I suppose I’m long since past the age where a jelly was something that was always bright red, strawberry flavoured and could only be served with ice cream, but I do like the idea of moulded desserts for grown ups. They’ve been out of fashion for so long now that even the most basic equipment is hard to get hold of unless you have elderly relatives who refused to ever throw away perfectly good kitchenware. Even Lakeland will let you down here, so if you see good quality and reasonably priced jelly moulds, snap them up while you can.
The main ingredient of jelly, obviously, is gelatine but for vegetarians and vegans, agar jelly is a good alternative. This is the primary setting agent and is, of itself, colourless and relatively tasteless. What gives jelly its taste is what the gelatine is mixed with, and a clarified fruit juice is a good option. If you can ensure that the jellies will not be consumed by those under cocktail age, a generous slug of gin, vodka, wine or other alcoholic beverage of your choice could be thrown in for good measure as well.
The drama of moulded desserts is, of course, in the presentation and more often than not something really special can be achieved with a simple trick. Edible flowers, sweets and such like can be added to the mould as the jelly is carefully poured in; multicoloured stripes can be created by allowing each layer to set before the next one is added; and clear jelly with blancmange (basically a jelly made with an opaque liquid rather than a clear one) look very effective layered or in combination. The shape of the mould will also add to the overall effect, so work with your equipment to create something stunning.
Some time ago, Heston Blumenthal had a display of moulded desserts on one of his food programmes, which he created using traditional methods and not very traditional ingredients. I’m not sure that egg and bacon blancmange will ever catch on, but I think there may well be a market for a gin and tonic jelly. With a lime and cucumber decoration. Delicious.