The Baker Upstairs: February 2012


Peach Crumb Bars

These sweet and buttery peach crumb bars are incredibly delicious, and the perfect way to enjoy fresh peaches!

As a rule, my husband Geoff is fairly opposed to fruit in desserts. I think he views fruit as a healthy food, and therefore thinks it has no business ruining his dessert. If some fruit is going to sneak its way in, it had better be blueberries. I, on the other hand, love fruit, sometimes eat just plain fruit for dessert, and am especially partial to peaches. Every year, Geoff's mom gives us all the peaches off her trees, and we can several dozen jars to eat all year round... yum! A few days ago I decided that I needed a little taste of summer in this unending non-winter that we seem to be having. (Seriously. It won't snow, and it's always around 40 degrees and gray outside. I think the weather needs to decide to be either spring or winter, instead of this weather purgatory we seem to be stuck in.) I pulled out two jars of peaches, threw together the crumb crust, and baked up some heaven. So, so, so good!

Peach Crumb Bars

for the bars:
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
1 egg, lightly beaten

for the filling:
5 cups peaches, peeled and diced (about 7 peaches)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil or spray with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two forks, then mix in the egg to form a crumbly dough. Press half of the dough into the prepared pan.

To make the filling, toss the peaches with the lemon juice. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then toss with the peach mixture. Spread the peaches over the dough in the pan,  the crumble the remaining dough over the top, covering the peaches evenly. Bake 45 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool before cutting into squares. Enjoy!

adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker

farfalle with zucchini


When we were first dating/married, Geoff and I lived on pasta. We were always going out for Italian food, and throwing together our own pasta dishes at home. And then at a certain point (I think around the age of 27 or so), Geoff decided he wasn't very into pasta anymore. To him, it was nothing more than a big bowl of starch, and totally unappealing. I was shocked and horrified... and then about a year and a half later, I started feeling the same way (it must just be the age). So now we eat pasta fairly infrequently (maybe 2-3 times a month) and when we do eat it, it has to be good. This pasta dish from totally fit the bill! It was delicious and light, and full of yummy vegetables. I made it when I got home from a three mile run, and it was the perfect thing to fill up my tummy without making me feel sluggish. I threw in a little leftover roasted chicken, and it was fantastic. I don't really understand how I have lived for twenty nine years without realizing that a little splash of cream makes everything wonderful. Arteries be damned, I'm adding cream to everything!

Farfalle with Zucchini
The Pioneer Woman

4 whole (to 5) regular-sized zucchini
1 whole medium onion
grape or cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
farfalle (bowtie) pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cups white wine (or chicken broth)
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1/2 cup (to 3/4 cup) cream
parmesan cheese
fresh herbs (lemon thyme, fresh basil, chives, etc.)
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil. Once the water is boiling, go ahead and cook the pasta according to directions on the package, on the al dente side so it has a nice “bite” to it.

Dice 1 medium onion and the zucchini into small slices. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
Next dice up the garlic. While the pasta is boiling, heat a couple tablespoons olive oil over medium high to high heat in a saucepan. When the oil is hot, throw in half the zucchini and let it brown. Once brown, toss it onto a plate and repeat with the 2nd half of zucchini and repeat the process. Once the zucchini is cooked, throw in the onions and garlic. Next throw in the halved grape tomatoes on top and toss around a bit, keeping the heat at medium low to medium.

Pour in 1/3 cup white wine (or chicken broth) and with a whisk or spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan so all the flavorful bits will be released. Pour another 1/3 cup wine (or chicken broth) into a dish and sprinkle the Arrowroot in and stir. Pour this into the pan with the onions and tomatoes, and now add in ½ to ¾ cup cream.

Next, turn the heat off and add in the zucchini and stir gently to combine. Grab a cup or two of the cooking liquid from the pasta and pour into the saucepan if the sauce needs to be thinned out a bit.
Salt and pepper to taste. To serve, pour the drained pasta into a large serving bowl or platter. Add your choice of fresh herbs, and pour the contents of the pan over the top. Add some Parmesan and a final sprinkling of fresh basil – voila!


ferrero rocher cake


I made this delicious cake for Geoff almost two years ago, for his twenty-ninth birthday. He is a sucker for all things Nutella/Ferrero Rocher, so it was pretty easy to please him. As you can see, I am entirely incapable of baking a cake that doesn't fall, but it actually worked out well, because I was able to add a bunch of delicious ganache to the middle, then pile on a bunch of Ferrero Rocher. Hence the cake ended up looking presentable, despite its sad middle. I spread nutella between the cake layers, poured ganache over the top, plopped on some candy, and called it a day. All of our birthday guests exclaimed over the deliciousness of it all, so I think I did well!

