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What’s that Thomas Edison quote about how he never actually failed at inventing something, he just found 10,000 ways of how not to make it? This was my life for the past month, but with Gushers. The tasty, chewy, forbidden-in-my-youth fruit snack that “gushes” with sweet juice when bitten into.
Throughout the process, I asked myself time and time again whose idiotic idea it was to make these things, as it became clear that a homemade, vaguely accessible Food52 Small Batch-worthy Gusher would not be invented on my watch. I don’t know—I was on a high after my Funfetti experiments and I felt like I could conquer the world of 90s colorful sweets.
And yet here I am with 300 ways of how not to make a Gusher; in their place I have one semi-homemade, time-sensitive hack that is probably better fit for Deranged Crafts, and a load of despair.
So if you came here for a homemade Gusher recipe, there is kind of one at the end—with like 5,000 disclaimers. If you came here to read about kitchen experiments, and you also didn’t totally mind the non-closure at the end of Serial, you’re going to have a similar sensation here (on a much smaller scale). Maybe this will even spark your own experiments, and then you can be the one who brings a homemade Gusher into this world. Just give me a year to recover from all of this before you tell me about it.
Alright, here’s what I was thinking when I told Food52 that I was going to make Gushers: syringes. Syringes paired with all of the pretty, homemade gummy recipes that I’d seen floating around Pinterest. Just make a ball of gummy, inject it with juice, patch up the syringe hole with a bit more gummy mixture, and voilà!
This didn’t even make it to the testing phase because in some states, without a prescription (or illegal drug dealer connection?), getting syringes is kind of difficult. I also couldn’t quite conceptualize making a gummy ball with a hollow center that would be a space for the filling.
The first test that made it into my kitchen was inspired by Xiao Long Bao: Chinese dumplings that are filled with soup. How do you get the soup into a dumpling wrapper? You mix soup with gelatin to make soup Jell-O, fill the dumplings with cubes of the Jell-O, and then when the dumplings are steamed, the Jell-O melts into liquid. "Great!" I thought. Let’s take the temperature down a bit, freeze a Gusher filling, stick a cube of it into a homemade gummy (a mixture of gelatin, fruit juice, and sweetener), and then let it all sit at room temperature until the cube melts.
I purchased the tiniest ice cube molds I could find and froze grape juice, along with grape juice reduced by half to form a syrup and jam. None of them really wanted to come out of the ice cube tray. I did manage to get a few good chunks out of there, but with such high sugar content, the nuggets melted quickly and were a bitch to deal with. In the end, it didn’t matter, because my methods of getting the little cubes into the gummies all failed:
- Pour a thin layer of gummy mixture into the bottom of a large ice cube tray, let it firm up, place a small cube of filling on top of it, and then fill the rest of the tray up with more gummy mixture—similar to how you would make a peanut butter cup. Why this didn’t work: Once the first layer of gummy firmed up, it would not stick to the second layer of gummy. The innards oozed out, and everything fell apart.
- Fill an ice cube tray almost to the top with gummy mixture, let it set slightly, and then use tweezers to place a juice cube in the center. Let it firm up completely. Why this didn’t work: The cube either dropped straight to the bottom, exposing its bum on the underside of the Gusher, or, if I waited long enough to avoid total sinkage, the gummy mixture became too firm, and placing a cube in the middle of it left a hole in the top.
- One by one, dip the cubes into the gummy mixture, as if they’re chocolate truffles. Let the cubes get a nice, even coating of gelatin, and then repeat. Why this didn’t work: The gelatin layers were way too thin, they stuck to everything, they peeled off way too easily. I didn’t want to put you through that.
After these attempts, I gave up on the Xiao Long Bao method because the tiny cubes were just too sensitive and fussy.
