Coffee Jelly (parfaits and other stuff).
If you’ve ever looked at my Instagram feed, or you know anything about how I got started as a professional food stylist, you may already be aware of how into jellied foods I am.
Full disclosure: as much as I love Jell-O/gelatin/jellies, I don’t always want to eat every jelled food, or to jell stuff just for it's own sake. Thing is, just like everything else in this world, not all gelatin laced foods are created equal. And no, I am not looking at you savory jellies – I’m super into aspic. I'm just saying crazy gelatinous mouthfeel isn't right for everything, no matter how much I like to get down with it visually.
Anyway, point is, here on the blog I’m starting this gelatin journey with you, Dear Readers, off right. Today, we’re going to take a look at what I think is jelly dessert-ing at its finest. For me coffee jelly parfaits are some of the best that jell-o type sweet stuff has to offer.
A brief summary of why coffee jelly is so awesome:
- It’s easy to make (fast too).
- It’s coffee flavored.
- It features whipped cream.
- It’s complex in flavor and texture, but also really light.
- It’s a versatile recipe that’s easy to play with.
- It’s pretty and dramatic.
- It’s simultaneously old timey and modern.
- Jelly can be made way ahead of time because it lasts forever in the fridge.
- In case you didn’t get it the first time: It has coffee and whipped cream.
So, let’s just get on with it, because as long as you’re not totally grossed out by jell-o type foods, or coffee, I guarantee you’ll like this dessert. I’m not going to comment on what if you don’t like whipped cream, because that’s not a human trait. At least not one I can comprehend.
COFFEE JELLY (4 ways)
Advance warning: due to the seemingly technical nature of making Jell-O, I'm giving you a lot of instructions. Don't worry, it's actually super easy, even if it seems like a lot of text.
- 2 cups brewed coffee
- 1 1/2 Tbs powdered unflavored gelatin - I use Knox or grass fed/organic Great Lakes brand.
- 1/4 cup sugar or sweeten to taste with sweetener of your choice - I like honey
- 3 Tbs water
- Toasted hazelnuts for filling/garnish
- Heavy whipping cream or Cool Whip
- Sugar or sweetener of your choice for whipped cream
Decide how you are going to serve your coffee jelly. You may need to double this recipe. How many this serves depends wholly on what you're filling. You can figure out how much coffee jelly mixture you'll need by putting water in your receptacle of choice and measuring it. This is how much you'll need, and you should just multiply the recipe as required.
- Brew the coffee in whatever way suits you. If you have extra, you can drink it. :)
- Bloom the gelatin. Pour 3 tbs of water into a small bowl with a relatively wide diameter. You need surface area, not depth, but the water should meet the sides of the bowl. I use an old Fire King custard cup - you might have a similar Pyrex one. Lightly sprinkle the gelatin onto the surface of the water, taking care to spread it out evenly. Try not to have thick spots. In about 5 minutes (or less), your gelatin will be a semi-solid translucent goo. This is what you want. If you have heavy opaque spots, try dribbling a little water on top and wait another minute.
- Sweeten your coffee to taste. Do not feel the need to use sugar, or the amount I indicated. Err on the side of less sweet - you can adjust this in the next step. Or leave it unsweetened and sweeten your whipped cream. This is a personal thing.
- Transfer the coffee to a saucepan, and add the gelatin to your sweetened coffee mixture. Dissolve the gelatin completely into the sweetened coffee, add gentle heat if necessary. If you prefer, you can pour a cup or so of coffee into a small saucepan, add the gelatin and dissolve it, and then combine it with the rest of your brewed coffee in an appropriately sized Pyrex glass cup measurer. As long as the remainder of the brewed coffee (without gelatin) is not ice cold, this will work. This is the method I use because it's less cumbersome. Adjust the overall taste at this point if needed. More sweetener will dissolve easily now when it is still warm.
- Prepare your mold, and carefully fill it. Skim off any foam and place your coffee jelly cups/mold/pan in the refrigerator and chill approximately 4 hours. See tips down below for lots of info on how to mold each style seen in the photos.
- Add the hazelnuts as filling. Once the jelly is firm, sprinkle as much of the toasted hazelnuts onto the jelly as appeals to you. Just be sure to divide what you have evenly, and to reserve some for your garnish.
- Whip the cream. Somewhere between a tsp and a tbs of sugar is enough to make it sweet, if that's how you like it. If you plan on piping defined rosettes, whip cream a bit more firmly. You can also say screw it and just use Cool Whip because it is legit good.
- Top your jelly with whipped cream. Use a piping bag if you like. Optionally, spoon it into your cups/onto your mold. If your parfait glasses are narrow, it will be much easier if you use a piping bag.
