Tag Archives: raspberry

Recipe Repost: Cranberry Jelly Candy

Originally posted November 22, 2009

I’ve said in previous blog entries – and elsewhere – that the failures are more fun to talk and write about than the successes. This one, as it happens, was an interesting success. Well, mostly a success.

Just reading through the recipe, it was obvious this wasn’t going to turn out like just another gelatin dish. Besides Jell-O (any red flavor – I used raspberry) this one called for a can of jellied cranberry sauce, a cup of sugar, chopped nuts, and pectin, and with the additional gelling agent I guessed it was going to turn out with the consistency of Turkish delight. Sadly, it was exciting to be able to look forward to this change of pace.

There were only two minor problems preparing this recipe. The first, not that much of a problem, really, was deciding what kind of nuts to use. The New Joys of Jell-O is consistently vague about nuts, as though they’re all the same, or possibly, going by my memories of the 1970s, “nuts” in this context was shorthand for walnuts. That’s a reasonable option in this recipe, but walnuts are not my favorite, so I went with pecans instead. The other problem had to do with the pectin and was another of those “this book is a little outdated” things. The recipe calls for a half of a bottle of Certo pectin and does not mention a specific amount, but Certo pectin no longer comes in bottles but in plastic pouches. Each pouch is enough to make some standard-sized amount of jelly or jam, and I guessed that back in the day the bottle had contained the same amount of pectin, so I emptied a pouch into a measuring cup and used half (a quarter-cup, in case anyone’s wondering). Judging by the result, I was probably right. Yay me!

The preparation was pretty simple and mostly involved a lot of stirring. The jellied cranberry sauce was beaten until the shape of the can was completely obliterated and it was as smooth as I could get it, then brought to a boil. The dry ingredients were added and it simmered for ten minutes with frequent stirring. It came off the heat for the addition of the pectin and nuts and then had to be stirred constantly as it cooled for ten minutes to prevent the nuts from floating to the top. This sounds tedious, but actually it was a pleasure. The mixture smelled lovely, and it was a beautiful deep garnet color that made me happy while I was working.

The mixture went into a lubed square baking pan (the recipe says “buttered” but I wasn’t sure I wanted that strong a flavor so I used the nonstick spray) and chilled overnight. I was supposed to be able to turn this out onto a piece of wax paper (which we don’t have, so I was using a baking sheet) covered with sugar (to coat the candy to prevent stickiness,) but despite the nonstick spray and immersion in a hot water bath, the candy would not come out of the pan. No matter. I used the cubed gelatin technique, cut it while it was in the pan and removed the cubes with a cookie spatula, and this was completely satisfactory.

cranberry jelly candy with a fresh coat of powdered sugar

Cranberry Jelly Candy

Because this resembled Turkish delight, I used powdered sugar to coat the candy. The recipe offered Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut as an alternative to sugar, and I like coconut so I bought a bag, but the way the coconut was clumping (not dry enough) I thought it wouldn’t stick well to the candy or serve the intended purpose. The recipe said to coat the candy with sugar, and after an hour add another coat to prevent sticking. This I dutifully did, and due to time constraints (it was bedtime) I took the photo right after I’d added the second coat. What happened overnight, and what happened to the third coat as well, was that the moisture in the candy dissolved much of the sugar, making a sort of cran-raspberry royal icing. So it didn’t look very appetizing for most of its life, but it did taste good. Bryan ate it voluntarily. Just for kicks and giggles I tried coating some of it with coconut and found I’d been right – some of it stuck, but not enough. It still tasted good.

Since this was a dish that would travel well, I brought a good-sized portion to the Lab, hoping to elicit some fresh opinions. I didn’t push it on anyone, and only a few brave souls, my bestest friends in the Lab, tried it. One found it too sweet. The person who ate the most was the person with the amazing metabolism who will eat almost anything when he’s hungry. The most valuable feedback was from our Turkish student, who confirmed that it was like Turkish delight, and also confirmed for me that Turkish delight is, in fact, Turkish. I had been in some doubt, because I had first heard of Turkish delight when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and thought maybe it was a name given to some British confection to make it sound exotic. Anyway, she seemed to like it, but not that much, and I ended up bringing a good bit of it home.

Bryan and I ate it all up. No waste this time.

