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Challenge: Ideas for modernizing molded gelatin salads

Why oh why you ask?

Why bring back that nightmare of the 50’s scarier than zombies and Godzilla? The jiggly, gelatinous horrors with hot dog / pretzel combos and worse. Maybe it is just me, but I’m giggling a bit at the olive Jell-o recipe from the Jell-o museum

Bring it back because …

1.They CAN be pretty
2. Summer is coming and they can be cooling
3. They can be good for a diet
4. They can be economical and a good way to use up bits of things
5. Hasn’t everything else been retro-ed? It is time.

This week’s Chow Digest mention from the General topics board got me thinking about molded salads and maybe they could be good enough to eat … even enjoy

The Mystery of the Molded Salad...

First of all … put down that box of Jell-o and step away.

You can make your own nutritious gelatin using fruit juice and Knox gelatin

Searching around the web, I didn’t find much but a few looked good. This article is about updating the molded salad with recipes for a Bellini salad, three pepper salad, citrus avocado ring, and tea and ginger salad with raspberries.

In addition to some really good tips for working with molded salads, it does indicate a trend to updated molded salads ... though that was in 2004 ... so maybe not

"Of course, today's gelatin salads aren't carbon copies of our grandmoms', just as today's retro cocktails have their own contemporary signatures.

Instead of big centerpiece molds, individual molded salads – especially served in striking cocktail glasses or wine glasses – impart a more sophisticated note.

Wine, champagne and liquors add an adult element, and there's an ever-growing variety of juice drinks, flavored teas and fruit-flavored sparkling waters to spark the imaginations of creative cooks. "

I’ve also discovered aspics … which seemed icky to me … can be tasty … and the molds can be so pretty. I bought some Jambon Persille (Ham in Parsley Aspic) because it was so beautiful … and I trusted the French shop … and it was looks 10, taste 10.

This blog has a lovely photo of Oeuf en Gelée

The blogger writes “I am well aware that this may not seem like such a compelling idea, and may even put off more than one aspic-shy eater. I myself turned my nose up at these … But that was before I actually tasted them … you get to cut through the whole thing with your fork, rupturing the yolk and forming a golden puddle that just begs to be dabbed with a piece of fresh baguette. And then, as you eat your way through the egg, each bite reveals clean and fresh flavors, the glistening smoothness of the aspic responding marvellously well to the rich velvet of the yolk”

Aspics seem complicated. However, here’s something that sounds tasty andy easy

Slow-Baked Pears, Sauternes Aspic

My own molded salad contribution would be for Fourth of July using white grape juice and champagne for a clear mold with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and maybe a few slices of star fruit … and maybe a few sprinkles of edible gold for sparkle.

So how about some ideas for giving the molded salad a makeover so they taste as good as they look.

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  1. This isn't exactly what you are talking about, but check out with these girls are up to with gelatin:


    Pretty impressive stuff.

    1. Depending on how long a molded salad may be on display before it's eaten, or whether it is a large dish to go on a buffet, I may switch from gelatin to agar agar. The GREAT advantage of agar agar is that it will set at room temperature (well, the warmer the room the longer it will take, but still, if your refrigerator is jammed full?) and it stays stable, once gelled, at room temperature. If you use the sheet kind, it may come in colors (red or white) but I also use the powdered kind. It is flavorless, and made from sea vegetables (I think kelp, but don't remember for sure). There is a gorgeous Japanese dessert type dish in which large whole strawberries are pressed into an unset lemon flavored meringue and agar agar foam. allowed to set, then sliced into rectagles with disected strawberries showing all around the rectangles. Sort of reminds me of a napoleon without the calories. It is delicious, and kids adore it! Traditionally, it's gelled in a large rectangular container such as a pyrex baking dish, then cut, but it could also be molded and the "snow" would hide the berries or other treats until the diner digs in. Oh, and agar agar is sometimes called kanten. They're the same thing.

