An English medieval feast traditionally included at least one jelly, usually combining both meat and fruit flavors. Not until Tudor times was a division made between the sweet and savory versions. Sweet jellies, often layered by color, were an important component of Tudor and Stuart "banquets," a word which, at the time, referred not to the feast itself but rather the often bizarre (by today's standards, at least) sweet course accompanied by entertainment. Pies opened to release the well-known four-and-twenty blackbirds or sometimes even frogs, which in the words of one seventeenth-century writer "made the ladies skip and shreek."
These brightly colored jellies were popular throughout much of fashionable Europe. Emphasizing color rather than flavor, they were used to create elaborate and decorative tablescapes depicting fish, flowers, and fruit in both landscape and still life tableaux. A glistening wine jelly on a pedestaled stand was often the centerpiece finale of a grand feast.
This Red Wine Jelly emphasizes both color and flavor. A grown-up dessert, it is tart and sophisticated due to the inclusion of red wine nicely rounded out by brandy. The whipped cream is a good counterpoint to the austerity of the jelly.
1. Stir the first 6 ingredients (everything except the gelatin and the whipped cream) together in a medium-sized saucepan.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and whisk in.
3. Bring to a boil and boil over medium heat for 5 minutes.
4. Pass the jelly through a sieve into a rinsed and damp 7- to 8-cup mold and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 4 hours.
5. Unmold and serve with the whipped cream.
Variation: A more delicate jelly can be made using less gelatin (3 packets), but then do not try to unmold it. Serve it straight from the mold. A heatproof glass bowl is beautiful if you serve the jelly at the table, passing the whipped cream separately.
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