Originally posted December 6, 2009
First of all, I’d like to apologize for the time lag in posting and in responding to comments. I’ve been battling a cold all week and pretty much just crashing after supper. Luckily, it hasn’t progressed beyond a mild head cold and didn’t turn out to be swine flu, which is what we all worry about when we get the sniffles these days. The curative properties of Jell-O, maybe?
Anyway, thanks to The Joy of Jello Project, until the middle of next August, “holiday” to me means “captive audience.” It also means “an opportunity to inflict some Jell-O on my in-laws.”
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I managed to get out of work a little early, got in a leg workout at the gym, ate supper, and spent three hours making two Jell-O recipes. I selected the reasonably pleasant-sounding Pink Lady Pie, and for that seasonal flavor I selected Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold.
Pink Lady Pie
Pink Lady Pie was one of the more interesting ones to make so far because it’s fairly involved. The first step was prebaking a pie crust, and in the spirit of NJoJ and 1974, I used a Mrs. Smith’s pie crust I found in the freezer case at the supermarket. (It turned out to be pretty decent, probably better than what I could have made from scratch.) I made the filling while waiting for the nicely browned crust to cool. I had to heat three egg yolks, water and sugar over a double-boiler until the mixture was slightly thickened. It had been a long time since I’d used a double-boiler, so on my first attempt I overheated the water and ended up cooking the eggs. I had to dump them and start over. For once we had plenty of eggs in the fridge, and my second attempt was successful.
Here things started to get a little funky. The Jell-O was supposed to be added to and dissolved in the egg mixture. The raspberry Jell-O I happened to have on hand was the sugar-free kind. Even in boiling water it’s difficult to get sugar-free Jell-O to dissolve completely, and it proved to be impossible in the merely hot water/egg/sugar mixture. I ended up with little specks of semi-dissolved gelatin throughout the mixture, and judging by the appearance I didn’t think this was so bad, as it gave it a suggestion of naturalness – always a welcome result with Jell-O.
While the egg/gelatin mixture thickened over an ice water bath, I prepared a packet of Dream Whip, and then whipped up three egg whites with sugar and a little vanilla extract to make a meringue. First the meringue and then half of the Dream Whip got folded together with the gelatin mixture to make a fluffy girly-pink filling for the pie shell.
After chilling overnight the pie filling was firm, and on Thanksgiving morning I got out the piping bag and a star tip and decorated the pie with the rest of the Dream Whip. I was doing better than I expected with the piping bag, until I was finished and then somehow managed to express a random blob of Whip onto the pie. Still, it doesn’t look so bad, does it?
Well, the proof of the Jell-O is in the eating, and it didn’t taste so bad either. I had to add a nasty for the Dream Whip, which continues to leave me underwhelmed, and for the undissolved specks of Jell-O, which had a peculiar rubbery texture reminiscent of mouse cartilage.
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold is stealth scary. It sounds innocent enough – two great tastes that go great together and all that. However, the top layer contains canned whole-berry cranberry sauce (not scary to a lot of you, maybe, but I strongly prefer the jellied kind) and the bottom layer contains – oh, I don’t think I’ll give it away just yet.
It started out like the beginning sequence of a 1970s horror movie, where nice, normal people are doing something pleasant, not realizing that a chainsaw-wielding maniac or a phalanx of zombies lurks in their near future. I dissolved two packages of lemon Jell-O, a quarter-cup of sugar and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in two cups of boiling water. I added a cup and a half of cran-apple drink and set aside two cups of the resulting liquid, adding my cranberry sauce to the remainder and chilling that over ice water until it was thickened. This was poured into my bundt pan, which I thought would do for the eight-cup ring mold specified in the recipe, and popped it into the fridge.
This is the point where the sun was just slipping below the horizon and one normal person, probably the dorky guy (somebody’s younger brother, maybe) had disappeared into the woods/house/mall and his friends were starting to get worried. I chilled the set-aside two cups of gelatin mixture over my ice water bath until it was thickened. (Cue theremin or screechy strings.) Then I added – two cups of Cool Whip! And then (crescendo) a quarter-cup of mayonnaise!
(Temporary release of tension.) I folded in a finely-chopped apple, and carefully spooned this layer onto the cranberry layer and put it all into the refrigerator to chill overnight.
(Amping up the score again for more deaths, and a gory denouement….) The unmolding was only semi-successful, as I failed to get it even remotely centered on the bottom part of the Rubbermaid cake carrier I was going to use to transport the Jell-O to Thanksgiving dinner in outer Metro-West. The layers were at least properly melded together, but the bundt pan was again a little too large for the recipe. I’m just glad I took a photo before we packed everything up and headed out to the burbs, because this didn’t survive the drive intact. The g-forces of stop-and-go traffic were just too much for the gelatin, and the ring got pulled apart. I’m still not sure exactly how to solve this problem, apart from leaving the Jell-O in the mold until serving time. Given my mixed success with unmolding, this strikes me as a risky proposition.
As for the taste, well, as an adult I’m better able to bear things like whole-berry cranberry sauce than I was when I was a child and decided I didn’t care for them, so the top layer wasn’t so terrible. The bottom layer, however…. The flavor of the mayonnaise was definitely noticeable, and I could only conclude that its inclusion in the recipe was an act of pure sadism on the part of the General Foods R&D drones. Even drugs couldn’t explain this. While it wasn’t unbearably nasty, we didn’t want seconds.
As For The In-Laws….
I got no feedback from them, because none of them tried either dish. I suspect that my mother-in-law put out the word that I was bringing Jell-O, and every other woman in the family made a dessert, even the aunt who simply does not cook. Once again, Bryan and I were the only tasters.