So, I pulled out my piping bag and jam: Jam is easier to deal with; a piping bag is easier to deal with:
- I tried the second Xiao Long Bao test again but instead of placing cubes in the slightly firm gummy mixture, I injected the center of the gummies with jam, thinking that a little squiggle of jam would be more likely to float than sink. Why this almost worked, but didn't: A few of these kind of worked, but ultimately, they had to be nixed because of the too-small window of time in which I could safely inject a gummy without leaving a hole. Carefully injecting a whole batch did not seem like a reasonable thing to do.
- I made Gushers bars. This was similar to the first Xiao Long Bao method, but I thought that by exposing a bottom layer of gummy to more surface area of the top layer of gummy, there would be a better chance of them sticking to each other. So I poured a thin layer of gummy into a loaf pan, and right when it was firm enough, I piped out dollops of jam about an inch from each other and then poured down another layer of gummy. Once firm, I cut around the dollops of jam and had little pillows of gummy candy that were filled with squirts of jam. Why this almost worked, but didn't: It kind of worked! The problem was that they didn’t gush. Yes, there was a liquid inside of a solid, and those two textures were definitely present, but the inside of a Gusher should squirt out in your mouth—it shouldn’t just lay flaccid until you chew it up.
Okay. So I tested each of these methods a bunch of times before I was faced with a giant, crying elephant in the room: It occurred to me that throughout all of this testing, I had not consumed one homemade Gusher. Nor had my husband, nor had my trusty assistant Kristin who stood by me through all of this. Yes, we put these in our mouths to test them, their Gusherability, their chewiness, their flavor. But after they gushed or didn’t gush, they all got spit out because they were gross nuggets of gelatin. Not one variation on the theme of homemade gummies tasted good or tasted like a Gusher shell, and I was too hung up on the process of getting the filling inside of it to realize this.
I returned to the Xiao Long Bao: If my innards could be XLB-inspired, could my "outers" be as well? How about a dumpling wrapper? A homemade caramelized sugar dumpling wrapper? A licorice dumpling with a fruity, sweet center. Yes, let's test that!
- I made a batch of homemade licorice. I poured it out onto a large pan so that I would have a large, thin sheet of hot licorice, and then once it was cool enough to handle, I used a biscuit cutter to cut out circles. Then I wrapped the circles around frozen cubes of juice like a dumpling and let them sit until the juice melted. And guess what?! They gushed like Old Faithful, and eating each one was an exciting burst of near-success. I was so happy. And they tasted good! Really good. The problem: By the time I had made about four or five, the licorice had gotten too firm to handle. It was a messy process, and even if I had worked fast enough to use up all of the licorice, I probably would have only ended up with 18 little Gushers, max. Not worth the long licorice-making process.
What was worse was that when I turned my back to start writing down my notes, all of the uneaten Gushers melted and bled out. The juice had dissolved.
So, I needed to find two solutions: a less fussy, easier-to-handle outer shell, and a thicker, sturdier innard.
(I’d like to note that this entire time, a miniature Wylie Dufresne sat on my shoulder whispering “molecular gastronomy.” I imagined little caviar balls of juice and foreign, hard-to-pronounce substances opening up worlds of possibility, but in the spirit of keeping this recipe for home cooks, I told mini Wylie to shut it.)
I returned to the jam and my piping bag and went out to buy saltwater taffy. When I returned home, I rolled the taffy out into a wrapper, which I then rolled jam into. Within minutes, I had a pile of perfectly blobby Gushers. Semi-homemade, artificially flavored, gushy Gushers that last about an hour and are really quite weird when you think about it. Because they’re just saltwater taffy and jam.
But my deadline was near; I was exhausted of ideas, and so, so sick of putting things in my mouth and hoping they would gush.
So friends, I am sorry to let you down, but consider this a head start on your future Gusher inventions. Godspeed.
- Roll out a piece of taffy into a circle.
- Place a blob of jam in the center.
- Pinch the taffy shut and roll it into a ball.
See the full recipe (and save and print it) nowhere.
Photos by Molly Yeh