How To Make Homemade Jell-O from Scratch

published Jun 24, 2022
summer
How to Make Homemade Jell-O Jigglers from Scratch

Turn practically any juice into homemade Jell-O from scratch!

Serves6

Prep10 minutes

Cook2 minutes to 3 minutes

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jello cut into shapes with shadows on a white background
Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

Jell-O looms large in my childhood memories of dessert. If you grew up in the ’80s, ’90s, or, heck, really any era, neon poptastic jiggly gelatin probably evokes core childhood memories. I remember shaking brilliantly colored granules straight from a box, and stirring impatiently with clinking ice cubes to chill. Jell-O was the cool and sweet dessert that we yearned for on hot summer days.

But Jell-O isn’t just for kids, and it isn’t just for nostalgia. As I grew up, my motto became “Can you jell it? YES. YOU. CAN!” Unflavored gelatin is a magical substance that can transform any liquid, from juice to coffee to booze, into a wobbly jellied square that surprises and delights. So, friends, may I reintroduce you to Jell-O Jigglers?

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

Why Grown-ups Deserve Jell-O Too

Part of the fun of cooking is playing with texture. I think it’s both fun and surprising to take a juice or fruit purée that is usually liquid and turn it into a solid with the magic of gelatin. It’s cool, refreshing, and playful. I love bringing out big cubes of lemonade Jell-O (or jelly, as the British call it) in a group of grown-ups and watch them melt back into being little kids.

The other beauty of gelatin and Jell-O-esque desserts is that they barely qualify as cooking. They are the coolest, easiest, quickest summer desserts. To create a gelatin dessert, you melt gelatin in liquid, but this takes the barest application of heat for less than 2 minutes. In the summertime when you want a cool treat, this is just about as easy as it gets.

Plus, gelatin is a fascinating ingredient. Because it’s derived from collagen (yes, it’s an animal product and not vegetarian), it melts at body temperature. This is why Jell-O melts in your mouth and tastes silky and smooth.

Are Jell-O and Gelatin the Same Thing?

Yes and no. Gelatin is an animal product derived from collagen. It is not sweetened and has few, if any, calories. Gelatin is not a vegetarian ingredient.

Jell-O, on the other hand, is a brand and type of gelatin that has been sweetened and flavored.

Many of us first encounter gelatin through kid-friendly Jell-O, but gelatin is an ingredient that has a history stretching back thousands of years. Plain, unflavored gelatin can be used as a thickener for nearly any liquid.

What Kind of Gelatin Is Best?

If you want to use gelatin to make a gelled dessert, any plain, unflavored gelatin will do. The most common brand in grocery stores is Knox. You can also buy gelatin on Amazon or other online groceries.

Most gelatin is made from either beef or pork, or a combination of the two. Personally I prefer beef gelatin as I have found it tends to have less of a residual odor or taste, especially when I am using it in large quantities. Beef gelatin may also be kosher and/or halal (check the package to ensure it meets the standards).

How Much Gelatin Is in an Envelope?

Some gelatin brands, such as Knox, come pre-measured in envelopes, like yeast! A gelatin envelope contains about 2 1/2 teaspoons of powdered gelatin. Personally I like buying gelatin in bags or canisters and not pre-measured, as it is easier to measure out when making recipes like this one that need larger quantities.

How Much Gelatin Does It Take to Make Jell-O?

To make a Jell-O type of dessert, you simply melt gelatin, combine it with a liquid, and let it set for a few hours in the refrigerator. Easy!

The ratio of gelatin to liquid: For firm squares, use about 2 teaspoons of gelatin per 1 cup of liquid. If you want them to be extra-firm, use 1 tablespoon of gelatin per 1 cup of liquid.

Does This Method Work for Jell-O Shots?

Yes, you can make Jell-O shots from scratch with really any kind of booze and mixers. However, alcohol reduces gelatin’s thickening power, so the ratios change a little bit. If you want a full guide to making grown-up Jell-O shots, check out this recipe and step-by-step guide: How to Make Jello Shots for Grown-ups.

How to Make Homemade Jell-O Jigglers from Scratch

Turn practically any juice into homemade Jell-O from scratch!

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 2 minutes to 3 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 cups

    fruit juice, such as apple, grape, or orange, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    powdered gelatin

Instructions

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  1. Soften the gelatin: Pour 1 cup of the fruit juice into a 4-cup or larger bowl or saucepan and sprinkle 2 tablespoons powdered gelatin over the surface. Let it sit for 5 minutes. The gelatin will soften and wrinkle.

  2. Melt the gelatin: Gently warm the mixture over very low heat, stirring or whisking frequently until the gelatin is fully melted. This will happen quicker than you might expect: 2 or 3 minutes at most. Do not let the liquid bubble or boil. Tilt the pan from side to side and look for gelatin grains, or rub the mixture between your fingers; it should feel silky.

  3. Chill the juice mixture: Add the remaining 3 cups fruit juice and whisk to combine. Pour into individual cups or a shallow baking dish and refrigerate until fully set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

  4. Serve or cut into shapes: After the gelatin has fully set, it can be sliced and served, or cut with cookie cutters into shapes.

Recipe Notes

Storage: You can refrigerate these for several days, but keep in mind that gelatin grows in strength the longer it is refrigerated. They will be quite rubbery by day 5 or so.

Adapted from Bakeless Sweets: Pudding, Panna Cotta, Fluff, Icebox Cake & More No-Bake Desserts by Faith Durand (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013).