Friday, August 13, 2010

Cakes / Pies In A Mason Jar

The dessert in a jar thing it so cute to serve individually to company.  What a brilliant present, an already baked cake all sealed up and ready to eat.

Little pies, which you construct in jars and freeze to bake later so you have individual freshly baked pies basically on demand. This is genius. I was overcome with the need to make my own immediately.
Above, just out of the freezer. Below, just out of the oven.

First I bought a box of 4 ounce jars from a Fred Meyer store. I don't recall what I was originally thinking when I bought 4 ounce jars instead of the more reasonably sized 8 ounce jars that Lauren used, but I think it went something like this: "ooh, cupcake sized pies". I used Kerr brand, quilted jelly jars. **Please note the importance of using jars with straight sides that don't narrow at the opening!

I dug out a recipe for All-butter Pie Pastry. Next I'll try the Foolproof Pie Dough that uses vodka, thanks to Smitten Kitchen for typing out the recipe. The all-butter recipe? Yum.

I bought some cherry pie filling in a can because, I will not lie, I am lazy.

Here are a few things I learned:

• When putting in the bottom crust allow it to stick up over the edge to give you something to turn under and crimp later. I don't have nearly enough crust in the picture above to do the job right. My second batch, which I didn't take pictures of, had properly tucked crust and didn't leak nearly as much. When you do leave enough crust they look more like this (one from my second try):

• Put filling in to about 3/4ths of an inch below the top. This way you'll have enough room to put the top layer of crust on and press the edges together.

• There is no really good way to get a small disk of pie dough into the jar and press it into place. I sort of made a cone to lower the dough and just smooshed everything into place, trimming a bit off where needed.

• I used aspic cutters to make tiny shapes in the crust, I did this with the small pies made in muffin tins as well.

• Fold over and crimp the edges as best you can, it's pretty difficult in such a small jar. Better yet, use a larger jar.

• Bake somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees until the bottom of the crust is browning, an advantage of baking in a glass container. The top might pop off or puff up adorably.

• Putting a Silpat on your baking sheet keeps the little jars from sliding around when you remove them from the oven, they are otherwise frighteningly slidy and hot.

• Don't forget to take the lid off before you put them into the oven!

• If you only put one hole in the crust they might erupt like a volcano.

• Removal from the jar is a little messy. Just go with it.

• Cherry held up better than apple as a filling with enough flavor to stand out in such a small amount. I didn't get a chance to try blueberry. Yet.

Update April 2010: You might also like these cobbler baked in jars that I made for a bake sale. Sadly, these cannot be frozen and baked (as the biscuit topping won't cook properly) but they are great for picnics and bake sales:

So, today I made my second batch of jar cakes. The first time I doctored up a chocolate cake mix and used a chocolate mocha frosting. Not bad. The box cake ensures moistness, which is good. Now, the dilemma is between the cute little 1/2-pint wide mouth jars and the 1-pint jars. The 1/2 pints are cute, but they are small. You can really only fill them about a third full with batter if you still want room for frosting. Amy decided to skip frosting and stick with denser cakes. I, on the other hand, don't really think cake is worth eating if there ain't no frosting, so I chose to experiment with frosting and larger jars.

This time I went for red velvet cake. Mmmmm, red velvet cake. I filled the pint-sized jars about a third full of batter. I baked them at 325 F because I read somewhere that the jars might explode if you bake them at higher temps. They took about 35-40 minutes.

Now here's the fun part.

Let me reiterate: I AM ALL ABOUT THE FROSTING. This got me thinking. With a pint-sized jar cake, you would be cheated out of frosting for more than half the cake, since the frosting would just be sitting on top, right? So, I had what I consider to be a genius idea. I will CORE the cake and FILL the core with FROSTING, lovely FROSTING! So that's what I did, and these puppies are just oozing with cream cheese frosting.

I would like to report that these are delicious, but I can't, since I haven't sampled one yet. I do, however, highly encourage all of you to give these jar cakes a try. They are fun, novel, and make nice gifts. I plan to wrap mine in cute dish towels.

