Easy Desserts in Jars and Making Sugary Recipes a Little Healthier {GUEST POST + Recipe}

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This is a guest post from Shaina of Food for my Family, author of Desserts in Jars. You might wonder why a healthy, “real foodie” blog is promoting a mainstream desserts book (with…gasp!…white sugar in there!). There are a couple of good reasons:

1. I’m a compromise girl. If I had been told I had to cut all white sugar at the beginning of my food journey, forget it. We’d still be having hamburger helper once a week.

2. Food in jars is a great gift, and a “green” idea!

3. Most desserts recipes adapt easily to unrefined sugar. Choose honey, sucanat, or even maple syrup or sugar for just about anything, and I’ve found it usually turns out great. Often you can even cut the sweetener by a fourth or a half. So why not have a delicious looking desserts book?

Besides that, Shaina is a fantastic chef and food photographer, and I know she eats totally from scratch at home, so I don’t think she’ll lead you too far astray. With that, you’ve read enough in italics. Time to turn over this guest post to the guest!

Desserts in jars are such a fun and unique way to serve your family homemade treats. These White Chocolate & Orange Cheesecakes with Cranberry Sauce are amazing and are pretty enough for company as well.

With the holidays upon us, dessert is on a lot of people’s minds.

For my family where dessert is a rarity and not served regularly after meals, regulating the amount of sugar my children are exposed to is rather easy. It’s simply not available as an option.

We have dessert as a family after dinner about once a month, and when we look for something sweet, it’s generally in the form of fruit. This, however, doesn’t mean that we don’t love dessert, especially during the holidays and special occasions.

Why Desserts in Jars

  • They’re reusable. I use my jars for a variety of household needs. They hold pantry items like raisins, flours, and nuts. Jars line my desk and keep my staples, paper clips, and rubber bands organized and easily accessible. I use smaller jars as drinking glasses, and larger jars are great for freezing homemade stocks and smoothies. There is no limit to the ways I can use jars again and again.
  • They’re easy to clean. Glass is easy to toss in the dishwasher, to boil and sterilize, to scrub with steel wool. I don’t need to worry about whether they can go on the top or bottom rack of the dishwasher because they aren’t going to melt with even boiling water or leech chemicals at high temperatures.
  • Jars are fun. Every time I go to serve a spread of desserts in small mason jars the interest level goes up. Friends and neighbors are all taken by their sweet little compactness, perfect for parties whether you’re standing and mingling or sitting at the dinner table, there’s no fuss in dishing up individual servings or sending one home with a guest at the end of the night.
  • Jars are portable. They transport well if you are traveling for the holidays. The ability to snap the lid on the top of the jar and pack them together in a box while we drive to grandma’s house for Christmas dinner is a definite bonus.
  • They are great for gifting. Jars are already decorative, showing off what’s inside of them and acting as a sustainable wrapping. No need to spend money on paper to toss or cute, decorative boxes. Mason jars are already food safe and ready to be gifted and used over and over again. A simple ribbon or piece of twine and a gift tag is all you need to make them present-ready.

If you’re avoiding sugar completely, it’s relatively easy to substitute sucanat and maple sugar for nearly all the desserts in my book. I’ll let Katie get into particulars, but don’t be discouraged from using the recipes to make your holidays sweet.

Here’s Katie with particulars. I usually use sucanat when it’s a cookie or something that really needs shape, but it’s fairly easy to use honey in baking recipes as well. When the recipe is pretty liquidy, like the cranberry sauce below, I’d probably try honey.

White Chocolate & Orange Cheesecakes with Cranberry Sauce
These creamy white chocolate cheesecakes are flecked with orange zest and topped with a seasonal cranberry sauce for a dessert designed to grace your table during a holiday gathering.
Recipe type: dessert
  • Oil for greasing the jars
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (see notes)
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar (use sucanat)
  • 6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 7 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar (try ⅓-1/2 cup honey or maple syrup)
  • 4 large eggs
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon orange extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • 1⁄2 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar (pretty sure it would work with ½-3/4 cup honey)
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of sixteen 4-ounce jars or eight 8-ounce jars. Make the crust: In a medium-size bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs and 1⁄4 cup sugar. Stir in the butter and mix until all of the crumbs are coated. Divide the crumb mixture evenly among the jars and use a wine cork or other small, flat-bottomed object to press down into the bottoms of the jars to form the crusts. Set aside.
  2. Make the cheesecake: Place the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Immediately pour the cream over the white chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Set aside.
  3. Beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer until smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in the sugar. Mix in the reserved white chocolate mixture and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the orange zest, the vanilla and orange extracts, and the salt. Pour or spoon the cheesecake filling over the crusts in the jars to 1⁄2 inch from the top.
  4. Arrange the jars 2 inches apart in high-sided baking pans, such as 9 × 13-inch cake pans, with each pan lined with a clean kitchen towel. Place the pans with the jars in the oven and carefully add hot water to the pans to come halfway up the sides of the jars. Bake the cheesecakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or just until their centers are almost set. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecakes and water to cool slowly in the oven. When the cheesecakes and water have cooled slightly, remove them carefully from the oven and remove the cheesecakes from the pans. Allow to cool completely while making the cranberry topping.
  5. Make the cranberry sauce: Place the cranberries, water, and sugar in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium-low to simmer, stir in the orange zest, and continue cooking for 7 minutes more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of sauce over the cheesecake in each jar. Transfer the jars to the refrigerator and chill completely before serving. Serve cold.
  6. Makes sixteen 4-ounce cheesecakes or eight 8-ounce cheesecakes
Katie's Notes... * There's a homemade graham cracker recipe with whole wheat and sucanat in Healthy Snacks to Go, and Attune Foods also makes one with wholesome ingredients called Erewhon. * With the cheesecake filling and the sauce, you can always taste and add more sweetener if necessary, it seems.

Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine is now available at Target, World Market, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local bookseller.

Here come the italics again. Did you see that? My friend has a book at Target! A real live store! Y’all. If you need a cute gift for someone who likes baking or entertaining, you must get this book! Winking smile

About the Author: Shaina Olmanson is the cook, freelance writer, and photographer behind Food for My Family, which was named one of the top ten Top 100 Mom Food Blogs by Babble.com in 2010, 2011, and 2012. She is the author of Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine, has served as the food editor for LifetimeMoms and daily contributor to Babble’s Family Kitchen, and contributes regularly to FoodYourWay.net and SimpleBites.net. She lives in Minneapolis, MN with her husband and their four kids.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon and will earn commission if you purchase there; otherwise, I’m just happy to help Shaina out. In fact, I’d rather you buy the book from Target or your local bookseller and keep the money in your community, truth be told! I am also a brand ambassador for Attune Foods, but they are also just the right answer to “what’s a healthy graham cracker?”

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

3 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I found the book in my local Target and picked up two boxes of 12 4-oz jars from my local Ace Hardware (only $20 for 24 jars!).

    I can’t wait to try this and the cupcake recipes!

    Thanks for hosting this guest post.

  2. says

    I bought two of these,one for me and one for my sister. They are gorgeous little books with a range of recipes for any occasion. Simple, not fussy. Just love this book:)

  3. says

    I am looking for a good recipe and complete instruction on how to prepare a cake in a jar and I think this is the best one. This is perfect because you can give it to your friends this coming holiday. It is also nice if you are planning a party because this can be a good giveaway.

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