There is something classic, vintage and beautiful about a mason jar. Preserving and canning opens up a whole new world when it comes to using mason jars; however, that doesn't limit you to canning. You can make recipes in them and freeze them, eat them right out of the jar and take to picnics and parties as individual treats. They make the perfect single serving treats, gifts or make-ahead dinner party desserts.
I made a traditional pie crust and layered the jars with the crust, custard and homemade strawberry rhubarb pie filling. I took the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie recipe from The Joy of Cooking and baked it in jars in the oven although I should have put the jars in a water bath. All I did to take them to a picnic was put some reusable plastic lids on top and placed them in a cooler bag with some spoons.
So instead of eating a whole pie you can eat multiple mini pies, which have less calories, right? They are along the lines of the "mini" trend where everything made always looks cute and is bite-sized, so you can eat less--or more if you'd like.
I was ecstatic that one of Robert Rose's spring cookbooks was a book on making desserts in a jar. 150 Best Desserts in a Jar by Andrea Jourdan includes recipes in jars for everything from puddings, cobblers, pies and cakes plus tips on choosing the right jar, baking and creative techniques. I learned that baking the jars in a dish of water half-way up the jars is one of those essential tips.
I have completely earmarked this book with recipes I want to make, including Peach and Mango Parfait, Lemon Lavender Panna Cotta and Apricot, Chocolate Chip and Yogurt Treat all desserts that would let the beautiful layers and colours shine inside the clear jars. "Whether it's a bevelled antique jar picked up at a flea market, or that classic mason jar saved at the back of the kitchen cupboard, all kinds of containers can become sparkling, creative and beautiful ways to prepare and serve divine desserts."
When using jars for desserts, Jourdan suggests always cooking them in a water bath (something I learned after my first attempt before I read the book), leave extra space at the top of the jars if you're going to freeze the dessert and always leave them to cool completely after baking in the oven. Also, the cooking time will differ with each recipe depending on the content in the jars and how it's distributed.
One of my favourite summer desserts in the book was the Kiwi and Strawberry Flan.
Before you start, make sure you have:
1. The oven preheated to 350F (180C)
2. Four 8-ounce (250ml) jars, buttered
3. A baking pan large enough to accomodate the jars
Kiwi and Strawberry Flan (pg. 48)4 kiwifruit, peeled
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp strawberry jam
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Cut each kiwi into thin slices and place in the bottom of each jar.
2. In a bowl, combine flour, cornstarch and salt.
3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until foamy. Gradually whisk in flour mixture. Mix in sour cream, jam and vanilla. Pour over kiwis, dividing equally.
4. Place jars in baking pan, spaced evenly apart and not touching the sides of the pan, and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the jars. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes until flan is no longer wobbly. Remove from oven. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes before serving.
The flan was quite tart with the acidic fruit, but still refreshing. It's similar to the custard filling I made for the pies in a jar and certainly fitting for a jar dessert with lots of layers and fruit. If you're just making desserts for two, the recipes are easy to half to make only a few portions: it's portion control at its chicest.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.