Wibble wobble, wibble wobble, party on a platter — there’s nothing quite like jelly for making people grin, and nothing quite like it for maximizing summer fruit surpluses, especially when it’s already halfway to warm, sticky jam.
A jewel-like jelly, which must be prepared in advance and is as light as a feather to eat, is the ideal dessert for a summer event, especially since you will have nothing to do except serve it with a flourish and bask in the acclaim. Yet few of us are aware of how simple it is to avoid the cubes. I guarantee that nothing you create this year will bring you more joy.
Having tried a recipe from Rory O’Connell’s book Master It in which the fruit is suspended in a contrasting jelly (mint-flavored in his case; Sally Clarke has a version in 30 Ingredients in which they’re set in a mixture of their juice and apple juice), I decided that I prefer raspberry-flavored jelly.
However, I’ll also add some whole fruit before it sets to offer a seductive textural contrast, and there are various ways to accomplish this. In his cookbook Bryn’s Kitchen, chef Bryn Williams combines raspberries with sugar and water, places them over a pan of hot water, and allows them to sit for an hour until they have yielded most of their juice, resulting in a stunningly clear, intensely flavored syrup.
However, after eating the leftover fruit, I realized that it had more to offer. Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book employs a similar, but slightly more violent technique in that she heats the water throughout, noting that, by the end of the process, the fruit should have been reduced to an unappetizing “greyish-red debris,” which is more appealing to home cooks seeking to maximize their ingredients.
Elisabeth Ayrton, who bases her recipe in English Provincial Cooking on a Cheshire document from 1600, and Tom Kerridge, in his own Best Ever Dishes, purée the fruit, seeds and all, and then filter it.
Ayrton then boils the mixture with sugar, while Kerridge sets the mixture with gelatin. In his book The Good Table, Valentine Warner boils the whole fruit with sugar and then strains the combination, whereas Rosie Birkett smashes the fruit but does not strain it before consumption.
I’m captivated by the stunning transparency of Williams’ jelly — even the strained samples where the fruit has been pureed first are rather opaque – I believe due to the crushing of these seeds.
The key to success, at least for me, is extracting the most juice from the fruit while maintaining the jelly’s translucence, so I adopt a more interventionist approach to Williams’ method by mashing some of the raspberries and then continue heating them to extract more juice, as Grigson suggests. (If you don’t mind an opaque outcome, squeeze as much as possible through the muslin after step 4; I prefer to keep things transparent and consume the contents of the sieve instead.)
Ayrton’s recipe is the only one that calls for only raspberries and sugar; everyone else includes other flavorings. O’Connell’s spearmint could be added to the bowl of raspberries in step 1.
As Ayrton’s method demonstrates, a jelly created from raspberry juice alone is exceedingly potent – far too potent for anything other than extremely small doses, thus the liquid must be diluted. Birkett utilizes a combination of fruity white wine and pomegranate juice, which gives her version a beautiful violet hue, but Kerridge opts for pure sparkling wine, which gives his version a very mature flavor.
Both are great, but I find that the additional flavors detract from the raspberry flavor. Unless your fruit is extremely jammy and sweet, I don’t think you even need the lemon juice that many jelly recipes call for – but I suspect you can’t go wrong with O’Connell’s raspberry liqueur if you want your jelly to have a little kick.
As Birkett does in her cookbook A Lot on Her Plate, you can add a layer of white chocolate mousse on top of the raspberry jelly once it is firm enough, or if you have a slightly larger mold than this recipe calls for. It is visually stunning and tastes even better. (For a comparable effect with less work, serve the jelly with white chocolate ice cream.)
The coagulant and mold
With one exception, I exclusively attempt recipes including gelatine, primarily because I can’t locate alternatives; therefore, I’m curious to hear from vegetarians whether agar, which can suffer in acidic settings, is effective with fruit jellies.
(Ayrton depends on the fruit’s natural pectin rather than introducing a setting agent, although I believe the 17th century had a different understanding of the term “jelly” than we do, as the outcome is more like a fruit cheese. (Tasty with yogurt, however.)
However, jelly is definitely out of style in the twenty-first century; it is impossible to locate a 600ml mold that is not animal-shaped, which may or may not be desirable at your party. I used a rabbit, but if you don’t have one either, divide the mixture between four glasses, as Williams suggests, and serve as individual jellies, or place the mixture on a buttered cake pan or glass basin. (And, if you’re in the market, I’m reliably assured that charity shops are a fantastic source of second-hand jelly molds.)
Perfect raspberry jelly
Makes 600ml (serves 4)
Prep 10 min plus cooling and draining
Cook 1 hr
Set 3 hr+
100g icing sugar
1.1kg raspberries (1kg can be frozen but defrost before use)
Oil, to grease the mold (optional)
5 gelatine leaves
In a large heatproof dish, combine the sugar and 300ml of cold water. Add 1 kilogram of raspberries and stir until well combined; it’s okay if some are smashed.
Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water without touching the water, cover, and reduce the heat to its lowest setting.
Leave for one hour, ensuring that it does not dry out.
Remove the bowl from the pan and let it cool for a minimum of one hour.
Place a clean muslin or another thin material-lined sieve over a tall bowl, then pour the fruit and juices within. Allow draining for around one hour, stirring every so often and without forcing the fruit through.
You should have roughly 500 ml of juice remaining. If required, taste and add in a bit more sugar or lemon juice. If you have no intention of turning out the cake, there is no need to oil the 600ml mold.
To soften the gelatine leaves, place them in cold water. Once pliable, heat around 200ml of raspberry juice in a small saucepan and stir in the gelatine until it is dissolved.
Stir back into the remaining juice, then pour the mixture into the mold.
Add the remaining fruit, then allow it to set in the refrigerator for several hours. To turn out, briefly submerge the mold in hot, but not boiling, water, then invert onto a serving plate. Invert it and give it a firm tap to assist it in moving forward.
Jellies – simply for children, or a historic custom that deserves revival? What are your preferred flavors, and where do you find the molds?