Chocolate Hazelnut Cream Puffs

At the beginning of the year, I had goals. Not resolutions, mind you, but goals. I’m still not really sure what the difference is between the two, but do know that I created a Google doc called "2013 Goals" willed with a series of fitness, financial, travel, and dietary ambitions that I was going to achieve within the year.

Looking through the list, I’m impressed with what I accomplished and amused at what I neglected. I tried being refined sugar-free for one month (spoiler alert: it wasn’t for me — guess you could’ve figured that one out), but never got around to being paleo for another. I’m now able to do full push-ups with no knees (!!) and my chest and nose touching the floor each time (!!!), but my pull-ups are still hilariously terrible even after 2 years of Crossfit.

More impressive, however, were the things that I managed to accomplish without actively being a goal at the start of the year. For instance — I’d initially planned on saving my money for the future, but after watching market and city trends, I decided that it was a better investment to buy my first house. Pretty cool, if maybe a little bit rash in retrospect.

With that in mind and the year coming to a fast close, I decided that maybe it was time to start figuring out my goals for 2014. I opened up a new Google doc and started a new list. Off the top of my head, I wanted to save up money to renovate my kitchen, run a marathon, start freelancing in food photography and travel somewhere I hadn’t ever been before. All tough goals, but attainable, right? But then the list kept growing and growing. Before I knew it, I had over 20 bullet points worth of goals.

Looking at the list, I winced. All of this? In a year? Really? Truth be told, it was looking more like a "30 before 30" list… and that was me being kind. Some of the bullet points were even more reminiscent of A 5 Year Plan, or worse, a business plan.

Had I fallen into the busy trap? Did I really need to be this busy, all the time?

Looking back on the year, I spent the majority of my downtime looking at Pinterest and Tumblr. The images that stuck out to me the most were ones of a quiet, idyllic lifestyle — like a picture of a girl wrapped up in a good book, or a rustic landscape from the point of view of a quiet cabin. I remember thinking to myself, somewhat bitterly, that it’d be the dream to someday have that sort of lifestyle — you know, the kind where I wasn’t constantly racing from my job to this blog, all the while trying to maintain some semblance of a social life and ensure that I didn’t gain 20lbs somewhere along the way. But why can’t I have that peaceful, slow-paced lifestyle now? After all, this list of 20+ goals sitting in my laptop in front of me was completely self-imposed. There was absolutely no reason except for my own ambition and neurotic personality… I mean, as good as it was to have goals, maybe I’d gotten a little bit manic about them in the end. Maybe 2014 wasn’t the year I was going to achieve things, no — maybe it’ll be the year to enjoy them.

So just like that, I highlighted my list and deleted all the items.

And boy, did it feel good.

In honor of this revelation, I spent last weekend gearing up for the holidays by doing almost nothing except for curling up with a mug of tea, a good book, and these chocolate hazelnut cream puffs:

Last month, Frangelico reached out to me to see if I was interested in working together again to create some hazelnut flavored desserts — we’d previously collaborated on this much beloved flourless chocolate hazelnut cake. Truthfully, it’s always such a pleasure to work with Frangelico because their hazelnut liqueur goes well with almost any chocolate dessert. I absolutely adore the flavor combination of chocolate and hazelnut, having made a variety of cakes, cupcakes and desserts based on that pairing alone.

These chocolate hazelnut cream puffs, however, are the best iteration of that flavor combination yet:

Filled with chocolate hazelnut whipped cream and topped with a rich, silky chocolate hazelnut ganache, these cream puffs just melt in your mouth. So light and fluffy, each bite almost dissolves in your mouth. This, my friends, is all you need for a life of leisure and a year of enjoyment — a clear calendar, a good book, and a plate of these chocolate hazelnut cream puffs.

I promise.

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Spiced Crème Brûlée

By the time you read this, I’ll probably be crazy jet lagged in New York City and/or dragging my poor boyfriend Erlend around to the 12+ bakeries that I want to visit. Everybody’s probably crazy busy with Christmas coming up so fast, so I’ll keep today’s post short and sweet by asking: what’s on your Christmas wish list?

