Tag Archives: dessert

Strawberry pretzel salad and birthday wishes for Mom

Strawberry pretzel salad

Today is my mom’s birthday!

According to lore, her birth was perilously close to April Fool’s Day — and the doctor asked Grandma if she wanted her firstborn to enter the world in March or April. She chose March, obviously, and Mom’s birthday caps off a blustery month for us here in Maryland.

As one of the most caring, thoughtful people I know, Mom never misses an opportunity to let her family know how much she loves them — so I can’t neglect to do the same. You’re awesome! We love you! Rumor has it the sun will be returning after a soggy weekend, so I hope Mom enjoys your day until we can celebrate this evening.

And let’s talk about strawberry pretzel salad.

The timing of this post is far from coincidental . . . because this is Mom’s signature dessert. It falls into the category of foods that look weird but actually taste fantastic, mostly because this dish balances sweetness and saltiness in an exquisite way. If you’re a strawberry fan, you’ll love it all the more.

Mom whips up strawberry pretzel salad for most functions, especially our annual July birthday party. My dad, sister and I have birthdays within five days of each other, and our big blow-out in late July wouldn’t be the same without this family favorite.

My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Strawberry pretzel salad II

Strawberry pretzel salad

Recipe adapted from Mom and AllRecipes

2 cups pretzels, crushed
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 (3 ounce) packages strawberry flavored gelatin
2 cups boiling water
2 (10 ounce) packages frozen strawberries


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Stir together crushed pretzels, melted butter and 3 tablespoons sugar; mix well and press mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until set. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Fold in whipped topping. Spread mixture onto cooled crust.

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Stir in frozen strawberries and allow to set briefly. When mixture is about the consistency of egg whites, pour and spread over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate until set. Serve and enjoy!

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Filed under food & drink, recipes

Guinness cupcakes revisited — or, enjoying a rich and boozy cupcake

Guinness cupcakes

Remember these?

I sure do.

Boozy desserts are all the rage these days, and these may go down in history as one of my most popular baked goods ever. I actually couldn’t believe I first made these in 2012. It really feels like yesterday.

Though I’m really more of a Smithwick’s drinker than a Guinness girl, you can’t visit Dublin without trying the iconic beverage. My dad was the sturdy one in our group, ordering his drink on our first night there in 2011. I remember less of the drink and more of the meal, which was hearty and delicious and filling.


Irish flags

Irish food

Burger and fries — Irish style. What I wouldn’t give to jump into that frame . . .

Ahem. Anyway. Though I do partake in the occasional beverage, I have to confess to enjoying booze more in desserts than glasses. If you like the rich taste of chocolate and the bold, unmistakable tang of Guinness, this is certainly a treat for you.

Just have some milk handy . . .

Or maybe an extra Guinness. Totally your call.

Cupcake trio

Dark Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
with Bailey’s buttercream

Recipe adapted from Global Table Adventure

1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup Guinness Extra Stout
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs

For the Bailey’s buttercream:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-4 tbsp Bailey’s, as needed


Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk together with Guinness, vanilla extract and cocoa. Remove from heat.

While Guinness mixture is cooling, add cupcake liners to pan. Whisk together dry ingredients (sugar, flour, baking soda). Pour Guinness mixture onto the dry ingredients, then whisk in the 2 eggs. When the batter is shiny and smooth, pour evenly into cupcake liners.

Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

As cupcakes cool, make the buttercream by whipping together the softened butter and sugar, then adding in just enough Bailey’s to get it loose and fluffy. (About 3 tablespoons.)

When cupcakes are done, cool completely. Frost as desired. Yields approximately 18 cupcakes.

Lucky Link-up copy

Come back Monday to share your favorite Irish-themed posts in the Lucky link-up I’ll be hosting with the lovely Maureen of She Is Moments! Whether new or old, share posts that could highlight favorite Irish books or authors; recipes for favorite Irish dishes; travel posts from past Irish adventures . . . or something entirely new. The link-up will go live in the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day here and at SIM. We hope you’ll join us!


Filed under food & drink, recipes

Dark chocolate cupcakes for two

Dark chocolate cupcakes

My love of desserts? Well-documented. Before I started Weight Watchers, the idea of forgoing chocolate was so upsetting I couldn’t even consider it. I was laboring under the delusion that I’d have to “give up” all the things I loved, which . . . wasn’t true.

But this isn’t about my eating habits, friends. This is about cupcakes.

Having moist, delicious baked goods around is a blessing and curse. When I bake, I typically end up with the standard 24 cupcakes that beckon me from every corner of our apartment. After Spence and I have our treat for the day, we’re pretty disciplined about packaging up whatever remains to take to our respective workplaces.

We’re really popular around there.

But sometimes? Sometimes you want to bake — like yesterday, with a heavy snow falling and the roads destroyed — without the surplus goodies. You want your cake for an afternoon snack, but you absolutely can’t have 22 extras eyeballing you from the dining room.

