What's spookier than eating desserts set with Acid-Soaked Ground Bones of Cloven-Hoofed Beasts? Having to recipe test them over, and over, and over....
Kelp here, having spent nearly the entire month of October researching gruesome gelatin recipes just in time for your Halloweekend (or whenever really. You do you.) Most of these recipes are fairly simple, and potentially alcoholic, which I suspect is what the people want. However, for desserts originally formulated with ~spirits~, this teetotaler tested non-alcoholic versions. And now, let's start with a neither easy, nor alcoholic recipe!
Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Most pumpkin pies are of the cooked custard variety - I enjoy these very much, provided they have not been ruined with the addition of Spice. (This is not a PSL callout, I just personally don't enjoy cinnamon. Or cloves. I like pumpkin.) This, however, is a vintage recipe for a much lighter, uncooked chiffon pie, set with the help of unflavored gelatin. As such, it's easy to overspice, so experienced custard pie makers may need to adjust their benchmarks. Also, WARNING: you will have to make a meringue. Get your copper bowl out.
For a bit of seasonal flair, I was successfully able to use a spatula to mound the pie higher in the center and drag vertical 'ridges', so that it more resembled an actual pumpkin. I was unsuccessful, however, in using black sanding sugar to make a jack o'lantern face - the moisture in the pie dissolved the black dye, causing it first to run everywhere, and then seep into the pie itself, looking uncannily like mold spots. A little too scary. Later, at the craft store, I remembered they sell plastic face parts that kids can punch into pumpkins; these would work perfect for a non-disastrous pie decoration.
¾ cup brown sugar
1 0.25 oz-envelope unflavored gelatin
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
¾ cup milk
1¼ cups canned pumpkin
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 9-inch graham cracker crust
In saucepan, combine brown sugar, gelatin, salt, and spices. (Kelp tip: I only used ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg in my pie, and it was Very Nutmeg. Adjust spice amounts accordingly.)
Separate eggs, reserving whites for later. Combine slightly beaten egg yolks and milk. Mix into brown sugar mixture in saucepan. Cook at medium heat and stir until mixture just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in canned pumpkin. Transfer to bowl and chill till mixture mounds slightly when spooned.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites till soft peaks form; gradually add granulated sugar, and continue to beat into stiff peaks. Gently fold pumpkin mixture thoroughly into egg whites. Turn into crust, and chill firm.
Candy Corn Shots
My cursed kitchen adventures continued with this contemporary recipe for a fun layered gelatin. I tend not to trust flashy seasonal gelatin recipes online - they look nice in the picture, but could easily taste awful. So I took the concept of this one and formulated it myself, which took extra time.
Once I figured I had the recipe down, I opened my last box of lemon gelatin mix to a spooky surprise - the inner package had ripped open, and there were several tiny black specks crawling onto my fingers. After cleaning up the contamination, I tracked down some 'Island Pineapple' flavor to use instead. This ended up tasting okay, but something about dissolving fake pineapple flavor gelatin in hot water produces a disconcerting smell.
As if that wasn't enough, I then prepared each batch and layered my shots...in the wrong order. Since I have a policy of not filling the fridge full of uneaten desserts, there was nothing to do but eat my mistakes and wait. Sigh.
Anyways! This recipe tastes fine, despite my complete burnout from eating it over two weeks. I do recommend sticking to lemon over 'island pineapple', and a fair warning - the yellow portion reminded me very much of scrambled eggs. (In appearance. Not taste.) I made these without alcohol, but if you would like to booze it up, I recommend adding spirits to the orange portion only.
2 3-oz packages of lemon flavored gelatin (or 1 6-oz package, divided)
1 3-oz package of orange flavored gelatin
¾ cup heavy cream (or approx. 1½ cups whipped topping)
1⅓ cup vanilla ice cream, melted
Yellow gel food coloring (optional)
Alcohol of choice (optional)
For white layer: Dissolve 3 ounces of lemon flavored gelatin in ¾ cups boiling water, and let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, whip heavy cream to soft peaks. (If using whipped topping, skip this step.) Slowly incorporate gelatin into whipped mixture. Pour into shot glasses, to about one-fifth high. (Kelp tip: this layer doesn't have much going on. Go ham on the other layers.) Chill until set (won't take long).