Chocolate Cake
Ina Garten

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Easy Chocolate Ganache
Our Best Bites

8 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate
8 oz. heavy cream

Combine chocolate and heavy cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 2 minutes and stir. Heat for an additional 1-2 minutes or until chocolate is fully melted and can be whisked and incorporated into the cream. Be sure and scrape the sides and bottom to make sure you don’t find any globby bits of chocolate when you start working with it.

The ganache will thicken as it cools, so if it’s a little too thin for you, hang tight and it will be ready pretty quickly. When it’s completely cool, it will be thick and fudgy and can be used like frosting. Store in an airtight container. You can reheat it to achieve your desired consistency.

margarita cupcakes


It should be noted that these are by far the best cupcakes I've ever made. And quite possibly the best cupcakes I've ever eaten. I can't even believe how well they turned out! I made them for my birthday party (yes, my life is so sad that I have to make my own birthday cupcakes) and they were a total hit. I really think the difference was made because I actually followed all the instructions. I creamed the butter and sugar until they were a lovely consistency, almost like whipped cream. I actually brought the eggs to room temperature (yeah, I never do that). The cake ended up being super light and soft, while still moist enough to hold itself together. And it was my first attempt at swiss meringue butter cream, and it totally did not disappoint (even if I scalded myself a few times on my makeshift homemade double boiler). I didn't add any tequila (because, um, I don't drink tequila...) and they were still delicious.

Margarita Cupcakes
adapted from Annie's Eats

For the cupcakes:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 limes, zested and juiced
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

For the frosting:
2 cups sugar
8 large egg whites
Pinch fleur de sel (coarse salt)
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2½ tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir with a fork to blend.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat in the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about ¾ full.  Bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.  Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together, though it may take a very long time!)  Stir in the lime juice and mix until fully incorporated and smooth.

homemade tortillas


Homemade tortillas were a staple in my house when I was a kid, and these totally lived up to the ones my mom used to make. I think that if I could have just one food for the rest of my life, fresh warm tortillas would be my choice. As much as I have liked the tortillas I have made before, I wasn't super thrilled about how much butter was in them. Don't get me wrong, I love butter, but I also love tortillas, and I hate the guilt that comes with downing four tortillas and realizing how much butter I just clogged my arteries with. So when I saw a recipe on Pinterest that used olive oil instead of butter, I figured I could stuff my gullet without that guilty feeling. And I was right! These were super yummy and easy to roll out. I still need to work on rolling things out into a circle... mine were all sort of oddly shaped. In any case, I think this is my new go-to recipe!

Homemade Tortillas
Taste of Home

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Stir in water and oil. Turn onto a floured surface; knead 10-12 times, adding a little flour or water if needed to achieve a smooth dough. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Divide dough into eight portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 7-in. circle.

In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook tortillas over medium heat for 1 minute on each side or until lightly browned. Keep warm.


spinach lasagna rolls


To be perfectly honest, these lasagna rolls started out more or less round. And then I squished them into a tupperware container, shoved them in the fridge, and reheated them for lunch, and what you see before you is the end result. The flattening, however, in no way detracted from their deliciousness, you'll be glad to know. I actually really like this method, because it was quick and easy, tasted like delicious lasagna, and was easy to portion out. The only change I made to the recipe was that (despite rechecking my grocery list roughly 6 times) I somehow managed to leave the grocery store without frozen spinach, so I just steamed and finely chopped some broccoli to go in the filling instead. And it was super delicious! Geoff said he couldn't even taste it. If only Abby would agree to eat something with green specks in it...

Spinach Lasagna Rolls
Skinny Taste

9 lasagna noodles, cooked
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
15 oz fat free ricotta cheese (I like Polly-o)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
salt and fresh pepper
32 oz tomato sauce
9 tbsp (about 3 oz) part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Ladle about 1 cup sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 12 baking dish.

Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and lay out lasagna noodles. Make sure noodles are dry. Take 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture and spread evenly over noodle. Roll carefully and place seam side down onto the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.

Ladle sauce over the noodles in the baking dish and top each one with 1 tbsp mozzarella cheese. Put foil over baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until cheese melts. Makes 9 rolls.

To serve, ladle a little sauce on the plate and top with lasagna roll.