipino sweets like leche flan and giving the recipe my own twist to match my personal tastes.


These ensaymadas are one such example. This recipe is actually adapted from I Am A Filipino, and is based on a traditional Filipino ensaymada recipe that uses shortening to enrich the dough. I've tried making ensaymada dough with butter before — while delicious, the butter version doesn't have the classic ensaymada flavor I remember from the Filipino bakeries of my childhood. This was disappointing since I usually avoid using shortening in my baking; I just don’t think it’s as delicious as using butter. Unfortunately, the shortening really is a MUST to capture that authentic ensaymada taste.

But I did find another way to rein the recipe in. Ensaymada recipes traditionally have a frosting recipe that you then use as both a filling and topping for the dough. Nicole and Melvin’s recipe instructs you to use a stick butter for their recipe; instead, I used Land O Lakes® Butter with Canola Oil. This product is MUCH easier to spread than stick butter, whipping into the perfect texture straight from the fridge. The canola oil also helps cut down on the richness of the overall recipe, making what I consider to be the ideal ensaymada: rich but light, sweet with a little bit of salt from the cheese, and really freakin’ delicious. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • To make these ensaymadas, you’ll need two jumbo muffin pans and baking cup liners to fit. In a pinch, you can substitute with a regular muffin pan, but you’ll need to portion out the dough to 1.5 ounces (as opposed to 3 ounces each), and scale down the frosting and cheese needed for each bun accordingly. If you go this route, you’ll end up with 20 smaller buns.

  • I mentioned this earlier in the post, but traditionally, Filipino ensaymadas are topped with queso de bola cheese, a type of Edam cheese. I wasn’t able to find any in Portland; I ended up substituting it with a mild cheddar cheese (buy the kind that comes pre-grated, to save you time in the kitchen), but I’ve also seen other recipes that use a mild parmesan cheese.

  • Because I hate waiting for dough to rise, I stuck my dough in the fridge to let it rise overnight as I slept. It was ready for me to shape the next morning. You can expedite this recipe and make it all in one day too — after making the dough, let rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size. Proceed with the recipe’s instructions for shaping the buns and letting rise a second time before baking.

  • Some of you will notice that these buns are cooked at a lower-than-usual oven temperature for bread recipes — this is not a mistake, but instead how traditional ensaymada recipes roll (haha, see what I did there?). Because the temperature is on the lower side, the buns won’t brown or crust like bread traditionally does in the oven. It can be hard to tell when the ensaymadas are done. Look for a very lightly browned top that’s still very soft and squishy; if you have a food thermometer, the inside of the center of one of the buns should be around 200°F.

behind-the-scenes: clean up!

March 22, 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!


At the start of the year, I ran a reader survey asking folks about the kinds of content they wanted to see on Hummingbird High. While everybody wanted more recipes — both sweet AND savory, which is exciting! — the second most requested content category was Behind-the-Scenes content. Folks wanted to see more photos of how the recipes actually came together, as well as more information about what happens before and after the development of a recipe. And while I'm currently working on a post answering all your questions like "How do you develop your own recipes from scratch?" and "How did you learn how to style and photograph food?", I thought it would be fun to start with what happens AFTER a recipe is developed, baked, and photographed for Hummingbird High.


First of all, there's no standard amount of times I test recipes for Hummingbird High. On average, it took about 10 to 12 iterations per recipe until I was satisfied with the recipes for my upcoming cookbook, Weeknight Baking. For blog content, I'm a little bit more lax, but it can still vary and really add up. Because unlike with cooking (where you can get away with making a ton of changes to the recipe all at once), baking requires WAY more precision. Adding an entire egg or even a few half teaspoons of baking powder or baking soda can have dramatic effects on a baking recipe, so it's best to isolate all the changes one by one. That means that every time I bake something, I make just ONE change to the recipe to keep track of what happens! Sometimes my changes to the recipe are major, like adding more butter or eggs because I thought the initial recipe was too dry. Other times, the changes are much smaller, like increasing the original recipe's salt content by 1/2 teaspoon because I thought the previous version was too bland. But at the end of the day, all of this translates to a LOT of clean-up — for every recipe you see on my blog, there are probably several hours of washing dishes behind each one!

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