The Mason jar, historically known for its utility of food preservation, has become a multifunctional tool used in countless ways from drinking glasses to blender attachment to decorations. The possibilities for Mason jar creativity seem endless. My experiment is to create the ultimate strawberry shortcake by baking cupcakes in a jar to create a triple layered treat: a white cake layer topped with strawberry gelato with fresh sliced strawberries on top. To make this eye-catching dessert, follow the steps below.
Simple. Follow any cake recipe, replacing the cupcake tins with jelly jars. I used 8-ounce jars, but any jelly jar size will do (other sizes are 4-ounce or 12-ounce). Grease the inside of the jars and fill one-third to one-half full. Here is the most important part: place the jars on a cookie sheet! To reemphasize, the jars cannot sit directly on the oven racks. Hopefully, I learned this lesson for the sake of many others. Living on the adventurous side causes massive cleanups—when I opened the oven door to check on the status, all eight jars toppled over simultaneously. No toothpick was needed. The batter dripping into the bottom of the oven relayed the message. Fortunately, my quick reaction saved the lot from demise. Baking the jars on top of the cookie sheet seemed to extend the overall baking time, so check at 5-minute increments beyond the recipe instructions.
For the strawberry shortcake, I use the White Cake Recipe from Better Homes & Garden New Cook Book.
• 4 egg whites
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup butter or shortening (for a whiter cake)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1-1/3 cup buttermilk
Let egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Grease cupcake jars. Stir flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and vanilla; beat until well combined. Add egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately, add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Pour batter into jars.
Bake 20-25 minutes. Cupcakes in a jar will take considerably longer, but check incrementally after this time until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly.
For the gelato, I use the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment. The recipe is straightforward but must be made well in advance so the mixture has time to chill. My favorite part is that the gelato is the perfect counterbalance to the white cake, requiring egg yolks. It’s the small things in life.
• 2 cups reduced fat milk
• 6 coffee beans
• 5 egg yolks
• ¾ cup sugar
• 2 cups chopped, fresh strawberries
1. Scald milk with coffee beans in a heavy medium saucepan.
2. Whisk yolks and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk half of scalded milk mixture into yolks and return to saucepan with the remaining milk. Stir over low heat until mixture thickens slightly (approximately 8 minutes). Do not boil. Strain into medium bowl and refrigerate until well chilled.
3. Assemble and engage the ice cream attachment to the mixer. Turn to STIR (speed 1). Pour mixture into freeze bowl and continue on STIR for 15-20 minutes or until desired consistency. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for several hours to allow the flavors to develop. Gelato can be prepared up to 4 days ahead.
The hard work is finished, and now you must make a choice: assemble and freeze for later or assemble and serve fresh. Either way, the cupcakes and jars should be completely cool to the touch. Scoop gelato into each jar, top with freshly cut strawberries and try not to devour in one bite.
Two additional steps could be added to this recipe for an even livelier dessert: strawberry glaze and homemade whipped cream. Other adaptable desert ideas: hot fudge sundaes in a jar, cheesecake in a jar, and even holiday treats (a bit unseasonal) like Frankenstein, Mummy, and Ghosts.
Be creative and explore the endless possibilities of upcycling the basic to the extraordinary.
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