If the thought of Jell-O evokes images of an aisle in the supermarket or hospital cafeterias, Hello, Jell-O: 50+ Inventive Recipes for Gelatin Treats and Jiggly Sweets by Greenpointer Victoria Belanger is a super-stylish book of recipes that will make you question everything you know, at least when it comes to cool desserts that are shaped in molds and sometimes have fruit or marshmallows suspended in them.
Victoria Berlanger will be signing books and serving Jell-O Wednesday, June 13th, at 7pm, at Word Books, 126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn.
I asked Berlanger a few questions about what it took to put this collection of recipes together:
GP: What inspired you to write a book about Jell-O?
VB: The book was born of my blog, The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn. I started the blog three years ago at the height of the unemployed crisis when many of my friends and I were entertaining at each other’s homes to save money, rather than going out. I was in need of a creative outlet and an inexpensive hobby. I also wanted something fun to bring to backyard BBQ’s and get-togethers. The jello molds were unexpected but very well received and as I got better at it they became really popular, especially the boozy jello molds. From there I was inspired to create a blog which started receiving press attention and the book followed. I want to change Jell-O’s image as a kids’ food or a vessel for trashy spring break jello shots. The idea is that Jell-O can be made in sophisticated flavors and artistic presentations… and provide an alternative to the five dollar cupcake.
GP: Many of the recipes are quite involved — how did you learn to be so creative with Jell-O?
VB: I consider myself to be a foodie but was never much into cooking before I started working with Jell-O. I drew inspiration from cocktail recipes, popular dessert recipes, and food blogs and discovered I had a hidden talent for Jell-O molding. From there it was just trial and error to learn what works and what’s gross.
GP: How long did it take you to come up with 50 recipes? And are they all your own originals?
VB: The recipes are all my originals except for a couple, like the Rainbow Mold. I wanted to include that recipe because, with its ten alternating clear and opaque fruity layers, it is the crowning achievement of jello molds. Its also classic and beautiful.
I had 5 months to turn in a manuscript but I needed all my new recipes hammered out well before that so I could oversee the recipe testing process (I had to hire a professional pastry chef to recreate all recipes and verify they all worked) and the creative writing process (I hired my friend and very funny writer Raquel D’Apice to make the book an entertaining read as well as a quirky recipe book). This meant I had about two months brainstorm, test, and create about 45 new recipes, no easy feat considering I was back to working full-time during the day. Lucky this was during the winter so I didn’t feel too bad giving up my life to get all this done.
GP: What tools does a dessert novice need to get started using the techniques in your book?
VB: The beauty of Jell-O is that its not rocket science and you don’t need a chef’s kitchen to pull it off. Aside from some basic kitchen tools, like mixing bowls, measuring cups, and spare room in your fridge, the big thing is the actual molds. People often ask me where to buy gelatin molds and the best place to find them is on eBay. I also offer up some ideas for mold alternatives in my book, such as decorative Bundt cake pans, loaf pans, or candy molds.
GP: What’s the most important thing to get right when making Jell-O creations? What is the most common mistake people make when trying your recipes?
VB: The trickiest thing about making Jell-O is creating layers. To do this you want to refrigerate the first layer until its is almost set but not completely firm so the next layer will stick to it. If the first layer is too soft the layers will run together or, more commonly, if the first layer is too firm the layers will slide apart when the jello is unmolded. Luckily I have detailed descriptions and photos in the book to aid in this process.
GP: What has the feedback been about your book of recipes so far?
VB: Jell-O is not for everyone but those who have bought my book and taken the time to leave comments on my blog are loving it! I have definitely made some Jell-O converts. I’ve also had my book reviewed on The Kitchn and the Cooking Channel blog, and even had a recipe featured on Oprah.com. This has all been very exciting… I had no idea this many people would be loving jello.
GP: What’s next for you?
VB: I am making a series of original recipes for Devour, the Cooking Channel blog for the summer. I also want to create more summer cocktail inspired jello molds for the blog. Not sure if there will be another book but if there is maybe it will be all boozy jellos. Three years ago I never dreamt I’d be writing a jello mold recipe book but I did, so who knows what else the future holds.