Nine Years of Hummingbird High
Today’s recipe is a throwback post to the blogging days of yesteryear. Because my blog, Hummingbird High, is officially nine years old! (Well, *technically*, Hummingbird High turned nine last Friday, but I felt weird about posting anything then. More on that shortly.)
Nine. Years. Old.
What on earth!
But before I begin, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about the election. I personally spent last week refreshing the ballot count. Any attempts to distract myself—by looking at pretty photos on Instagram and Pinterest, funny videos on TikTok—didn’t work. As I scrolled through my feeds, all the usual inspirational photos of food, fashion, and interiors rang hollow. As a result, I decided to pause my regular content schedule. I spent the week ignoring most of the DMs and tags on my social media accounts. I personally just didn’t have the wherewithal for it all.
And while that sounds incredibly harsh and judgy, I GENUINELY don’t mean it to be! People handle stress and anxiety in different ways. I’m the kind of person who spent last week immersing herself with live updates and a constant stream of news blaring in the background. For better or for worse, my reaction to stress is to embrace it. But others would rather distract themselves by going about their regular routine. While that doesn’t work for me, I get that, too.
And in any case, here we are. I could go on and on about the election (and how thrilled I am for #bidenharris2020!!!), but that’s not why you’re here (as many of you let me know in my celebration cake, lol). You want to know about THIS strawberry yellow sheet cake and my nine years of blogging at Hummingbird High.
So let’s do it.
The Beginning of Hummingbird High
When I first started this blog way back in 2011, I genuinely had no idea that it was going to last this long. I’d kept blogs before—moody MySpace entries during my high school years, even more melancholy LiveJournal ones during college, and finally, Michelle in Manila, which chronicled the strange few months during which I lived in the Philippines for an internship in finance.
These blogs had a common theme: they were my outlets to feel less alone. This is not something I share frequently or publicly, but the truth is, I suffer from bouts of intense anxiety and depression. And writing about my life is a way to help deal with it all. Blogging was cathartic. It allowed me to make sense of difficult times and messy situations.
So in 2011, when I found myself in a new city working a job I hated away from most of my friends and family, I started a new blog: Hummingbird High. I started writing about baking recipes as a way to distract myself from the stresses of my day job. Until then, it never occurred to me to reconcile my love for baking and my habit of writing together. I became obsessed! In the early days of this blog, I chronicled my attempt to bake through The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, my favorite cookbook at the time, and my work to adapt its recipes to work in Denver’s unforgiving high altitude environment. I recorded all my attempts, failures, and finally, successes while baking the bakery’s recipes. Eventually, I graduated to writing recipes of my own, like the ones you see here today.
And while this blog has been and will always be a “recipe” blog, there was a lot of storytelling back then, too. I wrote about an old love getting married in this key lime pie bar recipe; a botched attempt at a romantic gesture on this recipe for candy heart cupcakes; my conflicted feelings on leaving Portland for a job opportunity in San Francisco on this brownie recipe; and my unrealized daydreams of starting a new studio/store in this birthday cake recipe. And I wasn’t alone in this confessional style! So many food blogs wrote in this way that it even became a meme. All kinds of people—even other professional writers, comedians who get paid to pontificate on stage, and celebrities like Mindy Kaling!—would occasionally weigh in, with many wishing that food bloggers “just get to the recipe.”
I’m not going to do a deep dive about why that criticism is boring, entitled, and sexist (though I happen to think all those things—but let’s save that for another post). But I will say this: even despite its problematic nature, many food bloggers, including myself, sat up and paid attention to the criticism. Because over the years, I’ve noticed that many of us shifted away from that narrative storytelling format. Instead, we now set up our blogs to be, well, the cooking resources that “just get to the recipe”. Why? It’s what you, our audience, wants. And we need your pageviews and clicks to help us earn income for our work.
Hummingbird High Today
And indeed, these days, when I write a blog post, I offer nothing personal about my life. Instead, I give you all the information you could ever possibly want (and too much more, according to some of you, lol) on how to make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread or Dalgona Coffee. My goal is for you guys to see Hummingbird High as a baking encyclopedia of sorts. I break down every recipe by its ingredients and substitutions, techniques, as well as discuss common issues the baker might run into and provide ways to troubleshoot them. Sometimes, I even include information about the dish’s history and background! Every post is so formulaic that, these days, I hesitate to describe myself as a “food blogger”. Because this kind of deep-dive is not what “food bloggers” do, right? At least, not the ones that everybody complains about… in theory.
So no longer am I just some random girl writing about her life on the internet. Instead, I am the “expert” you turn to when you want baking questions answered. The baker you turn to when you need help making a complicated cake for a special occasion, or help walk you through making cookies from scratch for the first time ever. In many cases, a lot of you treat me as your own personal Google. My inboxes are filled with endless baking and support questions that I answer day and night.