Erlend and I exchanged Christmas presents early since we didn’t want to drag our presents all the way to New York with us. I gave him the waterproof shoes that he requested (we do live in Portland, after all),  along with this lovely sweater made from Alpaca wool and leather elbow patches that I hopefully will steal for myself one day. He also got me a pair of leather walking boots, and a slow cooker to help me with dinners on weekday nights, something I am notoriously awful at making for myself.

Other items on my wish list?

…and more, but I’m too embarrassed by my rampant consumerism to list them all here. So for now, let’s move on to these spiced crème brûlée teacups. These were adapted from my ebook, 12 Days of Christmas Desserts, which is available for download for FREE to anybody:

This recipe puts a holiday twist on traditional French crème brûlée — instead of a traditional vanilla bean custard, the custard’s cream base has been infused with cinnamon sticks, star anise, nutmeg and cloves. I like to think that they taste like Christmas in a cup, since you can bake them in ovenproof teacups for a particularly festive look.

Happy Holidays, everybody!

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Hummingbird High’s 2013 Review

Time for my annual lookback, where I review your favorite recipes and my favorite recipes. Ready for it? Here goes:

Readers’ Favorite Recipes of 2013:
That is, these babies are my blog’s most viewed recipes in 2013. YOUR favorites. And it looks like you lot are big chocolate and cake lovers, because all three recipes are for chocolate cake:

1. Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting (for Two!)

I am so glad that this recipe was one of y’all’s favorite recipes of the year — it’s one of my personal favorites too! This beautiful cake is adapted from Miette, a cookbook from one of San Francisco’s most popular bakeries. A golden yellow butter cake topped off with a rich, dark chocolate ganache frosting, Erlend and I finished this cake off between the two of us in just one day. It’s THAT good. Special thanks to Emily from Cupcakes & Cashmere for giving this cake some link love too!

2. Chocolate Sour Cream Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I’m also glad that this recipe made the list; it’s another one of my personal favorites. With a recipe adapted from Philadelphia’s famed Brown Betty Bakery, I’ve never had chocolate buttercream frosting that’s tasted this good. The secret is just a touch of cream cheese blended in. I highly recommend The Brown Betty Cookbook to anybody looking for a collection of some delicious, classic cakes.

3. Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake

Although I came up with this recipe during a partnership with Frangelico, I really made it for my friend who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. She couldn’t believe that this cake was flourless — dense and chocolatey, it tasted exactly like a brownie. And when topped with some chocolate hazelnut whipped cream? Nobody could resist it.

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Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake (Redux Recipe)

A year and a month ago, I posted this recipe for Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake on my blog. It was one of my absolute favorites — an incredibly buttery and moist buttermilk cake, soaked and topped in a buttery and sugary whiskey glaze. Unfortunately, I took the pictures before I had gotten the hang of my artificial lighting. The resulting images were oddly colored and didn’t do justice to the cake. I swore in my 2012 recipe roundup that I would remake this cake in 2013 to give it the pictures it deserved. And I’m just barely making the deadline, because here it is. My beloved Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake recipe from Vintage Cakes, but this time with beautiful pictures that capture the cake’s spirit.

I’m excited about this recipe for a couple of reasons. The first is that I rarely get to remake the recipes that I love — I guess one of the curses of food blogging is that I have to make new things each week for the sake of variety. But the second and perhaps most important reason why I’m excited is that this cake is absolutely delicious. I wrote in 2012 that it was one of the best cakes I’ve ever made, and I’m happy to say that my statement still holds true. So this is how I’m celebrating the start of 2014 — a party with this beautiful, boozy cake alongside of a couple glasses of neat bourbon whiskey.

Happy New Year’s, guys!
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Christmas in New York City

So as you can tell from the pictures above, I went to New York City for the holiday season to spend Christmas with Erlend (the boyf in the yellow beanie above) and his parents. His parents have a lovely place in the Upper West Side, and, fortunately enough, appreciate me and Erlend’s penchant to eat everything in sight. Together, the four of us ATE ALL THE THINGS, including stops at Momofuku Ssam and Milk Bar, Marco’s in Prospect Heights, Aamann Copenhagen and more.
And of course, no trip to NYC is complete without a food tour. Here are all the places I dragged Erlend to, in alphabetical order… you’re in for a ride! I took a LOT of photos during this trip, so don’t be surprised if you’ll be doing a lot of scrolling. Ready? Okay:
THE SWEET
Bouchon Bakery in Columbus Circle, Manhattan

