November 26, 2014 12:00 PM

When it’s time to showcase your sweets, forget fancy plates and platters this holiday season. “Mason jars bring a nice homey-but-elegant touch to any event,” says baker Avery Goldman, who runs the Baker’s Jar in Philadelphia. Plus, baking the cake right in the jar means less cleanup. (Look for jars made by oven-safe brands like Ball and Kerr.) “And they’re in a single-size portion, so you don’t have to worry about cutting them,” she says. “You just need a spoon.” The jars, traditionally used for home canning, have been repurposed recently into drinking glasses, vases and even chandeliers, resulting in a spike in sales for Jarden Home Brands, one of the top manufacturers of Mason jars. (“Enough jars were produced in 2014 to circle the entire planet Earth,” says the brand’s director of marketing.) “Grandparents would think it’s hilarious that I’m selling them as this hip thing,” adds Goldman, who suggests dressing up a dessert buffet by adding personalized labels to the jars. “Guests can take the jar home. So it’s not only a treat, it’s also a favor.”

GINGERBREAD CAKE

2 cups softened unsalted butter, divided

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup unsulphured molasses

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 tsp. ginger, peeled and grated

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1½ tsp. ground cinnamon

1½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

6 cups plus 6 tbsp. powdered sugar

5 tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325º. Combine 1 cup butter and 1 cup boiling water in a large bowl; whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in brown sugar and next 3 ingredients.

2. Whisk together flour and next 6 ingredients. Whisk into butter mixture until blended. Spoon mixture evenly into 6 (8-oz.) lightly greased jars.

3. Bake in a foil-lined baking pan for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

4. Beat remaining butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until smooth. Add milk and vanilla; beat at high speed 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Spread evenly over cooled cakes. Dust tops with cinnamon.

Makes: 6 (8-oz.) servings Prep time: 40 minutes, plus cooling Cook time: 25 minutes

CARROT CAKE

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract, divided

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

¾ cup vegetable oil

2 cups grated carrots

1/3 cup toasted chopped pecans

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups powdered sugar

Toasted pecan halves (to garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Stir together flour and next 4 ingredients.

2. Beat eggs, ¾ tsp. vanilla and next 2 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating on low until blended. Fold in carrots and chopped pecans.

3. Spoon batter evenly into 12 (4-oz.) lightly greased jars.

4. Bake on a foil-lined baking pan for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating after 15 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

5. Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer 2 to 3 minutes or until creamy. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating at low speed until blended. Add ¼ tsp. vanilla; beat until light and fluffy. Spread evenly over cakes. Garnish with pecans, if desired.

Makes: 12 (4-oz.) servings Prep time: 25 minutes, plus cooling Cook time: 30 minutes

MOLTEN LAVA CAKE

10 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1½ cups powdered sugar, plus more for topping

½ cup all-purpose flour

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 large egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whipped cream (optional)

1. Cook butter and chocolate over low heat in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring often, until melted. Whisk in powdered sugar and flour until smooth. Whisk in eggs, egg yolks and vanilla until smooth. Spoon chocolate mixture evenly into 8 (4-oz.) lightly greased jars. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 425º. Uncover desserts and bake in a foil-lined baking pan for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges of cakes spring back when lightly touched but centers are still soft. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes: 8 (4-oz.) servings Prep time: 15 minutes, plus chilling and cooling Cook time: 20 minutes

TRES LECHES CAKE

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

3 large egg whites

½ cup sugar

3 large egg yolks

½ cup milk

1 (5-oz.) can evaporated milk

7 oz. sweetened condensed milk

1¼ cups heavy cream, divided

¼ tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. rum

Ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 325º. Whisk together flour, baking powder and cinnamon.

2. Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition.

3. Reduce mixer speed to low. Alternately add flour mixture and milk, beating just until blended after each addition. Spoon evenly into 6 (8-oz.) lightly greased jars.

4. Bake in a foil-lined baking pan for 20 to 25 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove to a wire rack. Pierce tops of cakes with a wooden pick.

5. Whisk milks, ½ cup cream, vanilla and rum; spoon evenly over cakes. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

6. Beat remaining ¾ cup cream at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form; spoon evenly over cakes. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Makes: 6 (8-oz.) servings Prep time: 25 minutes, plus chilling and cooling Cook time: 25 minutes

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