      I also do an Easter molded gelatin dish with hard boiled eggs that is drop dead gorgeous! Can be done in individual portions or in one large mold. First you hard boil eggs, then you crack the shells by smacking them with the back of a spoon, roll them between the palms of your hands to maximize the crazing, but DO NOT PEEL! Then you allow the eggs to sit in Easter egg dye (with vinegar in it to stabilize the colors so they won't bleed) for about five minutes. The less time, the less color on the inner egg, the more time, the more pronounced. Then peel the eggs. They have this wonderful color crazing in the egg white. Then place them in a mold and fill with gelatin and refrigerate. The crazing will show through with darker gelatins, but it is most pronounced when you use paler colored gelatins. To serve, unmold onto a bed of lettuce, whole leaf or chiffonade. I usually serve this as a starter and use very clear chicken broth gelatin or konbu with gelatin/agar agar added. Depending on how much time I want to devote, for a very elegant presentation I use individual molds. First a thin layer of the clear savory gelatin in the bottom of the molds is set in the refrigerator until solid; then the egg is added, on its side and centered, with more of the same gelatin added until it comes a bit more than halway up the side and returned to the fridge to set. Then a chiffonade of greens or par-cooked white cabbage is arranged around the egg to simulate a nest and filled with gelatin (this gelatin can be the same or a darker more straw colored gelatin of the same or different flavor) and returned to the refrigerator to set the final time before unmolding. It really is quite pretty! Makes me wish Easter came oftener than once a year. And of course, it can be done with soft cooked eggs too, which adults often prefer, but kids not so much. I do like the soft cooked eggs best, then serve with toast points or individual mini-baguettes or bread sticks for dipping. Only problem is making the rest of the meal live up to this standard. It's exciting!

      I have some really complicated Mexican molds made of tin that have all sorts of sharp angles and peaks to them that make gorgeous jello molds, but with metal molds, it is best to spray them with a light film of absolutely tasteless cooking oil, or even a fine coat of butter, but that's impossible on my angular Mexican molds. MUST be sprayed! These particular molds have multiple "steeples" all over the tops that are deep enough I can use different colored gelatins in each one, or layer the colors as whimsy dictates. But it's a lot of bother and I don't do it all that often. Never more than twice a decade! '-) Besides, who needs a gallon of Jell-O?

      As a personal preference, I don't much like the fifties Jell-O salads that incorporate cottage cheese. Don't like the look, don't like the taste, but to each his own. But when an opaque gelatin is required, sour cream and/or mayonnaise can work.

      The old (very old!) trick of making Jell-O or an aspic in a thin layer, such as in the bottom of a very large glass baking dish or in an impecably clean jelly roll pan, then when it is set firm, dragging a fork through it in cross-hatch directions to break it up into small "jewels," then using those around a molded gelatin or as a bed for a cold bird or ham for a buffet is another very pretty way to use gelatins and aspics.

      Glad gelatin is getting a foot back in the door..! Thanks RWO! Except I guess I won't be the only kid on the block any more. '-)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Caroline1

        very cool idea i'll use for deviled eggs, too! """First you hard boil eggs, then you crack the shells by smacking them with the back of a spoon, roll them between the palms of your hands to maximize the crazing, but DO NOT PEEL! Then you allow the eggs to sit in Easter egg dye.... Then peel the eggs. They have this wonderful color crazing in the egg white.""""

        thanks, caroline.

      2. A friend of mine loves Dr. Pepper jello. Get any rain down there?

        1. A couple weeks ago I saw an article by Russ Parsons in the LA Times about Deborah Madison's new seasonal dessert book. He included a couple recipes from the book. In one, gelatin cubes were made with sparkling or sweet wine. The cubes were served with fruit.

          In another one, gelatin was used with buttermilk and light cream to make a molded dessert, also served with fruit. (Swedish cream.) I have a feeling that more of the recipes from the book use gelatin and will be checking that out.

          The article with links to the two recipes is here: http://www.latimes.com/features/food/...

          1 Reply
          1. re: karykat

            others on another thread mentioned the jello with cream poured over it. my grandparents did this. wasn't bad! i like the idea of gelatin made with sparkling wine.

