The Baker Upstairs: April 2014


strawberry crumb bars

These sweet and irresistible strawberry crumb bars are the perfect spring dessert!

These sweet and irresistible strawberry crumb bars are the perfect spring dessert!

I have the most awesome spring dessert to share today! These strawberry crumb bars are to die for! I bought a case of strawberries from the food co-op last week and since then I've been using them any way I can. I've stocked up on freezer jam and I have some sliced strawberries waiting in the freezer to use for smoothies. These strawberry crumb bars are my very favorite use of them so far, though!

These bars are a variation on the blueberry crumb bars I posted a little while ago, and I can't decide which I actually like better. Luckily I don't have to choose. :) I love the crunchy crumb topping, the sweet fruit, and the buttery crust. These bars are so fun and perfect for this time of year!

Strawberry Crumb Bars

1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 egg, beaten
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons corn starch

Preheat oven to 375. Grease (or line with foil) a 9 x 13 pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, baking powder, salt, and flour. Cut in the butter using two knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are no bigger than pea sized. Stir in the egg to form a crumbly dough. Pat half of the dough in an even layer in the prepared pan. In a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the 1/2 cup sugar and corn starch, then spread the strawberry mixture on top of the dough in the pan. Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the strawberry layer. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool before slicing and serving.

adapted from my Blueberry Crumb Bars

These sweet and irresistible strawberry crumb bars are the perfect spring dessert!


perfect soft pretzels


It's Friday again! I can't believe how fast the weeks are flying by lately… a week from today will be Geoff's last day of work. And yes, I'm totally panicking about that. I think I've been really spoiled by having so much consistency in our married life. Geoff has had the same job for eleven years! I know other people change jobs and everything works out fine (and I'm sure it will for us too!) but it feels like the bottom is dropping out for us. Wish us luck!

All that being said, I've been doing lots of stress baking lately, and these pretzels are a new favorite! When we were in San Diego we visited Wetzel's Pretzels for the first time, and I totally fell in love. I love how crisp and chewy the outsides of the pretzels are and how the dough is soft and lightly sweet. Pretzel perfection! When we came home I wanted to find the perfect copycat recipe, and here it is!

Don't be dissuaded by the fact that my pretzels are fat and puffy instead of skinny and twisted. I just can't shape pretzels correctly to save my life. :) No matter how thin and long I roll my rope, it always seems to turn into a fat little pretzel shape. But you know what? That's actually okay with me, because it means I get to use them as pretzel buns for sandwiches too! We used these for some awesome turkey sandwiches the next day, and they were fantastic. I can't wait to make these again!

Perfect Soft Pretzels

for the dough:
2 cups warm milk (I used skim), about 110 degrees
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 1/2 cups flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons salt

for topping:
1/3 cup baking soda
3 cups warm water
coarse salt, to taste
4 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. When the mixture is bubbly, mix in the brown sugar, butter, one cup flour, and salt, and mix until combined. Add the remaining flour, one cup at a time, and mix until a smooth and slightly sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise about one hour, until doubled in size.

After the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Divide the dough into twelve equal sized pieces, and roll each piece into a long skinny rope. Twist into a pretzel shape. In a medium bowl, mix together the warm water and baking soda until dissolved. Dip each pretzel into the baking soda mixture and place on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt. Bake 7 to 11 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter.

adapted from Cooking Classy


vanilla cupcakes with fresh strawberry buttercream


Happy Friday! I'm feeling pretty great about life today. Geoff and I went to Comic Con last night, and it was the most fun I've had in a loooong time. I got to stand inside a Tardis, Geoff met R2D2, and we saw a huge variety of insane costumes, from Mary Poppins to a man in spandex American flag pants carrying a live snake. It was a totally new experience for me but super fun! Besides that, we've been having a blast this week with Abby on spring break, and I'm excited for Easter on Sunday. If you're looking for an awesome Easter dessert, look no further... these vanilla cupcakes with fresh strawberry buttercream are divine!