When I stumbled across The Baker Chick’s recipe for fudgy dark chocolate cupcakes for two, I was eager to give them a whirl. While I’ll admit this recipe is a bit of work for two cakes, it solved my dilemma of wanting to bake without enough food to feed an army.

One for Spence, one for me.

These are moist, decadent, incredibly chocolatey and perfectly paired with milk. Though far from low-calorie, they were a great way for me to get that craving out of my system . . . and with nothing left to tempt me now, I feel better about having made (and enjoyed) that single dessert.

I’m pretty popular around our house now, too.


Dark chocolate cupcakes for two

Recipe from The Baker Chick

3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dark cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon chocolate chips (optional)

For frosting:
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, very soft
1 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder
4-5 tablespoons of powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
2. Make a small well in the middle of the bowl and add the water, oil and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth.
3. Evenly distribute the batter between two liners and sprinkle with chocolate chips if using. Bake for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.

For the frosting:
In another small bowl, use a spatula to spread the butter around making sure it’s super soft and pliable. Add the cocoa powder and stir into the soft butter. Using the spatula or spoon, add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time until the frosting is creamy and thick. Frost cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.


Filed under food & drink, recipes

The new dessert challenge


Desserts are really making a comeback around here.

I’m a little scared to admit that — mostly because I fear putting it out into the universe. Since losing 35 pounds last year, I had to get serious about cutting down on my sugar intake . . . which was tough. Not as hard as I expected, honestly, but still no cake walk (pun intended). I mean, y’all know I love to bake — and we got so many cool kitchen items as wedding gifts. Pie plates and cookbooks and the Kitchen Aid and . . .

It’s so tempting.

But I knew — I know — I can’t be trusted around chocolate. I just can’t. I have my limits, friends, and know when I’m reaching them. Having cookies and cake and other tasty treats loitering in the kitchen is a recipe (! okay, I’ll stop) for disaster. Even though I’m still going hard with Weight Watchers, I’m in maintenance mode now. Having hit my goal weight in January, the idea now is to keep on keepin’ on.

And I don’t want to slip back into my little bad habits.

Long term, I know I won’t go back to the way things were before. I’ve come too far and fought way too hard to change my entire lifestyle to start sabotaging myself with snack-size Snickers bars, but . . . well, the reality is that having avoided temptation for so long, sweets are getting extra tempting. I miss them. My stomach misses them. We remember the cool crunch, the chocolate tang, the caramel goodness . . .


But I’m learning to cope and am still adapting. In terms of Weight Watchers, I’m allowing myself some extra points each day for a Lindt Lindor truffle (2 points!) or two Hershey’s Kisses (1 point!). From the beginning, my motto was not to “deprive” myself of anything; going on a true “diet” — where you eliminate a certain food or food group — can create hunger pangs that go beyond simply eating fewer calories, I think. For me, anyway.

The second you tell me I can’t have it, I want it desperately. It’s a universal law or something.

Without getting on my sparkly spokesperson soapbox, Weight Watchers worked for me because I learned to make smarter choices, control my portions and treat myself to indulgences — not enjoy them nightly. Then they’re not indulgences. To say I can never have X, Y or Z again? Nope. Not my bag.

In that vein, I’m trying to be gentler with myself about the sweets. For Valentine’s Day, I requested molten chocolate lava cakes for dessert — and my sweet husband obliged. He even improvised by making dulce de leche as a topping, and . . . well, it was amazing.

I didn’t feel guilty after, exactly, because I planned ahead and gave myself the wiggle room to accommodate that sugary deliciousness that night. But that experience did get me thinking about trigger foods, and how the key is to indulge occasionally without going overboard.

It’s a work in progress — like me.

But we’ll get there . . . one alluring spoonful at a time.


Filed under musings, weight loss

Crunchy peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cookies 1

After spending a few hours watching cooking shows while snowed in last week, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I attached myself to my oven.

I mean, you can’t watch delicious baked goods being prepared all afternoon and not have a serious craving for some. And because our home is a mostly-healthy-food-only zone, I knew if I wanted something buttery and sugary? Well, I’d have to make it myself.

In one of my weaker moments, I’d printed a recipe for Fifteen Spatulas’ crazy good peanut butter M&M cookies — but lacked the crucial candy component. I decided to just bake the cookies themselves because OMG peanut butter and ignore the candy completely . . . and then I remembered the Heath toffee pieces hiding in the pantry.

If you like peanut butter (yes) and love cookies (double yes), these are the treat for you. I had to distract myself to avoid getting seconds or thirds after they came out of the oven, especially because we were sequestered in our tiny apartment where everything smelled like cookies.

And it was all my fault.

My final version looked nothing like Joanne’s beauties, and . . . I’m not sure why. Maybe because I made them too large? And they spread too thin, getting extra crunchy? I don’t know. But regardless of appearances, they were delicious. And that’s all that really matters, right?

