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Make Your Own “Jello”, Only Better

by Elizabeth Skipper | July 16th, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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file0001082961770I make most of my desserts from scratch:  cookies, cakes, pies, pudding.  However, I never have made gelatin from scratch. I always buy the flavored box mix.  Is it difficult to make homemade gelatin? I know that I can purchase plain gelatin but wasn’t sure how I would infuse flavors. Any suggestions?

For a minute there, I thought you were asking about making gelatin, not jelled desserts, from scratch. Then I realized you meant making a Jello equivalent, which is whole lot simpler! Making gelatin can be done, but it’s a lengthy, somewhat messy, process. Making homemade Jello is easy.

Start by obtaining a box of plain gelatin, which contains four individual packets, each enough to set two cups of liquid. Knox brand is readily available. You can also buy it in bulk if you think you’ll be using a lot of it. I’m going to limit my remarks to the powdered version. There is also sheet gelatin, which gives a smoother, clearer result, but you’ll need to look for it in specialty stores.

Now decide what flavor you’d like. You can gel most any juice – I used to do this with Juicy Juice when my daughter was little. It comes in a variety of flavors and is 100% juice, with no added sugar. That’s not to say it doesn’t have plenty of naturally-occurring sugar in it; but it’s a sight better than the alternative, which is essentially sugar, artificial flavors, artificial colors, and gelatin.

Any shelf-stable juice will work because it’s pasteurized. Unheated juices from pineapple, papaya, guava, and kiwi fruit contain an enzyme which inhibits gelatin from setting. These need to be cooked before you use them, but with the exception of pineapple, they’re probably not the first ones that would come to mind. If you want to make a jelled salad with these fruits in it, though, you’d have to cook them first.

White and/or purple grape juice, cranberry and all its variations (cran-raspberry, cran-grape, etc.), apple, apricot, canned pineapple, grapefruit, mango, cherry will all work, and of course you can blend them to taste. Knudsen has some lovely juices such as blueberry, pomegranate, mango, raspberry, açai, pear … and if you don’t mind some sugar, you can gel lemonade and limeade, too.

The process is simple. First the gelatin needs to be “bloomed,” or softened, in a small amount of cold liquid to help it dissolve evenly. Once that’s done, it needs to be warmed with additional liquid. Don’t boil it, or it won’t set. Don’t stir the gelatin while it’s blooming, but be sure to mix it thoroughly with the balance of the liquid. Then all that remains is for it to chill and set.

As mentioned, each packet contains a scant tablespoon of gelatin, sufficient to gel two cups of liquid. The proportions and directions are as follows:

1) Put ¼ cup cold juice in a small bowl or custard cup, and sprinkle the contents of one packet gelatin over it. Don’t stir; just allow it to soften for about five minutes.

2) Meanwhile, heat 1 ¾ cup juice in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir until completely melted.

3) Pour into a medium-sized bowl and put in the refrigerator to set.

That’s all there is to it. I should add that for grown-up desserts, you need not limit yourself to fruit juices. You can also gel wines – I have a recipe for rosé wine gelatin with berries which is pretty and unusual. Imagine the surprise when what appears to be a fruit gel has a distinctly adult flavor! There are lots of choices; have fun experimenting.

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