chocolate chestnut yule log

December 15, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

When I set out to make this chocolate chestnut yule log as a centerpiece for our holiday dessert table this year, I fell into a rabbit hole researching the origins of yule logs and bûche de Noël cakes. What I believed to be an innocent dessert actually originated in Germanic Paganism! The yule log was special log selected to burn and represent the battle between the epic good and evil, with the fire representing the light and the power to turn evil into ashes. Some cultures even believed that the special log had the power to ward off all sorts of bad stuff, like toothaches and other physical ailments to weather patterns like lightning and hail.


Somewhere along the way, the yule log turned from a magical ward against evil into a tasty and delicious cake served around Christmastime. Although they're mostly a European tradition and not as popular in the United States, I've been seeing them more and more around these parts. I'm pretty sure that their rising popularity around these parts can be attributed to The Great British Bake Off airing on Netflix; I mean, my own interest in making one stemmed after watching The Great British Bake Off holiday special on Netflix where contestants from previous seasons fiddled with making a yule log.

And I'll be honest — my first attempt at making one was a disaster. I'd ignored all the advice on the show about using a Genoise cake sponge base and opted to use the yellow cake recipe in my upcoming cookbook instead. But there's a reason why you need to use a Genoise sponge; because they're lighter and airier, they're much easier to shape and roll into a log than the dense and heavy buttermilk cake in #weeknightbakingbook, which cracked and crumbled upon rolling. Oops.

And keeping true to the spirit of The Great British Bake Off, I opted to make it a true showstopper by turning it into a vertical layer cake as opposed to the long, horizontal cakes that tend to be the more traditional form of yule log cakes. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but all of that goes to my friend Izy, who'd posted her unforgettable version last year — the only thing that I really did differently was make all my decorations edible and stick it under a cake cover to mimic a succulent dome. Be sure to check out the baker's notes below for more information on Genoise sponges and where to source all the edible chocolate acorn and mushroom cookies I used for decoration!


Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe is made up of a variety of smaller ones from different sources: the cake recipe comes from my friend Erin's amazing cookbook, The Fearless Baker (it's a great stocking stuffer for beginner bakers, not only filled with solid recipes but also a ton of awesome information about baking); the chocolate chestnut filling from King Arthur Flour; and the chocolate ganache recipe from one of my favorite vintage Hummingbird High cake recipes. Because it has so many components and can be pretty time consuming, I recommend splitting up the work — both the chocolate chestnut filling and the ganache can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator; simply heat in a double boiler and rewhip before using. The cakes can be made up to a day before, stored in their rolled shapes in between parchment paper. Simply cover and wrap the entire thing in plastic wrap. 

  • Roulades are an intimidating cake to make; I mentioned earlier that even the accomplished bakers on  The Great British Bake Off struggle with unmolding their cakes and making sure they don't crack. The trick for a good roulade is to use a solid recipe — a solid recipe will make a sponge that is lighter and bakes faster than traditional cake recipes. Successful roulade recipes also traditionally don't use any fat like butter or oil in them, and are traditionally leavened with just egg whites. As a result, it's really important to fold your mixture carefully to prevent it from deflating too much before baking. For the best and most consistent results, it's also worth it to have both a stand mixer and a handheld electric mixer on hand — one for whipping the egg yolks and dry ingredients, the other for whipping the leavening meringue. I know that's extra, so in a pinch, you can just use a stand mixer and wash and dry the bowl and attachments thoroughly between each batter. 

  • Assembling the vertical roll cake seems like it's tricky, but is actually easier than assembling a vertical layer cake. If you need visual aids with my instructions, I recommend checking out my friend Tessa's guide on — she has super helpful photos for everything in the process. And unlike a layer cake where it helps to have the exact amount of frosting between each layer, you can be a little bit more lax when topping the cakes with the chestnut filling. The unevenness makes for a more rustic and realistic tree stump! 

  • I really wanted all the decorations on the cake to be edible, so I used the following ingredients to build the scene: acorn and mushroom cookies from Meiji (you can get them from Amazon, but they're usually available in the candy section of any major super market near the Hello Panda cookies, lol), crushed Golden Oreos and culinary matcha powder to represent soil and moss, and these chocolate truffle mushrooms I found at the gourmet Italian store near my gym. For the edible succulents, I rolled out a knob of dyed green marzipan and used a combination of these rose cutters and these succulent ones to make the plants — the trick is to keep the marzipan fairly thick (about 1/4-inch thickness) to emulate the plush leaves of a succulent plant. But really, you can also go the minimalist route and just garnish the whole thing in confectioners' sugar to mimic a dusting of snow. Use your imagination and whatever you have on hand! 

cinnamon raisin wreath bread

December 13, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

This post was sponsored by Land O'Lakes, my favorite butter company! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and I'm incredibly excited to have worked with Land O'Lakes for the past year because of their high-quality butter and dairy products. Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

Though I love looking at all the holiday decor on Pinterest and Instagram, the truth is that I'm not much of a decorator in real life. The holiday decorations in my house usually consist of two stockings that Erlend and I usually forget to fill them with stuffers until the last possible minute before Christmas. To add insult to injury, we're too lazy to hang up string lights and don't have much space for a tree — even if we did get one, the cat would likely knock it down in an instant or try to eat it (Okay, does your cat try to eat your houseplants too? Or is it just my weirdo of a cat?). It's a sad state of affairs at #casahummingbirdhigh, I know.

