Retro-inspired desserts make a comeback

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When we were tossing around ideas for the food page prior to July 4, a big cookout and family gathering holiday, our thoughts turned to burgers, hot dogs and cookout side dishes. Done, done, done to death ... But what could we do different? Then Eagle Calendar Editor Meggie Baker came up with doing retro dishes — and nothing is more retro than ... jello.

Meggie combed the internet and came up with several possibilities and narrowed it down to four: A jello poke cake was delegated to Jennifer Huberdeau, Eagle interim managing editor; a cherry Coca-Cola jello mold to Maggy Button, Eagle associate features editor; strawberry pretzel salad for Lindsey Hollenbaugh, feature editor; and rainbow jello cake (aka The Crown Jewel), that was to be reigned over by Meggie, herself.

The day of the staff sampling arrived and one thing became evident — people either love or hate jello. Some staff members flatly refused to taste anything that had jello connected to it. Oddly enough, the Cherry Coca-Cola jello mold got top raves.

Below are the recipes and the "chefs" comments on their jello experiences:

Meggie Baker — Rainbow jello cake (aka The Crown Jewel)

This cake was everything I wanted it to be! This great cake, also known as a stained-glass window cake, was very easy to make, if a little bit time intensive. The jello flavors are pretty interchangeable, so I had some fun and went with red and blue for a super festive look. The cake is light and sweet — a nice cool treat on a warm afternoon.

The cake itself held form really well, but the slices tended to crumple into a pile of jello when removed from the pan. Three boxes of jello did seem a bit much — perhaps making it with two boxes instead would leave a little more room for the Cool Whip-gelatin to hold together. And lining the pan with parchment paper would make it easier to remove, eliminating the jello-crushing struggle of trying to get another bite of that graham cracker crust.

Rainbow jello Cake (aka The Crown Jewel)

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

Filling:

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon gelatin (1 packet knox)

3-4 cups cubed jello

DIRECTIONS:

To prepare crust, mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a medium sized bowl. Press into greased springform pan. Bake in a 350F preheated oven for 10-13 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

To prepare jello, mix contents of jello boxes with one cup of boiling water. Stir to dissolve the jello, and then pour into a container to solidify. Repeat with required colors and flavors. Placing the jello in the fridge will speed the solidifying process up. Once solid, cut jello into small cubes.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over top of the pineapple juice and allow it to rest for 30-60 seconds. Heat mixture to boiling in the microwave or on the stovetop. Stir until gelatin is completely dissolved and remove from heat.

Add in the cold water, stir and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

Whip cream and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Slowly add in cooled pineapple mixture, and whisk until completely combined.

Remove bowl from stand mixer. Place jello cubes into the mixture, but try not to stir it as it will cause the jello to break up. Swirl the bowl until the jello and filling mix together. Pour filling into prepared crust. Place pan into the fridge for the cake to solidify completely- between 6-8 hours or overnight.

Note: The cake is best served and consumed within 2 to 3 days.

Jennifer Huberdeau — Retro Strawberry jello Poke Cake

This cake is so easy to make, that the most difficult part was finding the vanilla Kraft Cool Whip frosting the recipe called for — turns out it was discontinued. But thanks to the internet, I was able to find the recipe, which Kraft put online for disheartened fans of the product. After making this delicious and light "alternative" to buttercream frosting, I can see why there was such an outcry when it was discontinued.

On the day of the office tasting, I was a little disappointed with the results. Despite many compliments about how good the cake was and how it would be their first choice to bring to a picnic, it didn't hold up in the jello department. The jello element isn't front and center, as it is with some of the others. If you're looking to bring a delectable, light cake with the taste reminiscent of strawberry cheesecake, this is the one for you. If you're looking for a treat where jello takes center stage, leave this recipe in the box for another day.

Retro strawberry jello poke cake

INGREDIENTS:

1 box of white cake mix or your favorite homemade white cake recipe's ingredients

2 3-ounce boxes of strawberry jello

2 1/2 cups of water, divided

1 tub of Vanilla Kraft Cool Whip Frosting*

DIRECTIONS:

Make the cake mix as directed in a 13x9 pan Let the cake cool for an hour. Using a wooden spoon, poke holes, a half-inch apart, in the cake.

jello directions: After the cake has cooled, boil 2 cups of water. Stir in the 2 boxes of jello, until the jello is dissolved. Add 1/2 cup of cold water and stir. Pour the jello over the cooled cake.

