Normally I half-jokingly apologize for butting in with another lengthy gelatin dessert post...but it's Fruit Frenzy. You should all have been expecting me.
As per usual, I asked my resident taste testers what their preferences were, and got the following answers:
Mom: Well, you know how much I love strawberry rhubarb
Mom: and peaches
Dad: I'll eat anything
Reader, a confession...I don't really enjoy peaches. So why was I excited?
One of my most valuable gelatin recipe books is The New Joys of Jell-o, originally published in 1973. Unlike many cookbooks that happen to have gelatin recipes, it contains a lot of useful information about basic techniques, ideas for molds, explanations of common gelatin terms, and advanced tips for layering. I even found a blog where someone made every recipe in it...or rather, the 1974 version. I, however, own the edition published in 1975 - the year Peach Jell-o was introduced. As such, mine came with an insert with five new peach-based recipes, as well as a list of existing recipes in the book that could now be made with Peach Jell-o, instead of 'close enough' preexisting flavors. So I decided to dive into the (peach) pit and attempt my first peach gelatin desserts.
A fellow non-fan of peaches, you say? Worry not! All of these recipes are very basic ingredient-wise, and will work with any flavor/fruit combo. (Well, maybe not ANY combo. Use your best judgement.) If you're the type that has trouble thinking on their feet, the following are some pairings I would try: Strawberry/strawberries (groundbreaking...), Berry Blue/anything, Lime/cherries, Lemon/raspberries.
(Peach) Parfait Pie
A parfait pie is similar to a cream pie, except it's made with a mainstay of gelatin dessert recipes - melted vanilla ice cream. While The New Joys of Jell-o contains parfait pie recipes, this recipe is actually from a different general dessert cookbook, and so presented me with a number of problems, like:
"What size package of flavored gelatin mix was typically sold in 1960?"
"How many sliced peaches are in a No. 2½ can?", and
"This is all supposed to fit in a 9-inch pie crust?"
Luckily, the recipe came out just fine, but I have reproduced it here with a great deal of editing so you don't end up with a ton of extra filling like I did. My pie uses peach flavor gelatin, cuz of course, but the original recipe uses lemon, which is a neutral flavor that will pair well with any fruit. (I promise. Lemon flavor plus vanilla ice cream = vanilla ice cream.) Ice cream-wise, I recommend springing for the Good Stuff (for me, that's H**gen-D*zs). The original recipe and my attempt here use a typical frozen pie crust, but I personally prefer graham cracker crusts for these sorts of pies.
~2 ½ cups sliced peaches (or other cut fruit)
1 3-oz package flavored gelatin mix (we only use half)
1 cup vanilla ice cream, somewhat melted
1 9-inch pie crust, baked and cooled (or graham cracker crust)
½ cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)
Disclaimer: as mentioned above, I've heavily edited this recipe from the original, which, among some other little problems, called for way more fruit and gelatin mixture than needed to fill a 9-inch pie crust. All important ratios are intact, so the set shouldn't be affected, but I haven't tested it as written.
If using fresh fruit, add sugar and let stand 15 minutes. Drain and reserve syrup and set fruit aside. If needed, add water to syrup to make ¾ cup, and heat to boiling. Remove from heat and add half (1.5 ounces) of a 3-oz flavored gelatin mix. (Kelp tip: 1 ounce is roughly 2 tbsp, so if you don't have a kitchen scale, you can measure out 5 tbsp) Stir until thoroughly dissolved, about 2 minutes. Spoon ice cream into hot gelatin mixture and stir until fully melted and thoroughly combined.
Place pie tin on baking sheet for easy transport, and arrange fruit*** in pie crust. Gently pour gelatin mixture over fruit, and chill in refrigerator (45 minutes for soft set pie, 2~3 hours for firm set pie). Garnish with whipped cream and additional fruit, if desired.
