Amanda & Merrill

Black Tea Jelly

March  2, 2010

- 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.

Shop the Story

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.

Order now

A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jeanabaena
  • katswan
  • Linda Rosso
    Linda Rosso
  • Denise
  • Veronica
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


jeanabaena November 26, 2010
my taiwanese friend made something like this for thanksgiving dessert last night. her mother had sent her some powdered packets direct from the home island. it was so good i had to find a recipe this morning so i could recreate it! thanks!
katswan March 7, 2010
Sounds luscious and lovely, can't wait to give this a try! Perhaps a Thai Tea version too, so many variations on this wonderful idea! My mother used to make an "avocado kanten" (vegetarian jelly), which always made me swoon with it's creamy deliciousness, I probably never would have thought of it again without your post...thanks for the memories!
Merrill S. March 7, 2010
That sounds amazing. Hope you'll consider posting the recipe!
Linda R. March 7, 2010
I love most of all that you are using your mom's ceramic molds. I wrote a short, emotional blog post about hand-me-downs in the kitchen:
Merrill S. March 7, 2010
Love your post!
Denise March 7, 2010
Very interesting recipe, "barely sweet" is just my style. This photograph is so beautiful--the lighting and the glistening of the jelly is truly magnificent. Bravo all around.
Merrill S. March 7, 2010
Sarah's photography skills are sheer genius.
Veronica March 3, 2010
Oh yum and, thank you! Have so missed "jellies" and needed your reminder. The Tea Jelly sounds ab-fab and we all need to get back to Sherry-Jelly, Coffee-Jelly, and, with a well deserved nod to the South, a good-ole Bourbon Jelly. Keep them wobbly and don't forget the cream!
EmilyNunn March 3, 2010
Hi, I sure do wish M and A recipes had a "Save this Recipe" button.
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
So do we (it's on the list). I know it's only temporary solace, but we should have this up in the recipe database before too long.
The O. March 3, 2010
Sounds very Asian inspired. Since black tea is usually caffeinated (and I get hyper easily), I think I will opt for a decaf version for a night time treat. Can't wait to try it! Thanks!
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
You're welcome!
The O. March 3, 2010
Actually, I could totally see this as a take off on a Boba Tea drink with milk and tea in jello form. Maybe a Thai iced tea jello with sweetened condensed milk with a little bit of coconut sprinkled on top?
Sugartoast March 3, 2010
This looks like a lake of delight!
You've probably already seen this, but check out this blog for other gelatin delights:
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
My favorite part is Edie the Hamster in her apron.
Savour March 3, 2010
When my kiddos preschool teacher asked me to bring in red jello, I probably horrified her by bringing in a pan full of stuff made from Organic cranberry juice and Knox gelatin. I love making my own jello (gelee? jelly?) and have been meaning to try the wine one from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts. This looks fantastic too.
drbabs March 3, 2010
As someone who was practically forced to eat jello as a child, I salute you, Savour.
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
As do I.
theicp March 3, 2010
Absolutely. Love. This. What a great idea!
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
Thank you!
Teri March 3, 2010
The Japanese love gelatin. I was at a cooking class last year in Tokyo using champagne, gelatin and fresh peach. She served it out of small jelly jars. Good for dessert, brunch or palette cleanser.
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
What a great idea.
shayma March 2, 2010
heavy cream? i say, bring out the clotted cream, forget the scones! love this. tannic and sweet and all wobbly. mmm mmm mmm.
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
LucyLean March 2, 2010
As a Brit you gotta love jelly and ice cream - a staple at every birthday party growning up. The grown-up version with fizz and fruits never fails to impress at a dinner party and you don't need a fancy mold - a regular loaf tin works just as well. Panna cotta is basically fancy jelly made with cream and milk.
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
Ah, panna cotta...but that's a whole other post.
EmilyNunn March 2, 2010
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
Aliwaks March 2, 2010
Very cool, I love the flavors of tea, I also love the idea of paring this with sweet milky ice cream and maybe a lemon cookie??? Could this work using honey as a sweetener? Am thinking about small chamomile tea jellies.

I made a sauternes gelatin with green figs and champagne grapes as the centerpiece for 1960's Mad Men style cocktail party, it was the perfect shade of 1960's ochre sat on a stand lording over rumaki, "french onion dip', swedish meatballs, and a cheese ball, all lavishly decorated with tomato roses and curly parsley. Sadly I have no pictures.

It was pretty good too.
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
Did you see Julia Moskin's piece in the Times about the woman who makes treats out of gelatin and sweetened condensed milk? A similar creamy, milky, jell-o combo. And I think honey would work well. I almost tried it myself but wanted to keep it really simple flavor-wise.
Aliwaks March 6, 2010

Just got around to reading it. Sweetened condensed milk reminds me of India, I was there as a small girl and every morning for breakfast we had thick hand cut toast (toasted on basically a franklin stove) brushed with ghee and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and tea laden with the same. It was delicious. There was something in the combination of the char on the toast and thick sweet milk that was heavenly.
mrslarkin March 2, 2010
Jello for grown-ups! (minus the booze.) Thanks, Merrill! I also enjoy savory meat-based gelatin, as weird as that might sound. Grossed out my husband when I scarfed up the jelly from the pork belly I made. Sorry. It was really good! Maybe I shouldn't have shared this little tidbit...
lastnightsdinner March 2, 2010
My husband and I fight over the goo in the bottom of our duck confit container. (Yes, we have a dedicated container for storing duck confit. What?)
Merrill S. March 3, 2010
My mother is a die-hard aspic fan. We grew up with a lot of savory jellies as well...
testkitchenette March 2, 2010
Bravo Merrill for coming up with a unique jelly mold! I used to pore over my mom's 2 old Craig Claiborne NYT cookbooks in the 80's and 90's often making exotic Eastern European entrees and labor intensive desserts! I never made a jelly mold because I was traumatized by my grandmother's orange jello mold (which showed up at every family gathering and was the only thing she made that was not fabulous). I am looking forward to making this one and maybe trying one with espresso and spiked with some vodka.
Merrill S. March 2, 2010
Espresso and vodka sounds like a very promising combo. Let me know how it goes!
Lizthechef March 2, 2010
Sometime when you aren't busy - hah - could you post a photo of some of those molds? I still kick myself for passing up a chance to buy a collection at an estate sale, especially the fish one for my salmon mousse...
Merrill S. March 2, 2010
I will definitely try to do that sometime.
drbabs March 2, 2010
This brings back a couple of memories: My grandmother used to make jelly molds, too, only they were real Jello molds, complete with buried fruit and some sort of gelatinized cream cheese fruit combo in the top. (Tupperware actually sold special molds for this.) I absolutely hated this and would refuse to eat it. And thought I hated all things gelatin. Until one day someone made me coffee jelly--- has to be a similar recipe, although I haven't been able to find it, and it was served in a champagne flute with whipped cream spooned on top. Amazing! I'm looking forward to making this--maybe I'll try Earl Grey (my favorite).
Merrill S. March 2, 2010
I've seen recipes using coffee and almost included that as a variation. I think this would be fantastic with Earl Grey.
thirschfeld March 2, 2010
Funny that you should post this after lots have been talking gelatin and stock. I saw Jamie Oliver do one of these with Moscato D'Asti and fruit which made me want to make one with champagne and strawberries. A far cry from the celery, apple lime green jell-o salads of the midwest.
Merrill S. March 2, 2010
Oh, yum! Those both sound delish. If you make the champagne jelly, please post the recipe!