Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Who's Laughing Now?

I am. At myself. Because I made a Jell-O dessert. Technically, it was not a brand name Jell-O® dessert; it was a gelatin dessert.

I have always made fun of Jell-O desserts (or salads). They always seemed so, so ridiculous. So, wobbly. Aunt Gladys made something called "fluffy duff" that I think had Jell-O in it (as well as minature marshmallows) and my mom made an instant Jell-O, which she gussied up with a can of Del Monte Fruit Cocktail. When we were sick she would make us red or green instant Jell-O (or a "sick egg"–which is a story for another time). Once, I designed a logo for a client and they unveiled the logo to their customers at a luncheon by serving Jell-O with the logo embedded in it -- can't remember what they made the logo shape out of. As you can tell, I just don't have all that many great memories of Jell-O.

Until now. I recently was on a re-reading-Laurie-Colwin-kick and she had a chapter in More Home Cooking entitled: Desserts That Quiver. In the essay, Ms. Colwin talks about making Honeycomb Mould: a three-layered dessert worthy of dinner-party status. She uses a recipe by Jane Grigson, a British cookbook writer, who describes the lemony gelatin dessert this way:

"The dessert will have a cap of clear lemon jelly, then a thick band of opague cream jelly shading off a honeycombed spongy base which makes a slight crinkling noise as it's eaten." Yes, it does crinkle a bit. It is fresh. And summery. And lemony. And delicious.

I was planning to add a bit of whipped cream or maybe some of the last stawberries of the season, but instead I served it without garnish. It was lovely. And very grown up.

I made it in one of my mother's copper moulds. She has a dozen or so, that still hang in the kitchen at my parents' house. I can't decide if I want more of them, or if the one I have is sufficient. I guess I have to decide if this Jell-O thing in a passing fancy or my go-to dessert for years to come.


Lemon Honeycomb Mould
Lightly adapted from Jane Grigson and Laurie Colwin.

3 large eggs, separated
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3 teaspoons plain unflavoured gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 cup milk (at least 2% fat)

In a 2-quart heavy saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon zest, gelatin, sugar and cream. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and warm gently. Meanwhile, warm the milk in the microwave or in another saucepan until it is hot but not boiling. Whisk into the egg yolk mixture.

Cook the egg yolk and milk mixture for 5 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat, whisking frequently. Heat the custard until it reaches a temperature between 170° and 180°F — don't let it boil or go over 185°F! The custard should coat the back of a spoon.  When it reaches this point, set it aside for 5 minutes to cool. Stir in the lemon juice.

Using a stand mixer or hand beaters, beat the egg whites until they hld stiff peaks. When they make stiff peaks that stand straight up, slowly pour the hot custard into the bowl and fold everything together with a large spatula. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes.

Divide the mixture among 8 small glasses or wineglasses, or pour it into a medium-sized bowl (spray it lightly first with cooking spray). Cover the dishes and refrigerate for at least 2 hours for small glasses, and overnight for a full bowl. Top with a touch of whipped cream.

To unmould the large mould, run a thin knife around the edge, dip the mould quickly into hot water and invert it onto a plate. Serves 8.

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