Recipe Reboot: Jellied Ginger Upper

It’s funny how often a simple Jell-O dish can raise sticky questions. Jellied Ginger Upper gave me a weird sort of deja vu. I couldn’t remember, or find any evidence of, having made this before, making the “reboot” status of this one a little shaky. At the same time, I remembered making a Jell-O recipe that included ginger ale. Was it this one? I did a little digging and found that, nope, it was Ginger Peach Dessert. I can’t imagine why I was confused.

two whole pears, a bottle of ginger ale, a 3-oz package of raspberry Jell-O

It doesn’t get much simpler than this…

So this is one of those simple ones, and I think it was the right one for this long holiday weekend. Apart from boiling water and a little lemon juice, the only ingredients are Jell-O (“any red flavor”), diced peaches or pears (canned or fresh), and ginger ale.

As you can see in the photo, I went for fresh pears. It turned out that one pear was enough for the recipe, so I had the other one for a snack. It’s hard to feel strongly about pears one way or another. They have such a light flavor that they often get used as filler with (or instead of) apples, but I guess sometimes you just want a bit of lightly sweet fiber in your diet. (Or Babycham.)

The ginger ale was another ingredient that might have been ripe for tinkering, had I not already done it with the Ginger Peach Dessert. I had assumed that ginger ale would have too mild a flavor, and substituted ginger beer. Normally Bryan and I really like ginger beer (the more gingery the better, preferably spicy enough to make us sneeze) but it turned out that it didn’t go well with Jell-O. Live and learn.

raspberry Jell-O mold with bits of pear suspended in it

Jellied Ginger Upper

In this case, it turned out that ginger ale does go well with raspberry Jell-O. The flavor of the soda (or “tawnic”, as my mother-in-law would say) is subtle but recognizable. The mildness of the pears was a good fit, and anyway, peaches would have made it almost a repeat of Jellied Peach Melba. One interesting similarity that I noticed between Jellied Ginger Upper and Ginger Peach Dessert is a somewhat soft-set texture. The gelatin is firm enough to hold a molded shape, but the mouthfeel is softer than one might expect. I wonder if that has anything to do with the carbonation of the ginger ale, although since it gets added to the hot Jell-O liquid, I would think that the carbon dioxide would outgas quickly (and the mixture did get quite foamy as I slowly poured in the ginger ale) and not leave much in the way of bubbles to affect the texture of the set gelatin.

Possibly I need to do further research on this. It occurred to me that another direction to go with off-book gelatin dishes might be soda-flavored jellies, which could be fun, and it could be interesting to see whether it’s the carbonation affecting the texture. Stay tuned!

One final note: The recipe for Jellied Ginger Upper recommends garnishing with Frosted Fresh Grapes. To which I say, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; er, won’t get fooled again…

Virgin Recipe: Jellied Peach Melba


Jellied Peach Melba circa 1974

Yay, me! I got another virgin recipe out of the way!

First, this begs the question: What the hell is a real peach Melba, anyway? I confess I had to look it up, and it’s as old-fashioned as it sounds. It was invented in the late 19th century by chef Escoffier to honor an Australian opera singer, and consists of peaches, raspberries, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream. It turns out that the Jell-O version is true to the original, which is traditionally open to variation anyway.

I had a few tiny issues, but overall Jellied Peach Melba is easy-peasy to make. The main problem, if you want to call it that, is that there’s no longer a Bird’s Eye Quick Thaw line of frozen fruits, so I wound up getting the store brand frozen peaches (the only option), and some crunchy-granola-sounding brand of frozen raspberries. The bag of peaches was larger than what was called for in the recipe, but that turned out to be a good thing, because the recipe calls for a five-cup ring mold, and my ring mold is six cups. The extra peaches filled out the mold nicely.

Putting it together involved making a double batch of raspberry Jell-O, adding the frozen peaches and raspberries, and putting it in the ring mold to chill and set up overnight. The fabulous presentation includes scoops of vanilla ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s, natch) piled up in the middle of the Jell-O ring.

As it happens, I finished and tasted this after doing our income tax returns, an activity that’s guaranteed to tank my mood. In fact, TurboTax started me off by asking me how I felt about doing my taxes. I was feeling pretty good at the outset after having a productive morning. Two and a half hours and a good deal of shouting and swearing later, I was decidedly cranky. Bad news for the Jell-O result?


Funny, TurboTax didn’t check back in with me after the returns were finished….

Full credit to Kraft Foods and Jell-O, preparing and eating Jellied Peach Melba actually cheered me up quite a bit. The mold turned out without a hitch, and scooping out balls of ice cream is almost always a delight. For eating, this one isn’t bad at all. Cream almost always improves Jell-O, and the mold had enough fruit in it that it wasn’t like eating a dish full of jelly (for which one really needs to be in the right mood, or sick, or recovering from dental surgery).


Frankly, I think mine looks better than the image from the book.

