Break the mold with these edible cocktails
In 1897, a New York carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer tweaked a 50-year-old process of making powdered gelatin and started a business selling instant desserts. His wife, May, came up with the idea of adding fruit flavors to them.
The man was Pearle Bixby Wait, and the name he trademarked was Jell-O.
It would take another 50 or more years before someone discovered the miraculous benefits of adding alcohol.
While Jell-O for desserts and savory dishes has had its ebbs and flows over the decades, there has always been room for shots. In Galveston and all around Southeast Texas, there are dozens of drinking establishments that serve them up nightly in all kinds of cups and shapes. They come in multiple flavors such as fruits, citrus, grape, banana, coconut, watermelon, cinnamon, lychee and even cola.
Vodka and rum seem to be the favorite alcohols to use, but recipes available online include tequila, Champagne, Red Bull, Chambord, gin, amaretto, schnapps, sloe gin, brandy and an endless number of liqueurs.
Names for these gelatinous concoctions often indicate their parts. There’s the Alabama Slammer made with amaretto, sloe gin and Southern Comfort with lemon Jell-O. Apple Pie comes with sweet vermouth, rum and apple brandy and lemon Jell-O. Bat Out of Hell takes orange Jell-O mixed with Red Bull, rum and blue curaçao, while Juicy Fruit features pineapple Jell-O with vodka, melon liqueur and peach schnapps. When you mix Kinky Liqueur, Malibu Coconut Rum and peach Jell-O, you have a Kinky Malibu Barbie. Rummy Bears are simply rum, any flavor gelatin and a gummy bear encased within each cup.
Favorite cocktails also can be adapted into solid form.
Take the bloody mary, for example. Using plain, unflavored gelatin, one adds vodka, beer, Worcestershire sauce, wasabi, garlic powder, ginger and Tabasco sauce. It’s garnished with a pretzel stick. Other cocktails-turned-shots are the Kamikaze, Long Island Iced Tea, Harvey Wallbanger, the French Tickler, all kinds of daiquiris, mojitos, the Cosmopolitan, Bahama Mama, Sex on the Beach and the classic old gin and tonic, which is simply tonic water, gin and lime Jell-O.
What all of these concoctions have in common is the ease in which they go down and the it’s-too-late-now realization they pack a wallop.
Jell-O shots aren’t just flavored alcohol, as boiling water is needed to denature the gelatin and alcohol would evaporate in this process. Thus, about one-half to two-thirds the amount of water called for in the instructions is boiled and then the difference is made up with alcohol, added as the Jell-O cools. However, because of the chemical make-up of the Jell-O, the body absorbs the alcohol more slowly. Only after the unsuspecting shooter has downed a number of them, thinking they have no effect, does he or she suddenly realize otherwise.
The man most often credited with making Jell-O an adult beverage in solid form is American singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer.
As the story goes, he had been drafted into the Army in 1955 and was assigned to a Navy base. At the end of that year or the next, he was helping organize a Christmas party on the base. Unfortunately, his plans to serve alcohol at this party ran afoul of military rules, which dictated the party could serve only food and non-alcoholic beverages. In his mind, a party without libations was no party at all, but not wanting to risk sneaking bottles of booze on base, he and his friends began experimenting with mixing vodka with orange Jell-O, so the story goes. After several tries, the potent dessert solidified. In the 1950s, Jell-O was at its peak in popularity, so base guards never gave Lehrer’s trays of orange Jell-O cups a second look.
The party was a success, obvious by observing how happy those attending were. Lehrer later said it was his only contribution to the war effort.
To give credit where credit is due, however, the idea for this alcoholic concoction goes back much further than Lehrer or even Jell-O. In truth, it appeared in this country’s first cocktail recipe book, “How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion” by Jerry Thomas in 1862. In that book is a recipe for Punch Jelly, which calls for adding gelatin — something associated with the wealthy class at that time — to a punch made with cognac, rum and lemon juice. In the book is a warning that the alcoholic effects of the mixture is “artfully concealed” by the gelatin, confirming its familial connection to Jell-O shots.
The market and popularity of these shots have created a nicely profitable business of making pre-packaged shots, many of which can be found or ordered from area liquor stores. Notably, a check with most area bars did not find any that made their own shots in house.
However, making shots at home can, at worst, be a little time consuming but, at best, opens the door to all kinds of DIY concoctions that could be the hit of the next social gathering. Timing is simply the time it takes to make Jell-O or any gelatin dish. And note, while Jell-O is the most commonly used brand for shots, any gelatin mixture, flavored or unflavored like Knox, can be used. Water is usually cut to two-thirds or half the amount called for in instructions. After bringing it to a boil with the powdered gelatin mixture, it’s then removed from the heat and as it cools, combined with the alcohol or alcohols, poured into small cups and set in the refrigerator to chill.
Cosmopolitan Jell-o Shots
11⁄4 cup cranberry juice cocktail
2 1⁄2 envelopes plain gelatin
1⁄4 cup Rosés lime juice (or fresh lime juice with a healthy dash of simple syrup)
1⁄4 cup Grand Marnier, or Cointreau (use Cointreau or triple sec for a milder tasting gelatin shot)
3⁄4 cup orange flavored vodka
1⁄4 cup lime zest for garnish (optional)
Pour cranberry and lime juices into a small saucepan and sprinkle with gelatin. Allow to soak for a few minutes. Heat on low, stirring constantly, until gelatin is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the liquors, making sure to fully incorporate.
Pour into pan or molds, and chill until set, several hours or overnight.
To serve, cut into desired shapes and garnish with lime zest, if desired.
Ocean Margarita Jell-o Shots
2⁄3 cup Rose’s lime juice
1⁄3 cup water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3⁄4 cup agave tequila (the silver, or clear kind)
1⁄2 cup blue curaçao
1 tablespoon sugar or agave nectar (1 to 2 tablespoons is fine, to taste)
Large crystal sugar for garnish (optional)
Pour lime juice, sweetener and water in a saucepan, sprinkle with gelatin. Allow gelatin to soak for a few minutes.
Heat over very low heat until gelatin is dissolved, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in tequila and blue cuaçao.
Pour into pan. Refrigerate until fully set, several hours or overnight.
To serve, cut into desired shapes.
Immediately before serving, dip one side of the gelatin shots into large crystal sugar, or provide a small container for dipping. The sugar looks beautiful, but melts quickly.
Creamsicle Jell-o Shots
1 cup water
1 package (3-ounce) orange flavored gelatin
1 cup vanilla flavored vodka
3 tablespoons whipped cream
Pour 1 cup boiling water over the orange gelatin. Let gelatin dissolve completely.
Mix in vanilla vodka.
Pour into a 8-inch-by-8-inch pan.
Refrigerate for 4 hours. Cut into squares.
Right before serving, add a tablespoon of whipped cream to each square.
Recipes courtesy of Tablespoon, www.tablespoon.com