          2. I am not sure, but I think starfruit/carambola may be one of the fruits that, raw, prevents felating from setting (like pineapple, melon, kiwi). Unless you find info to the contrary, I would experiment first, or just garnish the set jello with carambola right before serving.

            I haven't looked at the links but my first thought was water chestnuts, jicama, cucumbers, radishes, and pickles, especially if pickle brine can be turned into jello. Lotus root has a lot of eye appeal - not sure if it can be eaten raw but thin slices lining a clear gelatin mold would be gorgeous. Pickled ginger, too - comes in pink and other colors.

            I confess ot liking the orange jello with canned pineapple and grated carrot, though I don't see it as a salad course - more like a snack or dessert.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              cut-out radishes with the little canape cutters -- nice for inside jello or as garnish. http://www.jbprince.com/canape-cutter...

              1. re: greygarious

                Yeah, I was thinking about the star fruit after I posted. Actually I was thinking the 4th of July fruit mold would look just like this only with a red, white, blue color theme

                Somehow they got kiwi to work.

              2. Agar agar ... A Vitamix blender and a lot of juice will completely reinvent the horrible atrocities of Gelatinized savory or sweet concoctions of years past.

                Agar doesn't melt until just 185 so it can even be served warm.

                All you need is a gram scale...try whole # ratios

                Total weight x 1, 2, 3% ect until you find your perfect mouthfeel

                Agar works unlike gelatin bc you need to hydrate and temper it: IT'S SO EASY

                Take 1/8 of your liquid and add agar to that liquid. Heat til just bubbling (200 or so) then incorporate the rest of liquid and bring entire batch up to 200 ...strain through a fine cone cylinder most times called a chinos ....and place in fridge to set!

                *If you would like to make a fluid gel you just take your gel and put in a blender (called sheering) for 30secs to a minute. Perfect for making decorations or napoleons

                and place in fridge to set!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Miniheston

                  Don't want to recreate the bad stuff, want to invent tasty new stuff.

                2. I haven't made it yet, but I've been thinking of a gazpacho or maybe pico de gallo jello done by making juices to flavor the gelatin and then layering. Maybe bits of herbs or v. thinly sliced vegetables between the layers. I think tomato juice on the bottom, cucumber with flecks of parsley and a vinaigrette layer with minced red onion. Funny to read your post, because this has been rattling around in my brain lately.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: corneygirl

                    There are quite a few recipes for gazpacho molds, but I didn't look at how close they were to yours. Just took a quick look at a few Bloody Mary molds

                    1. re: corneygirl

                      i think a "gazpacho mold" would be terrific!

                    2. Somewhere I saw a beautiful recipe for a two-layer molded appetizer made in shot glasses. One layer was molded avocado (very creamy) and one layer molded spiced tomato juice or puree. Can't remember where I saw it. It was very good and pretty.

                      The gazpatcho idea reminded me of it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: karykat

                        That is a bit of what I'm thinking. Wouldn't something like that be a great amuse at some fancy resturant. They could gussie it up and go creative

                      2. How is a panna cotta different from a molded gelatin ring? But, it seems more updated because it's taken out of the ring mold. Or, chinese almond jello, too. Individual servings, in nice containers, make all the difference. Since serving spoons are so popular, you could easily serve bite sized ones (of panna cotta, almond jello or regular jello) w/ a nice drizzle and it would be an updated ring mold, when you come down to it. I'd like a panna cotta over a clear blueberry/strawberry gelatin for the Fourth of July.

                        At the same time, how is a meat terrine different from an aspic different from a meat/savory gelatin mold other than utensil used for molding?

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: chowser

                          It probably is just the mold. An aspic just refers to the jelly. In that same sense, a sweet molded salad is really no more than gelatin in a fancy container.

                          Mexico is doing some really creative things with jelatin desserts. When you look at this photo keep in mind that those are NOT real flowers. Thos are flowers made from gelatin. These are not even the most elaborate designs

                          Here are a few more

                          I haven't had really elaborate ones, but a place near my old home in California that closed, had a few and they were not only pretty, but tasty. I have had some elsewhere ... not so much.