Read on for the recipe ...

RED VELVET CAKE (note: I have several recipes for Red Velvet Cake. I decided to use the one that calls for all-purpose flour rather than cake flour because I wanted a cake that would be sturdy enough to core and jam full of frosting)

Makes 6 pint-sized jars plus one 1/2-pint jar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (NOT Dutch process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon cider or red wine vinegar (I had neither so I used white vinegar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red food coloring gel/paste or 2 tablespoons liquid coloring
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temp

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour clean jars (I just sprayed with Baker's Joy). Set the jars on a Silpat-lined baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside. In a glass measuring cup, mix the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Set aside.

In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, beat the butter in a medium bowl until cream and light, about 1 minute. Add the sugar gradually and beat until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour in three additions on low speed, alternating with two additions of the liquid mixture (so, begin and end with the flour mixture).

Fill each jar about a third full of batter.

Bake about 35-40 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Remove the jars from the baking sheet and place the jars on a cooling rack to cool. Now make the frosting.


1 box (8 ounce package) cream cheese, softened at room temp
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer until fluffy and smooth. Add vanilla and mix well. Gradually add the powdered sugar until smooth.

Fill a pastry bag with frosting. Use a large tip. Use an apple corer or knife to cut out a core from the center of each cake. Discard or eat the cores. Fill the hollowed out core with frosting and frost the top of each cake. Place lids on jars (if you do this when the cakes are still hot, you might be able to get a seal on the jars, which means the cakes will keep a bit longer. But really, since you're using cream cheese frosting, it's not like the cakes are going to keep forever).

Foolproof Food-Processor Pie Pastry

A combination of butter and lard provides a great deal of flavor and a flaky pastry. Be sure to use unsalted butter. This recipe is for an eight- or nine-inch pie with a single crust.

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cold all-vegetable shortening (e.g. Crisco)
4-6 tablespoons ice water

1. Cut butter into 3/4 -inch pieces and place in freezer for 15 minutes. Mix flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor fitted with steel blade. Place the Crisco, in one-tablespoon lumps, into the food processor along with the frozen butter pieces. Pulse 8 to 12 times (one-second pulses) or until the dough appears slightly yellow, pebbly in texture, and the butter is reduced to very small pieces, (the size of tiny peas or smaller). Check dough after five pulses and every pulse thereafter. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle three tablespoons of water over the mixture. Press down on dough with the broad side of the spatula until dough sticks together, adding as much additional water as you need if dough will not come together. Work slowly, mixing the dough to evenly distribute the water. The dough should be very wet and sticky at this point. Dust lightly with flour, shape dough into a ball with your hands, then flatten into a four-inch wide disc. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

All-Butter Pie Pastry

Use a combination of tart and sweet apples for this pie. Good choices for tart are Granny Smiths, Empires, or Cortlands; for sweet, we recommend Golden Delicious, Jonagolds, or Braeburns. Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours. To reheat, remove the wrap and warm the pie in a 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. See below for freezing instructions.

Makes one 9-inch pie, serving 8 to 10

All-Butter Pie Pastry

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces), plus additional flour for work surface
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 10 minutes
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 cup ice water , or more if needed

Apple Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces), plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 pounds tart apples (firm), about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (see note)
2 1/2 pounds sweet apples (firm), about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (see note)
1 egg white , beaten lightly

1. For Pastry: Process flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. Add butter and pulse until butter is size of large peas, about ten 1-second pulses.

2. Using fork, mix sour cream and 1/3 cup ice water in small bowl until combined. Add half of sour cream mixture to flour mixture; pulse for three 1-second pulses. Repeat with remaining sour cream mixture. Pinch dough with fingers; if dough is floury, dry, and does not hold together, add 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water and process until dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, three to five 1-second pulses.

3. Turn dough out onto work surface. Divide dough into 2 balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk; wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate until firm but not hard, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let thoroughly chilled dough stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling.)

