Judith Fertig’s new cookbook, “Bake Happy” (Running Press; 2015), is full of sweets that make you smile. Picture rainbow cake layered with robin’s egg blue frosting, homemade versions of colored sprinkles, citrus-cardamom Twinkies and lavender-flavored souffles baked in teacups.
The Overland Park, Kansas-based author came up with the latter recipe after seeing a photo of souffles baked in chunky earthenware mugs on Pinterest. When she spotted a set of cute ovenproof teacups at Nell Hill’s, Fertig knew she had to test the technique. The souffles, scented with sunny lemon zest and lavender harvested from her garden, puffed up perfectly over the rim of the porcelain teacups as they baked. They tasted as good as they looked.
“I’ve tried them in coffee cups, too,” Fertig says. “It’s just a whimsical way to serve a dessert.”
When it comes to serving sweets, containers count: According to a 2012 report by researchers at Polytechnic University of Valencia and Oxford University, hot chocolate tastes more chocolate-y in an orange mug than a red or white mug. And Fertig insists lemon cake is more satisfying when it’s served on a contrasting turquoise plate.
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“Too often, we have these brown desserts on a lackluster plate,” Fertig says. “You eat more of it because you’re searching for something.”
You don’t have to shop for new plates or bakeware to switch up your presentation: Common kitchen containers such as coffee mugs and Mason jars work just fine.
“Mug Cakes” (Octopus Publishing Group; 2015) contains 35 recipes for cakes, muffins, pudding and custard baked in the microwave. Among them: rich raspberry cheesecake that serves one and takes less than 5 minutes to make.
But you can’t microwave any old mug: Choose one without metal edging or decoration and make sure it says “microwave safe” on the bottom. “Mug Cakes” recommends testing the mug by filling it with cold water and then microwaving on full power for 30 seconds.
According to the book, “if the mug remains cool but the water has started to heat up, it’s probably suitable and you can heat it for a little longer to check that the water gets really hot.”
When it comes to selecting teacups for baking, look for the word “ovenproof” on the bottom. Fertig says souffles rise more easily in porcelain teacups with smooth sides than in earthenware teacups, which can have a rougher texture.
Looking for a new way to serve cake or cobbler? Try Mason jars. Overland Park-based Smallcakes ships its cupcakes all over the country in 4-ounce Mason jars. Owner Jeff Martin came up with the idea seven years ago.
“When we started, no one was doing desserts in Mason jars,” Martin says. “Now it’s a trendy thing -- everyone’s doing it.”
A caution, though: While Ball and Kerr brand jars are frequently used as serveware, they should not be used as bakeware. According to the company’s website, the glass is not tempered for use in the oven.
You can find jarred desserts at chains such as Slim Chickens. And at Kansas City’s first Dinner Lab pop-up restaurant last month, Chicago-based chef Daniel Espinoza served rhubarb and white chocolate flan in glass canning jars.
Cami San Romani, owner of Cami’s Cake Co. in Eudora, Kansas, uses jars to serve peach cobbler, apple pie and cakes at weddings. San Romani likes that the glass vessels expose the careful construction of her cakes.
“When I’m building wedding cakes, they look really cool on the inside, but no one sees that,” San Romani says. “It’s neat to be able to see all those layers.”
For Martin, Mason jars bring back sweet memories of growing up on a pecan farm in Georgia. His grandmother often packed her red velvet cake and pecan pie into jars for picnics. That inspired a recipe for strawberry lemonade cupcakes in jars from Martin’s new cookbook, “Buttercream Dreams” (Andrews McMeel; 2015). The yellow lemon cupcakes are cut in half and layered in 4-ounce jars with swirls of pink frosting.
“It’s like sunshine in a jar,” Martin says.
Softly Set Raspberry Cheesecake
Generous1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
8 fresh raspberries, plus more for topping
1 graham cracker or amaretto cookie
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Makes 1 mug cake.
Combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and cream in a 7-ounce microwave-safe mug and beat together until well mixed.
Microwave on full power for 45 seconds. Stir in the raspberries and microwave on full power for 1 minute or until the edges of the cheesecake are set but the center is still wobbly.
Crush the cracker or cookie, either loosely with your fingers or finely in a plastic bag using a rolling pin. Sprinkle the crumbs over the cheesecake and decorate with a few raspberries. Serve dusted with powdered sugar.
TEACUP LAVENDER-LEMON SOUFFLES
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for the teacups
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
6 large egg whites
1 recipe Lavender-Lemon Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
Powdered sugar or colored sprinkles, for dusting
Makes 8 (4-ounce) teacup souffles.
Brush the insides of 8 ovenproof teacups with the melted butter and dust them with the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar; tap out the excess sugar into the sink. Place the teacups on a baking sheet. Set the saucers aside.
Thirty minutes before you want to serve the souffles, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks, about 4 minutes. Beat in the sugar until the meringue is thick and glossy white, about 7 minutes total. Using a rubber spatula, fold a third of the meringue into the Lavender-Lemon Pastry Cream in a figure 8 pattern until the pastry cream has lightened in color. Then fold the pastry cream into the egg whites, moving the spatula in a figure 8 pattern until the mixture is lightly blended and just slightly streaked. Spoon the souffle mixture into the prepared teacups. Run the tip of your finger around the perimeter of the souffle mixture to make a moat (this helps the souffle rise and not fall over the teacup).
Keeping the teacups on the baking sheet, transfer the souffles to the oven and bake them for 10 to 11 minutes or until they wobble slightly when you gently shake the baking sheet.
Remove the souffles from the oven and dust each one with powdered sugar. Serve each souffle on a napkin-lined dessert plate so they don’t slip, and warn your guests that the teacups are hot.
LAVENDER-LEMON PASTRY CREAM
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon culinary-grade dried lavender buds
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
6 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Makes 2 cups.
Place the milk, lemon zest, dried lavender buds and1/4 cup of the sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When bubbles form around the perimeter of the pan, cover and remove from the heat. Let the milk mixture steep for 30 minutes, then strain it through a fine-mesh sieve.
Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl with the remaining1/4 cup sugar and the salt. Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is smooth. Pour 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and place it over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Scoop the pastry cream into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it cool to room temperature. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and chill until ready to use. Pastry cream will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
STRAWBERRY LEMONADE CUPCAKES IN A JAR
For the cupcakes:
11/4 cups cake flour
11/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup vegetable, canola, or extra-light olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
For the frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces cream cheese
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons strawberry jam
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk, as needed
4 to 6 fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, for garnish (optional)
Makes 24 4-ounce jars.
To make the Lemonade Cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs for 10 to 20 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds more. Add the vanilla, lemon extract, lemon zest, lemon juice, oil and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and blend until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Fill the cupcake liners about two-thirds full with the batter. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter until completely smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat until fully incorporated and very smooth. With the mixer running on low speed, add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add the vanilla and strawberry jam and beat until combined. If the frosting is very thick, add a little bit of the heavy cream, then beat until light and fluffy.
To assemble the jars: First remove the cupcake liners from the cooled cupcakes and then slice each in half horizontally. Place the bottom half of a cupcake in each jar. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe a layer of frosting in each of 24 4-ounce mason jars. Then place the top of a cupcake on top of each one and finish with a layer of frosting.
Garnish with fresh strawberries, as desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.