- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bright, jiggly and playful, flavored gelatin has long been a crowd-pleaser, but it can also be full of sugar and artificial coloring and have little nutritionalvalue. How to make it healthy? Take a tip from top toques.

Gelatin, or in French-chef lingo “gelee,” has been showing up frequently on the foodie circuit as pastry chefs upscale it with fruit and other flavors. Yet these are not the molds of old.

At Cyrus Restaurant in California’s Sonoma County, pastry chef Annie Clemmons bids diners good night with a parting “Jell-O shot” made of foodie flavors like pomegranate, hibiscus with gold leaf, and Gewurztraminer.

In Washington, Frank Morales, executive chef of Zola, makes a grown-up “creamsicle” of mandarin orange and vanilla cream gelatin over a vanilla wafer with bitter chocolate sauce. In Las Vegas at the Restaurant in the Platinum Hotel and Spa, executive chef Brent Hammer conjures a “whipped honey cloud” dessert made of gelatin and honey.

“Jell-O is a great finale to a meal because you can do it in advance,” says Kate Neumann, pastry chef at MK, a restaurant in Chicago, where her gelatin uses fruit, yogurt and effervescent soda with suspended bubbles.

“Gelatin tends to dull the flavor of things. People use sugar to make it taste like something,” she says. Instead of sweetener, Miss Neumann picks ingredients with big flavor, such as very strong ginger ale or extremely ripe fruit.

Most gelatin sold in supermarkets comes in powder form and must be dissolved in water in a process known as “blooming.” It then is heated and melted, but not boiled, before it is left to set.

Normally sold in powdered form, gelatin is a protein derived by curing and processing animal bones and skins, but vegetarian versions may be made from plants and seaweed, such as agar powder, and are sold online and in health-food stores.

In the grocery store, look for nonflavored gelatins, such as the Knox brand, to experiment with the recipes here.

Chefs, who put awe on the plate for a living, often use gelee only as an accessory to a dessert, accompanying cakes or sorbets, for example. Home-cooking mortals can and should consider it a solo dessert or salad.

The best way to modernize gelatin is to ditch the gelatin molds of fish or fruit cornucopia and try alternative shapers. “Jell-O molds remind you of grandma’s awful Jell-O salad you grew up eating,” says Miss Neumann. “It’s a little more fun and modern to use things people wouldn’t expect.”

She suggests ice cube trays, popsicle molds or muffin tins for individual servings. Think of stacking the cubes in a parfait glass or plating an upside down gelatin muffin with some whipped cream for dessert. Presto: next generation Jell-O.

The following recipes are from Miss Neumann of MK restaurant in Chicago.

Ginger ale gelatin

The surface area of ice cube molds helps maintain soda carbonation while the gelatin sets. Use really spicy ginger ale such as Vernor’s or Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew.

21/4 cups cold ginger ale

2 1/4-ounce packages unflavored powdered gelatin

Nonstick canola oil cooking spray

Raspberries or pitted cherries

Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup of cold ginger ale. In a small saucepan, heat another ½ cup ginger ale, until just under a simmer. Whisk in gelatin mixture. Strain and cool to room temperature.

Lightly spray an ice cube mold with canola oil spray. Place a raspberry or cherry in each square. Whisk remaining ginger ale into gelatin mixture. Quickly, pour into molds and chill until set. To serve, stack the gelatin cubes in glasses like ice cubes. Makes 4 servings.

Melon in ice wine gelatin

4 1/4-ounce packages unflavored gelatin

4 cups cold ice wine or other sweet white dessert wine, divided (see note)

2 cups honeydew and cantaloupe balls

Add gelatin to 1 cup of cold ice wine. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup wine until just under a boil. Add gelatin mixture. Whisk in remaining wine. Strain. Pour gelatin into a trifle mold. Add the fruit. Chill until set. Unmold.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: Ice wine is a very sweet dessert wine. You can substitute Moscato, if the latter is set aside until it becomes flat.

Pink lemonade gelatin

Lemonade, followed by a layer of pink-colored lemonade, creates colorful layers in the glass.

2 1/4-ounce packages unflavored gelatin

21/4 cups lemonade

1/4 cup cherry, pomegranate or cranberry juice

Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup lemonade. Heat another 1½ cup lemonade in a small saucepan. Add gelatin mixture to heated lemonade and whisk until gelatin dissolves. Add remaining lemonade. Strain. Fill 4 6-ounce juice glasses just under half full. Chill for about 15 minutes, or until it begins to thicken. Add the cherry, pomegranate or cranberry juice to remaining lemonade. Finish filling the glasses with pink-colored lemonade. Chill until set.

Makes 4 servings.

Orange and yogurt gelatin

4 1/4-ounce packages unflavored gelatin, divided

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup whole milk yogurt

Nonstick canola oil cooking spray

3 cups orange juice, divided

Fresh fruit for garnish

Have ready 1/4 cup cold water. Sprinkle a 1/4-ounce package of gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water. Heat cream and sugar until just under a simmer. Whisk in gelatin mixture. Whisk in yogurt.

Mist a 4-inch cake pan with canola oil and strain in gelatin. Chill until set. Add remaining 3 packages gelatin to ½ cup cold orange juice. Warm ½ cup orange juice until just under a boil. Whisk in gelatin-orange juice mixture. Add remaining orange juice. Strain. Unmold yogurt gelatin. Place in center of a 6-inch cake pan that has been misted with cooking spray. Pour orange juice gelatin over yogurt gelatin. Chill until set. Unmold and turn so the orange juice side is facing up. Garnish with fresh fruit. Slice to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

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