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I was recently in a conversation where someone threw out the discussion starter, “For life, would you rather have a rewind or a pause button?” Argument ensued.
Some people wanted to be able to pause and treasure moments while others wanted a rewind and redo option for parts of their past. I was in the pause button camp. But as I think on it, there are certainly some moments I would love to rewind and do over based on what I know now, some more solemn, some frivolous. The most frivolous of these: college Jello shots.
When you’re young, reckless, and don’t know better, adding poor-quality vodka to suspiciously green Jello from a packet may seem like just the kind of bad idea you’re looking for to start the night. Based on these hazy memories, you go through life thinking that Jello shots are artificial, jiggly, and certainly not classy.
However, I have recently had cause to discover that booze in Jello form can indeed be classy, if still quite jiggly.
This winter, we partnered with a design shop to make the drinks for a holiday party they hosted for friends and collaborators. The party planning discussion began innocently enough: number of guests, type of food, cocktail pairings or punch… until the store manager mentioned the holiday advertising campaign they were about to roll out. They wanted to do something quirky and different, and what they had settled upon was creating a series of photographs that included merchandise from the store in monochrome “color stories” alongside molded Jellos, made in vintage Jello molds, placed randomly in the shots.
Instantaneously, I realized I wanted to make Jello molds, but make them with classic cocktails, gelatinized. Because, honestly, what could be classier and quirkier than a Bundt-shaped dry martini Jello.
The next step was to determine whether one could, in fact, turn a martini, or Negroni, or French 75, into Jello. After only a very little testing, I discovered that if you have enough packets of gelatin, you can turn practically any liquid into Jello.
The world is your gelatinized oyster, as long as you follow a few simple rules.
First, you need one packet of gelatin (1/4 ounce) for every cup of liquid (I used plain old Knox’s gelatin).
Second, your liquid needs to have at least some sugar or starch in it, and it can’t be too high in alcohol. I found that the liquid mixture I was gelatinizing could be up to about 30% alcohol by volume, which is approximately equal to one cup of a standard proof spirit (gin, vodka, rum, etc.) combined with one cup of non-alcoholic liquid. If making a cocktail Jello where juice is a large proportion of the full volume—a Greyhound (vodka with grapefruit juice) or a Monkey Gland (gin, and a dash of absinthe, with orange juice and grenadine), for example—then you’re pretty set. When I started mixing in vermouth, Campari, Champagne, etc., these were low enough alcohol themselves that they did not to need to be balanced by extra non-alcoholic liquid. But, in making a cocktail Jello from a cocktail that would normally be stirred—like a Negroni or martini—I did find it needed added water, 25% of the total volume, to help it to gelatinize and to create the balance of flavors that comes with proper dilution.
Next, you want to think about which portion of your liquid you are heating. Recipes for Jello usually call for boiling the liquid, but you don’t want to boil your alcohol if you can avoid it. One option is to sprinkle your gelatin over the alcohol portion of your recipe in a bowl to soften it, and bring the non-alcoholic liquids portion (fruit juice, or lemon juice and simple syrup, for example) to a boil, then stir this into the alcohol until the gelatin dissolves. Or, you can put everything in a pot, sprinkle the appropriate amount of gelatin over the liquid, let it stand for a couple minutes to soften, and then heat the pot of liquids gently without bringing it to a boil, stirring until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Once your liquids and gelatin are all combined, pour the mixture into a Jello mold and place in the refrigerator (you may need to put little shims under parts of your Jello mold to make sure the surface is flat) for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
To unmold, fill a sink or a basin with warm water, and dip the outside of the Jello mold into the water for about 5 seconds. Take it out of the water, place a cold platter (refrigerate it for 10 minutes) over it, flip it over, and if all goes well, the Jello will unmold itself right onto the platter. If it doesn’t, you probably just need to dip it in the warm water for a little longer. Basically, what you are doing is melting the very outermost layer of the Jello so that it slips out of the mold. (Some people recommend coating your mold with cooking spray before using, but I didn’t grease any of my molds, and they unmolded just fine.)
I made six different Jello cocktails, in different-shaped molds, for the holiday part: a fish-shaped martini, a shell-shaped French 75.
But my very favorite was the Negroni Jello. It was a beautifully translucent cherry red, and the look on a person’s face when they bit into a piece of red Jello and discovered it tasted perfectly like a Negroni was priceless.
- 2 cups London dry-style gin
- 2 cups Campari
- 2 cups sweet vermouth (my favorite is Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
- 2 cups water
- 8 packets (1/4-ounce each) powdered gelatin
What cocktail do you want to Jello-ify? Tell us in the comments!