Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fruit terrine: It's fancy!

Everybody has something to say about Jell-O. It evokes childhood treats and church suppers and college parties. Some people hate it. Some love it.

Me, I like Jell-O. It makes me smile.

When I had two potlucks pending recently, I put myself down for Jell-O, knowing people would laugh. Jell-O! But I wanted it to be surprising: not just any old bowl of jiggly gel, nor shredded-carrot concoction or whipped-cream confection. I wanted something fancy.

What I wanted to make doesn't involve the Jell-O brand at all, but gelatin and wine and lots of fruit: a fruit terrine, courtesy of Epicurious, with modifications.

Here's what you need:
  • 2 packets plus 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (Knox is the only kind I've ever seen. It has four 1/4-oz. packets per box)
  • 2 cups sparkling white wine, such as prosecco, or a non-alcoholic sparkling cider. Though I think any light-colored wine or fruit juice would probably work just fine. Use a wine you like the taste of, not something super-cheap.
  • 1/2 cup sugar or less (1/4 cup or less if you're using cider or fruit juice)
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • A bunch of fruit! Fresh is nicest, of course, but in February, there's no shame in using frozen peaches or canned mandarin orange slices. The frozen peaches are good for structural integrity, too. I also used fresh grapes (halved), blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

If you are feeling extra-fancy and have a zesting tool, you can zest an orange – organic, please – and boil the strips three times, then add them to the gelatin mixture.

  1. Measure out a cup of wine and heat it in a pan with the sugar, honey and optional orange zest.
  2. In the same measuring cup, pour 1/4 cup of wine and sprinkle the gelatin on it.
  3. When the pan of wine has come to a boil and the sugar has dissolved, take it off the heat and mix in the gelatin (it will be kind of foamy and lumpy), stirring until it is dissolved.
  4. Stir in the last 3/4 cup wine and the lemon juice and pour the mixture into another metal pan or bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes or so.
  5. While the gelatin is cooling, assemble your fruit in a pattern in a glass, ceramic or other non-stick container. I used a Le Creuset enameled cast-iron terrine. Try to build the fruit up a little on the sides as well as the bottom. Be creative!
  6. When the gelatin is no longer hot but still liquid, carefully pour it over the fruit, then chill the whole thing for six hours or more.
  7. To unmold it, dip the container in hot water for a few seconds. It may also help to run a sharp knife around the edges, if they're flat. Invert a plate on the mold, then flip the whole thing over. The gelatin should fall onto the plate in one piece.
Now, I'll tell you, the first terrine I made did not turn out well. In the Epicurious comments, the most common complaint was weak structure. So I used three packets of gelatin instead of two. That was too much.

Second, the recipe said to cool the gelatin in an ice-water bath. Don't do that. It will start to jell too quickly.

Finally, the recipe suggested chilling a layer of gelatin and then assembling the fruit and adding the rest of the gelatin, so you have a layer of gelatin on top when you unmold it. But that's a risk.
See, when you make all of those mistakes, here's what it looks like:
A thick rubbery layer of gelatin still stuck in the pan and a colorful but oddly textured fruit salad on the plate.
The cow-orkers at the Super Bowl potluck ate it to be polite, but it was definitely more eccentric than fancy. (And nowhere near as popular as the marshmallow-coated popcorn with cinnamon jelly beans. Seriously. That stuff was like crack. Must get the recipe.)
But here's the thing: I knew I was going to blow it the first time around. The first batch really was a test (sorry, cow-orkers) so I could get it right for Stitch 'n' Bitch. Or, as Mom likes to call it, "Bitches in Stitches," since there's no actual knitting involved, but a lot of laughing.

This time I used wine instead of sparking cider – Domaine Ste. Michelle Frizzante, courtesy of a cow-orker grateful for a bee removal job. I let the gelatin cool down without an ice bath and didn't bother trying to create a base layer.

I placed frozen peach slices on the bottom and sides of the terrine, then filled in the middle with grapes and berries. I knew that when the liquid gelatin was poured in, there would be a certain amount of shifting and floating by the stuff in the middle. But I figured it would look pretty anyway.

I wish I had a better photo than this, which I snapped rather hurriedly since I was running late. Even Manisha's cellphone pic looks better:
In any case, it was very gratifying to hear the oohs and ahs when I brought it in. Even better was its tastiness. The wine flavor and the fruit mixed well, and the texture was good. Now I'm looking forward to making it in the summer. It's so light and refreshing and will be fabulous with local fresh fruit. And despite my wordy instructions, it's really a snap to make.

Even if you've never had anything nice to say about gelatin, I guarantee you will get rave reviews for this fancy fruit terrine.


  1. It's true, this fruit terrine is delicious! It takes fruit in gelatin to a whole new level! Yum!

  2. Jello needs to make a comeback. It's awesome.
    My grandma has this jello thing she used to make. She'd throw a can of apricot pie filling in orange jello. It's surprisingly awesome. She would then put a layer of coolwhip on it when it was done and sprinkle cheddar cheese on top. You can skip the toppings though...the apricot & orange are good enough for me :)

  3. It's gorgeous. I like the orange terrine, too. I have some jelly molds from my grandma and I've never used them; it might be time.

  4. Gorgeous!! Such a lovely, delicious display!

    Well done!

  5. Manisha, I can't wait to see your version!

    Jenne, that sounds really good, actually. Minus the cheese. I may have to try it.

    Bklyn, your should totally use those molds. Gelatin desserts can be so elegant, but they're very simple.

    Thanks, Lauren! I loved your heart-y jello treats.

  6. So, as you know, I made this wonderful terrine. It was a very good thing I had something to compare it to - yours! Here's what I will definitely be doing next time:
    - add orange zest
    - use fresh berries instead of frozen berries. The frozen ones taste like mush.
    - use more mandarin oranges.
    - use honey instead of substituting with agave nectar.

    It unmolded beautifully after giving me a few heart attacks and my book group pals loved it! I know what not to change / substitute the next time!

    Thanks again!

  7. I pinned this recipe a few weeks ago, and brought the dish to a party last night. It's great! I couldn't get mine to turn out of the dish, but I think it's the fault of the cheap ceramic I used more than anything else. I fancied it up with some mint leaves and sliced strawberries, so even though the presentation wasn't what I desired, it turned out ok.

    Thanks for all your tips and tricks! Very helpful. I ran out of honey and only used apple juice instead of wine, and it was definitely sweet enough. Thanks again!