Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rainbow in a Cloud

 Ah, Rainbow in a Cloud – how you shine your beautiful prism of gelatin over my childhood. The marketing genius behind the “in a cloud” phenomena shows no sign of slowing down, as evidenced by the Kraft Foods website, which is still doing a brisk business with everything from “Patriotic JELL-O in a Cloud” (does it salute?) to  “Vanilla-Berry Trifle in a Cloud (the sophisticated Brit).

In my cut-out recipe collection, Rainbow in a Cloud is accompanied by Pudding in a Cloud, which makes it one of the only recipes to have a sibling. The idea is the same in both, or in any “in a cloud” recipe, though – a thick pillow of COOL WHIP cradles the wobbly finger JELL-O (only later – in the, ahem, ‘90s – did the term “JELL-O Jigglers” come into vogue).

I loved the idea of this dessert, which I well remember was advertised heavily in all the women’s magazines of the day. I was also enamored, of course, by the TV commercials featuring Bill Cosby spooning into dessert cups with that gleeful grin of his. I know for certain that what I wished for almost as much as the dessert, was the dessert cups. The epitome of class, that’s what dessert goblets signaled to me. (And what the single-serve plastic version now available in any grocery store will never approach.) We ate dessert, when we ate dessert, on whatever regular kitchen ware was clean. I was (and am) thrilled by the thought of such very food-specific items. I was (and am) thrilled by the thought of opening the refrigerator and finding dessert neatly lined up on the shelves – as if a kind-hearted fairy with a sweet tooth had visited.

In my house, JELL-O is fantastic and much-loved, hospital jokes aside. I knew at least half the dessert would be a slam dunk. But COOL WHIP, ah, COOL WHIP – the evil twin. I had to wrestle with my conscience in the frozen-foods aisle. I know hydrogenation is bad, bad, bad. How could something that has to defrost for four hours in the fridge remotely resemble whipping cream? (My husband adds that he remembers many a Thanksgiving dinner during his own ‘80s childhood where his aunt forgot to defrost the COOL WHIP. Apparently, it’s amusing for the onlookers, if not easy for the host, to saw into frozen WHIP.) With all due respect to the good folks at Kraft (and I give them a lot for turning what is essentially whipped lard into such a cultural icon), we’ve come a long way, baby.

My pan of cherry JELL-O shimmers in the kitchen light – such a pretty red glow.  Next to it, the defrosted COOL WHIP shimmers like a puddle of gasoline. I grab my margarita glasses (the closest thing to a dessert cup in my house) and start assembling.

Though it’s set up for nearly eight hours, something is amiss with my JELL-O. I believe my version of a “short dip” in hot water melted the gelatin a little too much, which makes it almost impossible to remove it from the pan in those beautifully remembered cubes. When I scrape it into the waiting “clouds” it resembles nothing so much as the Red Cross logo – not exactly appetizing. But, as I line the finished desserts side by side on the wire shelf, I feel a shiver of anticipation that has nothing to do with standing in front of the open fridge.

Eating Rainbow in a Cloud on a rainy, April night is apropos – and also delicious. The cherry JELL-O is sprightly and sweet. But, then, oh then, there comes the moment of reckoning when, bracing myself, I spoon into the COOL WHIP. Crap. When did this happen? Creamy, light, one might say ethereal – it’s the perfect foil for the jiggley red JELL-O.  

I’m dizzy as I stare into my now-empty glass. This can’t be happening! I buy organic whipping cream that’s delivered by a milkman! I likened COOL WHIP to pureed jet fuel! The only explanation I can come up with is that I’ve entered a Fringe universe, where COOL WHIP is delicious and an apt substitute for cream. (It’s also possible that hydrogenation technology has advanced so far in the last 20 years that the COOL WHIP of my youth is an entirely different beast than it is today. Anybody know?)

 Either way, as I wash up the dessert goblets, I’ve got to admit I’m something of a convert. My mind races ahead, picturing how I’ll use the rest of the carton. What else can I put “in a cloud”? Fruit cocktail? An inside-out fruit cobbler? Chili? I thumb through my recipe book until I find Pudding in a Cloud. I’ll have to run to the store for instant pudding, I ponder, and that might take too long. So for now, I’ll simply grab a spoon and lean against the counter. Ah, yes, I’m on “cloud” nine, just me and my delicious COOL WHIP.

Rainbow in a Cloud
1 package (3 oz.) JELL-O Gelatin, any flavor
1 cup boiling water
½ cup cold water
1-1/3 cups thawed COOL WHIP Non-Dairy Whipped Topping

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add cold water and pour into 8-inch square pan. Chill until firm, at least 3 hours. Cut into cubes using sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water. Quickly dip pan in warm water. Remove cubes with spatula. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the whipped topping into each of 4 dessert glasses. Using back of spoon, make depression in center and spread topping up sides of glasses. Spoon gelatin cubes into glasses. Makes 4 servings.

·      Take the recipe at face value – a “quick dip” means a brief plunge in warm water. You could probably just leave the JELL-O at room temperature for a few minutes to similar effect. 
·      JELL-O and COOL WHIP like to scream their names. The caps are Kraft's emphasis, not mine, though with my new love, I might as well join them: COOL WHIP! COOL WHIP! COOL WHIP!

Why Don't You...
·      Make this with real whipping cream and do a taste test. You win either way, right?
·      Consider the tenant of moderation. I’m not advocating eating COOL WHIP every night (or real whipped cream, for that matter, which I still think, all things considered, is healthier).
·      Avoid the “reduced” and “fat free” versions of whipped topping. I have to draw the line somewhere, COOL WHIP.

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