The Baker Upstairs: September 2013


homemade pretzel rolls


Happy Monday! I spent last week making a few tweaks to the blog, and I'm totally loving the updated, more modern look. Hope you're digging it too... :) I first posted these rolls last year, but I thought they deserved a repost with some updated pictures! These are some of my very favorite rolls, and I make them all the time. They're super great to use for sandwiches and burgers. I love that they're sturdy but still light, and they can stand up to a variety of fillings. They're also pretty awesome just plain or used for dipping in soup. Geoff always knows I love him when I make these rolls, and the whole batch is always gone by the end of the night. We can't get enough of them!
Pretzel Rolls
adapted from Our Best Bites

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
4 3/4-5 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg, separated
1/4 cup baking soda
8 cups water

In a large measuring cup, combine the water, sugar, and yeast and allow to stand for 10 minutes and the mixture is frothy.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the salt and 4 1/2 cups flour. Add the melted butter, egg yolk, and the bubbly yeast mixture, and mix until combined. If necessary, add up to an additional 1/2 cup of flour, about a tablespoon at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl and place it in a warm, draft-free area and allow the dough to rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk.

When the dough has risen, divide it into 12 equal pieces (I usually do 18 for slider-size rolls). Shape the dough into balls, place on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet, cover, and allow to rise for 30 minutes. (I like to shape my rolls into knots by rolling them out into 6-8 inch ropes, tying in a knot, and tucking the ends underneath.)

While the dough is rising the second time, preheat the oven to 425. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When the water begins to boil, add the baking soda and bring back to a full boil. Working with one roll at a time, carefully place each roll, seam-side down into the baking soda bath. Boil for 30 seconds then flip and boil for another 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove the boiled roll from the water and place, seam-side down, on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough balls.

Whisk together the reserved egg white and 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the egg white over the boiled dough balls and then sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 12-18 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets. Makes 12 (or 18) rolls.


homemade hostess cupcakes


I am SO excited to share this recipe today! I know Hostess is back in business (yay!) and cupcakes are now easily accessible, but there's something really great about making them at home from scratch. Geoff was skeptical as to whether I would actually be able to make a homemade version that could compete with his beloved store-bought cupcakes, but after one bite, he was convinced! The chocolate cupcakes are moist while still holding together well, and the cream filling and chocolate ganache make them all the more delicious!

These cupcakes definitely take a little more time than the average cupcake, but their deliciousness totally makes up for it! The cake part comes together really quickly and easily, and then it's pretty much just assembly. I'm always curious as to how full people fill their cupcakes, so here's a picture of mine (I got exactly 24 cupcakes from the recipe):

I think this is officially my new chocolate cupcake recipe, even without the filling and ganache. The cupcakes were moist and delicious and held together well, which is a must for me. I'm in love with these cupcakes!

Homemade Hostess Cupcakes

Cupcakes (adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe):

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cut into small pieces
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 and line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together butter and sugar. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, and beat until the mixture is cool, 4-5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and cocoa mixture, and blend until smooth. With the mixture on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream. Mix until smooth. Scoop into prepared pans, filling 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes. Let cool.

Filling (from this twinkie cupcake recipe):

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c butter
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour and the milk. Heat in a small sauce pan on medium heat. Whisk continuously until it starts to thicken. Let it cook, while stirring with a rubber spatula, until you can start to see the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the mixture has the consistency of thick pudding or paste. Put  mixture in the fridge and let it cool completely, stirring occasionally.

It an electric stand mixer, beat the butter and the sugar using the whisk attachment for a minute or two until well combined and fluffy. While beating, add in the flour mixture and the vanilla. Beat to combine and then scrape down the sides. Continue beating until mixture comes together and is light and fluffy (about 7-8 minutes).

Ganache (scaled down from this recipe):

1/4 cup whipping cream
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl. Heat at 50% power for one minute, then stir. Continue heating at 50% power for 30 second intervals, stirring between each interval, until melted and smooth.


1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 teaspoons milk

Place powdered sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in milk until icing has a consistency that can be easily piped while still retaining its shape.


