Many of us will likely have some childhood memories of eating multicoloured, jiggly specimens of Jell-O, that gelatin-based dish that was quite popular (so much so that back in the fifties and sixties, home cooks would apparently encase odd things like salads and even lamb chops in them, though there are some interesting theories as to why this kind of cooking was so popular).
Nevertheless, Jell-O cuisine continues to evolve as some creative-minded people are re-interpreting it as a kind of art form. That's what Sydney, Australia-based jelly artisan Siew Heng Boon of Jelly Alchemy is doing with her gorgeous, three-dimensional jelly cakes that feature jaw-dropping, finely handcrafted details like flowers, animals and fish. Best of all, Boon uses a seaweed-based gelatin, rather than sourced from animal collagen, meaning her cakes are vegetarian-friendly.
I wanted to perfect the art and experimented on taste, natural colouring and design. As I posted my experiments on social media, I started getting requests from people wanting to order my jelly cakes. The feedback that I received was wonderful. I was a full time homemaker back then and was figuring ways to help my family out financially. It occurred to me that I could combine my passion with meaningful work. Upon my return to Sydney, I started Jelly Alchemy.
Boon's cakes are delightful to behold: enveloping delicately petaled blossoms and leaves of various sizes and hues; or wildlife like long-tailed birds and brilliant koi fish.
As one can see in the explanatory video below, these remarkable jelly cakes are actually decorated upside down, and the flavoured colouring for the designs injected in and then worked in, bit by bit, with special hand-held tools. Jelly cakes can have different layers of colours and tastes like lychee, strawberry, and green tea, as well as different shapes. When cut, they offer a delicious visual cross-section into the heart of the cake. Says Boon:
I find inspiration from nature around me, looking at artworks and floral arrangements. I love to experiment on colours to create different shades and hues. Sometimes my designs are impromptu, designing what I feel will look good on the spot.
It's not clear from where this fascinating food art originates, but Boon believes it might have come from Mexico, and is now gaining popularity in Asia, especially in southeast Asia.
Boon continues to create eye-catching jelly cakes for all kinds of special occasions for clients, from birthdays, anniversaries and weddings, and you can see more of her artisanal jelly cakes on her Instagram and Facebook.