Spring Hummingbird Cupcakes

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This past Sunday was Easter Sunday and my mom asked me to bake for her church because she was in charge of food & hospitality for the month. I gladly obliged since I love any excuse to bake large quantities of baked goods that are specially decorated! It’s easy to bake on any given day, but it’s hard to be motivated to actually decorate something. I really enjoy frosting cakes and cupcakes because it makes me feel like an artist, like I’m actually being creative. If you know me, you know that I lack skill in other forms of art. Stick figures are about the closest I can get to drawing humans and my drawings of animals resemble deformed aliens. So though I’m not an expert at it, I find joy and excitement in decorating cakes and cupcakes. 

I had a cupcake obsession phase during sophomore year of college and I would often go to Love at First Bite in Berkeley because their cupcakes were always moist, not too sweet, and had a good frosting to cake ratio. It was there that I found my favorite cupcake, the hummingbird cupcake. The hummingbird is a banana, pineapple and pecan cupcake, topped with cream cheese frosting. It’s probably the cupcake that I made the most frequently throughout college (aside from red velvet, which I don’t even really like, but everyone else seems to). This is my favorite hummingbird cupcake recipe. It’s simple and foolproof — I don’t change anything in the recipe. Throughout the years, I’ve also developed the perfect cream cheese frosting:

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter (room temperature/softened)
2 8 oz. blocks of cream cheese (room temperature/softened)
3-4 cups of powdered sugar (depending on the sweetness of your teeth)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

The most important thing when it comes to making cream cheese frosting, is making sure that the butter and cream cheese are soft. Always take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for at LEAST an hour. You can slice them into smaller parts to allow them to soften quicker. DO NOT microwave it! Even if you microwave it quickly, some water will separate from the butter and will change its structure. Beat the butter and cream cheese with a mixer for a few minutes until creamy. Get rid of those lumps! No one likes lumpy frosting! Add the vanilla and incorporate. Add the powdered sugar in 1 cup increments, beating after each addition. Voila! You get creamy cream cheese frosting!

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Design #1: eggs on a bed of grass
For this cupcake, I added some green dye to my cream cheese frosting and just kept mixing until I liked the color (about 6 drops per one cup of frosting). To make the grass, I used my 8 in. piping bag and a Wilton grass tip #233. If you use Ateco brand tips, it’s #133. The Wilton link above has great tips on piping technique. Pipe the grass upward in the middle and then start piping outward as you move away from the center of the cupcake. The key is to first stop applying pressure to the piping bag, then lift the tip off the cupcake. Don’t lift while still applying pressure, or else it gets everywhere and ruins the precise grassy shape. Then top it with chocolate eggs! I wanted to use M&M eggs but Target ran out :(. Luckily, just about every other chocolate company makes eggs around Easter time so I used whoppers!

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Design #2: the rose
There are many different techniques for piping roses, and this is probably the simplest one. To make this color, I added 11 drops red and 3 drops yellow to one cup of the frosting. I used the Wilton 1M open star tip (Ateco #826) and started piping on the CENTER of the cupcake and then piped around it until I covered the entire cupcake. I’ll have to try other techniques and piping tips and definitely practice before I can say that I’m totally satisfied with my rose-piping!

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Design #3: drop flower tip
I only made one of these and because I just wanted to switch the tip and practice with my other ones. I believe I used Wilton #190 and piped it using the same technique I used for the grass. I started in the middle and piped upward. To create drop flowers, I believe you’re supposed to stop applying pressure and then pull the tip away. BUT I kept applying pressure as I pulled the tip away, hence the taller peaks on each flower (I hope that made sense. I’m new to piping talk! :/).

Well enough of the baking talk, here are more pictures!
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I thoroughly enjoyed making these, and it brings me even more joy to know that others appreciated them as well! Hope you all had a joyful Easter!

Christmas Cookies

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We live in a time when food is all over the media, from magazines to cooking channels and shows about food constantly airing throughout the day. When I try to recall how I first fell in love with baking and cooking, I can never able pinpoint a specific instance. However, one thing that I am sure of is that the Food Network channel and hand-me-down Gourmet magazines definitely helped cultivate in me a fascination for cooking and baking.

