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Passover Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Squares

Passover is a time of family gatherings which means it’s a great time for baking! The challenge with Passover bakes, though, is that they cannot have rising agents. That means that most cakes and cookies are out. For this Passover, I made two bakes. The first is a chocolate raspberry pecan square recipe from Esthero Design.

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Passover Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Squares

Dough:
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla sugar (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
2 cups potato starch
2 6oz bags of ground almonds

Topping:
12 oz chocolate chips (I went with milk chocolate)
8 oz chopped pecans
15 oz raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix the dough ingredients together.

Grease an 11″x17″ cookie sheet and press a piece of parchment paper onto the bottom. (Note: having some parchment paper hang over the sides will help with releasing the bars from the cookie sheet. Otherwise, you may end up needing to cut the bars on your sheet, which isn’t good for the sheet.) Press the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet, making sure its distributed evenly. Bake for 20 mins.

Take the dough out of the oven. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. The jam will get easier to spread as it is heated by the hot dough. Sprinkle the chocolate and the pecans over the jam.

Bake for an additional 25 mins.

Allow the squares to cool completely before cutting.

Note: squares taste great frozen!

Passover Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Bars
Uncut tray of Passover chocolate raspberry pecan squares
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Pull Apart (Cupcake) Cake with Italian Meringue Buttercream

In 2019, I’m taking on some baking challenges with two other bakers in different states. The challenge for January is a pull apart cupcake cake. I opted for a fun but simple design for this, my first cupcake cake. To still make it a challenge, though, I tried my hand at making Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). I’ve made American (ABC) and Swiss Meringue (SMBC) buttercreams before but not Italian.

The design I selected for the cake was taken from bluprint (formerly Craftsy). My version ended up utilizing 9 regular sized cupcakes and 20 mini cupcakes, all yellow cake. The nice thing about such a simple design is that you end up with plenty of extra cupcakes to snack on. One mistake I made was with the mini cupcakes.

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Staging for pull apart jellyfish cake.

The recipe for the Italian meringue buttercream is by Yolanda Gampps on HowToCakeIt.com. She has an excellent video up if you’re interested in seeing her techniques. Her recipe is easy to follow and should have you whipping up some IMBC in no time. If you haven’t tried IMBC before or aren’t sure if you have, it is less sweet than American buttercream (one of the most common types of buttercream in the U.S.) and a little less buttery than Swiss meringue. It’s a really smooth and light flavor as a base. It also takes coloring and flavorings really well. I added some raspberry extract to the purple portion and it was very good.

After making the buttercream and arranging your cakes, use a piping bag with a wide tip to pipe the outline of your design. Then fill in the shape with more buttercream and smooth it out with an offset spatula. This helps to keep some of the definition in your shape and prevents you from pushing cupcakes around while trying to dollop icing on them.

Lessons learned from my first go at a pull apart cake:

  1. I need to be better about portioning out my buttercream colors. I ended up with far too much leftover blue buttercream and not near enough white buttercream to touch up the tentacles.
  2. I need to bake my mini cupcakes longer. I under-baked them slightly, resulting in them being too moist and the wrappers pulling awkwardly away from the cakes after sitting overnight.
  3. I forgot to put icing on the bottom of the large cupcakes before decorating them. Adding a dot of icing under each cupcake makes it harder for them to slide across the board and helps to hold them in place.
  4. This was only my second time piping anything (the first being the teeth on the sarlacc cake). You can tell I was playing around with one of the piping tips due to the variation in the design of the purple icing on the tentacles.

Overall, the experiment was a success. The expectation of a yummy pull apart cake that resembled a jellyfish was met and now we have a taste for IMBC!

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Italian Meringue Buttercream

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp-sized pieces, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.

While the sugar syrup is heating, put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

When the syrup reaches 230°F on the candy thermometer, begin to whip the egg whites on medium/high speed. Whip until the egg whites are stiff.

When the syrup reaches 240°F, immediately remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer still running, pour the syrup into the egg whites in a very thin stream. Pour the syrup between the sides of the bowl and the whisk.

Whip the meringue at high speed until thick and glossy and the bowl is no longer warm on the outside, about 8-12 mins.

With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time, whipping until each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula occasionally.

After all of the butter has been added, continue to whip the buttercream until it’s thick and smooth, 3-5 mins.

Beat in the vanilla.

Divide the buttercream into different bowls to fold in different colors and flavors.

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Angel Food Cake with Three Berry Compote

It has been a long time since I’ve made an angel food cake and I’ve had a recipe with a three berry compote earmarked from Food & Wine for a long time. Today just seemed to be the right day to give it a go. The recipe is straight forward and was very easy to execute.
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Angel Food Cake with Three Berry Compote

Cake
10 large egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
3/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until firm-peaks form. Add 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, beating for 10 secs before adding more. Beat in the vanilla. Once the 3/4 cup of sugar has been added, best the whites at high speed until stiff, about 4 mins.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour with the confectioner’s sugar and salt. Sift the dry ingredients over the beaten whites in 3 batches, folding gently with a large spatula until incorporated.

Spoon the batter into an un-greased 10 inch angel food cake pan (do not use non-stick). Bake for 40 mins, until the cake is risen and golden. Invert the cake in the pan and let cool.

Compote
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 pints (16 oz) strawberries, sliced
2 pints (16 oz) raspberries
1 pint (8 oz) blackberries
3 Tbsp lemon juice

In a large saucepan, simmer the berries with the 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and the lemon juice until the juices are released, 10 mins. Cool slightly.

Using a knife, loosen the cake from the pan and remove the side of the pan. Loosen the cake from the pan bottom and tube. Transfer the cake to a plate. Slice the cake and serve with the warm compote.