For orange layer: Dissolve 3 ounces of orange flavored gelatin in 1 cup boiling water. Add one cup cold water OR clear liquid of choice. Let sit until room temperature, and then pour over set white layer. (Kelp tip: this should be the thickest layer for maximum candy corn resemblance.) Chill until set.
For yellow layer: Dissolve remaining 3 ounces of lemon flavored gelatin in ⅓ cup boiling water. Slowly add melted ice cream. For a more vivid yellow, add a few drops of food coloring. Pour over set orange layer, and chill until firm.
A while back, while cleaning out my kitchen, I found a plastic brain mold and set it aside. And now, its' time has come. There's really nothing spooky about this recipe besides the mold shape, and I doubt many of you have 5-cup plastic brain molds in the back of a cabinet somewhere. But maybe you do! There are similar recipes for making creepy crawly worms by using plastic straws as molds, but they are a lot of work for something you could approximate with a trip to your local candy aisle.
This was another extensively workshopped recipe - most brain recipes online (yes, there's many) said to use a "red flavor", but a few specified Strawberry. And recently, my resident grocery shopper had finally tracked down Cranberry flavored gelatin after being on the lookout for months. Armed with all five 'red' flavors (I have never seen Strawberry-Banana and therefore refuse to acknowledge its existence), I set out to see which was the most brain-like, and which the most bloody. This involved keeping a reference picture of a fresh, blood-covered human brain in my phone gallery, which has been a fun surprise in the days since.
The results? Well, first off, Black Cherry is disqualified as a red flavor. But luckily, it's purplish tint makes it a great visual substitute for the sorry excuse of a flavor Grape is. Bloodwise, Cranberry is predictably the darkest, although Cherry and Raspberry are just a shade lighter. Strawberry is the lightest, and enough so that I would say "do not use". However, if mixing with ice cream to create an imitation internal organ, Strawberry is indeed the clear winner - other red flavors end up usable, but too dark to be realistic. For this brain, I used Strawberry for the flesh and Cranberry for the blood; if you're thinking "Cran-Strawberry?", know that the cranberry flavor is oddly subtle, and the strawberry gets washed out by the ice cream. It's really just red flavor, in the end.
(makes approx. 5 cups, plus blood)
9 ounces of strawberry flavored gelatin (either 3 3-oz packages, or 1 6-oz and 1 3-oz)
1 3-oz package of cranberry flavored gelatin (OR cherry, raspberry)
4 cups (1 quart) melted vanilla ice cream
Mold of choice (Kelp tip: for detailed molds, like brains, use neutral oil cooking spray to grease before filling)
Thoroughly dissolve strawberry gelatin mix in 1 cup boiling water. Incorporate 4 cups of melted vanilla ice cream. Slowly pour into (greased) mold. (Kelp tip: I had a bunch of air bubbles, but you'll be pouring blood over it, so don't worry about imperfections.) Chill until firm (around 6 hours). Dip mold into warm water for 15 seconds, and use fingers to test if surface pulls away. Unmold onto serving platter, cover, and return to fridge.
Meanwhile, dissolve cranberry flavored gelatin in ¾ cup boiling water, and chill until thickened. (Kelp tip: should be a little globby, but still runny enough to pour. If it sets up too much, use a little boiling water to loosen it back up.) Slowly and evenly pour thickened gelatin over molded dessert for desired effect. Return to fridge and chill until set.
Many adults hear "gelatin" and "party" and think "booze". But many don't, and like me, you may be spending your weekend with some lil' trick o' treaters. All of these recipes contain alcohol as written, but I have tested spirit-free versions that don't taste like something's missing. A few were published un-tested ahead of Jelly July, so if you were holding off, know that they now bear my Stamp of Approval.
(Virgin) Blood Wine
For both of these, I used dealcoholized red wine, and I'm glad I did. Neither myself nor my one available taste-tester like the taste of red wine, and by using more or less the real thing, I was able to make a key discovery - one of these recipes nearly completely hides the taste of the wine, whereas the other still very much tastes like a jellied cabernet. Choose accordingly. Pour into a wine glass for a fun look, or make into shots for a crowd. Both of these would also pair well with added, gelatin-safe fruit chunks.