- Garnish with reserved hazelnuts. And add a maraschino cherry if you're feeling it.
I made this recipe 4 ways – seen in the pictures here. For Thanksgiving this year I made the parfaits in tall skinny glasses. They were heavy on the whipped cream (YEAH!), but also light and lovely. Honestly, I was stoked to have a way lighter option to pie. Also pictured are: molded in a cute little jelly mold, set in small juice glasses in an angled style (hello, fancy!), and cut up into cubes (look carefully... the biggest parfait has cubed jelly). I topped all of them with whipped cream, because, WHIPPED CREAM. But you could also use sweetened condensed or evaporated milk, or even just straight heavy cream. Every one of these options is delicious, and all of them offer variations in subtle differences of mouthfeel, vis a vis the ratio of jelly to cream. You can’t really go wrong with any of them, and really it’s mostly an aesthetic difference first, and a textural difference second. TRY THEM ALL! (Sorry, I can get a bit emphatic about J-E-L-L-O).
You can do all sorts for the garnishing/topping/layers. I used toasted hazelnuts here, which add a nice grown-up bitter, nutty flavor, and of course, I included a maraschino cherry, because, HELLO. But you can use just about any kind of toasted nut, crumbled cookies, chocolate or butterscotch chips, chunks of cake or brownies, fresh or dried fruit, jam, or nothing at all. It doesn't have to be all soignée, it just has to taste good with coffee.
Another thing I should mention here is that all of the different ways I did this have variations in technique, in terms of how you get the jello to mold. One of these days I will do a full on Jell-O tutorial, but for now here is a list of stuff to know:
- OLD SCHOOL MOLDS: For any jelly you plan to de-mold, it's important that you first spray the mold with a light coat of spray oil. I will repeat: LIGHTLY. Heavy spray will make beads of oil which will leave impressions in your jelly surface once it's firm, and who wants that? Once the jelly is firmly set, gently trace along the edge of the mold with a small sharp knife before you attempt de-molding. VERY gently pull the jelly away from the edges of the mold. Place a plate on top of the base of the mold - this means the open end where you can see the jelly - and quickly flip over the whole kit holding the plate and mold together tightly all the while. The molded jelly should release, and plop right onto the plate. A very lightly moistening on the center of the plate with a little water beforehand will allow you to scoot it around the platter without damaging it after it's de-molded. If the jelly doesn't come out on the first try, don't force it. Instead, quickly dip the mold into a bath of warm water. DO NOT submerge. Try de-molding it onto the plate again. If you're extra nervous about this try using a glass plate the first time - because it's transparent, you can see everything you're doing!
- ANGLED SET. For the angled set jellies you can either balance your glasses in muffin tins, or do what I did, pour some rice in a ramekin or small bowl, and nest the glasses in there at the desired angle. First nestle, then pour liquid Jell-O gently into the glass. Use something spouted, like a Pyrex measuring cup.
- PARFAITS. For the straight-up-parfaits just line them up and pour carefully trying to pour to the same level in each.
- JELLY CUBES. For the squares you'll need a small baking dish. I used an 1/8 sheet pan. It's not necessary to spray with oil first, but I'm superstitious, so I do anyway. Once the jelly is firm do your best to make straight cuts, moving the knife very slowly so as not to tear the Jell-O. Line a ruler up with the edge of the pan if you like. Don't worry, once your squares are out they go all wiggly so you wont see your boo-boos. Afterwards, quickly dip the bottom of the pan in a slightly larger pan with warm water in it. DO NOT submerge. It should be very easy to carefully release the jelly squares with a spatula.
- KEEP IT NEAT. I put my not-yet-set jellies on a small aluminum sheet pan to make them less terrifying to carry over to the refrigerator when the mold is full of liquid. A cake pan, casserole, or cookie sheet would work too. If your refrigerator shelf is crooked you can stack toothpicks under whichever side of the pan needs it to adjust the angle of the tray so your jelly will set straight. Can you tell I'm OCD?
- SECOND CHANCES. In general, gelatin set foods can tear easily unless you make them very firm. If you screw up and tear up your jelly, or destroy it while de-molding, just capture the whole mess, rewarm it to a full melt, and start over. I've done this MANY TIMES. Also, jellies last a LONG time in the fridge.
- MOUTH FEEL. If you like your jelly firm, just add more powdered gelatin than my recipe calls for - the more you add the firmer it gets.
Once you get the hang of it jelly dishes are really quite flexible and easy. Don't be afraid to experiment!
PS. There will be more jelly parfaits, COUNT ON IT.