I wish the fruit had been better. The peaches had a peach-like texture and weren’t mushy or slimy, but they had very little flavor. The raspberries just tasted wrong, but maybe that was because of the contrast with the artificial flavor of the Jell-O. I rarely find frozen fruit that’s satisfactory – most are good enough for protein smoothies, maybe, but few can stand on their own in a dessert.

Still, all things considered, not a bad one at all. I may even eat some of the leftovers before the Jell-O starts shrinking in the fridge.

And yes, we ate the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s during the “tasting”. You pretty much have to polish off all the ice cream after this dessert is served – another point in its favor.

I’m enjoying this while I can, because the next one up is one of the scary savory ones, involving a video and a donation to Action Against Hunger. I have some new ideas for the videos, so I’m actually looking forward to tackling it. Look for that in a couple of weeks…

Recipe Repost: Thanksgiving 2009

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.

pie with Dream Whip garnish

Pink Lady Pie

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.

innocent-looking two-layered jelly mold

Wes Craven’s Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold

(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.

Halloween Jell-O: Bleeding Heart

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.

pushing raspberries through a small sieve with a spoon

Pushing raspberries through a sieve to get the seeds out, a laborious process

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.

Raspberry sauce in saucepan over a cold water bath

The “blood” sauce after cooking – looks good, so who knew it would end up as jam?

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.

Heart Jell-O showing cracks

The finished heart, with growing cracks and fissures

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.

Virgin Recipe: Fruit Flavor Marshmallows (Another Marshmallow Test)

Author’s Note: Woo! So my trainer bailed on me at the last possible moment – after I’d taken a double dose of C4 preworkout. Looks like I’m finishing this post á la Jack Kerouac, on speed and listening to jazz…

“Every eighteen months the storage capacity of a marshmallow doubles. I believe that’s called S’More’s Law.” — Stephen Colbert

Your Humble Narrator tumping spatulasful of marshmallow in a pan

The marshmallow creme was quite stiff when I put it in the pan. Also, check out my sinewy forearm – all that gym time is TOTALLY worth it.

I was inspired to tackle this one when I saw Stephen Colbert interview Walter Mischel about his book, The Marshmallow Test, which describes a test devised in the 1960s to measure children’s self-control and ability to delay gratification. Given that I grew up in a large family in which resources were stretched thin, “delayed” is the only kind of gratification I know (I haven’t even ordered a new iPhone yet), but what really caught my attention were the marshmallows that Professor Mischel brought on the show to test Colbert’s self-control. He said they were from Paris, and they were pink and cube-shaped and probably made in a kitchen by a confiseur, not extruded in a factory like the bowl of Jet-Puffed that Colbert had handy. I thought that was a lovely and classy gesture on Mischel’s part, and it just seemed like the Universe was telling me to make Fruit Flavor Marshmallows.

Jumping ahead a bit, I was so pleased with how this worked out that I’m not going to describe at length the process of making them; I’m just going to post the recipe and recommend that you go for it:

  • 1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O Gelatin, any flavor
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water in a saucepan over very low heat. Add sugar, cook and stir just until sugar is dissolved. (Do not boil.) Blend in corn syrup. Chill until slightly thickened. Beat at highest speed of electric mixer until mixture is thickened and will stand in soft peaks — about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour into  an 8-inch square pan which has been lined on sides and bottom with waxed paper and the paper greased with butter or margarine. Chill overnight.

Turn mixture out onto a board heavily dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Carefully peel off waxed paper and dust surfaces heavily with sugar. Cut into 1-inch squares or into shapes, using small cookie cutters dipped in sugar. Roll cut edges in sugar. Store tightly covered. Makes about 5 dozen confections.

I have just a few tips to add to this. By “electric mixer” they mean a stand mixer; it really does take a while to beat this into the right consistency, and you don’t want to be standing over this for ten minutes holding up your Mixmaster Junior. At least, I don’t. For beating, use the whisk attachment on your mixer. It will be less messy at the outset and get you the desired results. Five dozen seems optimistic, unless you cut them very small, but that’s not a terrible idea. These are tasty, but very sweet.

I had never had non-store-bought marshmallows before, and it was interesting to find that these were much softer in consistency, so soft that it’s a little surprising I was able to cut them easily, and they’ve held their rough cube shapes. I used raspberry-flavored Jell-O, so my marshmallows were pink like Professor Mischel’s, albeit stickier.

Lab thermometer doesn't look like it belongs in a kitchen

Don’t have a candy thermometer? Just use your handy ThermoWorks Therma K lab thermometer.