During the wintertime of my sophomore year of high school, I somehow got my hands on a December issue of Gourmet magazine which featured pages and pages of cookie recipes for the holidays with appetizing pictures that really caught my eye. The cookies looked so festive and tasty and I desperately wished to be able to create such beautiful edibles to give away as Christmas presents. I’m not sure what my thought process was, but that winter, I decided to undertake the task of making a bag of (4 or 5) different kinds of cookies for some friends. It was my first significant personal baking “project” and mind you, the recipes in Gourmet magazine are not the easiest! It was the winter when I first bought a rolling pin and acquired my 100 cookie cutters from a set I bought at Bed Bath & Beyond. I’ve since forgotten all the cookies I made that winter but it included raspberry linzer cookies, spoon cookies with brown butter (I’m so thankful to have discovered brown butter so early in life!), sugar cookies with royal icing and black and white cookies. Okay maybe I just can’t remember one of them. I stayed up until 5am baking on a school night, decorating and packaging cookies for the next day. I was so exhausted, but it was so worth it! I went on to do it for the rest of high school and gradually incorporated mini cheesecakes and other cookies. But once I got to college, I just…stopped doing it completely. It was a bit harder for me to manage my time in college, with finals procrastination, planning winter events, etc. BUT this winter, I am no longer in school and had a fair amount of time to plan and execute my Christmas cookie plates!

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This year’s cookies included: gingerbread snowflakes, saltine caramel chocolate almond bark, lemon crinkles, raspberry thumbprints and mocha chocolate chip. I wanted a combination of chocolate, caramel, fruity and buttery and I think I successfully accomplished that!

Gingerbread Snowflakes
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This was the same cookie recipe that I used for my gingerbread men cookies because I loved it and everyone else did too! It’s not too sweet and is just the right texture. The batter looks like poo though.

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Thankfully I still had leftover spices! I don’t know what else I would use these spices on.

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Ta da! Aren’t they pretty? Each one of them is totally unique too :) You can find the recipe here

Lemon Crinkles
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This was probably the recipe I was most disappointed with. It didn’t have enough of a lemon flavor for me, even though I doubled the lemon juice and zest contents because I was trying to get rid of my lemons. It was still soft and good though! Recipe here.

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
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Thumbprint cookies will forever remind me (and probably many others who devoured these cookies) of the summer before senior year of college when I worked at INNA Jam, a local artisan jam company that makes jam from locally grown, seasonal fruit. I used to be a jam maker! It was a fun summer job that paid well and though I might be biased, they make the best jams that highlight the natural flavors and sweetness of the fruit. A little pricey per jar, but if you have the cash, it’s totally worth it! Anyways, that summer I frequently made these thumbprint cookies that are extra buttery and tasted good with the sweet and sometimes tart jam. I tried using both INNA Jam jam and store bought jam and found that the store bought jam tended not to explode all over the cookie but the INNA Jam jam did. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much preservatives in the store bought jam that it held together better. I’m not sure what I’d rather have. But this time I just used some organic raspberry jam from Sprouts and it was fine! Recipe here. Do not fear the butter content! It’s what makes these cookies!

Saltine Bark (w/ Caramel, Chocolate and Almonds)
I’m not even sure what this bark is really supposed to be called, but all it has is saltines, caramel, chocolate and almonds! My friend gave these away during fall finals season of senior year and I loved them so much that I had to get the recipe! It’s VERY easy!

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Lay out some saltine crackers on a pan like so. Then make caramel by heating one cup of butter and one cup of brown sugar in a small pot until the sugar starts to brown a little and it thickens a bit. Pour this over the saltine crackers and bake at 350F for 15 minutes or less.

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Pull it out of the oven and spread chocolate chips on top (you can use any but I prefer semi-sweet or dark) and spread it evenly.

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Then sprinkle some chopped almonds on top (you can roast the almonds too if you’d like!) and let it cool and harden. And voila! Easy, right? Plus, doesn’t it kind of look like a Pollock piece? hehe

Mocha Chocolate Chip
This recipe was interesting because it had no eggs. But while I was mixing the batter, I couldn’t help but add an egg because it just wasn’t combining well (in my opinion). It was a decent recipe but not as good as when someone else I know made it (hers tasted wayyyy sweeter!) so I’ll probably tweak it until I like it because I love coffe flavored things and I want to perfect this! Recipe here.

These recipes are all pretty simple and I wanted to keep it that way! I also wanted cookies that would last for a while, in case I wasn’t able to deliver them to people right away. Overall, it was a pretty successful cookie plate :)

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Until next Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Since this blog is dedicated to my love of food, here’s a preview of my Christmas, food style!

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Cookie plates for friends (if I’m supposed to see you this week, you will probably get one!)

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Mini frittatas for Christmas breakfast

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And my really American Christmas dinner. I contributed a dish to our Christmas dinner and guess what? IT WASN’T DESSERT!

Full posts on everything and more when I have enough patience to sit through my slowly dying 5-year-old MacBook. I hope you all had a very joyful Christmas! It’s so easy to make Christmas about ourselves, food, presents we received or didn’t receive, and other such trivial things. I confess that I often focus on the wrong things, but really, Christmas should be about JESUS and celebrating who He is and what He’s done. REJOICE!