Crunchy peanut butter cookies

Recipe adapted from Fifteen Spatulas

Cookies 3

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 cup Heath toffee pieces (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl and cream together with a hand mixer for approximately two minutes, until the mixture looks fluffy. Add the peanut butter and egg, mixing until incorporated. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until the flour has almost disappeared. Fold in the Heath toffee pieces, if using, with a spatula.

Using a large cookie scoop, portion out mounds of the cookie dough on your prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool and dig in!

Peanut butter dough

Cookies 2


Filed under food & drink, recipes

Two ingredients. One delicious (pumpkin) cupcake.



Sometimes I’m all about crazy ingredient combinations. I relish creating something delicious from scratch; I become utterly absorbed in the hours-long process of sifting, combining, stirring and frosting. I wait by the oven. I allow things to cool. I pace around, reading and watching the timer, peeking into illuminated ovens and waiting. Waiting.

And sometimes, I just want to eat a cupcake.

I found this recipe by accident on Monday (thanks, Pinterest!), and it turned out to be perfect timing. I’d just moved the day before, meaning most of what I owned was still in trash bags or boxes in the living room. I was tired, grumpy; I was still feeling all kinds of out of sorts. I wasn’t used to baking anywhere than in my parents’ kitchen, which is always well-stocked and overflowing.

And ours, well . . . we’re working on it.

But never fear! I only needed two ingredients — yes, seriously, two ingredients — for these chocolate pumpkin cupcakes.

You ready?


A boxed chocolate cake mix. (I used devil’s food.)

And a can of pumpkin.

No oil. No eggs.

Just chocolate cake mix and a can of pumpkin.

Pre-heat oven to 350. Beat pumpkin and cake mix until very well combined; batter will be super-duper thick. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full (batter will rise significantly). Bake for 20-25 minutes (I only needed 20), until toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Allow to cool. Frost as desired (I used store-bought cream cheese frosting). Garnish with pumpkin spice or sprinkles or whatever your heart desires. Rake in the compliments, feel like a total rock star.

Cupcakes cooling

And if you want to get fancy, follow The Picky Palate’s additional recipe for pumpkin spice brown butter frosting, which sounds amazing.

Or don’t, because you’re busy frolicking in fall leaves and drinking apple cider and listening to praise for your chocolate pumpkin cupcakes — all without mentioning how insanely easy they are to make.

Totally your call.

Also, I wound up bringing these to a “work potluck” yesterday that actually turned out to be . . . a surprise bridal shower for yours truly! And I may or may not have received a KitchenAid stand mixer from my coworkers. Um. I’m still kind of in shock.

And they totally have ulterior motives with that present, as they pointed out themselves . . . like bringing in more cupcakes like these.

Done and done.


Filed under food & drink, recipes

Pumpkin whoopie pies

Pumpkin whoopie pies

I’ve been stress baking.

Leading up to my sister’s wedding on Saturday, I had tons of nervous energy that I channeled rather successfully into baked goods. Keeping my hands — and head — busy, especially during transitional times, is always a good idea.

And now her wedding’s over, and I’ve been popped. Popped like a balloon.

But that’s another post. Perhaps a long, rambling post I’ll never publish. And anyway, you’re not really interested in my tasty batter of emotions, are you?! After seeing a photo like that at top?

I didn’t think so.

Whoopie pies

So, whoopie pies. I kind of felt like I was cheating on my beloved cupcakes the whole time I mixed this batter, scooping tablespoons of it onto cookie sheets rather than into muffin tins, but the whoopie pie is actually rather adorable. And delicious. I’ve seen it described as an “inside-out cupcake,” and I totally dig that description.

And since we’re officially in the thick of my favorite season, you know I had to kick autumn off with some delicious pumpkin treats. This recipe from The Baker Chick provided the perfect cake base, though I definitely cheated and did not make the suggested homemade salted caramel filling (though that sounds amazing).

Hey, c’mon — I was stress baking, not stress frosting. I totally used a store-bought buttercream and it was still outstanding. Like, this recipe made about 35 of these babies . . . and I had barely a half dozen left after a few days. Like hotcakes, I’m telling you.

So I got the satisfaction of making a dessert, and the two-bites-and-you’re-done delicious quality kept me from overindulging. Eating a single whoopie pie gave me that sweet taste I craved without going crazy.

Though you could totally go crazy eating these. It’s not a giant leap.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Recipe from The Baker Chick

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes

Yield: Approximately 30 sandwich cookies


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup canola oil
3 cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a sil-pat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk sugars and oil together. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth and well-combined. Gradually mix the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture, stirring until just combined.

Use a small ice cream scoop to drop a heaping tablespoon of dough onto the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the pan for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

To assemble, pipe buttercream or cream cheese frosting onto the flat side of one of the cookies and place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges. Repeat until all the cookies are used.







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