                          Here's something about the technique.The fourth picture down is very pretty.

                          I still haven't found the link for the mind-blowing amazing flower gelatinas.

                          The Chinese do similar gelatin cakes but I haven't yet found one with the details of some of the Mexican top of the line gelatin cakes.

                          Some inspiration with recipes in Spanish. The Chinese also do that thing with orange slices

                          From a Portuguese site, I like the concept of this, but if using apples, I wouldn't use orange gelatin. Maybe something with calvados ... or cider ... or anything but orange

                          1. re: rworange

                            I want to break this out in its own post as this Strawberries and champagne mold is absolutely stunning and looks simple to make. Yes, it is in Spanish, but scroll down to the photo and recipe and if you can't figure it out use an online translator like babelfish

                            1. re: rworange

                              These are beautiful. I'm loving this idea of clear gelatin showcasing flowers or berries, or anything colorful.

                              1. re: chowser

                                oooh, flowers are a *great* idea, chowser!

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Check out some of those links rworange posted. Amazing and creative. I've been looking at the uses of gelatin. Look at the gelatin butterflies in the first shot, not updated ring molds but what a great use of gelatin.


                                  There's also prosecco gelatin that sounds like an updated panna cotta:


                                  Recipe #19, with grapes:


                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Yeah, that prosecco and marscapone looks good.

                                    Found an online ebook on how to make the flower gelatin cakes. The instructions you have to pay for, but there are some nice photos of what you can do. I think doing this type of thing, the flavoring would also be a big considerations so they taste as good as they look. Keep in mind that none of these are real flowers. They are made out of gelatin


                                    I'm guessing the place with the stunning cakes went out of business as I just can't find them on the web.

                                    Seriously ... can't you see the latest trendy restaurant doing an ironic retro takeoff on this dessert... Jello three ways ... maybe chambord gelatin with raspberries .. pinapple gelatin with rum, key lime gelatin with Kettle One lime vodka ... the shooter goes artsy and upscale.

                                    I'm not entirely clear about where the gelatin comes in here with this mint and raspberry thingy. I can see this being served even at a joint like French Laundry. Babblefish has its limitations and translating from Italian was not good ... something about lies and boiling a fairy.

                                    Not exactly a molded salad ... maybe the molded salad deconstructed? However, it sure is pretty and only 70 calories

                                    This sjte does a nice take on the whole apple encased gelatin using a pear. Maybe Zuni Cafe in SF should think about this for their Frog Hollow nectarines ... a sort of SF joke ... they once charged quite a bit for a plain nectarine. Second photo, scroll down. The fruit becomes the salad mold

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      Such amazing photos!

                                      Sally Schneider's "A New Way to Cook" has a recipe for Real "Jell-O" that calls for fruit juice; gelatin; and sugar. I can paraphrase if you wish.

                                      There are tons of recipes for gelees on epicurious right now; a few of which made it into Gourmet Today (current COTM). Are gelees related to molded salads at all?



                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        I've got the fruit juice gelatin down pat. Some link in this thread has it.

                                        2 cups of juice
                                        1 packet of Knox

                                        Boil one cup of juice

                                        In a heat proof dish put the other cup of juice and sprinkle with gelatin. Add hot liquid and chill

                                        Which is pretty much the top level view. Don't need juice. Almost any liquid can be used. .

                                        I rarely use sugar as fruit juice is usually sweet enough. If I do need it, I taste right after the hot liquid is added and add sugar to taste.

                                        Well, I've got myself hooked on this now ... though gelatinas always fascinated me. I want to buy the geletina bible

                                        They have some interesting flavor combinations
                                        - Jamaica with chile
                                        - Coffee with orange liquor
                                        - Eggnog with booze (Rompope)
                                        - Cottage cheese with mango and honey (not big on dairy in jello but sounds good)
                                        - Chocolate and mint (not sure about that though)
                                        - Cactus with pineapple
                                        - Sangria (that could be really fun and refreshing)

                                        It seems to have hundreds more ideas.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          Many beautiful ideas here.