So we ended up bringing home most of the Pink Lady Pie and the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold. We ate all of the pie over the course of a couple of days, though not eagerly. Showing yet another way in which Dream Whip is a lame substitute for whipped cream, the decoration on top of the pie became gradually firmer, more the consistency of cake frosting than of cream. I guess if you look at it a certain way, it’s good that it sits there as it was when it came out of the piping bag rather than melting like real cream. I’d still rather have real cream. And the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold – we couldn’t. We just couldn’t.
Well, so much for getting better about not procrastinating…
Something weird happened in the making of the Bleeding Heart – suddenly it seemed to take on a deeper, less light-hearted meaning than I’d intended. While all of this was underway, a friend was preparing to leave town to be with her family and her gravely ill mother. (Her mother passed away last weekend.) Another friend is herself gravely ill. Meanwhile, somewhat more removed but still sad were a pair of deaths that touched two communities of which I’m a part, MIT and WBUR (our local public radio station, of which I am a “listener/member”). One, of course, was Tom Magliozzi of “Car Talk” fame, MIT class of 1958 and a native of Nerdvana. The other was Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, wife of Tom Ashbrook (the host of WBUR’s “On Point” program, who had shortly before announced that he was taking a leave of absence to care for his sick wife) and also an associate dean of graduate education at MIT.
Mind you, I’m probably less afraid of death than is considered normal in U.S. American culture. However, I really hate the feeling of inadequacy in the face of other people’s grief. It feels like whatever you say or do won’t be enough, or won’t be right, so you get all self-conscious (and then start down a guilt-spiral because it’s not supposed to be about you), and you try to be extra careful but wind up saying something bone-headed* anyway. Or maybe that’s just me. But I doubt it.
Anyhow, in some goofy way, that Jell-O heart seemed to symbolize the sadness I’ve been feeling because people I care about are sad. That just made it more difficult to write about, not to mention editing the video, which does not show that angle at all.
So, the Bleeding Heart. As I mention in the video, this was essentially a bavarian, a cream dessert thickened with gelatin. Of course, in the context of The New Joys of Jell-O, the cream is often Cool Whip, and that’s what I used here.
For me, by now this is a rather simple process of preparing and thickening a batch of Jell-O (raspberry this time) over an ice-water bath, and then folding in the Cool Whip. Conventional wisdom states that red Jell-O and Cool Whip make a good color for flesh or internal organs, but to my eye the combination results in a pink that’s reminiscent of an inflatable sex doll. Anyone who’s ever taken a high school biology class or peered into the meat case at the butcher’s section of a grocery store knows that internal organs have more of a maroon or purple cast to them, so I added a bit of blue and green food coloring to my bavarian cream to at least tone down the pink.
The bleeding part was supposed to be in the form of a raspberry sauce that I made by straining (to get the seeds out) about a cup and a half of red raspberries and simmering them with enough sugar to take the edge off of their tartness, which turned out of be quite a bit of sugar. My plan had been to freeze the sauce, place it in the middle of the bavarian cream, and let the sauce melt in the fridge as the Jell-O got firm (per Chef Heston’s technique with his absinthe jellies), so that the heart would “bleed” when it was cut. Well, I say “sauce”, but what I ended up with was more of a raspberry jam. It did turn out to be a pretty nice “blood” color, and I won’t lie, it was delicious, but it was more like congealed blood. Also, it didn’t freeze, which was something I did not expect.
The anatomically-correct heart mold I used includes some veiny details, and I had ambitions of filling them in with a darker, non-creamy Jell-O, like the vein details I added to my Hand of Glory. However, unlike the hand mold, the heart mold has steeply sloping sides and is made of a smooth plastic that’s particularly slick when lubed up with nonstick spray, so the end result was a sort of diseased-looking heart.
Another thing that didn’t go quite right was that I misjudged the structural integrity of the bavarian cream in relation to the density of the raspberry component. In other words, the raspberry part was just a little too heavy for the bavarian part, and soon after the unmolding the heart developed cracks. Along with the random-ish splotches of dark Jell-O on the surface of the heart, the effect was a bit distressing, especially considering that the host of the Halloween party at which this debuted has been having real issues with the health of his own real heart. On the other hand, “gross” and “Halloween” go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so despite the things that didn’t go quite right, the Bleeding Heart was suitable for the occasion.
Now, I need to get my tuchis in gear and start making more Jell-Os. I have to confess, I ended up with a lot of leftover Halloween candy (the current crop of students showed what I consider to be an abnormal degree of restraint in the face of the treat-filled plastic pumpkin on my desk) that Bryan and I have, shamefully, been working on, so I haven’t really been up for doing anything else, dessert-wise. I may have to continue to draw on Reposts and Memory Lane for another week or two, but I still think my next “live” Jell-O will be one of the scary ones, so stay tuned!
* It happens to the best of us. One instance that really stands out in my mind is from the funeral of my paternal grandmother in 1990. The priest who was conducting the funeral Mass knew the family, and perhaps it was that familiarity that led him, in the course of the eulogy, to delve into slightly stale popular culture: “On the television show ‘Twin Peaks’, there’s a character called the Log Lady. Kay [my grandmother] should be called the Rock Lady, because her faith was as solid as a rock.” That was weird on a number of levels, not least because my grandparents weren’t big TV watchers and almost certainly would not have watched, let alone liked, “Twin Peaks”. I’m no expert, but I suspect that such WTF moments are best avoided on these occasions.