Welcome to Jiggle All The Way, The Takeout’s holiday celebration of Jell-O, gelatin, and all things wiggly. We’ll be releasing new feature stories and original holiday recipes every day this week, and each of them will have a little bit of wobble.
When I first stumbled upon a recipe for Hexenschnee, or Witches’ Snow, in the New World Encyclopedia of Cooking, I was immediately intrigued. The recipe was short, simple, and accompanied by quaint line drawings of a witch reminiscent of the less attractive version of the Evil Queen in Snow White. I’m always curious about desserts I’ve never heard of, even more so if they fall loosely into the category of “Jell-O mold.”
Given my deep fascination with American cooking of the 1940s-1960s, it’s inevitable that I often come across recipes for Jell-O molds. Mayonnaise-laced, Bundt-shaped salads, lunch meats in aspic, technicolor fruits suspended in acid-green lime gelatin—I love them all. When I say “love” I don’t necessarily mean that I am excited by the prospect of eating them, but I’m fascinated by their construction, their cultural significance. What caught my eye about Hexenschnee, one in a vast sea of gelatinous recipes, is that it actually sounded kind of good.
Reduced to its most basic elements, Hexenschnee is a gelatin-set apple mousse. It’s laced with rum and lemon juice for a little extra bite, and made frothy (the other common translation is “Witches’ Froth”) by the addition of whipped egg whites. The ingredients are simple: gelatin, baked apple puree or apple sauce, sugar, lemon juice, egg whites, and rum.
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Some versions of the recipe call for setting the dessert with gelatin and popping it into a decorative mold, while others eschew the gelatin, which results in an airier, more delicate dish that can be easily piped or piled into a pretty glass. It’s a striking departure from most of Hungarian cooking, which is known for rich, meat-heavy mains and decadent desserts. And while the origins of the recipe are unknown, Hungarian folklore is rife with weird stories involving witches and apples.
Take, for example, the tale of Szelemen, a young man who finds himself taking care of an apple orchard where the apples taste suspiciously like raw meat. Turns out, the apples are actually enchanted girls—sort of. The one apple that Szelemen took a bite of turns into a girl every night, and eventually he rescues her and takes her home to be his wife. In a similar tale, our hero, this time by the name of Jancsi, is also taking care of an apple orchard. Rather than merely tasting like flesh, Jancsi’s apples scream when he tries to pick them, and they scratch at his door while he tries to sleep. Plot twist: they’re also enchanted girls! And who is doing all of this enchanting? Witches, of course.
These folktales, like the dessert that represents them, are obscure. You can find translations in the recent-ish Dancing on Blades: Rare and Exquisite Folktales from the Carpathian Mountains. There are some Hexenschnee recipes on the internet, but most of them require Google Translate, and they’re sparse at best. They all also make a lot of Hexenschnee—more than anyone really needs. Here’s a pared-down recipe that makes just enough of this weird, wobbly dessert to make it a good palate cleanser between a decadent holiday meal and, perhaps, some cakes and pies. But no enchanted apples.
Serves 4-6, depending on portion size
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. rum
- ½ cup sugar, divided
- 1 egg white
Bloom the gelatin in ¼ cup of cold water, then heat it in the microwave or on the stove top until gelatin has melted and dissolved. Set aside.
Whisk together applesauce, ¼ cup of sugar, rum, and gelatin mixture. Chill in a metal bowl over an ice bath or in the freezer until the mixture starts to gel but is not set. Stir often.
Once the apple mixture has begun to gel, whip the egg white and the other ¼ cup of sugar into a French meringue by whipping the egg whites until frothy, then slowly adding in the sugar while you continue to whisk.
Whisk in lemon juice, then fold the meringue into the apple mixture.
If using a mold, lightly oil with a neutral-flavored oil (do not use olive oil, as the flavor will be too strong) and wipe away excess with a paper towel. Pour the mixture into the mold and set in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours. This can also be set in the freezer for 2-3 hours; it will have a texture similar to a semifreddo or sorbet.
If you’re not using a mold, chill the mixture in a bowl in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours, and serve in glasses. Garnish with seasonal fruits.