Mason jars might be the most useful item in your kitchen, and it seems like the internet – we’re looking at you, Pinterest – keeps finding new uses for them! Some of the trends we’ve seen include, packing a salad lunch, creating luminaries and, of course, desserts. They’re the perfect size for single-serving parfaits, puddings and pies.
Because mason jars are made to withstand high heat in the canning process, they can also be used for baking everything from cobblers to cupcakes.
Little Rock’s renowned South on Main restaurant has a mouth-watering menu of seasonal mason jar desserts, and Chef Matt Bell and his team have reached Mason Jar Expert Level. Some of the restaurant’s most popular desserts are banana pudding, berry cobblers, bread pudding and s’mores. He has some tips for creating your own desserts at home and says the process is fairly simple. All you need are basic ingredients and the right ratios.
“For cobblers, we basically make a cobbler filling with berries, sugar, cornstarch, then put that in a jar,” he said. “For the topping, we use our biscuit dough and put a little on the top of each jar, sprinkle it with sugar in the raw, and bake it.”
Though mason jars generally do well with baking, as a precautionary measure, his chefs put the filled jars in a deep pan and add water to buffer the heat and prevent the jars from cracking.
“You want to use a water bath, like you’re making custard,” he said. “It’s not so much for the dessert, but it’s to protect the jars. They’re made to be heated, but it’s a step we like to take.”
He’s also had success using the mason jars to make cakes.
“Yes, you’ve got to compensate for the cake rising,” he said. “The guideline would be to fill it like you’d fill a muffin tin. Don’t fill it to the top, or it’s gonna go all over. Usually when we do cakes, we fill them halfway, and when it cooks, it picks up another third of the space. So when it’s done, it’s three-fourths full give or take, and then we’ll top it with buttercream or a cream cheese frosting or something like that.”
When layering desserts like puddings and parfaits, he has a certain ratio he likes to hit.
“I like to have three layers of filling and two layers of the crunch, whatever it might be,” he said. “So, for the s’mores jars, we’ll start with the fluff and do a layer of graham cracker and chocolate, and another layer of fluff and graham cracker and chocolate, and finish with the fluff.”
He says a dish like banana pudding would work the same way: “Start with pudding, then add vanilla wafers, pudding, wafers, and finish with pudding. It almost doesn’t matter the size of the jar, but we feel like, for texture and consistency, it works best if you have three of the filing and two of the crunch, crumble, cookie, whatever it might be.”
Two layers of crunchy stuff, three layers of sweet fluff. Got it.
He also loves the to-go aspect of mason jar desserts. Put a lid on it, and send it home with guests. He says the layers don’t tend to shift much once they’re in place.
“If you’re hosting a party, and you want to send someone home with something, what an awesome takeaway,” he said. “Here’s a cobbler, lid’s on it, heat it up tomorrow and have it.”