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Gelatin desserts grow up

Fine Cooking Issue 80
 Photo: Scott Phillips
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If you think of gelatin desserts as overly sweet and strictly for kids, then you might be surprised at how pleasing a homemade version can be. With unflavored gelatin powder, you can make gelatin desserts out of just about any liquid, including your favorite juice-based cocktails. In the heat of summer, the chilly, slick, jiggly texture of these desserts can be a welcome treat.

Here’s a recipe for Pomegranate Sangria Gelatin to get you started, and some tips to help you venture out on your own.

Tips for getting a perfect gel

Don’t overdo the gelatin. Use 1 generous teaspoon gelatin powder per cup of liquid, more or less. The amount you use depends on how gelled you like your gelatin. You may have to experiment a bit at first—just keep in mind that too much gelatin creates a bouncy texture. A 1/4-oz. packet of gelatin powder contains about 2-3/4 tsp.

Thoroughly dissolve the gelatin. Sprinkle it over a cool liquid and let it “bloom,” or soften, for several minutes before heating to dissolve the gelatin. Be sure the gelatin dissolves completely or the finished texture won’t be smooth.

Chill partially before adding any fruit. Let the gelatin chill until it’s thickened to the consistency of unbeaten egg whites, and then stir in the fruit. Otherwise, the fruit may sink or float.

Food science: Beware of certain fruits

Not all fruits work well in gelatin desserts: Figs, guavas, kiwis, mangos, melons, papayas, and pineapples, for example, contain enzymes that prevent gelatin from setting, no matter how long you let it chill. These enzymes have the unique ability to break down protein, and gelatin is, in fact, protein. (The unflavored gelatin we use in recipes is derived from beef and pork collagen, which is a protein.) It’s all right to use cooked or canned versions of these fruits, though, because the heat of cooking and the canning process deactivates the enzymes. As a garnish, the fresh fruits would be fine.


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