Friday, September 13, 2013

Coffee Jelly

by Sheila Connolly

I have finally solved the mystery of my grandmother's coffee jelly.

I may have mentioned that my grandmother never really learned to cook, with the exception of penuche fudge and meatloaf.  But I have a lingering memory of her and my mother making a coffee gelatin dessert a long time ago. The result was memorable because it consisted of two distinct layers, one clear and dark, one lighter and opaque. It was never replicated, and I didn't like coffee back then, so I more or less forgot about it.

But this past weekend, in my never-ending hunt for strange and obscure cooking memorabilia, I came upon a Knox Gelatine pamphlet dated 1927 (when my grandmother would have been a young bride), and lo and behold, there were two coffee-based recipes in there, and a light-bulb went on:  make both, and spoon one over the other before chilling (the lighter one floats, and when you unmold the dessert, it ends up on the bottom).

Of course, gelatine in 1927 is not quite the same as gelatine today.  For one thing, the older form required some form of "acidulation" to make it work, either in the form of an acidic fruit juice or by adding a separate package of lemon flavoring (you have to remember that lemons were harder to come by in the 1920s; they were probably also smaller, so when a recipe called for "juice of half a lemon" it may have been no more than a teaspoon's worth). I ignored the whole issue of lemons here.

Per their measurements, a tablespoon of gelatin could "jell" a pint of liquid. The recipes given below were said to make 6 servings, although what size that may have been is anybody's guess. A half cup?

Funny thing—I have a whole lot of molds for jellied desserts, both large and small.


1 level Tblsp Knox Gelatine
¼ cup cold water
1 ½ cups clear strong coffee (hot)
1/3 cup sugar
A few grains of salt

Soak the gelatine in the cold water for five minutes.  Dissolve in the hot coffee.  Add the sugar and salt and stir until dissolved. 

Rinse your mold in cold water and fill with the jelly mixture. Refrigerate until set. (Small molds with harden more quickly than a single large one.)

To unmold, immerse the mold to the top for a second in warm—not hot!—water (do not let the water flow over the molded jelly).  Slightly loosen jelly at the edge, turning the mold from side to side, then place a serving dish on top of the mold, invert it, and carefully remove the mold.


1 level Tblsp Knox Gelatine
¼ cup cold water
1 ½ cups clear strong coffee (hot)
3/4 cup sugar
Whites of two eggs (room temperature)
A few grains of salt

Soak the gelatin in cold water for five minutes.  Add to the hot coffee, then add sugar.

Strain into a pan or metal bowl.  Set the pan/bowl in a larger pan/bowl of ice water, cool slightly, then beat, using a wire whisk, until quite stiff. 

Beat the whites of the eggs until stiff, then add to the cooled mixture and continue beating until the mixture will hold its shape.

Turn into a wet mold.  Chill thoroughly. 

Remove from mold and serve with sugar and thin cream.

Of course you can make either one on its own.  But if you're trying to make My Grandmother's Layered Coffee Jelly, you would wet your mold, pour in a layer of the clear jelly, then carefully spoon over it a layer of the foamy jelly, and chill.  When you serve it, garnish with plenty of sweetened whipped cream.

Who knows—maybe molded salads will make a comeback!

(We will not explore the social and bovine implications of this publication!)



  1. Oooh, I want that one! Knox made the most beautiful pamphlets, didn't they?

  2. I think you have the possibility of attracting a whole new audience - college campuses. Tequila shots, then coffee shots. Caffeine, protein and sugar to the rescue.

  3. How did it taste Sheila? I have to admit the only gelatin we've had in the last twenty years is orange Jello when we were preparing for a certain unpleasant procedure:)

  4. Lucy/Roberta, it really does taste like coffee. For my taste, I'd increase the sugar a bit, but I like things sweet. If you use sweetened whipped cream, that takes care of that.

    Gelatine if used right doesn't have to be a chewy mess that tastes like chemicals, but we don't practice much with it any more. I'll admit some of those fruit salad things are kind of vile, no matter how pretty they look.

    Ellicia, I'd never thought of that. The caffeine is definitely there in thie dessert, but I can't say I've ever tried making shots with alcohol. I wonder if it messes with the gelatin process...

  5. What fun!
    I'd think you could swap some of the liquid in the recipe for some alcohol. Say, a coffee liquor? Or, for contrast, an orange liquor? Or make it a jellied Irish coffee.
    So many possibilities your grandmother never thought of!

  6. I'm with you, Libby, I'm all for some Kahlua in there!

  7. Sheila, I wouldn't have known about it either, but there is a recipe book I have called Jelly Shot Test Kitchen by Michelle Palm that is a heck of a lot of fun. There is a recipe in there for a jelly shot with Bailey's and coffee that you might particularly enjoy.

  8. This sounds like so much fun, Sheila! I'll try it (and may fling in a bit of booze too). I LOVE coffee.

    Your project has produced some really interesting recipes.


  9. That looks very interesting. Thanks for the recipe!

  10. What an elegant dessert this will make sometime! Thanks for doing all the research, Sheila. I will definitely try this.

    And if you figure out a new recipe, one that uses alcohol, please share that one, too. Yum.

  11. Sheila, I have to admit I've never heard of coffee jelly but the dessert is so pretty. Lovely. And what a ton of research. You are a total research geek. I love it!

    Daryl / Avery

  12. I am so impressed. That's a beautiful dessert. I'm so intrigued by it. Thanks for another fascinating post!


  13. I'm going to try this one. Looks delish. Thanks Sheila.