Snow Geese glide on midnight currents
Like a constellation in the sky-dark waves,
Each a feathery messenger twinkling white,
Each a diamond in the crown of the Sea Queen.
In slow unison, they float in rocking motion
Into the kind night.
Watch them; float with them
In the winter water world.
They know the bird road
To the place of peace.
When December arrives, those of us who are avid holiday bakers have already been planning for weeks. We have our lists of Christmas Cookies, special breads and cakes, holiday gifts from the oven, and our menus for our special family meals for Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year. We love the anticipation that comes with winter and the Advent Season. We love lighting candles, putting up the tree and filling our homes with the scent of pine, spices and cider. My kitchen is my happy place during this precious time when the world outside is cooler and darker. But I always try to remind myself that the natural world outside, the birds, the holly, the red hibiscus, and elsewhere, the snow, are also part of this magical season.
I love pouring over my old cookbooks and recipes, just in case I might have overlooked a gem in years past. And I am also eager to find new recipes to add to the holiday festivities. My December, 2017 blog, “Christmas Cookies,” contains a long list of cookies that I have baked every Christmas for decades. This list includes Spritz, Orange Ginger Cookies and Mexican Wedding Cookies, my top three favorites, that I could not dream of omitting from my baking schedule. In 2021, I added a new favorite, Brown Butter Oatmeal Bars, developed by my niece and co-author, Kathleen Pedulla. You can find the recipe in her June, 2021 blog. This heavenly blending of Shortbread and Oatmeal Cookies belongs on every baker’s holiday list, and at every tea party in the coming year.
Another category of holiday desserts dear to the hearts of our grandmothers is molded gelatin. I think we all remember eating Jello in bright red and green concoctions at Christmas time. Our inventive grandmothers all had Tupperware gelatin molds shaped like circular wreaths or festive crowns. And along with the Jello, they filled these molds with canned pineapple or cherries, angel flake coconut, mini marshmallows, and even cottage cheese or Coca Cola. Kathleen has shared two updated and a bit more sophisticated gelatin desserts in her blogs, both of which would be perfect additions to the Christmas menu: Dulce de Leche Gelatin Mold with Coffee Pecan Sauce, which appears in her October 2017 blog, and Individual Panna Cottas with Red Gelatin Hearts. The Panna Cottas appear in Kathleen’s February 2019 blog and are intended for Valentine’s Day, but an imaginative cook could easily substitute Christmas cookie cutters in bell or perhaps stocking shapes for the heart cookie cutters. This blog, which features excellent step-by-step photographs showing how to make these delightful individual desserts, also contains a comprehensive glossary telling you everything you ever wanted to know about the various types of dessert that contain gelatin. Is it possible that Kathleen loves gelatin desserts even more than I do?
My all-time favorite gelatin dessert is Spiced Apple Gelatin, which appears in the August Calendar section of our Tea Book in the North American Family Reunion Tea. I found this recipe in the November 1992 edition of Gourmet magazine. This sweet, tart and slightly spicy mixture was shared by the late Laurie Colwin, one of my favorite food writers. I always enjoyed her articles because she wrote in a very personal style and showed her readers how to serve each recipe and combine it with the other elements in the menu. Since this recipe appeared in November, Laurie suggested that it could be substituted for the Cranberry Sauce in the Thanksgiving menu. I discovered that Spiced Apple Gelatin is a versatile creation that could serve as either a condiment with meat or cheese, or as the shining star of the dessert table, perched aloft on a cake pedestal. It is also a timeless and seasonless treat which could be enjoyed with meals or Afternoon Tea at any time of the year, as its primary ingredients, Apple Cider and lemon juice, are available everywhere all year long. I recently made Spiced Apple Gelatin for an autumn family luncheon I helped prepare with Kathleen in her hometown of Watsonville, California, home of Martinelli’s Apple Cider. We served it on the buffet table along with other family favorites, deviled eggs, cheddar and chutney sandwiches, butternut squash soup, spinach and persimmon salad, baked cheesy cauliflower and herbed scones. It fit right in. Spiced Apple Gelatin is my Christmas gift to you.
This delightful dessert contains only five ingredients and is easy to prepare. You will need a 1-quart gelatin ring mold for a lovely wreath-like presentation, but you can also make it in a glass Pyrex bowl. Either way, it will sparkle with golden light. Be sure to make it the night before you intend to serve it, so it will be fully firm when you unmold it onto a cake pedestal or decorative platter. To present it as a Christmas dessert, I suggest you surround it with candied cranberries for a festive effect. Also, the sweet and tart tastes of both the lemon-enhanced apple cider and the sugared cranberries will complement each other. Another approach would be to fill the center with chilled custard or pastry cream, or simply serve the Spiced Apple Gelatin with Dulce de Leche or Rum Raisin ice cream, my two favorite flavors for the holiday season. This recipe makes a large ring of apple gelatin, and you will probably have leftovers. Spiced Apple Gelatin is delicious for breakfast, with heavy cream poured over it and maybe a little granola on top. As a final thought, this creation is also a blessing for people who are allergic to gluten, eggs, dairy products or nuts, as it contains none of these allergens, yet it remains as elegant and tasty as any other holiday dessert.
- 5 packets unflavored gelatin
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 lemons
- 1 cup ice water
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 quart (four cups) Martinelli’s apple cider
- Cooking spray for the gelatin mold
Makes: approximately 12 servings
- Using a zesting tool, scrape the zest (the yellow outside of the peel,) of 1 lemon into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons into a glass measuring cup. You should have approximately 1/3 cup pf lemon juice. Set aside.
- Add the unflavored gelatin powder, 2 cups of sugar and ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the lemon zest in the large mixing bowl and stir with a fork until combined. Pour 1 cup of very cold water over the mixture and stir with a fork until all the ingredients are combined well. Add the lemon juice and stir again to combine.
- In a medium saucepan, bring 1 quart of apple cider to a boil. Pour the hot cider over the gelatin mixture and stir carefully with a rubber spatula until the gelatin and sugar are completely dissolved. Set the mixture aside to cool.
- Lightly spray the 1-quart gelatin mold with cooking spray. When the cider mixture has cooled to room temperature but has not set, pour the mixture into the prepared mold and refrigerate overnight, covered with the lid or plastic wrap.
- Just before serving, remove the molded gelatin from the refrigerator and place a warm, damp kitchen towel around the mold for a few seconds to loosen the gelatin slightly. Remove the lid or wrapping and gently push the edges of the gelatin away from the mold with a table knife. Quickly place a decorative platter or cake pedestal upside down over the gelatin and holding both the platter and the mold tightly together, turn the platter right side up and gently tap the mold until the gelatin releases.
- Decorate with candied cranberries as desired and serve with whipped cream, ice cream or custard if you wish. Refrigerate leftovers.