The time it took to make the poinsettia was 45 minutes, which included making the gelatin. Other common options are carnations, roses, dahlias and calla lilies. “It’s a skill that improves with practice,” Branham said. “But anybody can do it.”
Chef Terri Branham was looking for some creative ideas to use in her catering business when she learned about artistic gelatin –– three-dimensional, vivid floral designs encased in clear gelatin. The showpieces, which originated in Mexico, are flavored and completely edible.
“When people see it for the first time, they usually ask, ‘How did you get the flower in there?’” said Branham, owner of JT Parties in Riverton, Ill., and a pastry and baking instructor at Lincoln Land Community College.
What is it?
The chef learned the technique in Wilton classes she took in the Chicago area.
“It’s kind of expensive to do. And it’s not something you would do at the last minute. You have to plan for it,” she said.
Materials include aluminum styluses, gelatin, colorings, flavorings and gelatin molds.
Last fall, Branham made artistic gelatin centerpieces –– which look like brilliant flowers suspended in clear glass paperweights –– for a banquet held at Lincoln Land.
“People weren’t sure what they were. When they found out, they were amazed at the color and detail,” said Jay Kitterman, director of the school’s culinary institute.
How it’s done
To begin, Branham makes clear gelatin, usually in a round mold. The powdered gelatin, which contains citric acid, is chicken-based and costs $150 for 10 pounds. The powder is mixed with distilled water and, when chilled, sets up in about 20 minutes. It can be enhanced with cherry, grape, watermelon and other flavors.
When the gelatin is firm, she turns the mold over. This is where the artistry begins. With a variety of styluses, Branham cuts into the bottom of the gelatin, making what eventually will be flower petals, leaves and a stamen.
Then, with bright, edible, milk-based gelatin, she inserts colors into the cuts. Depending on the type of flower, the color may be inserted with a syringe, eyedropper or metal star tip, the kind normally used with a pastry bag.
“I am not an artist. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. But I am determined. I love perfectionism,” Branham said as she rotated the gelatin on a cake-decorating turntable during a recent demonstration, making perfect rows of cuts with a spade-shaped stylus.
One step at a time
During the demo, she made a poinsettia, putting yellow coloring into the center stamen with a star tip and red gelatin into the petals with an eyedropper.
The leaves came next. With a fluted stylus, she made more cuts and put green gelatin into them. A little brown gelatin went onto the leaves with a syringe to create the illusion of depth. Some milky white color was added to illuminate the blossom, and then a layer of slightly teal gelatin was poured over the whole thing to add dimension.
Page 2 of 2 - The time it took to make the poinsettia was 45 minutes, which included making the gelatin. Other common options are carnations, roses, dahlias and calla lilies. Advanced practitioners can put animals and other shapes into the gelatin.
“It’s a skill that improves with practice,” Branham said. “But anybody can do it.”
Kathryn Rem can be reached at twitter.com/KathrynRemSJR