Review: Desserts in Jars

Editor’s note: Linda Avery takes Shaina Olmanson’s new cookbook, Desserts in Jars for a spin, including a recipe for caramel cheesecake. After coming to terms with the cupcake trend, read on to see what she thinks about the latest trend in desserts.

Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats That Shine

by Shaina Olmanson
photos by Shaina Olmanson

Facts: Harvard Common Press, 160 pages, $16.95 (or Amazon $11.18)
Photos: 60
Recipes: 50
Give To: Crafty bakers, young moms, anyone with a sweet tooth, and your BFF.

I would have lost big money betting on when the cupcake craze would have ended. After a while I revised my thinking to “okay, it’s not a cupcake craze but a cupcake wave.”

Later I ratcheted it up to a cupcake tsunami… but there comes a time when reality sets in: cupcakes are here to stay.

People love them for a variety of reasons: they’re a single serving, the ratio of frosting to cake is more than on a slice of cake and unlike a slice of cake, they don’t have to all look alike, and they bring back happy childhood memories.

So what could be even better? How about having those qualities and adding greater portability to the mix and not having to worry about smushing the frosting?

In her book, Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine, Shaina Olmanson does a credible job of demonstrating the versatility of using a four or eight-ounce jar as the vessel for presenting dessert.

She’s developed creative recipes for cakes, pies, fruit and frozen desserts, all in jars. The last chapter “Mixes for Giving” has seven recipes such as Cinnamon Coffee Cake Mix and White Chocolate Spice Cookie Mix to be made in 1-quart jars, tied with a ribbon and a gift tag. And for those of us who are goal-oriented, there’s a photo for each recipe.

Olmanson gives tips on choosing the perfect jar, how to fill the jars, i.e., layering, scooping, and using a pastry bag, how to bake or freeze in jars, and how to make the perfect pie crust. There’s a list of sources for jars in the book, too, but I found these attractive quilted jars on Amazon – $16.50 for a dozen four-ounce jars.

I love serving individually prepared desserts for guests. I think they convey a “just for you” sentiment. I’ve chosen Caramel Crème Cheesecakes to share with you but you can see her recipes for Peach-Raspberry Verrines with Lemon-Thyme Crème and Cardamom Pear Crisps on Amazon.

Bring these desserts to book club, a picnic, or a potluck — just be sure to count your empties on the way out the door.

This relatively inexpensive book will be one of my hostess gifts – I may even throw in a quart jar filled with Espresso Brownies Mix.

Caramel Crème Cheesecakes

Photo © Shaina Olmanson

There’s nothing quite like a simple baked cheesecake. The creamy perfection, smooth with every bite, slides easily over your tongue, all accented with a crisp graham cracker crust. This particular cheesecake keeps things simple−it’s topped only with a bit of caramel crème.

Makes sixteen 4-ounce cheesecakes or eight 8-ounce cheesecakes

For the graham cracker crust
Oil for greasing the jars
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream or Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the caramel sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottoms and sides of sixteen 4-ounce jars or eight 8-ounce jars.

Make the crust
1. In a medium-size bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in the butter and mix until all of the crumbs are coated.

2. Divide the crumb mixture evenly among the jars and use a wine cork or other small, flat-bottomed object to press down into the bottoms of the jars to form the crusts. Set aside.

Make the cheesecake
1. In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat for 1 minute until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla. Spoon or pour the cheesecake filling over the crusts in the jars to 1/2 inch from the top.

2. Arrange the jars 2 inches apart in high-sided baking pans, such as 9 x 13-inch cake pans, with each pan lined with a clean kitchen towel. Place the pans with the jars in the oven and carefully add hot water to the pans to come halfway up the sides of the jars.

3. Bake the cheesecakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or just until their centers are almost set. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecakes and water to cool slowly in the oven. When the cheesecakes and water have cooled slightly, remove the pans carefully from the oven and remove the cheesecakes from the pans. Allow to cool completely, cover the jars, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make the caramel sauce
1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Cover and cook until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Watching closely, boil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid turns golden brown, about 15 minutes. As soon as the color turns, reduce the heat to medium and slowly stir in the cream. The caramel will be hard, but continue cooking until the caramel melts into the cream and the sauce is thick, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Pour the caramel sauce over the cheesecakes. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

3 replies
  1. Victoria Corrigan
    Victoria Corrigan says:

    Starting to see desserts-in-a-jar in a few restaurants, and must confess this idea appeals to me far more than cupcake-mania ever did: Much more variety, with the same “it’s all mine!” charm.

    Thanks for another great review, Linda, and for spotlighting an offering that’s both universally pleasing and easy-peasy.

  2. Linda Avery
    Linda Avery says:

    Thank you for your comment Victoria and glad you agree with my assessment. It’s such an affordable book and I’m sure it’ll inspire many to convert some of their favorite recipes to desserts in jars.


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  1. […] 8/5/12 Linda Avery reviewed Desserts in Jars for Pen & Fork: “In her book… Shaina Olmanson does a credible job of demonstrating the versatility of using a four or eight-ounce jar as the vessel for presenting dessert.” Read full review here. […]

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