3-Layer Jello Bars with Mango, Coconut, and Dragonfruit

updated May 1, 2019
summer
3-Layer Jello Bars with Mango, Coconut, and Dragonfruit

All-natural Jello bars made with three kinds of fruit.

Makesabout 24 squares

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Let’s have some fun with gelatin, you guys! I personally don’t think that Jell-O should be reserved just for the kiddos, and here’s why: You can set nearly any liquid into a gelled state with very little effort and serve layered juicy, fruity squares of flair for your next book club, cocktail hour, or even a dinner party. Your friends will be seriously impressed. And when they ask you which box of powdered Jell-O mix you used, you can smile and say, “I didn’t. I just used some fresh ingredients and gelatin.” Then prepare for the round of applause and all the tags on Instagram.

With this recipe you’ll learn to combine three of my favorite liquids for gelled refreshment — dragonfruit purée, coconut milk, and sweet mango juice — into a balanced bite of sweet, creamy, and tangy that’s juicier and fruitier than a strawberry Starburst. Here’s how to make a layered Jell-O dessert that is all grown-up.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

A Quick Guide to Turning (Almost) Any Liquid into Jello

Unflavored powdered gelatin can be found at most grocery stores just above the boxes of Jell-O, gelatin, and pudding. This powdered gelatin can be turned into jello with three easy steps.

  1. Bloom the gelatin. This is sometimes called rehydrating or hydrating the gelatin. Take 1/2 cup of the liquid you plan to set and whisk in the gelatin. Whisking ensures that each granule will get rehydrated.
  2. Dissolve the gelatin. Heat the liquid you plan to gel to a simmer and then remove it from the heat. Whisk in the bloomed gelatin to dissolve. Never boil gelatin, as high heat weakens the gelling power.
  3. Set the gelatin. Pour the gelatin into a mold or, as in the recipe below, into a baking pan. Pouring the gelatin mixture into a wide, shallow pan will help it set faster. Avoid freezing gelatin — it might initially set the mixture faster, but it will weaken the gelatin as well.

You can gel purée too! Puree fresh fruit with a little water and sugar and use the same ratio of gelatin and water to set these into a fruit jelly. Avoid mango, pineapple, and papaya in their fresh state (more on that below).

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Right Amount of Gelatin to Use

In this recipe we are combining several rounds of these steps to create a firm, layered gelatin dessert. You can vary the firmness of your gelatin dessert by reducing the ratio of powdered gelatin to liquid, like this:

Soft Set: Use 1 teaspoon of unflavored powdered gelatin for 1 cup of liquid.
→ Perfect for panna cotta: How To Make Panna Cotta

Medium Set: Use 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin for 1 cup of liquid.
→ Think classic jello or jello shots: How To Make Layered Jello Shots

Firm Set: Use 1 tablespoon of unflavored powdered gelatin for 1 cup of liquid.
→ The right ratio for these sliceable bars.

Why We Cook the Fruit Purees Before Gelling

These fruits have an enzyme (protease) that works against gelatin’s setting power. Some people suggest skipping these fruit juices all together, but boiling these liquids before setting deactivates the enzyme. Boil and cool these fruit juices before adding the gelatin.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How to Layer Jello

The very first layer of jello can go into the pan and straight to the fridge without cooling. It will take about an hour to set, but go ahead and bloom and dissolve your next round of gelatin and liquid for gelling while the first is setting. Then cool your second gelatin mixture for at least an hour at room temperature while the first layer sets.

Cooling the second and third layers before pouring them onto the chilled and set layers means that you’ll have a finished dessert with sharp, even layers. Adding still-warm liquid to set layers will melt the set layers a bit, creating pink between red and white layers (but it certainly won’t ruin the dessert!).

Also avoid pouring the liquid in one area, which can create a hole in the set layer; instead pour from side to side evenly across the set layer.

Want to be a lunchbox hero? Lightly oil the outside of your Jello bars and add a few of these bars to your kid’s lunchbox. The oil keeps the Jello slices from sticking to each other and the lunchbox.

3-Layer Jello Bars with Mango, Coconut, and Dragonfruit

All-natural Jello bars made with three kinds of fruit.

Makes about 24 squares

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the dragon fruit layer:

  • Cooking spray

  • 12 ounces

    frozen cubed dragon fruit (about 2 cups dragon fruit)

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    cold water, divided

  • 2

    (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin

For the coconut milk layer:

  • 2 cups

    coconut milk, divied

  • 2

    (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin

For the mango layer:

  • 2 cups

    mango juice

  • 2 tablespoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 2

    (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Small saucepan

  • Whisk

  • Small mixing bowl

  • 9 by 13-inch baking dish

  • Blender

Instructions

  1. Prepare the pan: Coat a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Make sure you have a clear area on a level shelf in the refrigerator for the baking dish.

Make the dragon fruit layer:

  1. Purée the dragon fruit: Place the dragon fruit, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the water in a blender. Blend on high speed until puréed and mostly smooth, about 1 minute.

  2. Bloom the gelatin: Place the remaining 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the gelatin and let sit until softened, about 5 minutes.

  3. Heat the dragon fruit purée: In the meantime, transfer the dragon fruit purée to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, but do not let it come to a boil.

  4. Dissolve the gelatin: Remove the dragon fruit purée from the heat, add the bloomed gelatin, and whisk until fully dissolved.

  5. Chill to set: Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Refrigerate until set to the touch, 1 to 2 hours.

For the coconut milk layer:

  1. Bloom the gelatin: Place 1/2 cup of the coconut milk in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the coconut milk and let sit until softened, about 5 minutes.

  2. Heat the coconut milk: Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering, but do not let it come to a boil.

  3. Dissolve the gelatin: Remove the coconut milk from the heat, add the bloomed gelatin, and whisk until fully dissolved.

  4. Cool the mixture: Let cool off the heat until room temperature, about 1 hour. Unlike the dragon fruit purée which went into the pan relatively warm, you want to cool the coconut milk mixture before pouring it onto the dragon fruit layer, otherwise you'll displace some of the dragon fruit mixture and won't have the pretty, even lines between layers.

  5. Chill to set: Gently pour the cooled coconut milk mixture over the dragon fruit layer. Don't pour in one spot (you'll make a hole in the first layer), but pour slowly from side-to-side, working from one end of the pan to the other. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

Make the mango layer:

  1. Boil the mango juice: Place the mango juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from the heat to cool to room temperature. Transfer 1/2 cup of the boiled mango juice to a small bowl and refrigerate until completely cooled, about 20 minutes.

  2. Bloom the gelatin: Once the 1/2 cup of mango juice is cool, sprinkle the gelatin over it and stir to combine. Let sit until softened, about 5 minutes.

  3. Dissolve the gelatin: Add the bloomed gelatin to the still-warm mango juice and whisk until fully dissolved.

  4. Cool the mixture: Let cool off the heat until room temperature, about 1 hour.

  5. Chill to set: Gently pour the cooled mango mixture over the coconut milk layer. Don't pour in one spot, but pour slowly from side to side, working from one end of the pan to the other. Refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours more but preferably overnight.

  6. Cut and serve the Jello bars: Invert the pan onto a cutting board and let the gelatin slab fall out. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares, or cut with cookie cutters for shapes.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.