Thank you to Springhill Suites Marriott for sponsoring this post.
Valentine’s Day gift-giving is usually “diamonds” this and “bouquet of red roses” that. Which is all well and good, if you live in a romantic comedy, but those of us in the real world probably don’t have the coin—or the desire—to gift our nearest and dearest with honkin’ gemstones or the world’s most overpriced flowers.
But who needs those cliches anyway? This Valentine’s Day, I think we should bake our way into their hearts. After all, as the saying goes, cake is a girl’s best friend.
I’ll be gifting these mini Red Velvet Cake Jars this Valentine’s Day, and not to toot my own horn, but they’re basically the perfect gift for anyone. They’re red and pink, which makes them adorably holiday themed and appropriate for loved ones. But they’re not intimate or personal, so you can give them to your kid’s teacher or your neighbor without any sort of weird romantic overtones. (Maybe leave off the heart-shaped decorations if you’re going for a totally platonic vibe.) The only people they’re not good for are the folks who don’t eat dessert, but when you think about it, are sugar-shunners really a good influence in your life? Choose your friends wisely, is all I’m saying.
I was inspired to make these cute little cake jars after a trip to Washington, DC last December. I was invited by Springhill Suites Marriott, and I spent a few wonderful days enjoying some offbeat DC attractions, really delicious local food, and the wonderful hospitality of Springhill Suites. (More on this in a bit.)
One of the biggest highlights, though, was meeting Warren Brown, the founder of CakeLove, a DC bakery that specializes in cakes in jars. I was with a group of journalists, and Springhill Suites arranged a private meeting for us with Warren, where we got to watch him demonstrate his recipes, try our hand at baking some things, and of course, taste-test all of the CakeLove flavors! Spoiler alert: the Salty Caramel is where it’s at.
I’ve seen lots of other cake-in-a-jar recipes, but many of them involve baking the cake in glass jars, then putting frosting on top. This concept of layering cut slices of cake and frosting was so much more appealing to me, because you can control how much cake (and how much frosting, om nom nom!) you put in the jar. Plus, the layers look so cute in the jar! So I was immediately smitten with the idea, and knew I would have to come home and recreate the concept for myself.
You might be wondering how a hotel and a cake company are related. The answer is that this Springhill Suites location has a partnership with CakeLove, where these Cake in a Jar treats are available 24/7 at the 24-hour market near reception. You heard that right: Cake. Available 24/7. BRB, moving into the hotel permanently.
The hotel itself, located in Alexandria, Virginia, was absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful furniture, spacious rooms, and oh yes, a big bowl of CakeLove at the reception desk. (evil grin) The best part, for a moocher like me, was that the rooms had soooo many extras. I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m so used to being charged an arm and a leg for everything while travelling—checking baggage, hotel parking, wi-fi, and on and on, I wouldn’t be surprised if some hotels are now charging to put sheets on the bed. It’s gotten ridiculous.
So imagine my surprise and delight to see a hotel full o’ free perks. Springhill Suites embraces the concept of “a little extra” for their guests and provides fun extras like Paul Mitchell bath products, a giant Chupa-Chup lollipop bouquet at the front lobby, a sweet workout room, and free wi-fi. You can bet that I first took pictures of everything, texted them to my husband with the caption “nyeah-nyeah!”, then rejoiced like Scrooge McDuck in a pile of gold coins.
The trip wasn’t all cake jars and gloating texts, though. We also got to see the best of what DC has to offer on a whirlwind tour. We tasted delicious local cuisine, had fun ice skating outdoors at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice rink, visited a cat burglar-themed club, and (my favorite) got to see a street art gallery and a working artist’s studio. It wasn’t your typical tour of monuments and historical landmarks, and it was the best introduction to the national capital that I can imagine. It also made me want to visit DC again very soon! And not just to have more CakeLove…although you know that’s on the agenda too!
So to get back to the cake, once I got home, I plotted a Christmas version of cake in a jar, but ran out of time to share it with you before the holidays. But that’s okay, because February gives us another perfect excuse to make edible gifts! Cake in a Jar is going to be the next big Valentine’s trend, just you wait and see.
For frosting-lovers like myself, cake in a jar is basically the best invention since sliced bread. Wait, never mind, cake in a jar is WAY BETTER than boring sliced bread. It’s equal parts cake and frosting, which in my mind is the ideal ratio.
