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Easy as Cake

Mom and I once took this great class on canning in Chestertown, MD. It was, in fact, extremely educational and highly inspirational. But somehow we clearly missed the memo that you’re supposed to can your fruits and vegetables and not your…  sometimes foods.

This is clearly not a fruit or a vegetable, but it's so much better...

You see, today was Francesca’s fake birthday, so her class could celebrate her turning six exactly two months before she actually does, and I was assigned the task of the red velvet cupcakes (I know, we’re so typical, but at least we use the best red velvet recipe ever). But since it was early in the morning, 9:30 I believe, I wasn’t thinking straight and I joyously underestimated the momentous quantity of batter a doubled version of this recipe can make. Twenty-four servings of cake, you see, is not the same as twenty-four cupcakes. And so rather than face seventeen kindergarteners with a pile of cupcakes the size of Mount Everest, I decided to keep the excess and get creative. I started with the classic cake-in-a-cup I’ve wanted to try for so long. And while it was fun (and in my mind ever so clever, which I can say because I didn’t come up with it), the only oven-proof mugs we had were white, and oh so opaque. I knew that if I covered the top with frosting, nobody would ever get to see the beautiful red we love so much. Because seriously, what’s the point of using a whole bottle of food coloring if nobody gets to see it?

Doesn't it kind of look like a sundae?

And then I remembered. Tucked away in the next room was a huge box of Ball’s Canning Jars. I bought them to use as drinking glasses in my suite next year, but if I’m going to take ownership of the glasses, certainly nobody would object to me baking a little cake in them first, would they? And thus the canned cake was born. (Question – does anyone know why it’s called canning when it’s clearly done in jars?) These cakes are pint sized, which seems to lend itself perfectly to large individual servings. Any smaller would be sad, any larger would take a millennium to bake.

To make these fill the jars up approximately 1/3 with batter and then just bake them for approximately 35-40 minutes. (The original recipe called for 30 minutes for a normal cake layer in a pan. You can bake these with any kind of cake you want, but remember to add 5-10 minutes to cooking time, and monitor them closely because it may vary by cake). And they’re fine to put in the oven because canning jars are made to be boiled! Just don’t dip them in a pool of ice water when they come out of the oven and you shouldn’t have to worry about cracking. Then just fill the last third with whipped cream or frosting and screw the top back on for nostalgic effect. The end. As easy as cupcakes, and so much easier than pie.

Three more things. First of all, it was finally warm here today, and it got sunny in the afternoon! I hope that, wherever you are, you got to share in the same summer joy. Second of all, I would like to take this opportunity to remind everybody not to wear their brand new favorite shirt while baking. Third of all, on a happier note, know that small quantities of red food coloring can be removed, if addressed quickly, using liquid dish soap, rapid scrubbing, and running water, first cold and then gradually moving towards hot. Learn from this – I make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Red Velvet Cake in a Jar
Adapted from the Lee Brothers Red Velvet Cake

2 3/4 cup Sifted Cake Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 cup Cocoa Powder (They use Hersheys and so do we. I especially suggest using the Special Dark version)
1 ounce Red Food Coloring
1 1/2 tbsp Water
2 sticks (1 cup) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
2 cups Sugar
3 large Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare approximately 12 1-pint canning jars
    note- because I did this last minute, I can’t guarantee that it will come to exactly 12 jars. But they come in packs of 12 anyway, so no matter what that’s what you’ll have to buy. If you end up with extra batter, just pour it in an oven-proof mug, or alternatively bake some cupcakes :)
  2. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa, water and food coloring for about a minute, until a paste forms.
  4. Beat butter with electric mixer in a large mixing bowl for about 30 seconds, or until creamy.
  5. Add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 15 seconds after each addition. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl often, no matter what stage you’re at. Then beat for about 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  6. Add eggs 1 at a time, waiting 15 seconds after each addition.
  7. Then add vanilla. Wait 15 seconds (there’s a pattern here…)
  8. Then finally add the cocoa paste.
  9. Alternate adding flour with buttermilk, in three additions of flour and two additions of buttermilk (so beginning and ending with flour). To avoid overworking at this step, it’s best to incorporate using a wooden spoon or spatula rather than an electric mixer. Overworking means gluten formation, and gluten formation means tough cake.
  10. Once ingredients are incorporated, beat batter with 10-12 strokes.
  11. Fill each jar 1/3 of the way with batter
  12. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick (or skewer) comes out clean (except for maybe a few crumbs).
  13. Let cool and fill the last third with whipped cream. Eat some, refrigerate the rest to save for later. Trust me, you won’t want to share.

Written by Gabrielle

Gabrielle is a snap-happy college student with a small budget and a big appetite. Her column on the Fig Test Kitchen documents her adventures learning to cook for herself and reminds us all to take life with a Grain of Salt.

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