The cocktails you eat
Gorgeous, shimmering jelly shots are taking the party season by storm. Go ahead -- nibble that drink.
(From top to bottom): Campari and orange juice, blueberry martini, Rosé Champagne with candied orange peel, vanilla-bean Prosecco, B-52, pear martini, Manhattan, tequila sunrise, gin and tonic. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)
But the best reason of all is to show off edible cocktails -- gorgeous jiggly cubes or slices or pyramids that you serve like hors d'oeuvres. They're making a splash at bars and restaurants and on the party circuit. Everybody's doing it. They're passed around on platters at parties, featured on tasting menus or incorporated into desserts.
We're talking about easy-to-make jelly shots. Envision them at your next soiree: shimmering solid cocktails such as squares of a fizzy jellied gin and tonic, slices of Campari-grapefruit gelée, or cubes of bourbon, Cointreau, lemon and honey.
At Bar Nineteen 12, which opened in August in the Beverly Hills Hotel, a sampler of five jelly shots comes out on a clear, ice-filled glass box lighted from inside: a solid half-dome of blueberry martini with a fresh blueberry suspended in the center; a slice of B-52 with layers of Grand Marnier, Kahlúa and Baileys; a pear martini made with pear purée; a mojito shot in the shape of a diamond; and a round bubble gum martini.
Inspiration came not from what you might recall as the Jell-O shot, but from the jelly shots served at the chic Bar du Plaza Athénée on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, where you can order other edible cocktails such as "fashion ice" -- cocktails in ice-pop form. At the illuminated bar made of sculpted glass (to resemble an iceberg), slices of layered jelly shots are served on clear glass plates along with long wooden skewers for picking up the gelées. It sounds precious, but the French are onto something.
"The bars in Paris had such an interesting twist on cocktails and how they're served," says Philip Spee, Nineteen 12's bar manager. "And not just at Plaza Athénée," which is a Beverly Hills Hotel sister property. For research, they checked out other fashionable Paris watering holes such as the VIP Room and Pershing Hall. "There were different densities, different textures to their drinks." Soon, Bar Nineteen 12 also will serve martini Popsicles, Spee says.
By the flight
At the month-old dining and cocktail parlor Tailor in New York, cutting-edge bartender Eben Freeman also plans to do "a flight of solids," three edible cocktails, such as a jellied gin and tonic he has done in the past, served with frozen lime chips and sprinkled with "tonic" powder, a concoction of baking soda, citric acid and powdered sugar, for a fizzy-on-the-tongue effect. "We'll be doing riffs on the gelatin-based cocktail -- rum and Coke, martinis," Freeman says. "Really, the possibilities are endless."
When he was at New York restaurant WD-50 (where the chef serves dishes such as grilled octopus with avocado, juniper and Campari-litchi), Freeman was experimenting with dehydrated rum and Coke and cocktails in paper form, such as a thin, crispy sheet of quince sour made with whiskey, quince and lemon. At Tailor, he says, he's also working on cocktails in marshmallow form and in cereal form.
"It's just a different way of thinking about your drinks," Freeman says. "Hopefully it inspires people to more thoroughly contemplate their cocktail and think about it more seriously." Seriously? "At the same time, it's all in the name of fun."
On the tasting menu at Providence in Hollywood is pastry chef Adrian Vasquez's take on the jellied gin and tonic, cut into squares and frozen before serving so they get cold and frosty, then sprinkled with lime zest and tonic powder. Vasquez is serving them alongside mojito "spheres." (These are made with sodium hexametaphosphate, among other things, and not gelatin. Do not try this at home.) For his gin and tonic gelées, he blooms gelatin sheets right in the gin to retain as much of the gin flavor as possible, then heats the gelatin and gin over very low heat so that the flavor and alcohol don't burn off.
At Craft in Century City, pastry chef Catherine Schimenti mixes Prosecco, simple syrup and vanilla bean seeds with gelatin to make cubes of jiggly-sweet gelée -- a delicious, solid aperitif. She pours the mixture into plastic-lined shallow pans and, once they've set, cuts them into cubes. They're firm enough to pick up and eat but still meltingly tender, a little bubbly and tangy from the sparkling wine, and fragrant and sweet from the vanilla-infused simple syrup.
The beauty of jelly shots is that not only are they easy to make, but they also lend themselves to boundless creativity. Just about any aperitif or cocktail can be turned solid just by adding gelatin, pouring it into a mold, and letting it set overnight in the fridge. Mix the Italian aperitif Aperol with Prosecco and club soda. Or make a layered tequila sunrise -- tequila with orange juice and grenadine. Or a sparkling rosé wine with candied orange. Or a Manhattan with a cherry suspended in it.
Add gelatin and you're ready to entertain. Do take the same care you would in mixing a great cocktail -- and even in considering garnishes -- because all the nuance makes it into the solid version.
"You can marinate the fruit," suggests Eddie Perez, bar manager at the Foundry on Melrose in Hollywood. "You could do a whiskey sour with little pieces of citrus marinated in bourbon. Or you could add pieces of candied blood oranges. . . . I would stick to the simple. You want them to have a light, clear quality; you don't want them to taste muddy."
Perez's edible cocktails for tasting menus are more elaborate: a granité of pear vodka, mixed with dehydrated and finely grated maraschino cherries, topped with pearls of Champagne gelée and fresh Champagne grapes that have been peeled (and some marinated in Drambuie) and sprinkled with lemon and lime zest. They're served with a spoon.
But no spoon's required for jelly shots. These aren't Jell-O shots that come in little plastic cups and are made by adding a packet of Jell-O to vodka. So there's the matter of getting the right texture -- you should be able to pick them up, like appetizers, with your fingers.
"You want them to be firm, but not too rubbery," says Bar Nineteen 12 head bartender Matt Martinez. Keep in mind, the longer they sit in the refrigerator, the firmer they get, and they soften a bit as they sit at room temperature.
A rule of thumb when creating your own would be to use one-half to three-fourths of a sheet of gelatin for every ounce of liquid and let it set overnight. (If you're using gelatin powder, a quarter-ounce packet is the equivalent of four sheets of gelatin.) For strong drinks such as martinis or Manhattans, either make them into small shapes or dilute them with simple syrup (sugar dissolved in an equal amount of boiling water).
You can use relatively inexpensive silicone ice cube trays in fun shapes. (To release the cocktails once they're set, run the tip of a sharp knife around the top edge, then carefully work them out of the molds.) Or use plastic candy molds; this requires running the underside of the molds under hot water to release the jelly. Or just pour the gelatin-liquor mixture into plastic-wrap-lined baking pans and, once set, cut it into cubes or slices. That's the easiest way.
Arrange them in a beautiful display and you've got a cocktail party on a plate.
Cheers. Oh, wait -- I mean bon appétit!