                                          After all the research and experimentation you've done, YOU will be able to write the next gelatin bible!

                                    2. re: chowser

                                      love the grapes terrine. i see many neat variations, e.g, cranberries at christmastime.

                                      this buttermilk panna cotta looked good from that link, too. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recip...

                                  2. re: chowser

                                    Depending on the flower size and shape, I wonder if it's difficult to pour the gelatin in (or stick the flowers in the gelatin?) without smushing the petals the wrong way.

                            2. As long as we're broadening the topic beyond molded gelatins, there is a very very very old culinary technique called "glace," not to b e confused with any sort of frozen or cold dessert concoction, in which whole (deboned) poultry or ham are chilled, then masqued with a chaud froide sauce, which is then chilled to set. It is then decorated artistically with cut, trimmed, shaped cooked vegetables or vegetable peels of appropriated color to form a design or a "picture." Small dribbles of gelatin, agar agar, or jellied stock are then put around the design parts and the whole thing is returned to the refrigerator to set. This step is critical to keep the design/picture from sliding off when you masque for the big finish. So once that's done, then masque again with the clear gelatin/agar agar/ jellied stock (should be in a cool but not set liquid form) and spoon over the whole thing, refrigerated to set again, and this final step can be done several times to build up enough thickness for a smoothe finished dish. Near serving time, the bottom raggedy gelatin edges are trimmed away, the ham/bird is transferred to an (elegant) serving platter, then small "jewels" of chilled gelatin or well set jellied stock (think consomme a la Mardrilene) is spooned around the base of the dish before presentation.

                              I have prepared fowl and hams this way for parties with a buffet table, and guests go crazy over it! There is also a traditional method for decorating a gallantine of chicken in this way, using diamond shapes of softened eggplant skin in a harlequin pattern that is quite impressive. In fact, I t hink it's called "Chicken Harlequin," but it's a while since I entertained in that way. Texas is NOT California! Or at least the California I once lived in.

                              I think these are fun ways to use gelatin. Most often, the hams are boned, presliced, the ham is reformed, sometimes using truffled pate foie gras as the "cement," then decorated and glazed as above.

                              Wanna know a secret? Remember the old saying about "people eat with their eyes first?" Well, it's true. The fancier the food on a buffet, the less people eat. Well, this was true thirty years ago, but I don't entertain on that scale any more. I might be surprised today if everything disappeared like a stream of vacuum cleaners just passed through. '-)

                              It IS a lot of work, but if you don't go for the foie gras and truffles, it's not expensive. There must be photos of what I'm talking about somewhere on the web, but I'm too lazy to play the Google game t his morning.

                              Gelatin rules!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Thanksgiving dinner 1968 The Stockholm Restaurant, NYC. A vast portion of the dishes on the cold buffet were done with dramatic, complex patterns, and shimmering with a tasty aspic. That was a peak experience. And you're right. We were full before we knew it!

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  Here's a pretty photo of a ham

                                  When I first moved to San Francisco it was at the end of the era of Continental cuisine and Alice Waters had just started her restaurant. For Christmas we went to the buffet at the Crown Room at the Fairmont hotel.

                                  I had never seen so many aspics and glaceed food in my life. For me, savory gelatins things always were off-putting, though I don't know why. There is a Polish dish that I love , gelled pigs feet. Unfortunately, the few aspics I tried at the Fairmont didn't help because they didn't taste like much ... looks 10, taste 0. It took me years to get over it. I wish they had been good because I might have tried more at other places.

                                  I remember recipes from my mom's time that were similar to the ham above. Very pretty.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    That ham pic is outta this world (although I could use fewer daisies).

                                    It's archetypal glacee; "petals" made from cream-colored aspic or vegetables, chive "stems," all floating in a lovely crystal-clear, shiny "cloud."

                                    Stuff like this is why I pursued the French repertoire first in my career.

                                2. i got this recipe from my aunt 40+ years ago. good enough to eat or shoot straight into your arteries.

                                  1 small package lemon jello dissolved in 1 cup boiling water. chill until the mixture just starts to thicken. DO NOT let it set all the way.