And while it can be fun and rewarding to help everybody learn to become better bakers, it also feels pretty different from the reason why I started Hummingbird High. Looking through old blog posts full of stories about my life, I sometimes wonder what I’ve lost when I focus on the technicalities of the recipe and nothing else. It can also be pretty disheartening to see some of the responses when I do post the occasional “political” post—like this cake encouraging people to vote or this cake celebrating the election results. Although I don’t think these posts are even that incendiary (and I appreciate that MANY of you are incredibly supportive of their messages), I’m also always shocked by the number of folks who are quick to tell me to just shut up and bake. To these people, I am not someone entitled to express her own thoughts and opinions on her own account. I exist solely to create recipes and answer their baking questions when needed; they would much rather prefer it if I didn’t remind them of my existing humanity.
So truthfully, none of it feels sustainable. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way, either. Because plenty of folks have already tapped out. Instead of embracing the support aspects of content creation and navigating the near impossible standards set by their audiences, some blogs have simply closed shop. Like Tavi Gevinson of Rookie Mag and Grace Bonney of Design Sponge. Most recently, food blogger Erin Alderson of Naturally Ella wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking, but 100% understandable post explaining why she was choosing to tell her story in another way, too.
The Future of Hummingbird High
Don’t panic just yet! This is not me saying goodbye. But I’m also going to be honest with you guys: the end does feel close. I have a hard time seeing what the road looks like ahead. Well, that’s not true. I know what the road looks like ahead. My friends and peers who are still “ALL IN” on the game keep telling me to adapt and just give the people what they want. That means less of the in-depth writing—personal OR recipe-driven—that I love. Instead, more of the short, digestible TikTok and Reels style videos that break down complicated processes in a matter of seconds (which, to be honest, is pretty much the opposite of most my baking recipes, lol). And apparently people are no longer content with just pretty photos of food, too. They want to see ME baking it. Just as long as I’m not sharing any of my personal beliefs along the way, apparently.
None of the above portends good things for an ISTJ who takes her time with her work, is content to be behind the camera, and isn’t shy to express her unpopular opinions. That’s why I’m saying the end feels close. But what does that actually mean? That’s what I’m still figuring out. Do I ignore the trends, go back to the kind of blogging I love to do, and make income in another way like I did for many years? Or do I embrace what I am less interested in to make Hummingbird High financially sustainable…all the while risking destroying what made it my happy space in the first place? I don’t know. But I do hope that you’ll be patient with me, as I spend the next year figuring it out.
See past anniversary posts here:
- Red Velvet Cupcakes for Eight Years of Hummingbird High
- Ube Layer Cake for Seven Years of Hummingbird High
- Hummingbird Cake for Six Years of Hummingbird High
- The Best Red Velvet Cake for Five Years of Hummingbird High
- A Naked Red Velvet Cake for Four Years of Hummingbird High
- Homemade Funfetti Cake for Three Years of Hummingbird High
- Pink Champagne Cupcakes for Two Years of Hummingbird High
- Confetti Cookies for One Year of Hummingbird High
Just Get To The Recipe
To celebrate my blog’s ninth birthday, I decided to make the yellow cake from my cookbook, Weeknight Baking. Although I typically love it with chocolate frosting, I paired it with an easy strawberry buttercream frosting for color and flavor! The strawberry buttercream frosting is adapted from my friend Lyndsay at Coco Cake Land and uses freeze-dried strawberries for flavor. You can learn more about freeze-dried strawberries in this recipe for chocolate strawberry snack cake.
Strawberry Yellow Sheet Cake Recipe
For the Yellow Sheet Cake
- 2 cups (8 ounces or 227 grams) cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅔ cup (5.35 ounces or 152 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ⅔ cup (11.65 ounces or 330 grams) granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup tightly packed (2.5 ounces or 71 grams) light OR dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ⅔ cup (5.35 ounces or 157 grams) canola oil
- ⅔ cup (5.35 ounces or 157 grams) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For the Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
- 1 cup (8 ounces or 227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 to 2 drops pink or red food coloring
- 2 cups (8 ounces or 227 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
- ½ cup (.30 ounces or 8 grams) freeze-dried strawberries, finely processed
- pinch of kosher salt
For the Strawberry Yellow Sheet Cake
- First, make the yellow sheet cake. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously spray an 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. Spray the parchment, too.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugars. Beat on medium until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume,3 to 4 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer to low and add the eggs one at a time, adding the next egg only after the previous one has been fully incorporated, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the oil, followed by the buttermilk and vanilla, and beat until the mixture is smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, and beat on low for an additional 30 seconds.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to smooth its top if necessary.
- Bake the cake. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. When done, the top of the cake should bounce back when gently pressed and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake should come out with a few crumbs attached. Cool completely in the pans on a wire rack before frosting.
- Once the cake is cool, make the strawberry buttercream frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, food coloring, and vanilla on medium-low until soft and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer on low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, freeze-dried strawberries, and salt and beat until combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, then beat on medium-high until the frosting is creamy and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Assemble the strawberry yellow sheet cake. Use an offset spatula to cover the top of the cake with the frosting completely. Garnish with sprinkles.
- Serve and store. Serve at room temperature. The cake will keep in an airtight container for 1 day. After that, transfer to the refrigerator and refrigerate for up to 2 more days.