When most people think about Jell-O, they think of childhood. If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, Jell-O was definitely on the table at a family gathering or, if your parents were hippies, the table at your neighbor's house. Finger Jell-O was a favorite of mine, as was my mor-mor's molded lime Jell-O salad studded with crushed pineapples and maraschino cherries. Soon however, like so many processed foods, Jell-O became déclassé. If anyone was going to bring back Jell-O, it was going to be a blogger from Brooklyn. And it was.
Victoria Belanger, aka The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, began bringing molded Jell-O desserts to dinner parties. They were an instant hit. As se recalls, "In a sea of cookies and pies, Jell-O molds get noticed at the dessert table. If you're adding alcohol, they will get noticed even more quickly." She also loves them because they are cheap and relatively idiot proof. Her blog was a hit, and now she has a cookbook, Hello, Jell-O!, with over 50 recipes for the jiggly creations.
The introduction of this compact book has troubleshooting tips for testing for doneness, unmolding your creation and finding jello molds (ed. note: "Jell-O" is the trademarked packaged food product, "jello" is the generic term.) But as promised, jello molds are pretty idiot proof, so the book dedicates most of its pages to recipes and photographs. The book is divided into chapters on suspended fruit jellos, creamy and dreamy molds, boozy molds, fruit and cream layered molds, vegan delights, Americana, and seasonal holiday molds.
The carrot cake mold looks delicious--shredded carrots suspended in the base layer, and cream cheese combined with gelatin and carrot juice in the top layer. The lime wedges filled with strawberry-flavored gelatin and topped with black sesame seeds to resemble watermelon wedges, are adorable. I tried out the pear and lychee "martinis," which unfortunately were as unattractive as they were unappetizing. Did no one else think chopped lychee fruit would look like chopped clams suspended in the pear juice gelatin? Perhaps it was the addition of tonic water that gave these an off taste.
I'm not giving up on this book though, the prospect of a rainbow layered jello mold, with alternating layers of fruit and cream gelatin, is too enticing. The creamsicle and grasshopper pie recipes sound just as good as the original desserts they are based on. Most recipes in Hello, Jell-O! use gelatin, not HFCS-filled and artificially flavored Jell-O. And isn't panna cotta just a fancy Italian word for Jell-O? I think it is.