photo by madaise
gelatin cake

Every home cook should have a few recipes that call for secret ingredients. Not like Aunt Gertie's mystery meat or your sister-in-law's clean-out-the-fridge casseroles. You want recipes that family and friends hound you for. Some of the best meals have flavors that are strangely familiar, but no one can quite put their finger on what's in it. And before they leave, they'll want the recipe. You'll smile because it's so simple to make and cheap, too. Gelatin is the secret ingredient that helps make wonderfully different desserts. It's not just for crunchy, congealed salads anymore. Just about everyone has a gelatin story, so you can wax nostalgic, too.

No-Bake Strawberry Dessert

1 (6-ounce) package strawberry-flavored gelatin
32 ounces unsweetened applesauce
24 graham crackers
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed

Combine powdered gelatin with applesauce. Place four whole-graham-cracker sheets, lengthwise and touching, in a single layer in a serving dish. Using a rubber spatula, spread a heaping 1/2 cup of applesauce mixture over the crackers. Repeat layers five times. Frost with whipped topping. Chill in refrigerator overnight and slice crosswise to serve.
Optional: Reserve a teaspoon of powdered gelatin to sprinkle over whipped topping before chilling.

Gelatin Pressed Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 package (3 ounces) gelatin, any flavor
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and gelatin. Add egg and vanilla. Gradually add flour and baking powder. Mix well. Using a cookie press with disk of choice, press dough onto baking sheet. Add sugar and sprinkles. Bake at 400 F for 8 minutes. You can convert this into drop cookies by following the recipe below.
Optional: colored sugar and sprinkles.

Gelatin Drop Cookies

3/4 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 (3 ounce) package gelatin, any flavor
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together margarine, sugar, gelatin powder and eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place on a greased and floured cookie sheet. Flatten each with fork tines. Bake 8 minutes at 350 F.
-- submitted by Lori, Illinois

Hawaiian Poke Cake

1 (18-ounce) box yellow-cake mix
1 (3-ounce) box gelatin, any flavor
2 (20-ounce) cans crushed pineapple, drained and juice reserved
1 (3.4-ounce) package instant-vanilla-pudding mix
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 (8-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Prepare cake according to package directions, substituting drained pineapple juice for the water. Allow to cool completely in pan. Using a wooden spoon handle, poke holes all over the top of the cake through to the bottom. Prepare gelatin according to package instructions, but don't chill to set. Pour gelatin slowly over the entire surface of the cooled cake. Spread drained pineapple on top of cooled cake. Prepare pudding as per package directions and set aside. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until softened and smooth. Mix in the pudding. Fold in the whipped topping. Spread evenly over the pineapple. Sprinkle top with coconut. Chill cake overnight.
Cook's note: Not a fan of coconut or pineapple? Leave it out.