This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe is very, very French. No, it’s not laden with butter and wine. Nor is it some ultra-fancy dish you’d expect to find in a 5-star restaurant. No, what makes this dish French is gelatin. You see, unlike Americans who grew up eating Cool Whip and fruit mixed with Jell-O and who now can’t stand the sight of anything called “Fluff”, French home cooks see unflavored gelatin as any other cupboard staple. They use it to hold together meringues or thicken mousse. And in the Summertime, they mix it with fruit juice to make refreshing, light fruit desserts, like this one.
This is one of those recipes that is meant more as a jumping off point than a set of strict instructions. With the basic gist of the recipe — citrus juice thickened with gelatin surrounding fresh berries — you could make any number of tweaks, based on your mood, what’s in season, or, as in my case, what you have in the refrigerator.
The recipe starts with instructions to make supremes of orange slices and set them aside to dry a bit, which I did.
OK, you caught me. My supremes look a little too perfect, don’t they? In my first slight departure from the recipe as printed, I drained a can of mandarin oranges, rinsed off the syrup, and dried them on paper towels. I couldn’t see taking the time to make supremes when I had pre-supremed oranges in the cupboard. I didn’t have any grapefruit, canned or otherwise, so I left those out of the recipe.
The next step was to soften two packets of unflavored gelatin in water. I had recently been to the bulk food store, and I bought powdered gelatin there, so that’s what I used. There was a sign on the bin indicating that one tablespoon of bulk gelatin equalled one packet of gelatin. I would come to find out that this was not the correct proportion (it should have been 2 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin), but more on that later.
While the gelatin softened, I mixed two cups of orange juice with a small amount of sugar and brought them to a boil. In the time it took the sugar and juice to boil, the gelatin coagulated — my first clue that something was amiss with my proportions. Rather than mix the juice into the gelatin in the bowl, I ended up scraping the gelatin into the saucepan and heating it until it softened up.
The recipe says to put the juice mixture in the fridge for about two hours, stirring occasionally, until it firms up a bit and has the consistency of egg whites. I forgot to stir the juice mixture, and after about 1 1/2 hours, it was completely firm, like set Jell-O. This was when I knew the measurement for the gelatin must have been off. Undeterred, I took the mixture out of the refrigerator and beat it with a whisk until it broke up as much as it was going to; then I mixed in the fruit.
At this point, I knew things had gone way off track, and I had no idea if the mixture would reset and hold together or if I would be eating it out of the pan with a spoon. But it tasted fine, so I decided to chance it. I spread the mixture in a loaf pan, covered it with plastic wrap (which I used to press it into the pan as tightly as I could), and put it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, I took the pan out of the refrigerator, anxious to see what sort of disaster I had created. I unmolded the terrine onto a platter, and to my surprise, it held together.
Granted, it didn’t look as pretty as the one Nancy made a while ago, but I was impressed that it came out as nice as it did. (Oh, and by the way, the Vintage 10 1/4 x 3 5/8-inch pan she talks about in her post is the same size pan I used for my terrine. Nancy found a bunch of these pans at a sale and was kind enough to send me one.)
So, how was it? Was I able to overcome my potluck fluff nightmares and actually enjoy this gelée? In a delicious word, yes.
The terrine was light, cool, and fruity, perfect for the sweltering Summer weather we’ve been experiencing. And frankly, good enough to make anytime of the year with whatever fruits are available.
This is definitely a recipe that surprised me. I thought it would be OK, but really expected nothing more than a Jell-O salad. It was so much better than that, but every bit as easy to make. This is a recipe I am certain to make again and again, with different juices and fruits. And unflavored gelatin will take the place of the sugary, artificially colored and flavored boxes of Jell-O in my cupboard.