Since I had nothing in my memory to which to compare them, I decided that I would also try to make “real” marshmallows from scratch out of a regular recipe book. At Bryan’s suggestion, I used the recipe from Who Wants Candy? by Jane Sharrock. Fundamentally it was quite similar to the Jell-O version, but this was proper candy-making, the dangerous kind. It involved dissolving two cups of sugar and three quarters of a cup of corn syrup in a half-cup of boiling water (it really is astonishing how much sugar you can dissolve in water if it’s hot enough) and then cooking the molten sweetness to a temperature of (as the recipe instructed) 236°F. I haven’t done much candy-making, but I knew that this sort of hot molten sugar is commonly known in chef circles as “napalm” and must be handled carefully, so I was walking a fine line between confidence and caution. We didn’t have a candy thermometer when I made this, so I used a lab thermometer that Bryan had bought thinking it would be useful for general cooking purposes. I don’t recommend it for this purpose, however. I poked the probe into the sugar syrup occasionally, but as the temperature got into the high two-twenties, I decided that I should keep the probe in there and stand over it as the temperature went up the last few degrees. That was stupid. Get a damn candy thermometer, people! (That’s what we did! Can’t wait to try it!)

Once the syrup was cooked to the “soft ball stage”, I took it off the heat and added water-soaked unflavored gelatin to it. Then it was back to the mixer.

A couple of things about the mixer, which is a Kitchen-Aid we got as a gift from friends the first time we got married almost twenty-two years ago. One, it’s a smaller model and, unbeknownst to me, it had been taking a beating since Bryan started on a bread-making kick a few years ago, so the bowls weren’t screwing onto the base securely anymore, and the motor housing seemed to be slowly coming unseated and juddered in a worrying way as I set the speed higher*. Two, after the Jell-O marshmallows I was unsure that using the whisk attachment was the correct way to go, as both recipes just said to “beat” the molten sugar/gelatin mixture, so I decided to use the regular mixing attachment for the plain marshmallows. That was a mistake. Once I got the speed up past medium, the mixer started flinging drops of napalm around that end of the kitchen counter, and we had to approach it carefully, shut it off, and switch attachments. It went much more smoothly with the whisk.

The mixture was supposed to get fluffy and “hold its shape”. It did increase in volume quite a bit, until it looked and tasted like a slightly thinner version of Marshmallow Fluff, but it didn’t seem to want to get stiffer than that. At that point, I decided all I could do was pour it in the pan and hope for the best.

Rather than buttered wax paper, the recipe said to line a 13″ x 9″ pan with confectioner’s sugar, fully covering the bottom of the pan and running powdered sugar up the sides as far as possible with the back of a spoon. It sort of worked, a bit like when you line a springform pan with a crumb crust for cheesecake, but I was dubious. The powdered sugar stayed put while I added the marshmallow creme, and that made me feel a little better. The recipe said it just needed to sit for twenty minutes or so before cutting. Again, I was dubious, so I popped it into the fridge for luck and set about washing the dishes. Then I gave it several more minutes.

At first, trying to cut it made no sense. Per the recipe, I tried doing it with a knife dipped in hot water, but it seemed like the marshmallow “healed” as soon as I was done cutting. It felt stiffer to the touch, though, so I shifted technique a little, and started dipping the knife in powdered sugar rather than hot water. That worked better. I had to use a cookie spatula to lift the marshmallows out of the pan because they stuck to the pan and I couldn’t turn them out. They were very soft, but seemed to be holding their shape even as I rolled them in powdered sugar. I put them in a plastic container, not touching, and each layer separated by wax paper just in case.

vanilla and raspberry marshmallows

Fresh marshmallows look pretty good…

I will say that they tasted good, with more of a real vanilla flavor than you get in your Jet-Puffed or Sta-Puft or whatever your favorite supermarket brand is. I could totally see the appeal of making these in different, non-Jell-O flavors. The only thing is, they never really stiffened up. In fact, there was still so much moisture in them that they absorbed most of the powdered sugar coating overnight and were sticky when I brought them out in the Lab after lunch. I had brought both sets of marshmallows into the Lab to see if I could get some fresh palates to sample them, but I had very few takers, and they seemed more impressed with the idea of homemade marshmallows than with the actual product.

I have a couple of ideas for what didn’t quite work with the vanilla marshmallows. One is that there might not have been quite enough unflavored gelatin. The recipe called for two tablespoons of gelatin, but a packet of Knox gelatin, which is what I had on hand, is a little less than one tablespoon, so two packets comes up a few milligrams short. Still, the Knox site says to consider a packet to be a tablespoon, so maybe that wasn’t the issue. The more likely culprit is the recipe’s instruction to cook the sugar to the soft ball stage. Our new candy thermometer, and at least one other marshmallow recipe, say to cook the sugar to the hard ball stage, 260°F. I’ll have to try that next time.

