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Black Tea Jelly

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- Merrill

While Amanda and I were researching and testing old New York Times recipes for her upcoming cookbook, we came across a lot of 19th century recipes for jellies, gelatin molds and blanc-manges (according to my mother, pronounced “blaw-mawnge”). Both suckers for “nursery food,” we agreed that it’s kind of sad that these wobbly, comforting -- and often beautiful -- desserts have passed out of fashion in this country. The British, who pretty much invented the gelatin mold, still embrace them (the Times printed a recipe by Nigella Lawson for a Gin and Tonic Gelatin Mold in 2002), but these days Americans seem to prefer their jellies straight from a brightly colored box with the word Kraft emblazoned on it.

In the eighties, my mother often made a gelatin mold flavored with sherry, which she served at dinner parties with just a drizzle of heavy cream. But she hasn’t made a lot of dessert molds over the past decade, and recently she bequeathed me her wonderful collection of ceramic molds, collected over the course of several decades, each with its own wire harness for hanging and display purposes. A few weeks ago, I just happened to be thinking about all those great homemade jellies as I sipped a cup of my favorite tea, and it occurred to me that a tea-flavored jelly could be a wonderful, light end to a meal – or even part of a composed dessert, perhaps with a rich, milky ice cream and a crisp cookie of some kind.

I went home and experimented, using one of my mother’s beautiful antique molds, and came up with this almost embarrassingly simple recipe. It is indeed light -- really almost a palate cleanser -- and just barely sweet. If you like more sweetness, feel free to add more sugar; if you’re after an even more delicate tea flavor, use less tea and more water, or just steep the tea for less time. This recipe yours to play with. The only thing I don’t recommend adjusting is the proportion of gelatin to liquid.

Black Tea Jelly Mold

Makes enough for a small dinner party

  • 2 cups of your favorite black tea (I use Taylor’s of Harrogate Scottish Breakfast), strongly brewed and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 packets (1/2 an ounce) powdered gelatin
  • 1/4 cup sugar

1. Brush a 4-cup mold or bowl lightly with vegetable oil.

2. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the tea and let it soften for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put a kettle on to boil. When the water boils, measure out 1½ cups and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Add the tea and gelatin and stir until the gelatin dissolves, about a minute.

3. Carefully pour the liquid into the mold and refrigerate for several hours, until set. To unmold the tea jelly, set it in a bowl of very hot water for about 30 seconds, place a serving plate over the top, hold your breath, and flip. If you don’t hear a squelching noise, followed by a plop, jiggle the mold a little. Once it's safely on the plate, decorate the edges of the gelatin mold with berries or whatever else you’d like, parade it into the dining room and serve with heavy cream or vanilla ice cream on the side.

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