Your eyes do not deceive you.
And really, this recently-undertaken endeavour, however silly, should surprise no one (other than my well-known hatred of sugar and processed foods). I love vintage, from the way I dress & style my hair to the things I love photographing and the sort of house I prefer; what, really, could be more retro a dessert than a Jell-O mold? Served from sea to shining sea in homes and roadside diners for decades, Jell-O and gelatine molds are fun, tasty, and as pretty or, let’s be honest, garish as you want them to be.
How this got going in my own kitchen, I still can’t tell you. Now, I’ve long had a small collection of vintage Jell-O recipe booklets going back as far as 1928, filled with tasty-looking recipes (as well as several questionable ones); during a trip to the used bookstore a few months ago, Hubby pulled a copy of Jell-O: A Biography— complete with recipes—off the shelf as a joke, only to watch me go, “Ooooo!” and add it to my stack of books. It definitely isn’t my usual fare—as is so often the case, he had to hunt me down in the history section—but everyone can use some fun, light-hearted reading, right?
Of course, I still hadn’t any molds to work with—until one night, a carryout order provided me with a rectangular plastic tub large enough to hold about five cups of liquid. Perfect! In short order, I found myself pouring into this mold orange Jell-O blended with cream cheese, then peaches topped with more orange Jell-O into this new, makeshift ‘mold’, then a few hours later gleefully surprising Hubby with a somewhat glaringly bright but cheerfully wiggling dessert. After he got over the laughing, he confessed to its being “cool” and, not long after, “really good”. I was off to the races!
The same night, I found the tiny vintage Jell-O molds I’d picked up somewhere in Pennsylvania, and poured into them lemon Jell-O mixed with a little less than a quarter-cup of orange liqueur and tequila. Despite never having had a Jell-O shot in my life, the luridly coloured single-serving Jell-O molds you see here were very tasty—and again, the wiggling.
I should note that lifting the platter after unmolding the little guys onto it led to helpless giggling—if you think a flattish rectangular mold wobbles and jiggles in amusing fashion, you’ve seen nothing yet. Walk across the kitchen with a platter of small, round molds. THAT is funny. For some reason all of that wiggling about makes me laugh quite a bit! Small pleasures, I guess.
(By the way, I’d like to apologize for the poor picture quality—the molds are invariably unmolded at night, and the yellow mini-molds I photographed with my cell phone so I could terrify many of my family and friends by emailing the pictures right away.)
As you can see, it didn’t take long for me to hop onto eBay and snag an actual, drama-ready Jell-O mold; the mold at the top of this post was made by, once again, blending the gelatine (I prefer sugar free or even unflavoured) with, this time, plain yogurt and a little bit of sour cream. The dairy not only cuts the sweetness, it provides a richer mouthfeel (also, Hubby loves it). Once that layer was set, I mixed sliced bananas into the rest of the Jell-O, to which I’d added a bit of
Amaretto (which, it seems to me, should go well with strawberry and banana, and it did). The only downside to this sort of mold is that once you cut into it, you’re bound to see a collapse of your wiggling creation should it not all be consumed at once. Then again, the leaning is part of the fun. 😉
Though I love baking (cooking in general, really—something I must have inherited from my grandmother), Jell-O has never really interested me. It’s…well…Jell-O. Unnervingly bright, usually served to invalids and children in hospitals and schools, dumped into parfait glasses and topped with sour cream…Really? But pour it into a mold and release it onto a plate, and suddenly it’s something a little different. It’s more fun, definitely easier on the eyes, and these days at least, will surprise, amuse, and even delight guests (no joke).
Jell-O is, after all, undeniably “fun” food; not a bit pretentious, molds are suitable for crumb-crunchers and adults alike. Gelatine takes on the flavours and colours you want it to—even with flavoured gelatines, you can add fruit juice or liquor to intensify or change the taste—and, obviously, the shape of your mold, which can lead to all sorts of fun.
I have learned a couple of things, though: definitely wipe the inside of your mold with a fat like coconut oil or butter (just use those butter wrappers Grandma told you to save). I’ve never noticed a difference in the gelatine’s shine or flavour afterwards, and it makes un-molding much easier! For the most part, you want your gelatine to be set, but not firm, if you’re looking to add additional layers. Touching your finger to the top will result in some gelatine sticking to your finger; if you tilt the mold, the gelatine will rather obviously tilt with it. This step takes most people roughly two hours, but I keep my fridge very cold—so it’s closer to an hour and a half-ish.
Once your mold is set (depending upon the size, anywhere from 3-8 hours—watch for the gelatin to tilt!), dip the whole thing—taking care not to wet the gelatine itself—in lukewarm water for about 15 seconds; moistening your fingertips, gently pull the gelatine away from the sides, then place a moistened plate or platter on top of the inverted mold and flip. Voila! Exciting, fancy gelatine mold!
Finally, I want to share with you some of the other places I’ve found instruction and inspiration. Perhaps you, too, will join the molding fun!
- The Jell-O Mold Mistress of Brooklyn and her terrific, recipe-packed and prettily photographed book, Hello, Jell-O! This gal is amazingly creative and can really come up with some marvellous molds.
- Fabulous Ruth of No Pattern Required and Mid-Century Menu has a whole bunch of Jell-O mold recipes…including results from her “Glistening And Jiggly” contest! How did I not even know that was happening?
- The Lemon L’Orange blog seems to be abandoned, but there are still plenty of recipes, complete with pictures and entertaining stories.
- Kraft Foods, owner of the Jell-O brand, of course has oodles of recipes.
- Retro Food has quite a few as well.
- The Jellophile is loaded up with adult-beverage-inspired Jell-O molds—but kid and teetotaler-friendly ones, too. These aren’t the frat house Jell-O shots (mostly), but things you’d happily serve friends.
- JelloSalad.com is exactly what it sounds like—no embellishment, just recipes!
- The Modern Gelatina offers rather more elegant-looking gelatine molds…that are still unpretentious and fun. See, I TOLD you. 😉
- Finally, I’ve a Pinterest board entirely dedicated to gelatine and Jell-O molds for your perusing and giggling pleasure.
Well? Have I lost it at last, or merely taken one step further into the 40s? Or are you a little intrigued by all of the gelatine-molding? Do you have secret sources of your own, or recipe ideas? Share away!