Thursday, December 13, 2012

Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine

Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine
Publisher: Harvard Common Press (2012)

Everyone loves to have their own little treat. Having your own self-contained portion of a meal or dessert makes you feel special, as if it was made just for you, and of course it means you don’t have to share! But making single servings of anything can be tricky, especially when it comes to baking and desserts. That’s where the genius of Shaina Olmanson and her latest book Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine comes into play. This quaint little hardcover contains 50 scrumptious recipes that neatly tuck away into your standard Mason, Ball or Kerr jars. From cakes and puddings to granita, cobbler and even pie, almost no type of dessert is excluded.

This book is a joy to look through. Every page of Desserts is printed in full colour, and every recipe includes a photo of the finished dish. The book also has a “lay-flat” coil binding, which makes it incredibly useful in the kitchen. The index is well organized and easy to read, and Olmanson also provides a detailed conversion chart at the back. The book’s introduction is a professional, yet personable guide to all the elements that go into the perfect jarred dessert – which jar to choose, how to fill and bake in them, tips for freezing leftovers and even how to decorate the finished product.

I was familiar with Olmanson’s creative cooking before reading Desserts, as she maintains a blog titled Food for my Family. Her practical, easy-to-read and -relate to style carries through into her book, and you can tell that many of the recipes were written with her busy family (and others like it) in mind. While most recipes serve six to ten, smaller families will still be able to enjoy the treats through the week, and longer if they fall in the Frozen Desserts chapter (p. 112) or are wrapped and frozen post-bake. This obviously doesn’t work for Olmanson’s Custards and Puddings (p. 70), but the other items do just fine in the freezer and are handy to have on hand for guests! Being baked in glass, the chilled desserts also reheat nicely in the microwave or a low oven. For those who like to plan ahead, the book also includes recipes for baking and drink mixes that can keep in the pantry for months and also make wonderful (and welcome) gifts.

I knew immediately upon receiving my copy of Desserts that I absolutely had to make Olmanson’s version of the now infamous jarred Classic Apple Pie (p. 45). As we aren’t used to pies made with a filling comprised of anything but apples and cinnamon, this recipe (calling for a stick of butter and half a cup of sugar) was a little too rich for our tastes. However, the instructions were clear and would easily adapt to anyone’s favourite recipe. I did have an issue with the all-butter Classic Pie Dough (p. 42) being a little too tender to work with when it came to wrestling it into the jars, and while the top crusts were nicely browned and crisp after baking, the bottom s were soggy, almost oily, and didn`t have the tender flake of butter crusts I’ve made before in a pie plate. When I make this recipe again, I’ll be more inclined to try a shortening based dough, brushed with egg and par-baked to keep it a bit sturdier before adding the filling.

I also tried out two of the “mix in a jar” recipes from Desserts and found great success in both their ease of assembly and overall finished product. The Monster Cookies (p. 137) were intriguing since they didn’t use any flour at all and allowed for almost infinite variations, not to mention it made a gorgeous gift! In my version, I used a chocolate-laden trail mix I found at the bulk store in place of the walnuts – nirvana for the chocoholic in me. I also made the Cinnamon Coffee Cake (p. 133), using homemade cinnamon chips, half spelt flour and California walnuts in place of the pecans. This combination was a delectable one that was heightened even more by the recipe’s inclusion of tangy sour cream and decadent butter.

Regardless of whether you have a family of five running on forty different schedules, or it’s simply you at home with a yearning for a treat, there really is something for everyone in this book. It’s a fun, inexpensive and relatively simple way to treat yourself without keeping a whole cake or pie in the house (where it will either be the source of waste or guilt!). Not to mention, Desserts in Jars are portable, versatile, and just plain cute! Shaina Olmanson does a wonderful job at “canning” this concept, and the end result is definitely worth a look.

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