So, for those of you with a good memory will remember that I actually visited Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery during my previous visit to New York back in May. I enjoyed their baked goods so much that I wanted to go back. Their baked goods are HUGE, with a chocolate chip cookie the size of my face and macarons the size of my palm:
Okay, first of all, pictures of ME eating a cookie! Rarely do you ever see me on this blog — normally I’m the one behind the camera. Admittedly not the most flattering pictures, but whatever. I was too distracted by the giant cookie to look at the camera, as you can tell. It’s almost like you can see me thinking about my plan of attack.
Now let’s talk about these macarons. They are probably some of my favorite macarons I’ve ever had. They are literally the size of your palm, and for $3.50. The best part? If you get a fruit flavored one, they have a dollop of tart jam in the center to balance out the sweetness. In the pictures above, Erlend’s holding a pistachio one on the left, and I’m holding their Christmas special, which was a cranberry flavored macaron with cream cheese frosting and cranberry jam in the center. So, so good. You guys don’t even KNOW.
So, hype meter is running high here — celebrity chef (Thomas Keller), best selling cookbook, and locations in all the hip places. Worth it? I say yes, especially if you’re fond of macarons, croissants and chocolate chip cookies.

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    Meyer Lemon Chess Pie

    If you pay attention to the food world, you’ll know that there’s this pie shop in Brooklyn called Four & Twenty Blackbirds that’s been making the waves right now. Their recently released cookbook is much beloved, with Food52 even dedicating a whole week to Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ pie recipes.

    So naturally, I had placed the pie shop at the top of my list of things to visit while I was in New York for Christmas. In fact, I had talked up Four & Twenty Blackbirds so much that even my boyfriend’s parents were interested in tagging along and trying out some pie with us! This is a big deal — Erlend’s dad doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, yet he was still won over by the idea of their pies. The four of us sat down and pored through Four & Twenty Blackbird’s winter pie menu, strategizing who was going to get what. We debated and fought over flavors like Salted Caramel Apple, Grapefruit Custard, and Lemon Chess for a good 15 minutes.

    So off the four of us went, taking the subway from their apartment in Morningside Heights all the way to Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ location in Gowanus, Brooklyn. I’ll admit that I’m not the most familiar with Brooklyn — although I have good friends that have resided/currently reside there, they’ve all tended to cluster in hip neighborhoods like Williamsburg or Bushwick. I assumed that Gowanus would be the same since the only landmarks I knew to be in the area were this pie shop and a terrarium store. But more on that later.

    After a 45 minute+ ride that involved many chaotic transfers, we were dumped out in the middle of a very derelict looking neighborhood consisting of wide avenues lined up with boarded-up shops. Ah, so this was Gowanus. No matter! We waved it off. It’s Brooklyn. Part of the charm, ya know? We passed a canal that was filled with murky water with a layer of colorful oily film and several empty beer cans floating up top. Only a few blocks now! We continued trekking past a gaggle of kids who were heckling at cars. Only a block away now! Ah! Here it is…

    To our horror, Four & Twenty Blackbirds didn’t look any different from the sorry storefronts that we had just passed. It was empty and lifeless, with bars on the windows and a boarded up door. Did we miss something? Apparently we did — Erlend’s dad spotted a tiny sign explaining that Four & Twenty Blackbirds was taking a holiday break. A crucial fact they had neglected to announce on their website.

    We subsequently spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around aimlessly, at a loss for something to do before our evening plans. The four of us were grumpy and disappointed that Four & Twenty Blackbirds had failed to deliver — what kind of business doesn’t announce its week-long closure on its website? I personally was heartbroken that I wouldn’t be able to try any of their pies for a long time, not unless I made it for myself…

    Which is what I did here:

    This pie is adapted from Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ recipe for Lemon Chess pie. What is chess pie? A pie filled with creamy custard. Sometimes flavored with fruit (like ours, in this case), but often times just plain old buttermilk or vanilla custard.

    I’ve heard two different origin stories for the chess pie. According to Wikipedia, it was named for the pie chest that predated the modern refrigerator and was used for storing pies and other food. According to Christina Tosi, head pastry chef of Momofuku Milk Bar, chess pie is a spin off of the expression "just pie" — often used by the ladies of yesteryear to describe winter pies they would make that lacked fruit filling ("just pie"/"chess pie"… get it?) since nothing was in season. I’m sure the real story is somewhere between the two, but I like Christina’s a lot more so I’m sticking with hers.