"There's wine in this?" Recipe
1 3-oz package red flavored gelatin (Kelp tip: I used Cranberry, but any flavor should work)
1~2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
¼ cup cold water
½ cup dry red wine or sherry (Kelp tip: If making for kiddos, a tart dark red fruit juice will substitute well)
Dissolve gelatin and sugar in boiling water. Add cold water and wine. Pour into desired molds and chill until firm, about 3 hours.
"Oh, I taste the wine" Recipe
2 0.25oz envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups red wine
½ cup cranberry juice
½ cup cherry juice
Sugar to taste (Kelp tip: I added ¼ cup, partly due to using tart cherry juice)
Pour ¼ cup of red wine into large bowl, and sprinkle in powdered gelatin. Let sit for a few minutes until gelatin is fully absorbed. Heat 1 cup wine in saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and whisk into gelatin mixture until fully dissolved. Then, add remaining ¾ cup wine and fruit juices, and pour mixture into desired molds. Chill until firm.
This recipe uses sparkling wine and ginger ale, so for the former I substituted with sparkling apple juice...which doesn't go so great with ginger ale. I would try again with just straight up sparkling apple juice for both liquids. Add a drop of black food coloring for that pale greenish tint of an uncleaned fish tank. Bonus, add a fun, food-safe decoration, like the bloodied finger above, for that "underground lab" feel.
1 cup sparkling wine
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 0.25oz packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ginger ale
Black food coloring (optional)
Combine wine, sugar, and lemon juice in saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin and let sit for a few minutes until fully absorbed. Heat over medium-low and whisk until gelatin has completely dissolved, and then remove from heat. Stir in ginger ale (or more sparkling grape juice, if substituting) and wait for carbonation to settle. Add food coloring if desired before pouring into molds. Chill until firm.
Blue Witches Brew
Some sites will tell you that adding tonic water to your gelatin will make it glow under UV light. Well, yes and no. Quinine does produce a subtle blue, but it will be handily overpowered by any flavored gelatin mix that doesn't also have blue dye. (Yes, I tested this extensively. And with great disappointment in the results.) In terms of readily available gelatin mix, this limits you to the often hard to find Berry Blue. I didn't try using a combo of unflavored gelatin and blue food coloring, but the effect is so subtle, and the taste of tonic water so nasty, that consider...not making the effort.
1 3-oz package of blue flavored gelatin
1 cup tonic water
1 cup clear alcohol (Kelp tip: rum is popular)
Bring tonic water to a boil. Dissolve gelatin in tonic water, then add alcohol. Pour into desired molds, and chill until firm.
Gruesome Green Goop
A quick-setting drink that approximates an icy frappe. Blender required, but otherwise easy to whip up, and simple enough that it should take modifications well. I made mine with entirely too much mint extract the first time around, so if you're going the non-alcoholic route, add a drop at a time to taste.
1 3-oz package lime flavored gelatin
¾ cup boiling water
1½ cups ice
1 tbsp creme de menthe liqueur (or a few drops of mint extract)
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water, and pour into blender container. Add ice and liqueur (or mint extract) and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and chill until soft-set, about 5 minutes.
Lurid Yellow Liquid
Another easily modifiable dessert that layers solid and whipped gelatin. The original calls for lemon flavor and triple sec, which I replaced with orange juice concentrate. But you should be able to use this as a template for any flavor and liqueur combination.
1 3-oz package lemon flavored gelatin
1 cup boiling water
¾ cup cold water
¼ cup triple sec
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add cold water and liqueur. Measure out 1⅓ cups of mixture and pour into molds, filling halfway. Chill until set, but not firm. Meanwhile, set remaining ⅔ cup gelatin in bowl of ice water and stir until slightly thickened. Whip gelatin until fluffy, and pour over set gelatin. Chill until firm.
Thrills and (Gelatin) Chills
That concludes my exhaustive (and exhausting) experiments in shivering sweets - if you make any of these for an upcoming event, let me know how they come out! You can tag me on twitter or insta with @itskelp. And remember, food made yourself counts as a possible entry to our DIY contest! Check out Purestmaiden's Pumpkin Patch for more info on how to join (and win!)