***Kelp tip: If using smaller pieces of fruit, like blueberries, they will likely all sit at the bottom. If you would like a more even distribution, chill gelatin mixture until it mounds when dropped from a spoon, fold in fruit pieces, and pour. OR, divide fruit and gelatin mixture in half, arrange fruit and pour one portion, chill until set but not firm, and then arrange and pour remaining portion. I recommend just letting them just sit at the bottom. Easy peasy.
Peach Parfait...wait a second
I know what you're thinking, and I spent a half-hour thinking of a catchy new name for this recipe to disambiguate it from the first. But honestly, it's...a parfait. Renaming it would prolly just add to the confusion.
This was my second 'disaster' of the night - I had so much extra filling from the parfait pie that I decided to go ahead and make the parfaits, even though I had planned to wait until the next day at least. (I try not to fill the fridge, but...I had no choice...) The original recipe makes a 3 layered parfait: fruit in gelatin, a cream layer, then topped with plain gelatin. So I just substituted the cream layer with my leftover parfait pie filling until I used it up, and with the remaining parfaits I attempted the 3 layer version...and failed. Twice.
So what happened? Well, first I must explain yet another dessert mix - the mystery that is Dream Whip🄬. Actually, my first title for this post was "Peaches and Dream (Whip)", but I decided no one would get it but me. You can sort Jell-o brand dessert recipes into 3 eras:
Early era heavy cream, whipped (or possibly a meringue)
Middle period Dream Whip🄬
Current day Cool Whip🄬
Now, you can still buy Dream Whip here in American grocery stores, but up until now, whenever a recipe called for Dream Whip, I used whipped cream or Cool Whip instead. For those unfamiliar, Cool Whip, or "whipped topping", is a miracle of food science. A light, airy, and oily topping, that I feel is unfairly compared to whipped cream. I will occasionally eat a spoonful straight from the freezer, where it will keep for months. (It also makes a fantastic frosting for cakes that is much lighter than heavy, sickeningly sweet buttercreams.) But it's definitely made out of hydrogenated oil in a lab.
Dream Whip, on the other hand, is not sold readymade in a tub in the freezer section, but as a powder mix in the baking aisle. Add milk and vanilla extract, whip, and jakajan - you've got whipped topping- what's that? You have to still whip it yourself?
And yes, now you know why I've never used it. For garnishing, last year I invested into a refillable whipped cream canister (you know, the kind that takes cartridges that people like to use...recreationally). For other uses, I might as well just whip cream the old fashioned way, or use Convenient Cool Whip. Which is exactly what I did for these parfaits, and exactly what I don't recommend you do.
The recipe has you first set the base layer at an angle, then spoon in a layer of Dream Whip, and immediately pour the remaining (cooled) gelatin for the top layer. I already had my doubts, and as I suspected, as soon as I carefully poured the top layer, the whipped topping fractured and floated to the top, like an iceberg turning over. (Have you ever seen one of those videos? Pretty nifty.) I had one parfait left, so I again carefully spooned in an angled layer of Cool Whip, and then tried pouring a very thin layer of thickened gelatin over top and letting that sit at an angle and set in the fridge. The idea was that I could trap the obviously much more buoyant whip, then safely set the remaining top layer without risk of rupture. At this point, it was like, past 4am, so I waited about a half hour before checking and seeing that yes! The whip had stayed put. So I poured the rest of my layer and set the glass upright.
Later that day, as I grabbed the oolong milk tea with boba left for me in the fridge, I surveyed my peach prizes...and immediately huffed in dismay. The second parfait was also no longer intact, like a hands-on demonstration at a children's museum to teach about earthquake science.
If this was a contemporary recipe, detailed in a faceless, sped-up video on a social media platform, I would conclude that it's not possible to reproduce the pictured results as written. But The New Joys of Jell-o has never let me down like this in the past, and I did, in fact, not use the same ingredients. Upon explaining to my mom that no, it's not supposed to look like that (Obsixwi generously deemed it "an orange Misty Sky"), she asked "Oh, do I need to go buy some Dream Whip? You're gonna try again, right?" But the fridge was overflowing with four(!) cans worth of peach desserts - I couldn't make anything for days. With that, I present to you the original recipe, but also my notes on how to modify the layers to make your own style parfait. And just like the pie recipe above, any fruit/flavor combo can be substituted.