Chill at least three hours in the refrigerator. (We recommend overnight.) When chilled, frost with vanilla Kraft Cool Whip Frosting.

*Vanilla Kraft Cool Whip Frosting

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INGREDIENTS:

1 8-ounce container Cool Whip, thawed (sugar-free is recommended)

1 3.5 ounce package instant vanilla or French vanilla pudding mix

1 cup of milk

1/4 cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, combine pudding mix with milk and vanilla. Mix until smooth, about 2 minutes. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread on cake.

Margaret Button — Cherry Coca-Cola jello mold

The hardest part of this recipe was finding the mold itself. Everyone I asked said they didn't own one, "My mom had one (or two or three)." Yeah, my mom had a set, too, but that was then and this is now. Thank goodness, the MAC Thrift Shop in North Adams had a Tupperware jello mold, and it was half-price!

Warning: If you make this, when you add the Coca-Cola to the jello and boiling water mixture, it resembles Mt. Kilauea and the resulting mixture looks disgusting. As the jello thickens in the refrigerator, and you stir it, it becomes a lot clearer. I added the other ingredients after I stirred the mixture and it looked like a red Slush Puppy.

I had nightmares the night before our photo shoot about the jello not coming out of the mold. Fortunately, it came out in one piece with a satisfying "thwunk."

Cherry Coca-Cola jello Mold

INGREDIENTS

2 3-ounce boxes cherry-flavored jello, not sugar-free

1 cup boiling water

10 ounces Coca-Cola

1 can red tart pitted cherries in water 14.5 to 16 ounces

1 can crushed pineapple 8 ounces

1 cup chopped pecans raw or lightly toasted

DIRECTIONS:

Place the powdered jello in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over it and stir until dissolved. Stir in the Coca-Cola. Refrigerate mixture until partially firm, about 30 minutes. Note: Check and stir every 3 to 5 minutes. You want it a thickened, but not set.

Place the cherries and juice in a food processor fitted with a knife blade or in a blender. Pulse or blend a few times to lightly chop the cherries.

Once the jello mixture has thickened, stir in the chopped cherries and its juice, pineapple and its juice, and pecans. Pour into a jello/gelatin mold. Refrigerate until set or overnight. Remove salad from the mold by inverting onto a serving platter. Serve cold.

Lindsey Hollenbaugh — Strawberry pretzel salad

I have to be honest about something: I'm not really a big fan of jello. Lucky for me, (in my humble opinion) I didn't grow up in a family that brought jiggling jello molds to picnics. No mystery jello for me! Which is why this dessert is perfect for any of my family gatherings. As far as jello goes, this one is pretty classic, straight forward and delicious. If you're a fan of the salty-sweet craze, this is the jello dish for you. The sweetness of the strawberries and the cheesecake-like filling pair perfectly with the salty pretzel crust. This was also extremely easy to make, it just required a few steps and some waiting. But if you have to make a dessert for a hot day, this sweet-salty treat can be made the night before with little oven time.

Strawberry pretzel salad

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups crushed pretzels (about 8 ounces)

3/4 cup butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

FILLING:

2 cups whipped topping

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

TOPPING:

2 packages (3 ounces each) strawberry gelatin (we recommend sugar free)

2 cups boiling water

2 packages (16 ounces each) frozen sweetened sliced strawberries, thawed

Additional whipped topping and pretzels, optional for topping

DIRECTIONS:

In a bowl, combine the crushed pretzels, butter and sugar. Press into an ungreased 13x9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For filling, in a small bowl, beat whipped topping, cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Spread over pretzel crust. Refrigerate until chilled.

For topping, dissolve gelatin in boiling water in a large bowl. Stir in strawberries with syrup; chill until partially set. Carefully spoon over filling. Chill for 4-6 hours or until firm (overnight works best). Cut into squares; serve with whipped topping if desired.


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