Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cookbook Review: 150 Best Desserts in a Jar

If you're anything like me, you probably have a host of plastic containers, glass jars of all shapes and sizes and random lids tucked in the nooks and crannies of your basement, garage or pantry. 

As a metro commuter canning jars, being somewhat bulky and hard to fit into small workplace microwaves, rarely see the light of day. Additionally, I have never had time to can/preserve anything, so the larger jars sit idly by on hard-to-reach shelves. The cute old jam and jelly jars are quickly re-purposed for sauce and salad dressing storage or simply recycled when I have less patience to make room for them. (Evidently, I have a pack rat behavioral pattern. I see a container and feel the need to store case I find something else to store inside the container!)

Finally someone has given my glass jars purpose and possibly even some of the sturdier plastic containers as well. Dessert! Short of creating bathtub gin, I can't think of a better way to re-use a jar than for dessert. There is a quaint homeyness and aesthetic attraction to serving side dishes or desserts in Mason jars or, better yet, antique beveled glass jars. I've even been to a restaurant that offered Mason jars to guests so they could churn their own butter at the table (marbles, cream and salt were also provided).

Similar to childhood days, when hoarding and storing candy was a near sacred  ritual; baking or preparing desserts in individual serving containers gives you the opportunity to squirrel-away leftovers without feeling guilty for not sharing. Small glass jars are just easier to hide from prying eyes than say, a large cake. Plus, the ability to eat a 'leftover' that isn't a leftover is somehow very satisfying.

However, I found that a surprising number of recipes in this book called for them to be immediately served after completing the final step. This was directly opposite of what I was expecting. When I think of a glass jar, I specifically think of storage and preserves, not a cute serving implement. 

Of course, if the dessert is good, who cares how quickly you need to serve it after preparation. It probably wouldn't last long anyways. But, if you're trying to prepare dessert ahead of time or wanting to keep a dessert in storage for a rainy day, these recipe options don't entirely suit. There were several puddings and many refrigerated desserts that could be stored for 2-10 days, but often still require an additional step or two before serving. Also, who has room for eight, 8-ounce jars in their fridge?

When trying to select several recipes to try, I found that few recipes included ingredients I kept "in-stock." Unlike the dozen or so glass jars that were sitting open-mouthed and empty-bellied, waiting to be filled; I had little in the way of items-on-hand. From fresh peaches (not canned), cardamom, and vanilla beans to heavy whipping cream and self-rising flour, my pantry was clean out of essential ingredients needed to complete the production of these sweet creations. 

I finally settled on testing the Marble Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream Sauce. Again, I was short one ingredient - the instant expresso powder. Elsewhere in the book I noticed that they strongly recommended expresso powder rather than the instant coffee or cappuccino powders since they wouldn't be as strong.  So I made due by finely grinding up fresh coffee beans. They didn't dissolve, but they did add texture to an otherwise, bland and biscuit-like cake. For this recipe the Coffee Cream Sauce is what makes the dessert. Everyone who tried it enjoyed it, but did note how the cake itself was not very flavorful and dry. When mixing the cake, the batter was so dry that I actually had to add a tablespoon more milk. Also, the cream sauce is less sauce and more cream...which is completely fine by me!

Marble Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream Sauce
from 150 Best Desserts in a Jar

Overall, this is a great cookbook for a few choice recipes - Chocolate Gingerbread, Blackberry Mont Blanc, Christmas Pudding, etc. I also discovered one could make larger share-all versions in a glass cake pan for some of the recipes in case you don't have the right sized glass jars. Just adjust your oven accordingly and be alert when mixing your ingredients. You may need to add more or less of something.

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