1 3-oz package flavored gelatin mix
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water
1 can (approx. 8 ounces) sliced peaches (or fruit of your choice)
1 cup prepared Dream Whip topping
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. (Kelp tip: like the pie recipe, reserved syrup can be used here instead) Add cold water and divide gelatin mixture into 2 1-cup portions.
Base layer: Arrange peach slices in bottom of parfait glasses and pour in one portion of gelatin, being careful of air pockets. Tilt glasses in refrigerator and chill until set.
Kelp tip: Did you know peaches float in gelatin? Well, I was able to jam the slices in there so it wasn't an issue, but depending on the fruit and mold you're using, you may want to wait until the gelatin thickens up a bit for ideal positioning. How do you tilt the glass? It...really depends on the glass and what you have available. Lastly, my main taste tester always prefers less plain gelatin and more cream layer, and he had issues getting the thick peach slices out from the narrow bottom of the soda glass. Consider looks versus "but does it eat well?" when arranging this layer, and adjust accordingly.
Second layer: "Spoon whipped topping into glasses."
Kelp tip: Yeah, not helpful. If testing whether Dream Whip or plain ol' whipped cream holds up, you want to very carefully spoon in a middle layer while holding the glass at an angle. I used the back of the spoon like an icing spatula to smooth it out how I wanted, and a wet paper towel to clean up the edges touching the glass. Other possibilities include a gelatin + melted ice cream based layer (see Parfait Pie recipe above), some riff on a blanc mange or panna cotta, or other dairy products, like yogurt. These can be combined with additional flavored gelatin mixture for a pastel look that will set up, or used by themselves for the pure white stripe in the promotional pic...but I can't speak for what might happen if you attempt The Third Layer. I've successfully made similar angled parfaits that just put a cream layer on top and stop there, and you can too.
The Totally Optional Third Layer: "Top with remaining, slightly thickened gelatin. Stand glasses upright and chill about 1 hour."
Kelp tip: As mentioned before, the results of a ruptured cream layer aren't unpleasant to look at, and it certainly doesn't really affect the taste. But depending on the glass, it can be difficult to even have room for a third layer, and it can shift the ratio of plain gelatin to cream into unfavorable proportions for some. Good luck.
Jellied Peach Melba
My third disaster- no, just kidding. While I did have a few hiccups with this recipe, none were really any problem. It's the simplest of the bunch - no layering, just dice some peaches and pour in some gelatin. So what could possibly go wrong?
Well, pages have been written about how to combat fruit sinking too deeply into layered molds, so I really wasn't prepared for the diced peaches to float to the top of my dessert glasses. Luckily, this dessert is pictured in relatively shallow molds, so the gelatin isn't really deep enough for the floating fruit to be an issue.
Second, I dreaded making this not due to its difficulty, but because it's topped with my nemesis - a scoop of ice cream, aka Something That Will Melt. This makes any subsequent food photography a time trial, and I had to spend several minutes planning out what needed to be done when so that I could get a good shot, ice cream intact. (There's also the pressure of getting a photogenic scoop, but I pick my battles.)
Last, apparently what makes it a Peach Melba and not just a "Peach Cup (a la mode)" is the addition of raspberry jam, a jar of which was conveniently already sitting in the fridge. But I opened the jar to see...dense brown puree. It wasn't moldy, it tasted fine, but it had clearly oxidized to a color that would not read as "berry jam" on camera. Luckily, we also had a old jar of California's own Knott's Berry Farm brand strawberry jam (not sponsored), which had kept itself a nice red and was a better consistency for artfully spooning over ice cream to boot.
Anyways, this really is just a fruit cup topped with ice cream and jam. The recipe has been simplified to reflect how basic it is. I trust you to figure out how to mix it up.
