As our excitement for baking bread fizzles and we search for another delicious hobby to take its place, it’s time to reconsider a once-outdated art form. With 75,000 #JellyCake posts and counting on Instagram, kitchen creatives everywhere have taken the vintage trend of Jell-O mold creations and turned them into something more suited to our current times—colorful, photogenic creations that we could watch jiggle on loop forever.
While the popularity of jelly cakes has waxed and waned over the decades in America, it’s only grown in Asia, where Lexie Park, founder of Los Angeles bakery Eat Nünchi, first came to know them. There she says the jelly is both vegan and usually tastier than what we get Stateside, thanks to the fact that it uses agar-agar (red algae) instead of gelatin. Personally, she relies on seasonal ingredients, like edible flowers and perfectly ripe peaches, to make her cakes not just beautiful but delicious, too.
Making a jelly cake that looks great does come down to the tools you have at your disposal. Using a decorative mold is the easiest way to get beautiful results, even if you don’t have a very delicate touch. Shopping for them is also half the fun of the whole process, according to Caroline Tremlett, @adventuresinjelly, who spent years collecting molds before actually putting them to use. Most of what she’s found comes from antiques stores—her favorite being Appleby Antiques on Portobello Road in London. And while the antique copper molds she’s partial to aren’t exactly cheap, she admits there are plenty of suitable, less expensive alternatives online. “A really good starting point would be to find some vintage Swan brand aluminum molds on Ebay, which are not expensive and give great results,” she says.
Jena Derman, a New York City–based pastry chef, usually prefers to skip molds because she can make do with any shallow baking sheet as long as she has her jelly syringes at the ready. Rather than going for height, she takes the beauty inward by injecting a base of clear jelly with an array of different colored fruit purees to create lifelike flowers. “Once my base is set, I generally plan out a geometric pattern for the flower layout, which allows me to space them evenly before getting into the more emotional process of building the flowers themselves,” she explains.
When Tremlett first started making jelly, she relied on recipes from Jelly With Bompas and Parr to light her way, but as she’s become more experienced, she’s found that a recipe isn’t necessary for jelly cake success. A few rules and a lot of patience are all it takes. Use these expert tips to try out the trend for yourself.
Use a Simple Ratio to Make Your Own Recipe
Tremlett says that you can turn almost any liquid into jelly with the right ratio of gelatin (substitute the same amount of agar-agar if you want to keep it vegan). “The general rule is one packet of gelatin for 100 milliliters of liquid,” says Tremlett. “And I often add an extra packet as I unmold jellies, which need a slightly stronger set.”
Save the Jelly You Don’t Eat to Reuse Later
Tremlett also reuses her jelly over and over by simply reheating it in a bowl over a pot of boiling water. When it’s returned to its liquid state, it’s ready to use again.
When in Doubt, Put It Back in the Fridge
Park warns that there’s a lot of waiting involved with jelly making and you’ll probably fail before you succeed. “Jelly is super-temperamental, so try out recipes, and if they fail, try again!” she says. If you have any doubt about whether or not your jelly cake is ready to unmold, stick it back in the fridge until it seems firmer, says Derman. We know you want to look, but it will be so much more satisfying if it doesn’t fall apart.
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