To make fancy jellies for the party, we had to start with molds, and these were originally made by the English out of tin-lined copper. Molds were made in the shape of royalty, pets, and even famous locations in London, including the Belgrave, the Savoy, and the Carlton. By the late 1800s,, the Victorians had over a thousand mold designs to choose from. Here in the States, molds were made from steel, which was easy to bend and less expensive than copper. However, steel tended to rust over time and was a poor heat conductor-not a good thing when trying to produce a chilled dessert. These molds also tended to be simpler and plainer in design, mostly oval and round (the ubiquitous melon mold comes to mind), since odd shapes and projections were difficult to manufacture.
You can make these jellies with modern, powdered gelatin but we also tried making our own calf’s foot gelatin by, you guessed it, boiling calves’ feet. It turned out to be fairly easy to do and produced a firm, almost clear jelly which we then used as a base for various jelly desserts.
We found that the strength of calf’s foot gelatin varied with each batch that we made, probably because the age of each calf was different. So we had to devise a formula for testing its strength and so we came up with three separate concentrations:
• 25% gelatin concentration (1 ounce gelatin, 3 ounces syrup)
• 50% gelatin (2 ounces gelatin, 2 ounces syrup)
• 75% gelatin (3 ounces gelatin, 1 ounce syrup)
Once combined, chill them until set. Then unmold each of them and let them sit at room temp for about 30 minutes. Choose the concentration that sets up properly while providing the best texture in the mouth without being rubbery.
LEMON JELLY MADE WITH CALVES FOOT GELATIN
This is the real deal although, by the late 19th century, few cooks were using the old method of making homemade gelatin -- powdered gelatins were readily available. Beware that different feet provide different strengths of gelatin, probably based on age. (More than you needed to know, I am sure.) In any case, it is worth testing the strength of your homemade gelatin before going ahead and using the recipe below.
3 cups calf’s foot jelly (see recipe above)
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1. In a medium saucepan, melt the calf;’s foot jelly over low heat until it is liquid. Remove from heat. In a separate saucepan, combine the lemon juice, water and sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted. Combine the lemon syrup and the melted gelatin and pass the mixture through a jelly bag until clear or until no sieved material remains in the bag.
2. Divide the gelatin into separate bowls and color as desired. (See above for natural colors.) Pour into chilled jelly mold. Let each layer set completely before adding the next.
SPATLESE JELLY WITH BLACK CORINTH GRAPES
The next recipe was a Riesling or late-harvest wine with grapes suspended in the jelly -- and it was made with water, gelatin, lemon juice, riesling, sugar, and red grapes. We decided that small champagne grapes would present better and that a sweeter, more interesting wine -- a Spatlese for example -- would provide more flavor, especially if we reduced the amount of water and increased the wine. We were also a bit stumped as to how an unmolded jelly ought to be served. We tried slicing down through the middle and then cutting in from the sides but this caused the entire structure to collapse. Next time we tried slicing down about 2 inches and then in from the side to get manageable portions. The next test was the final round; by tipping the mold as we added the grapes, we were able to create a spiral pattern with the fruit which made for a much better presentation. We also increased the wine and decreased the water which punched up the flavor.
The ideal mold for this recipe is a six-inch tall metal Victorian–style jelly mold with a capacity of approximately 6 cups. As long as the interior surface of the mold is free of tarnish and other possible contaminants, there is no need to coat the mold with oil. It may take a series of attempts to remove the jelly from the mold. Depending on the temperature of the water, the thickness of the mold, and the firmness of the jelly, the mold may need to be dipped for longer than five seconds. Placing the jelly on a wet plate makes it easier to center it once it is unmolded. For our dinner party, we substituted cubes of port jelly (see recipe below) for the grapes since the latter were unavailable in early November.
3 ounces lemon juice, passed through fine sieve
6 ounces cold water
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
4 1/3 cups Spatlese (37 ounces), room temperature
4 ounces water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Black Corinth grapes
1. Combine lemon juice with 6 ounces cold water in a wide, shallow bowl. Sprinkle powdered gelatin over the surface of the liquid. (If gelatin “sits” on top, stir it in to avoid lumps.) Set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine 8 ounces Spatlese, 4 ounces water, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium flame, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot and sugar is melted. Remove from the heat.
3. Add softened gelatin mixture to the hot sugar mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved. Add 2 cups of Spatlese to the warm gelatin mixture, stirring constantly. Pour in remaining Spatlese and stir. It is important to add the liquid cautiously so that the gelatin is evenly distributed. Failure to do so may result in the formation of hard gelatin strands. Pass through a wet jelly bag until mixture is clear. Two passes through the jelly bag is usually sufficient, since the wine is transparent to begin with; you are sieving out stray bits of lemon pulp and any undissolved gelatin.
4. Pour jelly into a stainless steel bowl and place in the freezer. Stir every 10 minutes until gelatin has thickened to the consistency of raw egg whites, about 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in grapes and pour into 6 cup jelly mold. Cover with cling film and chill at least 12 hours before unmolding.
