Monday, August 22, 2011

Mason Jar Cakes

Every year my whole family gets together in August for a picnic to celebrate my grandmother's birthday.  This year, my aunt sent out an email list of all the food items for everyone to volunteer something.  I of course jumped on dessert.  But then I started to panic.  I'd be driving the 6 hours to the picnic that morning, it was outdoors, and there are 20 of us who all have varying tastes in desserts. What was I going to do?

And then I remembered these little cuties from Amanda at Iambaker.  I could get away with making a single cake batter but provide lots of options for our clan, they'd be great little travelers and their lids and mason jar houses would make them perfect for a picnic environment.

To start I had to decide on what varieties I'd create.  To do this I held a focus group with my crack team of analysts.  (Read: I had a couple IM conversations with my friend Jen and two of my cousins.)  Together we settled on the following cake combinations:
  1. Birthday Cake
  2. Strawberry Shortcake
  3. Raspberry Lemoncake
  4. Chocolate Chip Sundae
  5. Death by Chocolate

For each cake, I started with my favorite yellow cake and my favorite cooked frosting from Tasty Kitchen and made the following alterations.  With the exception of the strawberry shortcake, I added 1/2 cup of batter to each greased mason jar.  I baked them at 325 for 35-45 minutes.  I found testing the done-ness to be a little hard since I couldn't reach the cake with a toothpick.  I'd recommend using one of those long wooden skewers or just guesstimating based on the way the batter pulls away from the sides of the jar.  40 minutes seemed to be a good average, but I was very worried about the strawberry shortcakes since they had less batter baking and the chocolate cake since I couldn't tell if it was burning from the color.

For this batch, I used a pint size wide mouth mason jar.  But for future iterations, I plan on using the 8oz size.  The pint was a little too big and made it hard to get a perfect bite of frosting and cake. It easily was enough for two people to share. 

Birthday Cake

This was the simplest cake of the bunch since I used unaltered yellow cake batter.  Once the baking was complete and it had fully cooled, I topped it with chocolate icing and sprinkles. 

To make the chocolate icing, I started with 1 stick of butter and two heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder.  Beware, this will make a mess.  Even using my largest mixing bowl, the cocoa still puffed up and settled on every surface, including my cheeks.  I blame my hand mixer for not having a slow setting.  But you may want to mash the butter into the cocoa with a fork to start.

Once the butter and cocoa powder have combined, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of milk and mix again.

Now alternately add 2 cups of powdered sugar and 2 more tablespoons of milk, mixing until incorporated each time. 

Once the icing is complete, I piped it into the jar using a large star tip and added sprinkles. 

Strawberry Shortcake

For these, I used only a 1/4 cup of yellow cake batter poured into a greased mason jar to start since I'd be layering more cake on top of it.

While it was cooling, I assembled my toppings: Diced strawberries, plain cooked frosting and some yellow cake cupcakes from my freezer I had leftover from last week's birthday bakingpalooza.  If you don't have any leftover cupcakes in your freezer, you could just spoon 1/4 cup of the batter you just made into a lined cupcake tin, bake for 20 minutes and let cool with the jar cakes. 

Once the cake jar cooled, I added a layer of frosting and then about 1/2 a cup of strawberries.  I topped these with the cut up pieces of cupcake (the pint size jar was too wide for just a cupcake top, so I cut up the bottoms of the cupcake to make sure you could see the top cake layer from the outside of the jar.  When I do these again in the 8oz jar, I will probably just use the cupcake top).  Finally I topped this with a little more frosting and then a sliced strawberry. 

Raspberry Lemonade

This cake required alterations to both the batter and the frosting. 

I started out by separating 2 cups of batter into a mixing bowl.  I then added the zest of 2 lemons and 2 teaspoons of lemon extract.  You don't want to add the juice of the lemons because the acidity will activate the baking powder (or soda... I always get them mixed up) and change the way the cake rises. 

For the frosting, I added 1/2 a cup of fresh raspberries to 2 cups of the cooked frosting and whipped them together for about 30 seconds.  You want to make sure you don't over whip the frosting because it can separate, but you want to make sure the raspberries are fully mixed in. 

Once the cake was fully cooled, I piped in the raspberry frosting with a star tip and topped it with a single raspberry. 

Chocolate Chip Sundae

This was the one I was looking most forward to.  My favorite treat is a chocolate chip cookie sundae.  With whipped cream or ice cream on top of a chewy, warm, chocolate chip cookie. 

Once they were cooled, I topped them with a bit of the plain cooked frosting, a drizzle of the chocolate ganache I had made for the Death by Chocolate cake and some chocolate morsels. 

Death by Chocolate

I wasn't originally going to make a chocolate cake out of these since I didn't know how the chocolate would be added to the yellow cake batter and I didn't want to make a 2nd batter.  But my mother asked me to please try since she really wanted something nice a chocolatey to end the meal.  So in her honor I decided Death By Chocolate... make it two* was in order.

*Does anyone else remember that commercial.  You hear a woman ordering her meal of garden salad with dressing on the side, grilled chicken and steamed broccoli with no butter, and for dessert: Death by Chocolate make it two.  I have no idea what that commercial was for, but I still to this day quote it whenever I feel like I can treat myself to a particularly decadent dessert because I had eaten well all day.

Anyways, I digress. 

So I decided if I was going to do a chocolate cake, it was going to be one helluva chocolate cake.  To my 2 cups of yellow cake batter, I added 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. 

While that was baking and cooling I went to work on my filling and topping for this cake:

Chocolate Ganache
3/4 cup of light cream
2 Tbsp of butter
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate morsels

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and butter until the butter melts and the mixture is steaming.  Don't let it boil.  Remove it from the heat and add in the chocolate chips.  Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and mixed together.  Let it cool.  I then added it to a squeeze bottle and put it in the fridge.  This recipe (and the drizzle on the chocolate chip cake) didn't use the entire bottle so it is still in my fridge, waiting for the perfect opportunity to be drizzle over something else. 

Chocolate Mousse
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/3 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Start by putting a metal mixing bowl and your beater(s) in the freezer.  In a small microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate, milk and vanilla.  Microwave for 30 seconds - 1 minute until the chocolate is all melted.  Stir the mixture well to combine and set it aside to cool.  Stir it occasionally to make sure a film doesn't form on top. Once the chocolate mixture is fully cooled, remove your metal bowl and beaters from the freezer and whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.  Add the chocolate to the cream by gently folding it in batches.  You don't want the cream to deflate by stirring it quickly. 

To assemble, take the fully cooled chocolate cake, and core out the center with an apple corer.  If you don't have an apple corer, you could use a paring knife.  

Into the center, pour the chocolate ganache until it reaches the top.  By the time you have finished pouring into all the centers, you will notice the first ones have sunk down a bit as the ganache absorbs into the cake.  Just top them off before adding the mousse.  

Next, pipe the mousse on top with your large round tip.  By pressing on the bag hard, the mousse will come out big and fluffy.  Finally I topped the mouse with some dark chocolate shavings. 

I added labels to each jar so that people would know what each one contained.  I don't know that I would do the labels the same way next time.  I really liked being able to see the layers of each cake through the glass, and the labels hindered that.  Maybe next time I'll create labels to be tied around the neck of the jar instead. 

When it came time for cake at the birthday picnic, I put a candle into the birthday cake one (of course) and we sung happy birthday using that.  The rest of the jars were set out on the table for people to select their own.  Judging by the left overs, the chocolate chip sundae was the clear favorite with the strawberry shortcake a close second. 

Any way you slice it, I would call these little mason jar cakes, a clear winner.

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