I have to be honest. I'm new to the whole baking in jars trend. When I received my review copy of Desserts in Jars by Shaina Olmanson, I had to go out to buy jars. Don't get me wrong, I have mismatched jars around the house, but in order to follow the recipes I wanted to have a set of matching jars that were actually the correct size for the recipe I planned to make :) Jars in tow, I was prepared for an adventure with my new cookbook.
Although the book itself is hardcover, it features a spiral-binding hidden inside the cover. This makes it very easy to keep the book open to whatever page you'd like. It can cause slight irritation when turning pages when the pages get stuck, but overall I enjoyed the appearance and manufacturing of the book. The photos are delightful as well, and the book is well-organized, well-written and a great look at this booming trend. Shaina does a great job discussing everything from jar selection to adornments and gift tags for gift giving.
Chapters include Cakes and Cupcakes, Pies and Pastries, Custards and Puddings, Fruit Desserts, Frozen Desserts, and Mixes for Giving. I thought the variety of recipes was great and actually had a tough time deciding what to make. Some recipes that peaked my interest include Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes, Flourless Chocolate Cakes, Pull-Apart Cinnamon Breads, Rosemary-Peach Cobblers, Frozen Mudslide Pies, Ice Cream Cakes in a Jar, and pretty much all of the mixes for giving.
This paragraph (and the next two) is where I'm going to say things that I don't like about the book (don't hate me). First of all (and I noticed the same comment in an Amazon.com review of the book), I really wish that the number of jars required (and their size) was mentioned somewhere other than within the recipe instructions. I'd love it if it were mentioned separately, along with the ingredients as "special equipment" or something. It's just difficult when you are looking at recipes and planning what to make when you don't even know if you have the right size jar or even enough jars to make something unless you skim every recipe to see what jars you need. At the very least perhaps that number could have been in bold within the instructions. See how easy that was?
Also, although I think so many of the recipes included in the book are pretty genius (Pains au Chocolat in jars!), I think a few are really reaching. I can't really see why after going to the trouble to make macarons from scratch, serving them in a jar would suddenly make them more special. They are just cookies in jars. Sure they are pretty for gift giving, but there isn't much about the jar that makes those macarons more special than they already are (they're pretty damn special already, I know how hard they are to perfect). I also can't really understand baking cupcakes and then placing them inside a jar to serve them. It actually seems to defeat the purpose of a hand-held cake. I guess I'm just late to the desserts-in-jars-train where anything goes, but I just don't get it. The other creations are fantastic and I can't wait to try several of them. But a few of them just miss the mark for me.
Final criticism (I promise), just a small misprint that I want to point out in case anyone (like me) is interested in making the Spiced Hot Chocolate Mix with Cinnamon Marshmallows for gift-giving. I have confirmed with the publisher that the jars for that recipe should be 1 pint jars as opposed to 8-ounce jars. There. Don't hate me. This is the end of my rant.
Now onto yummy things! I selected the Rosemary-Peach Cobblers to make from the book, but replaced the rosemary with fresh thyme because that's what I had in my garden. I also used lime zest instead of lemon and reduced the amount of butter in the jars. I thought this was a great recipe to try since it's summer and peaches are definitely in season! It was really easy to make and the thyme infused a lovely aroma and flavor into the peaches.
I'm used to more fruit-heavy cobbler recipes, where they are mostly fruit with a little bit of crust, but this recipe was more equal parts of the two components. I didn't really mind it at all, as the dough was nice and sweet (and slightly citrusy) and almost reminded me of shortbread in flavor, actually. Along with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was really the perfect summer treat!
Overall, I would recommend this book. It contains adorable and clever ideas for serving desserts in a playful way that is easily transportable and perfect for gift-giving. I can't, in good conscience, write a cookbook review without pointing out errors I've found, or things that could have been improved (no one is perfect, right?), but that doesn't mean that I don't think this is a cookbook worth purchasing. I think Shaina has done a beautiful job showcasing many many desserts in jars, more than I could have imagined myself. She obviously knows her stuff and loves what she does. I'm really excited to try others, and also utilize the book to give sweet treats to my loved ones in fun and exciting ways.
(Adapted from Desserts in Jars)
4 cups peeled and sliced peaches (about 4 peaches)
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. water
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 sprigs fresh thyme, bruised (original recipe calls for rosemary)
2 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. grated lemon or lime zest
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 T. (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup milk
Make the filling: In a large saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, water, lemon juice, and thyme over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until a sauce starts to thicken around the peaches. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Evenly distribute the melted butter among eight 8-ounce jars (I used a pastry brush).
Make the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the cold butter and quickly work them into the flour mixture with your fingers until you achieve coarse crumbs (alternatively you can pulse the mixture in a food processor and then transfer to a mixing bowl). Add the milk into the crumb mixture and stir until just combined. Distribute the dough mixture evenly to the buttered jars (using a measuring cup with a spout makes it easier)
Remove the thyme sprigs from the peaches and spoon approximately 2/3 cup peaches and sauce into each jar on top of the dough. Place the jars 2 inches apart on a large baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust starts to brown.
Remove from the oven and allow the jars to rest on the baking sheet for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream, if desired.
*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.