1 3-oz package flavored gelatin mix
Vanilla ice cream
If using canned fruit in syrup, drain and reserve syrup to use with gelatin mix. Dice fruit (bite-sized pieces). Dissolve gelatin mix in 1 cup boiling water, then add 1 cup cold water (or syrup mixture). Let gelatin cool (perhaps until slightly thickened). Meanwhile, arrange fruit in shallow dish-shaped molds, and then pour gelatin until just covered. Chill until set. Serve topped with a scoop of ice cream and jam or fruit sauce.
The Jell-o Joust
This post is still going? Well, I can't not make a bracket. I've kept it simple at eight flavors punching their ticket to the big bowl - my criteria is as follows:
Availability: some flavors are extremely difficult to find in stores, either due to being discontinued, part of limited time promotions, or just poor sales. To this day, I've never seen a package of Strawberry-Banana in real life. Conversely, high-selling flavors are seeded accordingly.
Taste: apparently some people like Grape Jell-o. On a different note, Lemon is so established as a neutral flavor, that Knox Gelatine even originally came in two versions - "Plain" and "Acidulated", which contained an extra packet of powdered lemon flavoring.
Dessert Usage: the only thing Berry Blue brings to the table is the fact that it's blue. Other flavors, like Island Pineapple, make little sense when adding pineapple juice to Lemon will give far better results.
Strawberry defeats Cranberry: did you know in linguistics, there's a term "cranberry morpheme" to describe parts of words that can no longer be productively combined, like cran-? Well, that's not the reason for its loss here. While I was unable to find exact sales data, it's generally agreed upon that Strawberry is the flavor to beat. Meanwhile, I couldn't find Cranberry on sale in stores for months, and suspect it's mainly stocked in the fall and winter only.
Lime defeats Peach: Peach only made it in over other flavors like Orange because a) it's the theme of this post, and b) apparently a popular choice for alcoholic gelatin. But I don't care for peaches or alcohol.
Raspberry defeats Berry Blue: there's a picture of both a strawberry and a blueberry on boxes of "Berry Blue", but the internet agrees - it just tastes of sugar. Which isn't a bad thing, per se, but it's strange that a flavor that clearly exists just for its appearance isn't...Blue Raspberry. Raspberry (another cranberry morpheme!) actually tastes like something, and red flavors are always popular.
Cherry defeats Black Cherry: purestmaiden and I are big Black Cherry fans, but at the end of day, Cherry has it beat. Black Cherry has a few strikes against it; it's not a 'red flavor' (more purplish), it's harder to find, and Cherry is still strong in the taste department.
Lime beats Strawberry: an upset, to be sure. But while there's many red flavors, there's only Lime. (Fun fact: Strawberry is the least red of the red flavors in my tests - good if you want a lighter warm toned red, otherwise stick to the others.) Not to mention, I don't even like limes and I like Lime flavor.
Cherry beats Raspberry: if you're going to pick a red, it's Cherry Red.
You'll notice I haven't picked a winner, cuz we're all winners here- no that's not why. But it doesn't mean much to pick Cherry (or any red flavor) over Lime, or vice versa. Why? Because these two flavors aren't just the most popular by themselves - they form, in my cursory market research, the most popular combination of flavors. If you spy a 'mosaic' gelatin dessert in your local grocery store's dessert case, chances are good the two colors suspended in a white creamy base are red and green. "Ah, but Kelp," you wonder aloud, "gelatina tricolor being red, white, and green isn't necessarily due to the flavors pairing well." A fair point, but I can also tell you that recipes for "Christmas ribbon" molds are much more popular than "patriotic molds". And we already know that Berry Blue is berry mediocre.
With that, concludes another long leg of my continuing jelly journey. For those of you that look forward to these posts, you may remember a promised series on retro cafes - it's still simmering on the back burner, but I hope to publish the first post sometime next month.Normally I half-jokingly apologize for butting in with another lengthy gelatin dessert post...but it's Fruit Frenzy. You should all have been expecting me.