Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we’re sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: We’re demystifying gelatin, and teaching you how to use it in all of its forms.
Gelatin can be intimidating. We fear what we don’t know – and this ingredient is shrouded in mystery. In its ability to transform liquids into jelly, it’s almost alchemic.
The nitty-gritty of what goes into gelatin may be unpleasant to ponder, but thankfully cooking with it is a snap. Just stick to these basic rules, and you’ll be unmolding a panna cotta (to rounds of thunderous applause) in no time.
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Know Your Ingredient.Gelatin comes in two forms: powdered and sheet (also known as leaf gelatin). While the sheet form is more prevalent in Europe, you can track it down in most specialty baking stores stateside – and, of course, on our trusty friend the internet. Both forms will do the job, but some claim that sheet gelatin has a purer taste and texture. If you need to substitute one for the other, Bon Appètit’s rule of thumb is that four sheets of leaf gelatin roughly equals a tablespoon of the powdered stuff.
More: For strict vegetarians and vegans, there are a number of gelatin alternatives – get our community’s suggestions here.
Let It Bloom.Like flowers and adolescents, gelatin needs time to bloom. This means it can’t be added to any recipe as-is – first, it must take a quick soak in some cold water. This hydrates the gelatin and ensures that your final product will have a smooth texture.
For powdered gelatin, measure out 1/4 cup of cold water per envelope. Sprinkle the powder over the top, then stir to combine. Let the mixture sit 5 to 10 minutes, until the gelatin absorbs all the water and becomes all wiggly and jiggly. Make sure the base of whatever you’re adding it into is warm, and be sure to stir thoroughly to dissolve all the granules.
More: Speaking of blooming, this tea set does it in front of your eyes.
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If you’re using gelatin sheets, soak them in a bowl of cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. In that time, they will transform from a brittle, pale leaf to a soft membrane reminiscent of your contact lenses. If you’re soaking multiple sheets of gelatin at the same time, be cautious when separating them – they are delicate and tear easily. If you want to avoid any risk of sticking, lay them side by side in a pan filled with cold water.
Before adding bloomed sheet gelatin into your recipe, gently wring the soft sheets of excess water. If you’re adding them to a cold base, heat them in a saucepan over low heat until they dissolve.
Now you’ve got the gelatin know-how to tackle marshmallows, gelée, and panna cotta without fear. But before you jump in, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Let all gelatinized desserts set for at least 8 hours in the fridge, and preferably for 24 hours.
- If you need your dessert to set even faster, David Lebovitz recommends chilling your container before pouring in the base. You can also stir the base mixture in a metal bowl set over an ice bath to speed up the setting process.
- Always add bloomed gelatin to warm liquid, or else you risk “ropes” forming in the finished product. The liquid should not be boiling hot, either – if it is, the gelatin won’t set up properly.
- Have all your ingredients measured out and ready to go before adding your gelatin to the warm base. Once the two combine, the gelatin will begin to set relatively quickly – so efficiency and speed are key. Make sure your mold is ready and waiting.
- Certain tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, and papaya have an enzyme that prevents gelatin from thickening correctly. However, if cooked briefly, these fruits work just fine.
What are your favorite ways to use gelatin? Let us know in the comments!
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