4. For Pie: Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, zest, and cinnamon in large bowl; add apples and toss to combine. Transfer apples to Dutch oven (do not wash bowl) and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when poked with fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. (Apples and juices should gently simmer during cooking.) Transfer apples and juices to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. While apples cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place empty rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.

5. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. (If dough becomes soft and/or sticky, return to refrigerator until firm.) Remove parchment from one side of dough and flip onto 9-inch pie plate; peel off second layer of parchment. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, roll second disk of dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate, leaving dough between parchment sheets, until firm, about 30 minutes.

7. Set large colander over now-empty bowl; transfer cooled apples to colander. Shake colander to drain off as much juice as possible (cooked apples should measure about 8 cups); discard juice. Transfer apples to dough-lined pie plate; sprinkle with lemon juice.

8. Remove parchment from one side of remaining dough and flip dough onto apples; peel off second piece of parchment. Pinch edges of top and bottom dough rounds firmly together. Following illustrations 1 through 4, trim and seal edges of dough, then cut four 2-inch slits in top of dough. Brush surface with beaten egg white and sprinkle evenly with remaining teaspoon sugar.

9. Set pie on preheated baking sheet; bake until crust is dark golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool at least 1 1/2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

10. Freezing Instructions:

We tried two different methods for freezing: (1) fully assembled and ready to go directly from freezer to oven and (2) divided into separate components of crust and cooked apple filling to be thawed, assembled, and baked. Both versions were good, although the reassembled pie was deemed marginally better for its slightly flakier, more evenly browned crust. You'll probably want to choose one method or the other based on how long you expect to keep a pie (or its components) in the freezer.

Assembled pies kept well for up to two weeks in the freezer; after that, the texture of the crust and apples suffered. To freeze an assembled pie, follow the recipe all the way through sealing the pie crust, but do not brush with egg wash. Freeze the pie for two to three hours, then wrap it tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of foil, and return it to the freezer. To bake, remove the pie from the freezer, brush it with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, cut slits in the top crust, and place directly on the baking sheet in the preheated oven. Bake 5 to 10 minutes longer than normal.

For a longer freezer storage time of several months, freeze the crust and apples separately. Freeze individual batches of the cooked, drained apple filling in quart-sized freezer bags (this doubles as a great alternative to canning). Then make the pie dough, shape it into two 4-inch disks, wrap the disks tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and foil, and freeze. When you're ready to make the pie, simply thaw the apples and crust in the refrigerator the night before, assemble as per the recipe instructions, and bake as directed. Of course, you can always just freeze the apples and make the crust fresh the day you bake the pie.

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 0 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); 0g Protein; 0g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 0mg Sodium. Exchanges: .

Pie Crust 101

To begin, I want to make a note about the zillions of pie dough recipes out there: I barely buy it. Not the value of a recipe, mind you, but that new ones will ever come to pass. At their very base, they’re all just some type of solid fat (butter, shortening or lard) cut with powdery ingredients (flour, sometimes salt and sugar) bound with a liquid (usually water, but some folks get creative with milk, cream, buttermilk or vodka), and I’m amused that every year, so many cooking publications feel a need to pronounce that By Golly, They’ve Got It! They’ve found the perfect pie dough. In my mind, it was never lost.

That said, Cooks Illustrated is really onto something grand this year, so thank you to all who pointed me in this recipe’s direction. That thing is vodka, my friends. Yes, I think they’re brilliant too. But really, vodka, because it is 80-proof, will mostly evaporate in the oven, meaning that your crust gets the liquid it needs but much of it will not stay. Worried about a boozy vibe to your pie? Vodka is, by definition, colorless and odorless, so once it’s baked, you’ll forget it was ever in there. Of course (aheeeeem) if you are the sort that likes to pick up small scraps of raw dough and eat them because, mm, butter is awesome, let’s just say that things can get a little messy and leave it at that. Really, it’s not always a bad thing.

So let’s get started shall we? As I noted yesterday, I am a fan of the humble pastry blender–it’s simple, lo-fi, and uses minimal dishes–so I’ll be using that today. However, these same steps could be taken with your food processor or Kitchen Aid, if you’re partial to them.

First, measure your flour. Measuring cups work just fine, but since I had a lot to measure, I weighed it, which makes my life much easier. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups* for one double-crust pie, plus one teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of sugar. Whisk all of these dry ingredients together.

Now is the point where I suppose I should jump in on the Great Butter versus Shortening, but yawn, you can get that elsewhere. I tend to go the all-butter route but this year put my trust in the CI recipe, which calls for some shortening. Feel free to use all of one or the other, if that’s your preference, simply by swapping out the ingredient with the same volume of the alternative.

Dice your butter and shortening–cold from the fridge–into smaller bits with a knife, toss them into the dry ingredients bowl and start cutting away with your blender.

The first picture shows the dough after a few cuts with the blender, i.e. big chunks. The second picture shows it a minute later, and you can see the chunks getting smaller. In the third picture, you’ll see that the dough is beginning to align itself with the blades, becoming more of a solid mass–you’re almost there. Another minute later, it should resemble a coarse cornmeal. You’re almost done! Wasn’t that easy?

Next comes the moment you have all been waiting for: vodka. Add 1/4 cup vodka (we keep ours in the freezer, like good Russians, so it’s always icy) and 1/4 cup very cold water to this cornmeal-textured mixture and fold it all together with a rubber spatula. It should easily come together in a mass with a little stirring. This CI recipe is on the sticky side, to compensate for the vodka that will burn off.

Mound the dough into one pile, and divide it into two balls. If you are OCD, as I am, you might weigh the dough to make sure you are dividing it evenly, but this is not mandatory. Flatten the balls into discs, wrap them in plastic and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and up to two days. (If you want to store it longer, triple wrapping them and then sliding them into a freezer bag in the freezer is recommended.)

Aren’t you proud of yourself? You have made a pie dough! Pat yourself on the back and leave others to wonder how you got the floury handprint! The mysteries never cease…

At this point, you can prepare your pie filling, be it apples or pumpkin or something even awesomer that I hope you’ll share with me. Set it aside.

Once your dough is thoroughly chilled, and I mean thoroughly–my fridge is on the warm side and I didn’t feel that 45 minutes was sufficient. The dough should feel as firm as a cold stick of butter–it’s time to roll it out.

Rolling the dough out between two pieces of plastic is a great trick, as it keeps your counter clean and keeps you from having to flour and re-flour and, if you’re me, scrape and flour again because it keeps sticking anyway. Make sure you pull any folds out of the plastic every few rolls to ensure that the dough remains smooth.

To fit this in a standard 9.5-inch pie dish, you’re going to want roll it out to a 12-inch circle. I find that a ruler, or the side of the plastic wrap box which just happens to be 12 inches, is helpful to have around. If your dough has gotten soft or warmer in the time you have been rolling it out, I find it helpful to slide it onto the back of a tray and into the freezer for 10 minutes to get it firm again.

Carefully transfer your dough to the pie plate by peeling off the top piece of plastic, and rolling the dough around the rolling pin, leaving the bottom piece of plastic on the counter, and unrolling it into the pie plate, or by folding the dough gently into quarters and unfolding in the pan. Working around the circumference of the pie plate, ease dough the dough into the corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around pan bottom with other hand. If you’re making a single crust pie, crimp the edges decoratively with your fingers at even intervals and add the filling according to your recipe’s instructions. If you’re making a double-crust or latticed pie, leave dough that overhangs the lip of plate in place and refrigerate dough-lined pie plate, proceeding according to that recipe’s instructions, or, heck, mine.

Foolproof Pie Dough

Cooks Illustrated, November 2007
Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

* Note: I was making a double recipe, because, well, I make a lot of pie and wanted a stash of dough, so don’t freak out if your dough is smaller than mine

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