Bûche de Noël

When I first visited my sister in London during winter break of my sophomore year of high school (which was…more than 5 years ago. I’M GETTING OLDER), she would often take me grocery shopping with her. I LOVE going to grocery stores in foreign countries because you see local products, foods people enjoy, the different prices, the produce they have (or don’t have – Californians are so spoiled!), etc. It’s always an enjoyable experience for me (unless it’s freezing and you have to take two busses and the tube or something). I always make it a point to go to the dessert, pastry & bread sections of any grocery store because well…I love these products. The British love to make pre-packed, individual desserts of their local delicacies like trifles (which I bought out at Marks & Spencer), English pudding, other stuff I forgot, and YULE LOGS! My first encounter with yule logs was at Sainbury’s in England. It was a little log of rolled up cake with frosting covering it and little red decorations all over it. It was so adorable and it looked so good! But it was much too big for me to eat by myself because no one in my family enjoys cake as much as I do. So sadly, I bought my trifles and forgot about it.

Over the years, I have learned that a yule log is the same thing as a bûche de noël and that it’s kind of a European thing. I didn’t really bother reading much about its history. I’d rather browse pictures (which I did) and realized that it was meant to be an actual LOG…like a wood log with mushrooms growing on it and weird funky things. People really go crazy with their yule log decorations. Anyways, it was on my friend Michelle’s and my to-make list so we decided to make it together! With the help of foodgawker.com, I found this recipe, which seemed first and foremost, EASY. Secondly, we had all the ingredients needed. It’s actually fairly easy to make! I think the highlight is the decoration, which we had totally forgotten about. So we made do with the few decorations we had and created our very own bûche de noël. I love saying the French names of baked goods. Bûche de noël. Bûche de noël. Bûche de noël. Okay I’m done.

Quick summary: Bûche de noël is usually made out of a genoise or sponge cake, baked in a large shallow pan so it comes out thin, frosted inside, rolled like a sushi, frosted outside and decorated however you want to.

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My friend Michelle (the first human appearance in this blog!) holding up our medium stiff peaks of egg whites for our spongey cake.
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This is what medium stiff peaks look like, folks!

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Flat, thin chocolate spongey cake, cooled and frosted with whip cream.

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Roll it like a sushi! Okay I understand this doesn’t make sense to people who have never made sushi. You basically roll it and remove the parchment paper as you go!

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Our bare and rolled up bûche!

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Frosted with a chocolate whipped cream. I personally dislike buttercream and prefer whipped cream frosting all the way.

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Our finished product! The recipe had perfect quantities of everything. No leftover frosting at all! The cake is light, moist and is best served cold (keep whipped cream frosting in the fridge as much as possible). I’m so happy to have made (AND FINALLY EATEN) a yule log with a great friend. Note to selves: next time decorate it better!

Gingerbread Fellas

This weekend, I trekked to the 626 area to visit my good friend Michelle in Arcadia. We both share a genuine love of food and its creation and consumption so I knew that we would be doing a lot of both. To get some inspiration for what to do, we watched his slightly dumb and mildly funny video about the 626 (click at your own risk). Unfortunately we didn’t end up at any of the places mentioned in the video (except for a crappy Half & Half Tea House in San Gabriel Valley) and decided to get Pho instead. Read my Yelp review later!

Before we left for dinner, we decided what to bake that night and threw out ideas like French macarons (which is simple ingredients, all technique like leaving out egg whites for 24 hours), apple pie, bûche de noël (yule logs!), creme brulee, pot de creme, gingerbread cookies, and other things we had never made before. (Yes we both have never made apple pie or gingerbread cookies before). We decided to make gingerbread cookies and a chocolate bûche de noël! Two indecisive girls deciding what to make took an hour, and finding recipes for two things took another hour. Whenever I bake, I take my sweet time brainstorming for what I’m about to make and come up with a plan of attack. I browse various sites and read and compare each recipe I find for nuances and how those small differences affect the end product. Someone said this once but I agree that anyone can bake (I don’t know about cook) with the right recipe and a very basic knowledge of technique! Okay enough of my storytelling – if you’ve read this far, kudos to you! Anyways, Michelle and I found this gingerbread cookie recipe on foodgawker  and chose it because it was simple and had a reasonable combination of spices. The blogger also mentions that this cookie is of a gingersnap taste and sugar cookie softness which sounded perfect.

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All of these spices + salt & pepper are in these gingerbread cookies!

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This is one of those doughs that you have to refrigerate for an hour before rolling out, so plan accordingly. Also, be forewarned that this dough smells really funky and looks like a lump of poop upon refrigeration. But fear not for these cookies taste great!

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Everything is much more adorable in miniature form!

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Our different cookies before baking.

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I made a royal icing for us to decorate the cookies with. Royal icing is just sifted powdered sugar, meringue powder (or egg whites) and a liquid (water, lemon juice, milk – depends on your taste).

DSC_0056 Gingerbread family hehe

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This turned out to be a wonderful recipe!

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And I shall end this post with my favorite gingerbread fella, lil’ French painter. He is French because I say so. Au revoir!