So, I usually try to compensate for our holiday challenges in other ways, mostly by focusing on what I'm good at: making showstopping desserts. I love the idea of edible holiday decorations like gingerbread houses, Christmas cookie ornaments, and beautiful braided breads like this cinnamon raisin wreath:

This wreath recipe is based on one of my favorite babka recipes, the chocolate krantz cake, which I've made several times for this blog with different flavors like pumpkin and chocolate and even Filipino ube. This time around, I went with a cinnamon sugar filling made with Land O Lakes® Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread, topped with a just the right amount of raisins — to me, there is nothing more festive or celebratory than the combination of sugar and cinnamon in the wintertime.

Traditionally, babkas are baked in loaf pans and therefore come in loaf form. But because this recipe makes so much dough (usually enough for two standard 5 by 9-inch loaves), I was able to take the dough and shape it into a wreath. It's much easier than it looks, and the babka's sliced edges give the wreath a beautiful texture that catches the glaze and powdered sugar beautifully. Be sure to watch the video on my Instagram page and check out the GIFs below to see how this wreath came together!

Some baker's notes:
  • Just a head's up that there's no sugar in the filling — my first few versions of this wreath added 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of sugar in the recipe, but the sugar always ended up leaking out in the oven and creating a sticky mess. I like the flavor of Land O Lakes® Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread on its own and think it's plenty sweet without the extra sugar (it reminds me of my favorite cinnamon sugar breakfast cereal!), but if you insist on a sweeter bread, add 1/4 cup more raisins and go heavy on the glaze and powdered sugar.

  • If you're feeling strapped for time, you can break the recipe up into two parts and proof the dough in the refrigerator overnight to have it ready to go the next morning. After mixing the dough, transfer it to lightly greased glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator overnight until doubled in size. Another benefit of chilling the dough overnight is that it actually makes it easier to roll and shape into a wreath!

english muffins and gravlax

December 10, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

This post is sponsored by Pacific Seafood, who provided the ingredients and compensation to make it happen! Although I'm more known for my bakes, I try and eat healthily at home by cooking with lots of organic vegetables and sustainably-raised proteins like chicken and fish — I'm hoping to share more of those recipes in the upcoming year, starting with this Columbia River Steelhead gravlax recipe. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors who help Hummingbird High run!

Many years ago, right when I first started this blog and back when Erlend and I were still living in Denver, his cousin Darcy invited us over for brunch at their place. Even though this was almost nine years ago, I still remember what she served — homemade English muffins. At the time, I had just started my baking journey and was still scared to bake anything related to bread and leavened by yeast, especially at high-altitude. When I asked her about the muffins, she laughed and told me "Oh these? These were really easy to make!" Although she meant to reassure me, her easygoing attitude towards the muffins was completely unrelatable and ended up intimidating me even more.

Fast forward to now — with several beautiful morning buns, babkas, and even a wreath bread under my belt, I finally felt ready to try making English muffins at home. I wish I could emulate Darcy's nonchalance and tell you guys that these were a breeze, but the truth is, my first attempt (using Bon Appetit's Best English Muffins Recipe, to boot) was a complete disaster. English muffins require a tricky dance of many steps, between mixing and shaping the dough and letting it rise, griddling the cakes in English muffin rings in a cast iron pan to let them brown beautifully and get their signature crust, and finally transferring it to the oven to finish baking. If you're not paying full attention or strapped for time (like I was the first time these), there's a lot of room for error. They're no #weeknightbakingbook project, for sure.

But still, I persevered. I'd recently received a giant shipment of Columbia River Steelhead from Pacific Seafood that, after an epic brunch of gravlax smørrebrød at Portland's Scandinavian brunch spot Broder Nord, I'd felt compelled to turn into gravlax perfect to pair with crunchy English muffins. Gravlax is a Nordic dish made by curing raw fish in salt, sugar, and dill; think of it as similar to smoked salmon, but with the smoke replaced by a subtle citrusy herb flavor. The trick to the best gravlax, of course, begins with using the best quality fish like Pacific Seafood's Columbia River Steelhead. Although gravlax is traditionally made with salmon, I decided to try making it with the steelhead, which has an extremely high count of omega-3 fatty acids, and best of all, is raised sustainably with a gentle environmental footprint — you can learn more about their certifications and sustainability awards on Pacific Seafood's site. I then cured the steelhead in a mixture of beets, horseradish, gin, and fresh herbs for added color and flavor. After a 2 day cure, I served the gravlax on my fresh homemade English muffins with a dab of cream cheese, smear of crème fraîche, extra herbs and spinach salad. It was the best brunch EVAR.

