Panna Cotta, Gelées, and More: These Are Our Very Favorite Gelatin Dessert Recipes

pomegranate coconut trifle with whipped cream
Photo: Ryan Liebe

Some are shaped while some are layered, but all of these homemade gelatin desserts are delightful. What's more, they're make-ahead sweets that are guaranteed to wow.

01 of 16
Mike Krautter

When you hear "gelatin desserts," you likely think of super shiny, brightly colored, jiggly concoctions from the mid-20th century. There's definitely a retro feel to these whimsical desserts, the ones that hold their shape long after they're turned out of sculptural molds, like the Cranberry-Cherry Mold that's pictured here, but there's far more to them than just that.

Gelatin desserts have a decidedly nostalgic appeal, but don't confuse them with being old-fashioned. If you've never made a gelatin dessert from scratch—meaning, without the prepackaged mix of gelatin powder, artificial colors, and sugar (lots of it)—you're in for a treat. Once you start to play around with gelatin and understand it as a gateway to delightful desserts, you'll be amazed at all it can do. It's a key ingredient in panna cotta, marshmallows, custard, and cream pie fillings (it's what makes them sliceable), and a variety of sweet sauces.

Beyond its versatility, one of the most appealing aspects of gelatin is its stamina. You can make a gelatin dessert a few days ahead of serving, with no compromise in flavor or texture. That "fix it and forget it" quality makes gelatin desserts prime for a comeback.

Gelatin is sold in powdered and sheet forms. The sheets are mostly used by pastry chefs; powdered gelatin is sold in most supermarkets in ¼ ounce packets (each holds 2 ¼ teaspoons of the powder). There are a few things to keep in mind when you're working with powdered gelatin: First, begin by softening the gelatin in cold liquid, which causes it to soften and swell or "bloom." It's important to sprinkle the granules over the cold water rather than dumping them en masse. Next, you'll need to dissolve the granules in very hot water before proceeding. Give it a good stir to quickly melt the granules. You'll know the gelatin has dissolved completely when nothing clings to the spoon as it's lifted from the liquid. Finally, be patient. Resist the urge to serve before the gelatin has chilled sufficiently. Yet another reason to make it well in advance of serving—so you can chill as your dessert does, too.

02 of 16

Layered Chocolate and Coconut Gelatins

Johnny Miller

These striped beauties are as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate. The graphic black and white profile calls for clear glass serving dishes, all the better to admire the alternating layers of gelatin (one flavored with deep dark chocolate and the other with cooling coconut).

03 of 16

Basil-Yogurt Panna Cotta with Grapefruit Gelèe

Basil-Yogurt Panna Cotta with Grapefruit Gelée
Con Poulos

This sophisticated dessert sounds like the kind of thing only a pastry chef could pull off but (surprise!) it's not. You stir two separate mixtures—one featuring tart grapefruit and the other, yogurt and fresh basil—and then let the gelatin do the work of setting it all up. The result is two softly gelled layers that complement each other beautifully.

04 of 16

Easy Fruit-Juice Gelatin

Easy Fruit-Juice Gelatin
Johnny Miller

Sure, the pre-made mix is convenient, but once you see how easy it is to make your own fruit gelatin, you may never go back to the package. The ratio is easy to memorize (one envelope gelatin to two cups juice). Plus, you can choose your favorite fruit juices or customize own very own blends. Boxes, be gone!

05 of 16

Strawberry Gelée with Rose Granita

strawberry gelee with rose granita
Marcus Nilsson

Summertime calls for easy, breezy, make-ahead dishes that bring relief from the heat—and ideally keep the kitchen cool, too. Case in point: Chilled strawberry puddings garnished with sliced fruit and frozen rosé wine. Instant refreshment meets incredible flavor in every bite.