5. TO UNMOLD: Select a container that is at least 2 inches taller than your mold and fill it with hot water. Carefully dip jelly mold into the water all the way to upper edge and hold it there for about 5 seconds. Working quickly, remove the mold from the water to a towel. Dry the sides of the mold and – using wet fingers – gently pull the jelly away from the sides of the mold. Invert mold onto a chilled, wet plate and lift mold from jelly. (It may take a series of attempts to remove jelly from mold. Depending on temperature of the water, thickness of the mold, and firmness of the jelly, mold may need to be dipped for longer than five seconds. Placing jelly on a wet plate makes it easier to center it once it is unmolded.)
For the dinner party, we used this port jelly in place of the grapes since the latter were out of season in early November. You can also use this recipe to make a port jelly mold to serve as is. This would have been a very Victorian-style jelly.
1 ounce lemon juice
12 ounces ruby port
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
1. In small bowl, combine lemon juice and 2 ounces of port. Sprinkle gelatin over surface of liquid and set aside for 5 minutes to soften.
2. In small saucepan, combine sugar and 4 ounces of port and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot. Remove from heat.
3. Stir softened gelatin into warm port mixture until gelatin is dissolved. Pass mixture through jelly bag or fine sieve. Stir in remaining port. Pour jelly mixture into metal loaf pan. Chill overnight until firmly set. (Pour jelly into a decorative mold if you are not using the port jelly in the Spatlese recipe above.)
4. To unmold jelly, set pan in hot water for 6 to 8 seconds. Working quickly, dry off pan and invert onto cutting board. This may take a few attempts.
5. TO USE PORT JELLY INSTEAD OF GRAPES IN PRECEDING RECIPE: Cut jelly into 4 rectangles. Work with one rectangle at a time, holding others in fridge so they remain firm. Cut rectangle into ¼” strips. Cut each strip into ¼” cubes. Place cut cubes on parchment and hold in fridge until ready to use.
RHUBARB JELLY WITH STRAWBERRY BAVARIAN FILLING
The ideal mold is a metal Victorian-style mold with a capacity of 4 cups, taller than it is wide. A raised motif on top adds visual interest. No need to coat mold with oil. For this jelly, an inner mold is also required. Ideally, this mold will have a shape that is similar to the outer mold and a size that leaves about ¾” on all sides to form the jelly “walls,” about 2 cups.
For the Rhubarb Syrup:
5 stalks rhubarb (deep red), cut into 1/4–inch pieces
1 ½ cups sugar
3 cups water
For The Jelly
2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
2 teaspoons heavy cream
For The Strawberry Bavarian
2 cups diced strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
3 teaspoons gelatin
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
1. For The Rhubarb Sryup: In a medium saucepan add first three ingredients and simmer over low heat, stirring gently occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Strain through fine mesh strainer.
2. Transfer syrup to wet jelly bag or fine mesh sieve and allow to drain. Resist the urge to squeeze the bag to release more juice as this will make the juice cloudy.
3. For The Jelly: Pour 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of rhubarb syrup into a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin on top and set aside for 10 minutes. Place another ½ cup of rhubarb syrup in medium saucepan and warm over medium heat until syrup is hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin, stirring gently until dissolved. Slowly pour in 1 cup cold rhubarb syrup, stirring constantly. Pour contents of the saucepan into the remainder of the syrup, stirring constantly. (This tempering process prevents hard strands of gelatin from forming.) Pass liquid through jelly bag.
4. Pour 2 ounces of jelly into small bowl and stir in heavy cream. This opaque pink jelly will be used to highlight a raised motif on top of mold. Simply fill in the raised space with this white jelly (this is most easily accomplished with a medicine dropper), and chill until set. Cover motif with thin layer of cooled clear jelly (about ¼ inch), allow to set, then add another thin clear layer and allow to set before proceeding. After these two thin layers are set, pour in enough jelly to make a one-inch base and chill until firmly set.
3. Gently place the inner mold into the outer mold. Leaving equal space on all sides. If needed, place two pieces of masking tape crosswise over inner mold to hold it in place. Pour about 1 inch of ice water into inner mold. Pour 1 inch of jelly into space between inner and outer mold. Chill until set. Pour 2 inches of ice water into inner mold and 2 inches of jelly into space between inner and outer mold and chill until set. Repeat this process until the top of jelly wall is ¾” away from top edge of mold and jelly is firmly set.
4. For The Strawberry Bavarian: While jelly is setting, make Bavarian. Toss strawberries with sugar and lemon juice and set aside to macerate for 30 minutes. Purée berries and pass through sieve. Place 3 tablespoons of cold water in small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Allow to soften for 10 minutes. In small saucepan, warm ¼ cup of strawberry puree over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin until dissolved. Add remaining puree, stirring constantly until combined. Transfer mixture to bowl and place in refrigerator until mixture begins to jell and thicken, about 30 minutes. Fold in whipped cream and hold at room temperature until ready to use. (It is important to make Bavarian just before it is needed so that it will still be soft when it goes into mold.)
5. To remove inner mold, work quickly and pour ice water out of inner mold. Fill inner mold with warm water and gently remove it, lifting carefully. Fill the cavity with Bavarian mixture and chill until set. Pour a thin layer of jelly over Bavarian and chill until set. Top up mold with jelly and chill until firm.
6. Invert to serve, using the method described above for the Spatlese Jelly.