jello

Jell-O recipes were once a staple of the holiday season with gelatinous sculptures of fruit and sugar taking center stage at the table. Part dessert and part salad, these congealed creations became popular in American during the 1930s and downright trendy in the 1950s. With flavors like celery and tomato, Jell-O was a bold culinary experience with a cheeky wiggle that appealed to children and adults alike.

Jell-O molds then slowly fell out of favor, becoming a laughable dessert option served for toothless seniors, quite possibly with cat food mixed in. But with the recession, a newfound appreciation for simple cooking, vintage recipes and low-key dishes has found its way into our hearts.

Inexpensive, easy to make and pretty décor for the table, Jell-O molds are a fun dish receiving new attention from trendspotters in the culinary world. But Jell-O brand products contain a host of gnarly artificial ingredients. You can still get your jiggle on by swapping out Jell-O for plain gelatin in your molds.

Whether you’re hosting a traditional family dinner, hipster-heavy party or children’s celebration, a gelatin mold is a colorful way to set the holiday stage.

 Molds

You’ll find plenty of gelatin molds in cooking supply stores, but the easiest place to shop is on the internet on sites like Amazon (also search for “dessert molds”). You can also check out Grandma’s kitchen for vintage models, or look around the house. Any container can be turned into a Jell-O mold, as long as you clean it well! Rubber molds make for easy removal, but glass and metal containers work well too – just soak the bottom for a few seconds in hot water before you turn it upside down.

Molding Tips

  • Always make sure your gelatin is dissolved completely!
  • Let your gelatin set slightly (until thick but not solid) before adding fruit, vegetables or herbs. Otherwise the add-ins will either sink or float.
  • Create multi-colored molds by pouring one layer at a time. Let each layer set slightly before adding the next one. If it sets completely, your layers will slide apart when you take off the mold.
  • Speed-set your gelatin using ice cubes in place of cold water.
  • Make sure your gelatin is completely set before trying to unmold it.

Recipe Tips

  • Please leave canned fruit in the 1970s where it belongs. Use fresh, organic fruit.
  • Don’t use pineapple, ginger, figs, kiwis, guava or ginger. These fruits contain enzymes that prevent gelatin from setting.
  • Instead of fruit, try different sliced vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes), roasted nuts or colored candies.
  • Make your gelatin  fluffy and lighter in color by whipping it. Wait until the gelatin is thick but not set, and beat with an electric mixer until it doubles in volume. Add fruit or cubes of regular gelatin for a mosaic look.
  • Add your favorite cheese or dairy product to your gelatin for a creamy twist. Stir in 1 cup of ricotta, crème fraîche, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, whipped cream or even ice cream!
  • For an adult party, take Jell-O shots to a new level and make your mold with alcohol. Vodka’s plain flavor makes it a good choice, but you can also try flavored fruit liqueurs (like peach schnapps) or sparkling wine.
  • Finally, don’t forget the garnish. Once you’ve unmolded your masterpiece and are ready to serve, top your creation with candied fruit slices, edible glitter or dollops of whipped cream.

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Image: stevendepolo