Prepare the frosting and ganache while the cupcakes are cooling. When the cupcakes have cooled completely, fill each cupcake with a small amount of filling. I put the filling in a pastry bag with a round tip, inserted it into the cupcake, and pushed filling in until the cupcake started to plump up. You could also cut out a small circle in the center of the cupcake, spoon in some filling, and replace the circle. When the cupcakes have been filled, dip each cupcake into the bowl of ganache, covering the entire surface. If your ganache cools down too much to handle easily, microwave it for 15-30 seconds on 50% power. Let cool and then pipe designs on the top using the icing. I put mine in a small ziploc bag and snipped off the corner, but you could also use a pastry bag and a small round tip.


grilled cheese dinner rolls


So... I didn't dream up these gorgeous rolls. But they're such an awesome idea that when I saw them on Pinterest a couple of weeks ago I knew I had to figure out my own way to make them. (You know how I love to figure out how to make things from scratch...) The original recipe called for refrigerator biscuits and velveeta, and I just couldn't bring myself to use either one. I turned to my all around favorite quick roll recipe, and it did not disappoint! They're crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside, and have that buttery cheesy taste I love in a grilled cheese sandwich. Plus they're quick to make! You can have hot cheesy rolls on the table in less than an hour. They went perfectly with a warm bowl of tomato basil soup, and the whole family loved them. So delicious!

Grilled Cheese Dinner Rolls
adapted from my Quick and Easy Dinner Rolls

1 1/2 cups hot water
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 - 5 cups flour
8 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 12 cubes
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together water, yeast and sugar. Let stand until bubbling, about five minutes. Mix in oil, salt, and flour, until a smooth dough forms. Kneed until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size (30-45 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Divide dough into 12 equal sized balls. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand, then wrap it around a piece of cheese, sealing the edges. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Brush with butter and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake 13-15 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Serve warm.


homemade cheez-its (and a few easy lunch ideas)


Happy Monday! I think I probably have an opposite reaction to Mondays than most people do. I work Wednesday through Saturday, and I have church responsibilities on Sundays, so Monday really feels like the first day of my weekend. Plus, with Abby back at school, Lizzy and I usually manage to accomplish things during the day on Mondays (like that giant pile of laundry that is awaiting me this morning...). It's nice to feel productive and have a tidied up house!

Abby's been in school for a few weeks now, and I've still been making her lunch every morning. I keep meaning to put some money in her account for the occasional school lunch, but packing her lunch is so much a part of our routine that it really hasn't been hard at all. I did a good job of stocking up on easy-to-pack lunch items before school started, and they're still going strong. Some of her favorites so far have been:

hummus cup + pretzel chips, yogurt, and fresh strawberries
laughing cow cheese wedge + pita crackers, mandarin oranges, and baby carrots
homemade lunchables (sliced turkey, cheese, and crackers) with apple slices
tuna salad (tuna + mayo + a little lemon pepper) + pita crackers, and grapes

Anyway, back to the cheese crackers! I made these a couple of weeks ago for Abby's lunches, and they were amazing. So amazing that we happened to eat all of them before she could even take them to school... :) Abby and I love Cheez-its, but Geoff is not as big a fan, and all three of us loved these (plus Lizzy, who loves all food)! The crackers are crisp and buttery, and full of cheese flavor. I used vintage white cheddar, and it was perfect. I will definitely be making these again (although maybe a double batch next time?). Yum!
Homemade Cheez-Its
adapted from Baked By Rachel

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons cold water
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl using a handheld mixer, cream together cheese, butter, and salt. Add flour and water and mix until dough is smooth. Shape into two discs, and chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking sheets. Roll each disc out to 1/8 inch thickness, and, using a ruler, cut into 1 inch squares. Transfer squares to baking sheets, using a skewer or toothpick to poke a hole in the center of each one. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake 10-15 minutes, depending on desired level of crispiness (I did about 14 minutes for mine). Store in an airtight container. 


death by chocolate cheesecake


Would you believe this is the first cheesecake I've ever made? I'm a little iffy on sweetened cream cheese (I know! I'm so crazy!) and so cheesecake has never really been my thing. I've posted a few cheesecakey recipes on the blog, since Geoff absolutely loves cheesecake and could eat it every day of his life, but it has never been my first choice of dessert. For my dad's birthday a few weeks ago, though, I wanted to make him something extra special, and I've been eyeing this recipe for a while. Turns out this homemade chocolate cheesecake is amazing enough to turn even me around!

I love that it's not overly sweet, and has so much rich chocolate flavor. A small piece goes pretty far and is super satisfying. (Well, I should probably clarify that... I ate a small slice and felt satisfied and happy. Geoff, on the other hand, ate several slices and still wanted more. So it may just depend on the person.) Each layer is individually delicious... the crunchy, buttery cookie crust, the rich and moist cheesecake layer, and the silky smooth luscious ganache layer. Together, though, they're beyond amazing! I think this is honestly one of the best and most decadent desserts I've ever posted. Just posting these pictures has got me drooling all over again...