06 of 16

Cardamom-Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Pomegranate

Yunhee Kim

The Italian dessert known as panna cotta (or "cooked cream") relies on gelatin for its signature texture. This one features several nice flavor notes—buttermilk gives it a lovely tang, cardamom offers a hint of warming spice, and orange slices, pomegranate seeds, and coconut flakes bring tropical touches to the finish.

07 of 16

Lemony Snow Pudding with Tarragon Crème Anglaise

Aya Brackett

Can you think of a more evocatively dreamy dessert than "lemony snow pudding"? This ethereal treat features whipped egg whites, lemon, and sugar for sweet-tart flavors, with softened gelatin added for stability. Once chilled, the pudding is spooned over pools of custard (crème anglaise) for a nice contrast of tastes and textures that only sounds fancy.

08 of 16

Honey-Raspberry Gelatins

Honey-Raspberry Gelatins

If you're looking for an easy, low-fat, gluten-free dessert for a family dinner, look no further than these simple spoon desserts. The recipe makes good use of frozen raspberries (in the gelled mixture) and fresh ones, too (served on top). And if fat and calorie counts are not a concern, you can alway add a dollop of freshly whipped cream on top of each.

09 of 16

Orange-Campari Gelatin

Orange-Campari Gelatin

Consider this a cocktail in solid form. Campari, the Italian liqueur that flavors the Negroni, is combined with orange juice, sparkling wine, and gelatin for a super fun take on an after dinner drink.

10 of 16

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Granola

Bryan Gardner

Breakfast, but make it dessert. Here, the beloved yogurt parfait gets dressed up for the after-dinner hour. A generous amount of heavy cream and some gelatin combine to create a sleek, shiny base for berries and granola.

11 of 16

Tropical-Fruit Ambrosia Gelee

Martyn Thompson

The distinctly American fruit salad that is ambrosia is loaded with canned and fresh fruits (citrus and pineapple, generally), miniature marshmallows, and coconut, all folded into a creamy base that gets chilled until firm. Our update suspends the fruit (papaya and Maraschino cherries) in a base of coconut water, pineapple juice, and gelatin; once it's chilled and set, it slices into tidy wedges for serving.

12 of 16

Easy Eggnog Panna Cotta

egg nog panna cotta
Bryan Gardner

At holiday time, treat yourself to the gift of an effortless dessert for entertaining. With just one envelope of gelatin, you can transform a few cups of eggnog into a sophisticated, make-ahead, company-worthy dessert.

13 of 16

Pomegranate-Coconut Trifle

pomegranate coconut trifle with whipped cream
Ryan Liebe

A traditional English trifle is made of sliced or cubed cake (or cookies like lady fingers), fresh fruit, custard (spiked with sherry or other booze), and whipped cream, all stacked up in a tall glass bowl. It's an impressive—if slightly messy—finale to any celebratory meal. Here, gelatin helps stabilize the fruity (pomegranate and coconut) layers, making the composed dessert a bit more neat—yet nonetheless delicious.

14 of 16

Panna Cotta Tarts with Strawberries

Panna Cotta Tarts with Strawberries

For the prettiest (and tastiest) presentation, individual servings of vanilla panna cotta are inverted into tartlet shells. The pastry is slightly bigger than the chilled and set dessert, allowing room for sweet strawberry sauce and fresh berries to nestle.

15 of 16

Sour Cherry-Rose Jellies

sour cherry rose jellies
Laura Letinsky

Not all bright red gelatin desserts are for kids. And not all spirits-soaked jellies are designed to be downed in one straight shot at an all night rager. Here, rosé wine is combined with cherry juice and gelatin for a decidedly grown up dessert that's just as jiggly but not the least bit juvenile.

16 of 16

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Poached Apricots

apricot panna cotta
Dana Gallagher

Take some fresh apricots poached in a fragrant syrup flavored with cardamom, ginger, vanilla, and lemon. Place them atop cool, creamy individual servings of lightly sweet panna cotta. The result is the perfect marriage of seasonal delights.

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