    For this pie, I substituted regular lemons with Meyer lemons, which I think gave the pie a slightly sweeter custard — truth be told, this tasted like a lemon bar in pie form! Its sweetness was offset by the apple cider vinegar in the pie crust recipe, which gives the pie crust a slightly tang along with a unique tender texture. As I’ve admitted several times on this blog, I’ve never been great with pie crust, so please forgive the uneven edges. I’m sure it would have been better at Four & Twenty Blackbirds… not that I’ll ever know.

    Not bitter at all.
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    Malasadas (a.k.a. Hawaiian Donuts!)

    Recently at work, my entire department took a behavior test to determine our different personalities, and how they work (or clash) with one another. The test assigned people a letter representing their main personality trait, of which there were four:

    • D: people who are especially ambitious, assertive and strong-willed
    • I: people who are especially social and driven by their emotions
    • S: people who are especially thoughtful, patient, and objective
    • C: people who are especially analytical and scientific, often times driven by data
    Reading the report, I was surprised at how accurate my profile was. I scored particularly high in the S and C categories. According to the results, I have a tendency to "display great attention to detail" and have a "fierce devotion to accuracy". Under pressure, I am "likely to remain tactful and diplomatic". And it’s true — I am a stickler for details and value my ability to think critically and see multiple points of views.
    However, with the good, came the bad: according to the report, people who scored high in S and C apparently had an inability to take charge and make difficult decisions, mostly as a result of analysis paralysis and the intense need to keep everybody happy. S personalities can be seen by others as meek and weak-willed, often times sacrificing their wants to maintain peace. Often times, they depend on others to call the shots and drive. 
    Hm. Weak-willed and unable to make a decision? Yikes.
    I showed the test results to Erlend and asked him what he thought. He agreed with the assessment that I was very analytical, but was surprised that the report had labelled me patient and willing to sacrifice my wants for others. He pointed out my extreme annoyance for tardiness, and the multiple times I had snapped at my housemates for their constant messes around the house.

    Which got me thinking — the test was supposed to assess your behavior at work, and as my role in a fairly entry-level position, it wasn’t my place to be calling any big shots or outwardly questioning my team leaders’ choices. So of course the test had labelled me as, well, for lack of a better word, a bit subservient. But what about in my personal life? Would these results still hold true?

    Sure enough, when I started applying the test’s findings to the rest of my life, I could already see a couple of its findings start to crumble. An inability to make decisions and take ownership, for instance, didn’t make any sense. After all, it was a refusal to accept dissatisfaction in my various jobs that led me to move from San Francisco to Denver to Portland in less than 2 years. I’ve had friends stay at jobs that they are miserable in and are dissatisfied with for much longer because they’re paralyzed by various ‘what if’ scenarios. Or what about the fact that I bought a house? Not a whole lot of 26 year olds would willingly invest in such a large venture by themselves.

    So by the time I finished comparing the test results to my personal life, I was left feeling supremely confused, a little emotional and frustrated. Why couldn’t I apply some of my assertiveness in the context of work, and why couldn’t I apply some of the patience and tactfulness I was known for at work to my personal life?

    I didn’t know the answer to that question, but I knew it was time to bake.

    Whenever I get too stressed out or too emotionally wound up, I always turn to baking as a way to calm myself down. There’s something about going through the motions of baking — that is, prepping my pans, measuring out ingredients, mixing them together — that seems to stabilize me. I think Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame said it best when she wrote:

    "I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say ‘nothing’ I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort."

    Indeed it is — like in the case of these malasadas. I’d been wanting to make Hawaiian donuts for some time now, ever since I saw a recipe in Lucky Peach magazine. However, it took me a long time to find time for the recipe since these donuts require a proofing time of FOUR HOURS. This long rise is what gives Hawaiian donuts their unique, rich flavor.

    It worked out for the best, in the end. Because after my introspection, four hours of baking is just what I needed. By the time these donuts were fresh out the fryer and rolled in cinnamon-sugar, I was no longer an emotional wreck and was happily popping donut after donut into my mouth. Because personality test, schmersonality test. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but I was pretty happy with who I am — and that’s all that matters, right?
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