                                  with hand mixer, mix in 8 ounces room temp cream cheese..

                                  fold in 1 cup heavy cream, whipped, 1 small can crushed pineapple, drained, 1 cup chopped pecans, 1 cup fresh raspberries.

                                  put in a mold and chill for several hours, or overnight.

                                  1. Oeufs en gelee, garnished with caviar, are just divine. Indeed the bread served therewith is all-important.

                                    Using Chinese-style (all white meat, just scallion/ginger) stock is interesting if the stock's strong enough. A bit of gelatine helps with baby bok choy, bean sprouts, dou miau (snow pea flowers and tops) and maybe thin slices of winter bamboo shoots that've been blanched (best in the stock) and chilled. Make a sauce for this jello mold from hoisen sauce, mushroom soy, white vinegar, honey and dark sesame oil. Bind it with mayonnaise. In summer garnish the plate with fresh tomatoes. Enjoy!

                                    1. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Jell-O, I see that they make many more flavors of jello and pudding than I see in the supermarket but they don't seem to sell online. Some flavors I used ot enjoy have been discontinued, and I prefer to use Splenda when I can, so I need to start making my own.

                                      This has inspired me to try some colorless gelatins once berries are in peak season. I imagine they can be made with clear flavored seltzers or fruit waters, lemon-lime soda, or water flavored with vanilla, almond, or other extracts.

                                      I'm thinking peppermint extract to flavor water, with mint leaves suspended in the mold, would be a great palate-cleanser.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        The peppermint I've done; with sugar, a little lemon rind, and some Bourbon. Use lots and lots of gelatine to bind it. Whiz in blender and you can see the mint floating in the cubes of gelatine. Cubes should be cut very, very fine so as to imitate caviar.

                                      2. This thread sent me looking at molds on eBay. FWIW, if anyone is seriously into this, or wants to split them among fellow Hounds, there is a listing for a group of eleven copper molds, apparently full size - for things like aspics (fish shapes, etc). for a total of only $25: http://cgi.ebay.com/11-Beautiful-Copp...

                                        1. I just read about a class a local nursery (and more) is offering on gelatins and aspics. I wonder if it's an up and coming thing.


                                          Jellies, Creams and Aspics
                                          1-3pm. Turn to jelly with us. In the past, gelatin-based foods were the crowning glories of the table. View spectacular images of decoratively molded jellies, creams and aspics that served as Victorian centerpieces. Taste a variety of gelatins - savory and sweet - and learn how to prepare and present your own as artistic appetizers or desserts. $27

                                          1. I heard about this on Splendid Table today. Sounds totally awesome! She's called "The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn"


                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: jackiecat

                                              Some interesting ideas on that blog.

                                              I like the idea of the avocado, but I'd top it with something savory such as salsa fresca or shrimp or smoked salmon ... maybe bacon.

                                              The rhubarb raspberry gelatin salad looks good, but I'd skip the cucmbers.

                                              Why more people haven't used peaches in terms of presentation like this peaches and cream with Peach Schnapps salad, I don't know

                                              Other interesting ideas:: Applejack gelatin salad, pumpkin jello, coffee kahlua, strawberry shortcake with real cake.

                                              For sheer trash appeal, I'm liking the lime green gelatin with vodka and green maraschino cherries

                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                  It's also possible to use a flat, wide dish with vertical sides, put a shallow layer of gelatin in the bottom to set, refrigerate, then do a fruit and/or veggie and/or shrimp "salad composee", cover with gelatin and chill to set. Unmold and garnish. If you want to get a little more complex, you can build up several layers that are suspended one above the other. The first shallow layer in the bottom ends up on top when unmolded, and keeps things from looking like stuff is either filled with helium or the dish is upside down. Works great as a first course or dessert. "Chiffon" gelatin with whipped cream or mayonnaise whipped into it to make it opaque can also be an interesting bottom (when unmolded) layer.

                                                  You know, if this discussion keeps up, I'm going to have to invest in a gelatin refrigerator so I have room to do all this stuff! '-)