Saturday, April 30, 2011

Valuable lessons: Respect the Jell-o!

Ok, lemme start by saying... (parents, cover your children's eyes) this recipe was a pain in the ass.

For Easter, I wanted to make something colorful and fun. So when I came across a recipe for stained glass jell-o, that seemed to be the answer! What's more fun than jell-o?! Ramming bamboo skewers under my fingernails, perhaps?!?! Ok, I exaggerate slightly, but I did not enjoy making this recipe.

It is a finger jell-o dessert that gives the impression of broken or stained glass by having chunks of colored jell-o set in an opaque white jell-o... very striking visually and from the recipe it seemed pretty easy to do.
You start off by making regular jell-o in your choice of colors, but using less water to achieve a firmer gel. So I picked my four Easter-y colors, mixed them up as per the instructions and set them in the fridge to chill. Many hours later, I came back to cut them up and proceed with the next step.

The first color I cut into squares in the plastic tub (as per the pictures in the recipe) and then tried to figure out how to remove them. The recipe simply said "cut them into small blocks and mix in a 9x13 dish". Well, they were cut into blocks, but they didn't jump out of the dish and scamper over to the baking dish of their own accord. I tried to loosen with a butter knife, thinking maybe it was a question of suction... nope. I just ended up gouging chunks out. Then I tried a spatula. That worked a bit better, but still not the perfect cubes in the pictures. Then I had a bright idea... dip the plastic container in a bit of warm water! So I did, and it worked. The jell-o melted slightly and the cubes slid right out. Only, it worked too well... along with the cubes I also had a pink puddle of melted jell-o in the 9x13 dish. If I did that with the other three colors, I'd end up with a sort of yellow-green-purple-pink puddle that would mix with the white liquid jell-o and that would not end well. I went to art school... you don't get good things from mixing those colors together. Trust me.

At this point things were looking bleak and my previous excitement at making this recipe was quickly converting to disappointment and more than a little bit of anger. I eyed the drain and fought the urge to dump the whole thing down... was it possible to save this from disaster? I had neither time nor inclination to go get more jell-o and start over. If a bit of warm water melted the jell-o slightly... then surely a longer hot water bath would return it to liquid? Then I could reset and try again. While I'd never tried doing that before, it was worth a shot. While the colored un-jell-o-fied, I prepared the white jell-o (Knox gelatin and sweetened condensed milk). I also mixed some extra Knox with warm water and added about half a cup to each of the four colors. Figured if nothing else it'd help the jell-o set better and be easier to work with.

Back into the fridge the colors went for another try. A few hours later everything was set and I cut the jell-o (again in the tubs as pictured) and this time just pried it loose with a thin spatula. It didn't come out perfect, but close enough for government work. I wasn't going to argue at that point. I tossed it in the larger dish and covered it with the white jell-o then back in for the final set, this time overnight. In the morning I cut it into larger cubes and served it after Easter brunch. Everyone commented on how neat it looked. It was good, the novelty factor was great, but man this thing put up a fight. I might make it again when the nephews are older and can enjoy it... though to anyone who wants to try it, and for my own future reference, I would strongly recommend adding an extra half envelope of the Knox gelatin to each color and one extra to the white filler.

Or, yanno, just make a cake. That works too :P

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