Not everyone has fond memories of Jell-O; the 60s used and abused this fun dessert and turned it into monstrous salads and dinner molds. However, Jell-O can be used many different ways, offering home cooks with an outlet for their creativity. Likewise, gelatin or gelatine, the British spelling, may also be utilized in numerous ways. Basically, Jell-O is powdered gelatin, sugar, and artificial flavoring (Dickerman). Unflavored gelatin is an animal byproduct, usually pig skin, used as a thickener and comes in two forms, powdered or sheet (Labensky, Martel and Van Damme). While both are gelatin, they each have their own characteristics and similarities, including not being vegetarian and having animal-friendly alternatives.
Before they can be added to hot liquids, both types of gelatin must be bloomed first. Blooming is the softening of gelatin in cold liquid before melting and using (Labensky, Martel and Van Damme). Powdered gelatin should be softened in four times it weight in cold liquid for five or more minutes and then heated gently (Labensky, Martel and Van Damme). Sheet gelatin needs to be separate and soaked in cold water for at least fifteen minutes, removed, squeezed, and then stirred into hot liquid until dissolved (Labensky, Martel and Van Damme). Lebovitz states that if the gelatin is not bloomed in cold water, the gelatin particles will not soak up the water to the center of the particles and will result in a “broken gelatin” (Lebovitz). According to Modernist Cooking Made Easy, “[After the gelatin is bloomed] When dispersing the gelatin make sure the liquid is warm, typically above 50ºC/122ºF” (Logsdon).
While blooming is soaking the gelatin before use, it may also refer to the strength of the gelatin. Sheet gelatin is graded into four types: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Logsdon). Modern Cooking Made Easy has a neat little chart matching each type to bloom strength: bronze sheet gelatin is 125-155 bloom strength; silver sheet gelatin is 160 bloom strength; gold sheet gelatin is 190-220 bloom strength; platinum sheet gelatin is 235-265 bloom strength; and Knox powdered gelatin is 225 bloom strength (Logsdon).
While gelatin is a magical part of cooking, it will not just magically form if it is not cooled. Both types of gelatin need to set before being served. Professor Myint says that “When the temperature of the gelatin sol drips, the viscosity of the liquid increases to the point where gel formation occurs. This happens at 85ºF” (Myint). However, gelatin needs to be refrigerated until it is solid and served. The longer the gelatin is chilled, the more “rubbery” it will become (Stradley). According to David Lebovitz, “Desserts made with gelatin should chill for at least eight hours, but twenty four hours is best. After twenty four hours, gelatin will not set any further” (Lebovitz). Lebovitz also gives the tip to pre-chill the bowl the gelatin will set in or to use an ice wand to even cool before refrigeration (Lebovitz). ...