So now we have a lot of marshmallows on hand. The raspberry ones are really good in hot cocoa, and I expect at least some of Jell-O’s other fruit flavors would as well. As for the plain marshmallows, Bryan discovered that they’re good for making “fluffernutters”. No waste this time. I have to say that while there is a good chance I’ll try making marshmallows from scratch again, the Jell-O version is a good, less complicated alternative. Finally!

* Bryan has ordered us a new mixer, a heavier-duty Kenwood that has fancy attachments and possibly comes with a splash guard, which will make me feel better about future candy-making endeavors. We’re very grateful to the friends who gave us that old Kitchen-Aid that gave us over two decades of faithful service.

Recipe Reboot: In Praise of Simplicity

I had not intended to go as much as a week without a post, but the fall semester just started at MIT, which means work went from zero to sixty in about a half a second, tough to adjust to after a too-short summer.

So, it seemed like a good time to reboot a couple of the simplest recipes from the beginning of the book. The New Joys of Jell-O does have a sort of progressive order to it, with the first chapter (“NIce, Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”) gently leading into Jell-O cookery with your basic fruits suspended in Jell-O and, of course, techniques like Cubed Gelatin. That’s probably why I didn’t make notes of the first dozen or so recipes I did when I first started the Project. I think I had originally set out to do them in the order in which they appear in the book, but changed my mind for reasons already discussed elsewhere in the blog.

honeydew balls, Fanta pina, orange Jell-O, mold at the ready

Melon Cooler mise en place

After an unseasonably cool August, last week saw the return of summer, so I made Melon Cooler. It doesn’t get much simpler than this. The most difficult part of the recipe was selecting the “citrus-based carbonated beverage”, both because I’m not a big fan of citrus-based carbonated beverages and because it’s not possible to buy a single twelve-ounce can, or even a six-pack of twelve-ounce cans, in the supermarket. We seldom have soda (or “tawnic” in the local vernacular) in the house, so it came as a bit of surprise to me that the cans in six-packs are now small, maybe eight ounces, like the ones they have on airplanes where the flight attendant doles out half the can into a plastic cup for you and you feel ripped off even though you’re not being charged extra for it. Twelve-ounce cans now come only in twelve-packs or cases. The most sensible choice available turned out to be in a display of bottled sodas from Mexico – a Fanta piña.

The most time-consuming part of preparing this recipe was making the melon balls. Before I started this recipe, we didn’t actually have a melon baller, and it turned out to be a little tricky to find one. My theory is that melon balls have fallen out of fashion because, okay, it’s time-consuming to make them, but it’s also a really inefficient use of a melon. In fact, the recipe calls for the melon to be diced, but I thought melon balls would look more interesting in a Jell-O mold – and I was right. The odd pieces of melon that didn’t get balled were chopped up and I had honeydew bits for a breakfast for a couple of days, so all’s well that ends well.

Melon Cooler surrounded by toy dines

Not a lot of people know this, but miniature dinosaurs are crazy about melon balls

Melon Cooler did turn out to be a nice thing to eat on a hot summer evening. The honeydew helped to tone down the heavy sweetness of the orange Jell-O, making the dessert surprisingly refreshing. Unfortunately, the Fanta piña, tasty enough by itself, didn’t really hold its own in the Jell-O, leading Bryan to ask what was the point of it. I have no idea. However, we did at least eat all of it.

fruited Jell-O mold on plate

Quick Fruit Dessert. One of these days I’m going to get the hang of centering a Jell-O mold on a plate….

Today’s Jell-O was even easier, Quick Fruit Dessert. I made a batch of Jell-O (mango flavored) to which I added a ten-ounce package of frozen fruit (store-brand organic raspberries). The recipe called for this to be served soft-set after chilling for an hour or so (hence “quick”) but I wanted more Jell-O mold practice, so it set up for several hours to be served as dessert after dinner. It was still quick, and I think we actually liked it. The berries definitely dominated. The mango flavor was noticeable, but subtle, and the whole was tart and refreshing.

Sometimes it’s nice to have something quick and simple. Simplicity is seriously underrated these days. A dessert doesn’t have to be complicated and elaborately plated to be satisfying. Likewise, simple things done well can improve our quality of life considerably. It’s worth a few bucks to Jenna Marbles (warning – lots of f-bombs are dropped, but she means well):