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Michelle Lopez’s miniature food empire is named Hummingbird High. It’s fitting, because Lopez’s Instagram, blog, and cookbook really do share characteristics with a hummingbird—a colorful aesthetic, bite-size portions, and precise, scientific recipes.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Lopez shelved her baker’s desire to feed anyone within a 40-mile radius. With an eye to quarantine crews—and the fact that sometimes we just want to eat alone—she pivoted to itty-bitty batches. She rolled out a 20-minute recipe that yields just four fat, fluffy blueberry muffins. A recipe that makes six bakery-perfect, melty chocolate chip cookies. Plenty for groups too—picture it: You roll up to your first post-vax hang. You look really hot. Under your arm? A basket of freshly baked bright purple Ube crinkle cookies.
It feels safe to say that—in a very competitive field—Lopez has the strongest opinions of any baker we know on what makes great chocolate chip cookies. And she’s very happy to share her wisdom. “Here’s the secret for the best chocolate chip cookies ever—don’t use chocolate chips,” she says, gesturing like Aristotle trying to prove the concept of a round earth to skeptics. The problem, Lopez explains, is that typical grocery store chocolate chips have additives that help the chocolate retain its chip shape, but don’t taste good or melt well.
If you want those stunning, Instagram-friendly chocolate chip cookies studded with deep pools of melted chocolate, you have to step up your chocolate game. “Especially if you’re like a beginner baker and you’re not that confident yet and you want to impress people, the secret is to splurge on the chocolate,” says Lopez. You need to either use chocolate melts, called feves, which are an oval chocolate sold in baking aisles, or—even easier—just chop any nice bar of chocolate into “giant chunks” and fold them into your batter. “They give you more chocolate per surface area,” Lopez promises.
Everything on Hummingbird High looks very Martha Stewart upscale cupcake shop. But when Lopez started her blog, she had zero professional baking experience. “When I started, I didn’t know what it meant to toss!” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know what it meant to reduce!”
Now she writes each recipe so it can be followed by a complete novice—basically, she makes it impossible to screw up. And equally, each recipe is so neatly organized that it’s also easy for experienced bakers to skip the extras and get down to sifting. It’s the baking equivalent of when workout instructors offer multiple modification options.
Glamour sat down with Michelle Lopez to talk chocolate and more for another installment of How I Eat At Home.
Three staples I always have in my pantry
The number-one thing I always have is butter—I especially have Land O’Lakes butter. You can find it at any supermarket; it’s so good. And if you want to go a little bit fancy, Vermont Creamery makes really good butter; that’s what I go for when I want to splurge.
Vanilla, in addition to really good chocolate, is the next baking secret. If I want to splurge, I go for the fancy Nielsen Massey, but that’s a little on the pricy side, so I actually rely a lot on Costco vanilla extract, which I think is really good quality and is actually reasonably priced.
Of course I always have flour on hand, and I am not picky about flour, which is a little unusual with bakers. I know some bakers live and die by types of flour, but I do like Gold Medal flour; that’s what I used when I was developing recipes for my cookbook.
What I listen to while I bake
I listen to a constant stream of music when I bake! I feel weird when I’m baking in silence; it feels like there’s something missing. I want to set the scene. I feel like I’m just going to expose myself here, but I’ve been listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s album on repeat! Oh, my God, it’s so good. That gets me going.
My favorite recipe
It changes all the time, but I had this really good blueberry muffin recipe that went a little viral last year. They’re based on Levain Bakery, a really famous bakery in New York City known for their thick, gooey chocolate chip cookies. I used to live in that neighborhood, and I swear to God the best thing is not the cookies; the thing to get there is their blueberry muffins. They’re super tall and they’re super domed—they look like the dictionary definition of a blueberry muffin. They sprinkle sugar on them, so the top almost looks like creme brûlée.
I moved away from New York and I really missed their muffins! I spent a really long time kind of stalking the Levain Instagram and watching their Instagram Stories, because they showed behind the scenes of how they make their muffins, and I was like, “I think I can figure this out.” So I came up with something that’s very much inspired by their muffin recipe, and I love it so much.
What I baked the most during the pandemic
I’m going to expose myself again here. Everyone who got into baking during the pandemic either did the sourdough thing or they did the banana bread thing. I killed my sourdough starter immediately! It just wasn’t for me—this thing I had to feed every day? I could barely manage feeding myself! Instead, I baked banana bread almost weekly at the beginning. I still make it at least every month now. It’s so comforting. We eat a lot of bananas at home anyway, so we always have some left over, and it’s just so easy to throw in the gross bananas and make a banana bread.
My favorite kitchen tool
This also changes on the reg, but right now my most beloved kitchen item, and this is going to be a little cliché, is my KitchenAid mixer. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been known for doing small batch versions of classics—it’s just the two of us at home, so I started scaling down a lot of my usual recipes to yield enough for two to four people. I got the mini version of a stand mixer, and it’s really great for the recipes I make that only make four muffins or four chocolate chip cookies, because the doughs and the batters are so small.
$300.00, Williams Sonoma
My go-to hostess gift
Okay, so—I always have some kind of cookie dough in my freezer. Cookie dough is great to make at home especially if you’re in a small household, because it freezes really well. I usually make a batch of cookie dough that probably makes 16 to 24 cookies, but I bake just two or four of them and freeze the rest. I love trying new cookie recipes; they’re probably the thing I love to bake the most on my own. So what ends up happening is that a few months in, I look in my freezer and I have like 6 to 10 different cookie doughs. I’ll bake batches of them and put them in little boxes, and that’s my hostess gift, a little variety box of cookies. People are like, “Wow, I can’t believe it—you slaved over this!” and I’m like, “Yeah! Totally. I did.”
Something on my to-be-baked list
Claire Saffitz, who’s one of my cooking heroes, had a big feature awhile ago about how to make croissants at home. This is something I have yet to tackle because it’s kind of a time-intensive thing. She makes it look—I don’t want to say she makes it look easy, because it’s not an easy process! But she’s so thorough. I appreciate it as a thorough person myself. I feel like—I’m finally going to do it! This is the year I make croissants at home! And then I look at the recipe every week and am like, “Maybe next week.”
My favorite meal to cook
I like cooking breakfast the most, just because it feels like less of a chore. After a long day of work, I don’t want to cook dinner; it’s kind of a drag. Whereas I feel like there’s an optimistic, hopeful thing in breakfast. I’m a savory-breakfast person because I eat so many sweets for my baking, so when I make myself breakfast, it’s on the healthy-ish side, like an omelet with avocado. It gets me going. I get something in my stomach besides the cakes I’m going to test.
Other baking Instagrams I love
Zoë Bakes is another personal hero of mine—she’s a trained pastry chef, and she has these really, really amazing Instagram stories where she shows you step-by-step, which is common these days, but the recipes she creates are actual, like, elevated pastries. She has a Baked Alaska that has three different layers of ice cream inside, and she covered it in meringue and torches it with a giant flame! And she just goes through it step-by-step.
My friend Adrianna Adarme from A Cozy Kitchen, her Instagram is such an inspiration to me—she has these wonderful reels, and she just does these really amazing quick and easy-to-digest videos of her food. She has one for birria tacos where she pulls the tacos apart and they just have those string-cheese pulls—it’s amazing.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour