May 20, 2012

I Want to Bake Cakes in Mason Jars

We celebrated my father's birthday this weekend with an overnight stay at a quaint Bed and Breakfast in El Dorado County.  Me, being me, I offered to bake the birthday cake. My dad, being my dad, wanted Boston Cream Pie. I assumed the rest of the group wanted Boston Cream Pie as well, because a celebration honoring my father wouldn't be complete without Boston Cream Pie. Boston Cream Pie, a yellow cake with a custard filling and a chocolate frosting, requires refrigeration. So I planned to make a triple layer cake, store it all day in styrofoam with dry ice in a big cardboard box that I happened to have, and serve it after dinner.

I made the cake layers last weekend using Smitten Kitchen's recipe for a 1-2-3-4 Cake, wrapping them in plastic and freezing until Friday's late night cake assembly.  This cake recipe, by the way, is as close to a "perfect yellow cake" as I have ever come.  Buttery and sweet, without being devoid of real flavor, moist and springy to the touch, it was tremendously difficult to stop carving off "tasting scraps."

Friday night Jason went to the store to pick up dry ice while I made the custard filling and the ganache frosting. For some reason I chose the Vanilla Custard Filling for Cakes recipe in Joy of Cooking. I recall using the recipe years ago as a filling for Cream Puffs. Next time I would choose a different custard, one that is thickened with cornstarch, not all-purpose flour. The custard cooked on the top of a double boiler for the better part of an hour, but still had an uncooked flour taste to it. I was grateful that that flavor didn't come through too much in the finished cake, but still, I'll find a different recipe next time.

For the ganache I used another Smitten Kitchen recipe. A winner. (Incidentally, I've made the cake pictured in that post before: rich chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting and ganache filling; it's a big hit.  It's also the chocolate cake recipe that I prefer for another big hit, Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting.)

Something about the physics of stacking two layers of cake on a custard didn't work; as soon as I finished spreading the ganache the darn thing split in half. I yelled for Jason to grab me some drinking straws and I stuck them through the cake to try to preserve its shape and prevent further sliding, but it was no use. We were scheduled to leave for the party in 12 hours and the cake was fairly ruined.

"You could make a new cake tomorrow morning." Jason suggested.

I agreed I could make cupcakes in the morning, but that seemed like a lot of work. And a lot of wasted cake.

I went off the my room to mope about it. But then a thought came to me. All those hours spent perusing random food blogs pay off in emergencies such as this. Mason jars! Individual trifles served in half-pint mason jars. I could cube up to cake--really just hack it into bite-size pieces--divide the pieces into mason jars, put the lids on for storage, and then at service time spray the tops with whipped cream, garnish with raspberries and call it trendy. Awesome!

And that's just what we did. Farmers Market fresh raspberries and whipped cream from a spray bottle cover a multitude of sins. The trifles were well-received, but next time why not just bake individual cakes in mason jars, then fill with custard sauce and top with chocolate? It's certainly not an original idea. Google "cakes in mason jars." There are a great deal of blog posts and recipes. And I think they just might be my next kitchen adventure.

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