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Sparkly Jewel Cake

by Jane Worthington-Roth

As a child growing up in the 1950’s, one of my favorite desserts was known as “Crown Jewel Cake.” I have no idea where my mom got her original recipe, but she would often make one for special occasions, and I couldn’t wait to see how beautiful the cake looked when we cut into it. The Jello© cubes sparkled throughout the cake appearing like emeralds and rubies! I have a very vivid memory of being the one who carried the cake to my aunt’s house for a particular holiday meal. I was so thrilled to be in charge of this luscious dessert that I didn’t watch where I was going, tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and splattered the cake (and my demeanor) all over the ground. Despite the fact that I have such a traumatic memory associated with the cake, I still love the sparkle of the memory – and of the cake.

My mom’s original recipe (shown below) calls for boxes of Jello©, but since these contain lots of sugar and dyes, I like to make my own using unflavored gelatin and healthy fruit juices. It’s best to make the three gelatins (e.g. lime, cherry and orange) the day before, so they have time to fully set. Feel free to alter the flavors and colors and use fruit juices that your family enjoys the best. Three flavors are used as “cubes” and the lemon-flavored package is used to set the pineapple-cream base. If you make your own gelatin cubes, you will still need a package of lemon Jello© for the base.

What’s best about making this dessert in the summertime is that it is not baked – just chilled in the fridge – and so it is a deliciously refreshing – and beautiful – dessert!

Anna’s Crown Jewel Cake

3 small packages of Jello© (lime, cherry, orange) – OR - Homemade Fruit Gelatin*
1 small package lemon Jello©
1 cup pineapple juice
¼ cup sugar
1 pint of heavy cream
¼ cup melted butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs

Special equipment: springform pan; three 1-inch-deep baking sheet pans

Make each of the three packages of Jello© (lime, cherry and orange) with a reduced amount of water so they set up very firm. To each, add 1 cup boiling water, stir to dissolve, then add in ½ cup cold water. Stir well. Place each type of Jello© into a separate baking sheet pan and chill until very firm, at least 3 hours. The sheet pans will ensure very thin Jello©. Using a sharp knife, slice the Jello© into ½ inch cubes.
Note: If you don’t have three sheet pans - or the room to chill three sheet pans – you can set the Jello© in square cake pans. (Alternately, make three recipes of Homemade Fruit Gelatin* and chill until firm.)

In a small saucepan, mix the pineapple juice, sugar and lemon Jello© package. Heat the mixture on low, stirring constantly, until the sugar and Jello© dissolve. Pour into a heatproof bowl, add ½ cup ice-cold water and set aside – allowing the mixture to get syrupy and to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Stir well to combine, then press into the bottom of the springform pan to form a bottom crust.

In a slightly chilled medium mixing bowl, beat the whipping cream until light peaks form. Carefully fold in the pineapple juice mixture and all the cubes of Jello©. Pour on top of the graham cracker crust, and chill until firm.

Before serving, run a warm butter knife around the edge of the pan to help loosen the cake before unclipping the spring.

*Homemade Fruit Gelatin
Note: You will need to make three of these recipes to use as cubes in the cake recipe, above.

1½ cups fruit juice
1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin (e.g., Great Lakes Brand or Knox Gelatin)

Place ¼ cup of the juice in a small bowl and sprinkle with the powdered gelatin. Mix is gently with a whisk and let it sit until the gelatin swells up (“blooms”).

Put the additional 1¼ cups of juice in small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and gently whisk the bloomed gelatin into the saucepan. Pour into a cookie sheet pan then place into the refrigerator until the gelatin is fully set, at least 3 hours.