I wanted to make these jars a little extra special, so instead of regular cream cheese frosting, I made strawberry rose cream cheese frosting. It’s fruity, with a delicate floral flavor that is so delicious with the tangy cream cheese. The strawberry powder gives the frosting a strong, tangy berry flavor and that lovely pink color, no food coloring required! (But, uh, there’s plenty of food coloring in the red velvet cake, so let’s not pat ourselves on the back too hard just yet.)
For the pictures, I filled some of the jars up past the top, but of course for gifting you’ll want to give yourself some space to screw the lid on top. The jars can be topped with heart candies, gummies, or just Valentine’s sprinkles!
Taking another cue from CakeLove, I experimented with making two different sizes: 2-ounce jars and 4-ounce jars. I expected I’d like the bigger size better (because bigger is always better, right?) but I surprised myself by preferring the smaller size. The little 2-ounce jars are the perfect single serving for quenching that sweet tooth! If you do 4-ounce jars you can get about 12 jars from the recipe, but if you do the smaller jars you can get about 20, which means more for gifting, and more for eating yourself!
Let’s talk supplies! I got my jars at The Container Store (love that place!) but there are lots of options on Amazon as well, and I’ve linked one example below. You can also use decorative cups or ramekins if you won’t be transporting them and don’t need a lid.
I spruced up the jars a little bit by adding glittery ribbon and heart stickers, both of which I found at Michael’s craft store. It’s not necessary, of course, but it really goes a long way toward making the jars look polished and professional.
Unlike cupcakes or even cake slices, cake in a jar doesn’t go stale very quickly, thanks to all that frosting between the cake layers and the jar’s airtight lid. So this is a GREAT choice for a make-ahead dessert. My guess is that they can last a solid week-plus in the refrigerator, but to be honest, ours didn’t last that long.
- 5⅔ oz (1¼ cups) all-purpose flour
- 5¼ oz (3/4 cup) granulated ugar
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 fl oz (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
- 6 fl oz (3/4 cup) buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp red gel food coloring
- ½ tsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¾ oz (1½ cups) freeze-dried strawberries
- 24 oz cream cheese, at room temperature (do not use light variety)
- 4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 oz (2 cups) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp rose water
- Pinch salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line an 11x17-inch rimmed baking sheet with foil, extending up and over the sides of the sheet. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.
- In the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the vegetable oil, buttermilk, egg, red gel food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Mix on medium-low speed until well-combined.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the pan with a spatula, then mix on medium speed until the cake batter is smooth and all the lumps of flour have disappeared.
- Pour the cake batter into the sheet pan and spread it into an even layer. (It will be a very thin layer of cake.) Bake the cake at 350 F for 10 minutes, until it pulls away from the sides and springs back when lightly pressed with your fingertips. Cool completely before using. The cake can be baked several days in advance. If making in advance, wrap the cooled cake in cling wrap and freeze until ready to use. You do not need to defrost the cake before assembling the jars.
- Place the freeze-dried strawberries in the bowl of a food processor and process until they are ground into a powder.
- Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat them together on medium speed until light and fluffy and free of lumps.
- Add the powdered sugar, strawberry powder, rose water, and salt to the bowl, and beat on low speed until combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Taste the frosting, and add additional sugar to taste. If the frosting seems too stiff, add a spoonful of milk or cream until it reaches your desired texture.
- The frosting can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. When you're ready to use it, let it sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before piping it into the jars. You can also re-whip it in the mixer to loosen it up a bit if it is too stiff to pipe after being refrigerated.
- Fit a piping bag with a large star tip, and fill the bag with some cream cheese frosting. Use a circle cookie cutter the same size as your jars, and cut circles out of the cake. (For my 2-oz jars, I used two 1½" circles for each, and for my 4-oz jars, I used three 2" circles for each.)
- Place a circle of cake in the bottom of a jar, and top it with a swirl of frosting. Keep layering cake and frosting until you reach the top of the jar. Once you put the lid on the jar, you can decorate them with ribbons, stickers, gift tags, or anything else you can dream up! Continue until all of the jars are assembled. Red Velvet Cake in a Jar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, and for the best taste and texture, can be brought to room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.
Disclosure: my trip was sponsored by Springhill Suites Marriott, but all opinions are my own. Sponsored posts allow me to keep creating original content on SugarHero! For more information, please see my Affiliate and Advertising Policy.