Death by Chocolate Cheesecake
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

9 ounces chocolate cookies (I used chocolate cat cookies from Trader Joe's but you could use graham crackers or teddy grahams as well)
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)
4 8-ounce packages of cream cheese (I used Neufchatel cheese)
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs

3/4 cup whipping cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Crush the chocolate cookies in a food processor (or by pounding them flat in a plastic bag). Put them in a small bowl and mix with sugar and melted butter, then press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan. Bake 5 minutes, then let cool while preparing the filling.

Melt the 10 ounces of chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler until smooth. Cool slightly. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cream cheese, sugar, and cocoa powder until smooth. Mix in the eggs one at a time, blending until smooth. Fold in melted chocolate and mix until blended. Pour over crust and smooth (I used an offset spatula). Bake about one hour, or until the center is set and appears dry. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Run a plastic knife or spatula around the edges of the springform pan to release the cheesecake. Cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To make the topping, melt the whipping cream, 6 ounces chocolate, and sugar together in a small saucepan over low heat, until smooth. Pour over the top of the cheesecake and spread so it covers smoothly. Chill until the topping is set, about one hour. Serve and enjoy.


homemade chocolate syrup


This syrup is one of those magical recipes that can solve a multitude of problems. For example, say that you've just made a giant batch of waffles, and you look in your pantry only to realize that you've got about two drops of maple syrup left. Throw some strawberries on the waffles and drizzle with chocolate syrup, and you've got an awesome breakfast your kids will eat up. Or say that you've got two little girls who come home from school and preschool starving and cranky and dehydrated, and need some cold chocolate milk stat. Chocolate syrup to the rescue! It might just be the case that this syrup solved both of those problems for me this week, and for that, I will be forever grateful. :)

This is another one of those DIY recipes that I just love. I love that it makes the best chocolate milk ever. I love that I can pronounce all of the ingredients in it and it's super easy to make. And I especially like that the recipe makes a little over two cups of syrup, which lasts in the fridge for a long time. You only need a teaspoonful or so to make a cup of chocolate milk, so you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. I'm excited to think of even more fun uses for it!

Homemade Chocolate Syrup
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan, whisk together all ingredients except vanilla. Heat over medium heat until boiling, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened (about five minutes). Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla. Pour into a mason jar and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Use 1-2 teaspoons in milk to make awesome chocolate milk, or drizzle over ice cream (or waffles). Enjoy!


chocolate s'mores cookie bars


Hi friends! I'm happy to be back posting another awesome recipe today. I had really big plans to post last week... and then Geoff and Lizzy started school and things got busy. And then I was all ready to write some great posts for this week... and then the internet at our house stopped working. I'm kind of amazed at how rough it was to go without internet for a few days... I was seriously going nuts. :)

Anyway, this week I have three amazing chocolate recipes to share with you! And to cap the week off, how about a round up all of my favorite chocolate recipes from the blog? Yum is all I have to say about that. To start with, I present to you these totally amazing and delicious chocolate s'mores cookie bars:

These bars are perfect! They're delicious and full of s'mores flavor, and so fun for the kiddos! I actually made these as an after-school treat for Abby on her first day of first grade, and she adored them. I love that the cookie dough bakes for such a short time, because while it does get cooked through, it's still moist and fudgy. I also love all the fun little toppings that make each bite unique and tasty. Abby has already requested that I make these at least weekly in perpetuity (we'll see about that, kiddo...). I will definitely make them again, though!

Chocolate S'mores Cookie Bars
adapted from Life Made Simple

1 sleeve graham crackers, more or less as needed
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted (I did mine in the microwave at 50% power)
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup miniature marshmallows

for topping:
2 graham crackers, broken up into small pieces
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
2 Hershey's candy bars, broken into squares

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9 x 13 pan with tin foil or parchment paper. Make a single layer of graham crackers covering the bottom of the pan, breaking the crackers as needed to make them fit. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Mix in melted chocolate, then mix in egg and egg yolk until just combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt, then add to wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in remaining chocolate chips and 1/3 cup mini marshmallows. Spread cookie dough over the graham crackers. (To be honest, this part was a little frustrating... I think the best way to do it is to scoop cookie dough evenly over the crackers, and then use your hands to pat the dough into an even layer.)

Place in the oven and bake six minutes. Remove and sprinkle the dough evenly with graham cracker pieces, marshmallows, and candy bar squares. Use your hands to gently press the toppings into the dough slightly. Bake an additional 10-12 minutes, or until marshmallows are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool 30 minutes before removing from the pan. I cut mine into 18 squares, and they were the perfect size for me.