I know I've posted several vanilla cupcake recipes on this blog in the past, but this one is truly my favorite. The cupcakes are perfect every time I make them, the texture is amazing, and they work well with lots of toppings and fillings. I've been doing some baking for friends lately, and this is always the recipe I choose because it's so reliably perfect. I don't think I've ever had a better cupcake!

The strawberry buttercream, though… holy hannah it is delicious! The fresh strawberry flavor is amazing and makes the cupcakes taste so sweet and springy. It's a perfect complement to the sweet and fluffy cupcakes!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Strawberry Buttercream

for the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cold, cut into small cubes
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup milk (I used skim, and it worked fine)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the frosting:
2 sticks butter, softened
pinch of salt
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberries, pureed to make about 3 tablespoons puree

Preheat oven to 350. Line two muffin tins with paper liners. In a large bowl or a the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the milk and vanilla in a measuring cup, and add about half of the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Beat until well blended and smooth. Add the other half of the milk mixture, and beat until smooth. Fill paper liners 2/3 full and bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for a few minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. To make the frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the salt and powdered sugar, until combined. Add the vanilla and strawberry puree and beat until light and fluffy.

Cupcakes from this recipe and frosting adapted from Mikey's in My Kitchen


fluffernutter chocolate cookies


It's Wednesday, which means it's my Friday at work, so I'm celebrating today with some delicious cookies! I have had such a rough week this week, so I definitely think I deserve an awesome peanut buttery cookie. The reality of Geoff going to nursing school in just a few short weeks is sinking in piece by piece, and as thrilled as I am for him to be starting school, I feel like my worries are taking over my brain lately. I've finally worked out childcare for the kids (fingers crossed!), signed up for new health insurance, and figured out a budget that will work for us (I hope). I keep having weird anxiety dreams, though, and I wake up worried about all the things on my to-do list. I think all I can do at this point is power through, so fingers crossed that we get everything figured out!

These cookies, though… I made them a while ago and I forgot how delicious they are! The peanut butter cookies themselves are so rich and buttery, but adding the marshmallow and chocolate drizzle makes them extra fantastic! I love the contrast of flavors and textures in every bite. These are so so good!

Fluffernutter Chocolate Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies:
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Regular marshmallows, sliced in half lengthwise

Chocolate Glaze:
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. To make the cookies, cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Add the baking soda, salt, and flour, and mix until just combined. Scoop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto prepared baking sheets and bake 7-9 minutes, or until edges are very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and top each cookie with a marshmallow half. Return to the oven and bake 2-3 more minutes, or until marshmallows are melted. Let cool completely.

To make the glaze, in a double boiler over low heat combine the chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup. Heat, stirring frequently, until chips are melted and smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Drizzle over cooled cookies and let set. 


skinny honey sesame chicken


How about a healthy and delicious dinner to start off the week? This skinny honey sesame chicken is awesome! I made it last week when Geoff was working late, and was incredibly proud of myself for making an actual dinner instead of our usual Wednesday night boxed mac and cheese. As much as I love to cook, I don't usually bother if Geoff's not home, because the girls don't care and by dinner time I am usually exhausted. The girls absolutely loved this chicken, though, and cleared their plates. I loved it too!

The original recipe uses frozen popcorn chicken, but since I don't usually have that on hand, I wanted to see if I could make it with my very favorite homemade chicken nuggets. Not only did it make it much healthier, I think it made it tastier too. This is one of my favorite meals that I've had in a long time!

Skinny Honey Sesame Chicken

for the nuggets:
2 large chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
olive oil cooking spray

for the sauce:
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce

sesame seeds (for garnish)
green onions (for garnish)

To make the nuggets, preheat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil. Toss chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a shallow dish or plate, mix together breadcrumbs and panko. Place the chicken pieces in the breadcrumb mixture, and toss to coat. Place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, and spray with cooking spray. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through. (If you want the nuggets to be more evenly browned, turn them halfway through cooking.)

