How We Made Classy Jell-O Shots

Each week, we lift the lid on CHOW.com's Test Kitchen to reveal what our recipe developers are working on.

The typical Jell-O shot is a blue-raspberry nightmare. Is it possible to make one that is not only pretty but actually tastes like a balanced cocktail? That's one of the things we've been working on in CHOW.com's Test Kitchen this week for an upcoming Mardi Gras feature. We started with three classic New Orleans cocktails as inspiration: the Sazerac, Hurricane, and Ramos Gin Fizz. The challenge was figuring out how to gelatinize them in a way that ended up saying dinner party, not frat-house kegger.

Since we wanted the shots to end up layered, we decided not to use individual paper cups. Instead, we chose square baking pans we could pour different layers into, let them set, then flip them out and cut into individual serving squares. We hoped they'd look cool in cross-section.

The Hurricane (pictured) was the most challenging of the three to get right. In cocktail form, it's a fruity rum drink made with passionfruit and grenadine, and often a rum float on top. For our first try, assistant food editor Lisa Lavery heated up a cup of dark rum with a packet of gelatin dissolved in an ounce of simple syrup, poured the mixture into a pan, and chilled it to set. Then she poured on a mix of gelatin, light rum, grenadine, and a mix of passionfruit, lime, and orange juices and refrigerated it.

Once we flipped it out of the pan, our fruit layer topped with a rum "float" didn't look so hot. The rum layer had taken on a weird cloudy purplish-brown color, plus it slid off, looking oddly like chicken livers strewn onto the fruity layer. It was also seriously boozy, like swigging rum straight out of the bottle.

From our tests on the Sazerac shots, we realized that a liquor-to-water ratio of 1:1 would yield a nice, clear layer when set with gelatin, and still preserve the strong flavor of the spirit without kicking you in the face. So for round two of the Hurricane, we added a cup of water to the rum layer and switched from simple syrup to granulated sugar to better quantify the volume of water we were adding.

It totally worked! The rum "float" came out dark and clear, and did not at all resemble innards. Score.

Check back next week to get the final recipes for the Jell-O shot versions of the Hurricane; the multilayered, orange blossom-scented Ramos Gin Fizz; and the Sazerac, squares of rye jelly brushed with absinthe and bitters.

Photo by Roxanne Webber

Roxanne Webber is the former senior features editor at CHOW.com.