Renee Heron has started a Jelly revolution that is sure to see all the jelly moulds in the op shops snapped up this Christmas. Picture: Nicole Cleary
Renee Heron has started a Jelly revolution that is sure to see all the jelly moulds in the op shops snapped up this Christmas. Picture: Nicole Cleary

Retro desserts make Christmas comeback

"I like it for dinner, I like it for tea. A little each day is a good recipe."

While it first earwormed its way into the world more than 80 years ago, today it's not just kids who heed the call of the Aeroplane Jelly jingle.

Because for teacher Renee Heron, jelly on a plate is more than just a wibbly wobbly memory of childhood but a full-blown adult obsession.

Renee and her Brisbane-based mate Adele Cummings are on a mission to make jelly cool and through their outfit, The Jelly Revolution (thejellyrevolution.com.au), make colourful creations for the dinner party table.

Banish thoughts of '70s jello salads and say hello to the Christmas pudding jelly, the Pavelly (pavlova and jelly) and the twisted trifle.

"There's something quite theatrical about bringing out a jelly to a dinner party, you get lots of oohs, and aahs and big gasps," Heron says.

Taking inspiration from UK duo Bompas & Parr who make extraordinary jelly creations and other multi-sensory installations, Heron says their jelly obsession is a delicious hobby, posting their creations to Instagram @thejellyrevolution.

"Once I made a couple, people kept requesting them for parties. I started experimenting, putting flowers in them, making them in different ways, making cocktails in jelly form, that type of thing."

Since then, the duo's jellies have been seen at weddings, parties, anything.

SET THE SCENE

Heron says that for such an impressive dish, a showstopping jelly centrepiece is surprisingly easy to master.

"The key is to use a tin mould," Heron says, who scours op shops wherever she goes for the perfect mould. "It's a better conductor of heat (than plastic or glass) which makes it easier to get the jelly out nice and clean."

The main thing to get right, she says, is the ratio of gelatine to liquid. Too little gelatine and you'll end up with a wet, sloppy mess.

"We use McKenzies as it's easily available. Six sheets to 500ml, and if you get that right, everything else is easy."

LAYER UPON LAYER

A trifle is, of course, the classic Christmas dessert (more on that later) but Heron and Cummings have put a Jelly Revolution twist on tradition, presenting it as an upturned jelly.

The best thing about making this for Christmas is that it can be done a few days in advance.

For the first layer, Heron sets strawberries in a strawberry and rhubarb jelly. Once this is set - around two hours - she then adds a custard layer, made of custard powder and milk with gelatine. Finally, the bottom layer of sliced jam rolls placed around the outside of the tin that are set in a rosewater jelly.

To make the jellies, Renee cooks the down fruit in sugar, then strains this through muslin to achieve a clear liquid. She adds water to the juice to bring the total to 500ml, before adding the gelatine.

To serve, submerge the mould in the sink filled with hot water for a few seconds, give it a shake and invert onto a plate.

"It makes this unreal 'slurp' sound when it comes out of the mould, and when it does that you know it's plonked out," Heron says.

Simply mop up any excess liquid on the plate with a paper towel before presenting to the table. Serve with cream or ice cream.

Renee Heron’s jelly trifle. Picture- Nicole Cleary
Renee Heron’s jelly trifle. Picture- Nicole Cleary


FLOWER POWER

"It's a bit special to bring out a champagne jelly that's filled with edible flowers, it's really quite dramatic," Heron says. To put it in the centre of the Christmas table, it's a real showstopper."

To make the jelly add 250ml elderflower cordial to a bottle of champagne and 12 gelatine leaves.

For the fruit, use whatever is in season and plentiful - raspberries, blueberries and apricots are colourful and now bursting with flavour - as well as edible flowers that are available at grocers and specialty stores at the market.

"The important thing with this jelly is that the fruit needs to be set in layers," Heron says. "Don't just plonk it all in otherwise it will sink to the bottom. Do about four layers, and set the fruit among it."

The champagne jelly mix at room temperature shouldn't set while waiting for each of the layers to firm, but Heron says if it does, simply zap it in the microwave for about 20 seconds to loosen it up again.

Then on Christmas Day, demould your jelly, serve on a cake stand and enjoy being part of the Jelly Revolution.

NO TRIFLING MATTER

Of course, the traditional trifle - with jelly just one component - is a popular full stop to the Christmas meal here in Australia, but in the UK, where dessert king and MasterChef guest chef Darren Purchese hails, it's a non-negotiable.

"We always had a trifle at Christmas, it's one of those things that it's a real celebration at the end of the year. I love trifle, it's a thing that screams family get together - and they are pretty straightforward to put together, too."

The head of Burch & Purchese sweet studio says the beauty of a trifle is that it's pretty tricky to mess up. "I think that's why it's endured, it's simple but it can also look absolutely sensational."

In his latest cookbook Chefs Host Christmas Too, he creates a Christmas trifle made from brownies, dark chocolate, cherries, custard, champagne sabayon and moscato jelly all made from scratch, but your trifle can be as simple or complex as you have the time and inclination for.