You may find yourself intimidated by the recipe below; it does requires sine planning, as you'll be working over a few days to cure the fish and make the English muffin dough the day before griddling and baking them. I've written the recipe to reflect this and break the work over three days. Interestingly enough, curing the Columbia River Steelhead is the easy part — you're simply covering the steelhead with different marinades on different days. As for the English muffins recipe, be sure to read my baker's notes for tips and tricks on how to succeed at English muffins. God speed.

Some baker's notes:
  • If you don't like how I've divided up the recipe over the span of days, click the "Print the Recipe" button link below — that will take you to a Google Doc that will have both the English muffins and gravlax recipes written in a more traditional format. 

  • Although you can probably get away with not using English muffin rings for this recipe, they do make your muffins a lot prettier by giving them a consistent round shape. That being said, they're incredibly fiddly to work with — you'll need to flip the muffins over in their rings as you cook them, and then unmold the muffins before baking them. If you don't care about the aesthetics of your muffins, I suggest skipping them entirely.

  • Similarly, you can probably get away with not using a digital food thermometer for this recipe, but it's incredibly hard to tell when English muffins are done cooking and baking since they don't really change much in appearance. The last thing I want is for you to end up with something raw in the middle, which is always a big risk when cooking bread in a griddle since the outsides cook so much faster than the puffy insides. The best way to prevent this is to finish baking the muffins in the oven, and using a digital thermometer to test the insides of each muffin — I've provided more specifics in the recipe for the done temperature of the muffins.

hummingbird high's kitchen refresh, pt. i

December 7, 2018

Louisville, KY, 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 the realm of home design, fashion, lifestyle, and food. Be sure to follow along the next few months to find out more — as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that make Hummingbird High possible!

When I remodeled the kitchen in my Portland house, I thought that I was making timeless design decisions. I chose neutral colors that I swore I wouldn't tire of and stuck to a mute color scheme of gray and white cabinets and walls to match practical stainless steel appliances. I played it pretty safe, worried about making bold choices and statements that I would grow out of in a few years.

Five years later, my kitchen is still wonderful in many ways: I still love the functional and opened-up layout catered to my needs (I mean, there's a baking station and everything), and I still adore the classic subway tile, double sink, and quartz countertops with the look of marble but have the practicality of granite. But it felt like something was missing, and I couldn't quite place my finger on what. More and more, I found myself on Instagram and Pinterest saving and re-pinning kitchens that looked like the opposite of my own — kitchens with bold, deep green or blue cabinetry centered around beautiful and unforgettable dramatic ranges.

how to throw a raclette party

December 4, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

This post was sponsored by Emmi Cheese, the world's largest Swiss milk processor and makers of delicious Swiss cheeses like gruyère, raclette, fondü and more! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

A few years ago, when I was still living in New York, raclette was all the rage. There was a food stand in Bryant Park that specialized in taking half a wheel of the Swiss semi-hard cheese, broiling the sliced half to get it all molten, and scraping gooey and melted bits over prosciutto sandwiches filled with butter and gherkin pickles. Unfortunately, despite how tasty the sandwich looked, I could only admire it from afar — the line was always too long, a testament to raclette's deliciousness.

Later, when I moved back to Portland, I attended a dinner party at my friends Jeremy and Sze Wa's house. In my friend circle, both Jeremy and Sze Wa were known for hosting large and extremely generous dinner parties — they frequently invited folks over for delicious hot pot parties, crepe making dinners, and dumpling folding lunches. At our last hot pot party, as we were cooking meat, vegetables, and noodles in pots of salty broth, Jeremy suggested that we throw a raclette party for our next dinner.

With those New York raclette sandwiches in my mind, I immediately blurted out "YES!" My enthusiasm, however, was alone — I was the only one who knew what a raclette party was. 90% of the table looked confused, leaving Jeremy to explain the raclette parties from his childhood (Jeremy is French and lived in Paris until he was 9; although raclette is Swiss, it is also popular in the Alpine region of France and frequently eaten in the wintertime throughout parts of France — in fact, the word "raclette" comes from the French word "to scrape"). Truthfully, there wasn't much to explain. Once Jeremy uttered the words "you scrape melted cheese on everything", everybody was on board. So behold — Jeremy's raclette dinner party tips below:

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