How to make jelly (AKA 'Jell-o')
Like to know how to make jelly? It's a simple process and we provide a recipe for orange jelly a little lower down the page...
One of the disadvantages of living in France (aside from the dog dirt and garlic) is being placed in a culinary pigeon-hole. Somehow, the wonderful folk of France are convinced that childish jelly is all we eat for pudding. If I had a Euro for every time someone has squealed at me: "Ze English food - haha - le 'jelly' ooh oui!"
But the constant stereotyping got me thinking. Many of us haven't enjoyed any innocent jelly action since we were last in short trousers, having our faces wiped with a licked tissue.
Melting packets of funny coloured blocks or powders into hot water isn't the only option. Make it yourself and choose what goes in and what stays out.
Quality is important for me and I am delighted at the availability of organic leaf gelatine in the shops. It's see-through, dry and brittle and can be stored for years so you need never get caught short. Just see what fruit is in season, extract some juice and get set. No need for artificial additives.
Rekindling my relationship has been a revelation. Not a dinner party now passes without recourse to a little jelly teaser to whet the appetite. There's something about it that satisfies on so many levels.
Perhaps it's the naughty wibbly-wobbling that prim and proper Victorians found so captivating? Maybe it's the unctuous gelatinous texture? Or the sweet, fruity slurping noise and the way it topples down your throat?
I currently favour using freshly-squeezed fruit juice and adding a slither of the whole fruit for visual interest. If you use milk, you're on the way to a blancmange, or, like Heston Blumenthal you could experiment with madness-inducing absinthe in jellified form. Jelly wizards Bompas and Parr have used Golden Syrup, and, despite not trusting the way it moves, TV's Gareth Keenan from 'The Office' discovered his stapler had become the main ingredient.
How to make jelly is straightforward. There are only a couple of considerations...
How to make jelly: softened gelatin
How much gelatin and how much liquid to use?
The rule of thumb is to use one leaf of gelatine to set 100ml / 3.5 fl oz of liquid. Gelatin comes in different strengths, known as "Blooms". In most shops these days, all gelatins destined for domestic use are the blooming same and you're unlikely to have to choose.
The liquid you use to make your jelly should be about half sugar syrup and half fruit juice (or whatever other exotic liquid ingredient you choose). If you use all fruit juice, you can end up with a jammy, gummy result instead of a lightly quaking pudding.
Part of the fun of homemade jelly-making is experimenting. By way of an example, feel free to use the following recipe as a starting point for your own creations. This will make about 500ml / 17fl oz.
Orange jelly recipe
- 5 leaves of gelatin
- 225ml / 7.5 fl oz water
- 50g / 2oz sugar
- 250ml / 8.5 fl oz freshly-squeezed orange juice
- Soak the gelatin in cold water for a few minutes to let it soften (this helps it dissolve properly later)
- Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup: mix the sugar into the water over a gentle heat until dissolved
How to make jelly: straining liquid
- Remove the gelatin from its cold water and squeeze to remove excess water. Put the gelatin in the warm (but far from boiling) sugar syrup and stir to dissolve
- Add the fruit juice to the warm mixture and stir together. Pour this mixture through a fine sieve to strain out any solids. Fill your chosen dish/glass
- Add a thin slither of fresh orange to the liquid jelly before it goes in the refrigerator. Make sure you trim away any skin and pith for optimal presentation
- Refrigerate until set - about 2-3 hours for individual ones, a little longer for larger bowls
How to make jelly: key considerations
The cold of the fridge will mute the sweetness slightly. Taste your jelly liquid and ensure it's a little oversweet before refrigerating. This is especially important with sharper citrus fruits. Oranges are not the only fruit but they do work really well thanks to their colour and natural sweetness. For lemons and grapefruits, you will probably need to dissolve a tablespoon or so of extra sugar in your syrup per fruit. The key is to taste before you refrigerate.
How to make jelly: grapefruit
There are certain ingredients that don't sit well with gelatin. Classic examples are pineapple and kiwi fruit. The enzymes in these fruits attack the jelly structure, preventing it from setting. You can overcome this by using tinned fruit. The canning process denatures the enzymes. If you're not fussy and are in a hurry, you can just use the fruity syrup from the tin as a ready-made liquid and just add gelatin.
If planning to unmould your creations to amuse and titillate your guests, try to avoid ceramic moulds. Copper or plastic work the best and need no particular treatment. Just dip the moulds into warm water for a few seconds until your jelly is ready to gracefully slip out. Be patient: it may take a few tries until the thin outside layer melts enough to free itself. Do this in plenty of time - you don't want to come unstuck in front of your guests. Pop your wobbling specimens back in the fridge until ready to serve.
Equally, if you have any interestingly-shaped glasses, you can use them as moulds. Do consider how easy it will be to get the warm water to the vital areas without washing away your jelly - a long stem can get in the way.
This may all beg the question of how to make jelly sophisticated enough for an adult audience. Well, you can dress it up for dinner in whichever way you choose. It can be eaten as a pre-dinner cocktail, a palate-cleanser between courses or as a trusty dessert.
Try making alcholic cocktail combinations - it even works with sparkling wines by trapping the bubbles for a fizzy effect when eaten. Make jellies of different colours to create taffic-light effects by setting each layer before pouring in the next. Suspend fruit pieces within. Present it in individual glasses, bowls or larger dishes. Experiment with un-moulding and let it girate before your guests.
Traditionally, of course, it eats very well at children's parties. I'm still not convinced by the jelly-and-ice-cream combo, though.
How to make jelly for vegetarians
Gelatin is extracted from the collagen in animal tissue and bones, usually from pigs. Vegetarian-friendly alternatives such as agar-agar and carrageenan (sounds like the aforementioned Gareth Keenan, doesn't it?) are available. Unfortunately, they are not considered to give the right, smooth mouthfeel when used for jelly-making.
However, connoisseurs might also take a look at gellan gum. This gelling agent is derived from yeast-like bacteria. It doesn't have gelatin's excellent mouthfeel, but it does offer the kitchen chemist a number of advantages. It remains solid at higher temperatures than gelatine, has excellent flavour-release properties and only a tiny amount is needed. The gel reverts to liquid under pressure, so when your teeth sink into it, the flavour of your chosen ingredient bursts into your mouth. It can usually be found on the tasting menu of The Fat Duck in such delights as "Hot and Cold Iced Tea".
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