"The twists on a trifle are absolutely endless. The classic one I had in the UK would have berries and sherry in there, soaked sponge, vanilla custard those classic UK flavours. But over in Australia the world's your oyster. You can do (one with) mangoes, or make a tropical fruit trifle."

Purchese says there are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning your Christmas creation.

"The architecture of your trifle is important. Think about how people are going to eat it," he says. "You don't want layers in there that you can't get your big spoon into. The real joy of a trifle is getting all the layers and flavours in there."

And if you are on dessert duty but travelling to lunch, think about how you can pack it for travel.

"The practicality of your creation is important," he says.

Chefs Host Christmas Too author Darren Purchese loves trifle for Christmas. Photo: Ari Hatzis
Chefs Host Christmas Too author Darren Purchese loves trifle for Christmas. Photo: Ari Hatzis


SPLISH SPLASH

When it comes to Christmas sweets, Lindsay Durr has one failsafe piece of advice: alcohol is always the answer.

The chef in charge of research and development at the high-end, eccentric d'Arenberg Cube restaurant in the McLaren Vale - ranked number 2 in the South Australian delicious.100 - says a straw poll of her kitchen team voted a modern take on the Christmas pudding as the number one choice of desserts this Christmas.

"Seeing as Christmas is a time to celebrate and being a little bit more extravagant, I'd suggest investing in a good bottle of Pedro Ximenez," she says. "Soak your dried fruit in this delicious dark sticky sherry for a few days and incorporate them into treacle and cinnamon spiced Christmas pudding - the result far exceeds brandy or rum. Whip up a lovely eggnog custard or prune and Armagnac ice cream (to serve) on the side."

For something simpler for a hot Aussie Christmas, Durr suggests transforming cherries or mixed summer berries into a dessert with real wow by serving the fruit with "a beautiful light sabayon based on a dessert wine or champagne - if you need an excuse to open a bottle".

Lindsay Durr recommends turning summer berries into a dessert by making a sabayon.
Lindsay Durr recommends turning summer berries into a dessert by making a sabayon.


GREEN WITH ENVY

"Christmas is massive for us, we cook a lot, with all types of desserts," says MasterChef reigning champion Sashi Cheliah.

And this year, the reality TV star is planning on serving a twist on a Malay dessert called onde-onde (pronounced oon-day, oon-day) which are traditionally made with glutinous rice flavoured with pandan with a palm sugar filling.

But rather than serving them as coconut-covered balls, Cheliah will instead use the flavours in a cake.

"In Singapore and Malaysia, they've turned onde-onde into a cake. This is the 'in' thing going around South East Asia at the moment. It's like a sponge cake, flavoured with pandan, layered with coconut cream and dressed with coconut on top."

To make the layer cake, using a stand mixer or hand mixer whisk 3 eggs, 2 tsp pandan paste and a pinch of salt until thick and fluffy. Add 75g caster sugar slowly to the egg mixture until the sugar dissolves and combines well. Reduce the speed to low, add 75g self-raising flour and mix well. Add 70g melted butter and 1 tbsp coconut cream to the mixture and mix well, do not over mix. Place the batter equally into three 6-inch baking pans lined with non-stick paper. Bake for 14 mins at 180C. Once baked remove from the oven and place it in a cooling rack.

For the coconut whipped cream, place 20g gelatine with water and allow to bloom.

Add this to 40ml water and 100ml coconut cream and a pinch of salt in a microwave bowl and heat until all combines well. Allow to cool. Meanwhile whip 250ml whipping cream until firm peaks form. Fold the whipped cream with coconut cream mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, place 100g gula melaka (dark palm sugar), 40ml water and 2 pandan leaves (available at south east Asian grocers) in a small pot and heat until it dissolves and thickens.

To a larger non-stick pan, combine 3 tbsp of the gula melaka syrup with 100g grated coconut (Cheliah suggests using fresh coconut), 1 tsp sugar and a pinch of salt, until thick.

To assemble the cake, stack each cake on top of each other with a layer of coconut whipped cream and gula melaka filling, except for the top layer.

Cover the cake with a generous amount of coconut whipped cream and garnish with toasted grated coconut.

TOWER OF WOW

"Most people love cheese and a cheese tower is simply a different way of constructing a cheese platter," says Sunshine Coast-based 4 Ingredients cookbooks co-author Kim McCosker.

 

Kim McCosker’s cheese tower.
Kim McCosker’s cheese tower.


"Prior to lunch when everyone is arriving and pouring their first glass of champagne or mimosa, a cheese tower makes a striking centrepiece. Adorned with grapes and cherries or fresh berries and flowers, it's the perfect chic twist on your typical cheese platter."

The IGA supermarkets ambassador says a mix of cheeses is important when composing your tower.

"I choose my cheeses so the layers go up in increments (smaller rounds of cheese to the top) and there is a variety of taste and textures. A hard cheddar, soft brie or camembert and creamy blue are essential."