Fresh Homemade Strawberry Jell-O

Jell-O always seems a bit like magic to me. Add water to the brightly colored, sugary powder and in no time it's solid and jiggles like a good belly laugh. The problem is, the stuff in the box tastes like congealed, watered-down kool-aid. There is no actual fruit involved, just artificial color and flavor. But, it is so easy and fun to create a fresh fruit version. There really is nothing better (or more summery) than the taste of fresh strawberries. Take those gorgeous berries, puree them and add just enough gelatin to set the fruit in a fancy mold. Knowing how to work with unflavored gelatin properly means you can set a liquid, without having it bounce like a rubber ball. You want to use just enough to keep its shape, but still have a smooth, luscious feel. It's a fun, all-natural and festive treat for any summer gathering.

Fresh Homemade Strawberry Jell-O Recipe
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (includes refrigerating times)
Skill: Intermediate

Ingredients:
2 1/2 pounds strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 packets unflavored gelatin, such as Knox (for a vegetarian alternative try using agar-agar)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a saucepan cook the strawberries and 1 cup sugar over medium-low heat. If you are using fresh strawberries you may need to add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook until the fruit is softened. Frozen and VERY ripe fruit will cook faster.

Use a regular or immersion hand blender to puree the fruit. Strain the seeds and return to the pot. Using a chinoise strainer will make the job go much faster.

In a small bowl, pour the 3 packets of gelatin over 1/2 cup of water, making sure no dry powder remains. Let the gelatin sit until it "blooms" and absorbs all the water.

Heat the strained puree to a simmer, turn off the heat and add the bloomed gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is melted and evenly distributed in the puree.

Choose a mold that fits at least 5 cups. I used a silicone mold, such as the Lekue Imperial Monarch Mold.

Fill the mold with 3/4 of the puree. Set the mold in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until a skin is formed on the top.

Pour half the remaining puree into a bowl. Whip the heavy cream with 2 tablespoons sugar and add it to the puree in the bowl.

Gently fold the cream into the puree.

Add the cream/puree mixture to the mold, refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or until it has set slightly. Add the remaining strawberry puree to the top. Set in the refrigerator for about 3 hours or until well set.

To un-mold the jello: fill a large vessel with hot water.

Dip the jello into the hot water, being careful not to get water over the lip of the mold. You may need to use a knife to carefully separate the edge of the mold from the jello. Let the mold sit in the water for 15 to 30 seconds. Set the jello on a platter.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Use a thin bladed knife dipped in hot water to cut the jello.

Zoë François, author of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day  and Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads in 5 Minutes a Day , studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She now calls Minneapolis her home, where she has worked with some of the top talent in the culinary world — Steven Brown, Andrew Zimmern and many chefs at the D’Amico company. In addition to writing, Zoë teaches baking classes and consults at restaurants. You can find her writing and recipe creations on Devour, on her baking blog, zoebakes.com and on the site, www.breadin5.com.

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