While the nuggets are baking, whisk together all the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until it reaches a simmer, then remove from heat. Toss with cooked nuggets and serve over rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped green onion.

sauce adapted from Six Sisters Stuff


restaurant-style salsa


True story: my little Lizzy looooooves salsa. Last year when we were in San Diego we got some super spicy salsa at a restaurant with our fish tacos, and Lizzy kept dipping her chips in and sucking the salsa off, then crying because it was too hot. We got her some milder salsa but she was obsessed with the hot stuff and kept eating it, even with tears rolling down her little cheeks. She doesn't even eat the chips… she'll dip them a few times, suck off the salsa, and then set aside the soggy little triangles and start again with some new chips. Silly girl!

I'm not sure which of us she inherited her love of salsa from… Geoff and I are both pretty obsessed with mexican food, and salsa is one of our most frequently used condiments. I put it on my eggs, in burritos and tacos, on top of my salads, on chicken or fish… it's tasty any way you use it! This restaurant-style salsa is perfect! It tastes so fresh and delicious, and it takes all of five minutes to make. This is seriously the easiest recipe ever, and so good!

Restaurant-Style Salsa

2 14 ounce cans fire roasted tomatoes
1 4 ounce can diced green chilies
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small onion, cut into pieces
1 jalapeƱo, ribs and seeds removed
1 bunch cilantro (I left this out)
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, and pulse until well combined and desired consistency is reached. Refrigerate 30 minutes to let the flavors combine, then enjoy!

adapted from Gimme Some Oven


Reese's giant chocolate peanut butter cookies


These giant chocolate peanut butter cookies are totally the best thing that has happened to me this week. I mean, sure, we finally got our very own washing machine after living without one for over a year, and I got to experience the mind-blowing luxury of washing clothing in my own apartment, but I think these cookies really just take the cake. I've been stressing like crazy about this transition we'll be going through in the next month, with Geoff starting nursing school, and sometimes when you're all tapped out, all you can do is eat a delicious cookie and hope for the best.

These cookies are so delicious! The cookie base is rich and moist and super flavorful, and the Reese's chunks throughout make them even more delicious. If you love chocolate and peanut butter, these are definitely the cookies for you!

Reese's Giant Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups coarsely chopped peanut butter cups, divided

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare a baking sheet by spraying with cooking spray or lining with parchment. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar until well combined. Add the egg, vanilla, and milk, and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix to form a thick dough. (If the dough is very dry and crumbly, add an extra tablespoon or so of milk to help it come together.) Gently fold in the peanut butter cups, reserving about 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top of the cookies. Scoop large spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet (I used an ice cream scoop) and sprinkle with remaining peanut butter cups. Bake 12-14 minutes, being careful not to over bake. Let cool on baking sheet for ten minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

adapted from Annie's Eats


perfect chocolate cupcakes


Happy Friday! How about some delicious cupcakes to start the day off right? It's been a pretty rough week for me (hence the lack of posts) and I'm a little stressed and burned out. I realized on Wednesday that I hadn't baked in what felt like forever, so these chocolate cupcakes became my therapy. Abby and I made them together while Geoff was working late, and we had the best time giggling together and baking. I'm not sure why baking relaxes me so much, but it really is my very favorite form of stress relief. I usually end up giving the treats away, but just the act of making them is soothing to me.

These chocolate cupcakes are so delicious! The flavor is perfectly chocolatey and rich, and the texture is moist and tender. And when you add my favorite chocolate buttercream to the mix, they are amazing! The light and fluffy frosting complements the cupcakes perfectly without being overwhelming. We took some to a friend (who was also having a rough day) and I hope they turned her day around like they did mine!

Perfect Chocolate Cupcakes

for the cupcakes:
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

for the frosting:
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar

To make the cupcakes, 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, and set aside.

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.

To make the buttercream, in a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and milk, then add cocoa and powdered sugar. Whip until the mixture lightens and is smooth and creamy. Frost cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

Cupcakes adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe and frosting adapted from Cooking Classy