Set aside what you think you know about gelatin. Never mind recalling wobbly, fluorescent mounds and yellowed recipes from your aunt's attic.
Today, molecular-cuisine aficionados use gelatin in foams, and barkeeps serve jellied cocktails in hip nightclubs, no packaged mix needed. But even for those who are not professionals, gelatin is enjoying a comeback, in all its retro-chic glory. A cinch to prepare, it makes for a delicious, reliably enjoyable dessert for contemporary home cooks, just as it did for the Victorian chefs who first experimented with this alchemic ingredient.
The gelatins of this new generation are as easy to make as ever -- really, you just stir and go -- but to the discerning palate's relief, they rely on fresh, vibrantly colored fruit and natural flavorings to create the sort of treats one craves as the weather warms. They're vivid in tone, bright in taste, and incredibly light.
Indeed, because they melt right around 98 degrees, gelatins, or jellies as they are also called, turn to fluid as soon as they hit the tongue, producing a silky feeling that's refreshing and satisfying but not overindulgent.
The secret to success with gelatins is to get the texture right: They should be just set enough that they unmold easily, but not so firm as to seem rubbery. We've created a rainbow of recipes that will achieve just that, adding to your meals a shining end note of shimmering, translucent beauty.
Gelatins, or jellies, are nothing more than sweetened fruit juice "set" with unflavored powdered or sheet gelatin. Plan ahead: They don't require much work but do need time. Most gelatins take at least 2 hours to set, and some must do so overnight.
To fruit juice, stir in sugar or a flavored simple syrup to just the right sweetness (avoid uncooked pineapple; an enzyme in it keeps gelatin from setting). Soften the gelatin in cool liquid, either water or some of the sweetened juice -- so long as it's cool. The gelatin is then dissolved in simmering liquid over medium heat. Strain this mixture into the remaining juice. Pour into a mold of any shape and chill. (To ease unmolding, dampen the mold before pouring the gelatin in.)
Molded gelatin typically uses 1 envelope (scant 2 1/4 teaspoons) powdered gelatin for 2 cups liquid. For looser results, simply use a little less gelatin.
Dip the vessel's bottom in hot water for 15 to 20 seconds to loosen. Dip again if necessary. Invert onto serving plate. Make sure the molds are thin; Bundt pans, teacups, and metal pudding molds work, but ramekins tend to be too thick for heat to penetrate efficiently.
Orange Spice Gelatin
Grapefruit Campari Gelatin
Apricot Chiffon Pie
Sour Cherry-Rose Jellies
Strawberry Shortcake Jellies