How To Make Jell-O Shots Without Molds Or Cups

You may equate Jell-O shots with college frat parties, but they can (and should) be appreciated well into adulthood. After all, they're tasty with a surprisingly boozy kick; they can be made into a slew of flavors mimicking your favorite cocktails; and they're just plain fun to eat. And there's no better way to break the ice than to serve a tray of these at your next party or get-together. 

The simplest way to serve and clean up Jell-O shots is by making them in small, individual cups that you can just toss away, but if you don't have these available, you can still make the treat in another way. All you'll need to do is pour the mixture into a glass dish or baking pan, allow it to set, cut the Jell-O into individual mini squares, and let guests help themselves.

Using small cookie cutters to stamp the Jell-O shots into shapes would add some extra festivity too; stars, hearts, and flowers work for any occasion, but don't be afraid to get seasonal, too. Pineapple shapes are great for summer, and trees and candy cane shapes are perfect for the holidays. You could even use a small circular biscuit cutter or a shot glass to cut out small circles. The point is, it's not so much about the shape or whether you have individual cups for your Jell-O shots; it's the fact that you give your parties some spirit by making them in the first place (just be sure to save them for adults only).

Endless combinations of Jell-O and booze

To make a tray or pan of spiked Jell-O shots, it's really as easy as choosing a gelatin flavor and a base liquor. Vodka is arguably the most popular, but rum also works. Gin, whiskey, and tequila are other options. Basic Jell-O shots typically combine the flavored, powdered gelatin with boiling water and then substitute alcohol for the cold water that's added in the last phase of creation. But you can get even more creative by incorporating schnapps, cordials, juices, and solid fruits as "garnishes."

Try strawberry Jell-O and prosecco for something bubbly and unexpected; peach Jell-O made with peach schnapps or peach-flavored vodka for a summertime treat; and tequila and lime-flavored Jell-O for a shot reminiscent of a margarita. You could also combine lemon Jell-O with limoncello, pineapple Jell-O with coconut rum, and cranberry Jell-O with lime juice, triple sec, and vodka for a Cosmopolitan. Or, mimic colorful striped cocktails like a tequila sunrise; just make both cherry and orange Jell-O using tequila and then layer the flavors. Don't forget to garnish with a bright red maraschino cherry, and an optional paper umbrella.

There's also a trick to use unflavored gelatin sheets or gelatin powder for the freedom to make any kind of cocktail-inspired Jell-O shot you want — like a Manhattan Jell-O shot made with whiskey, bitters, vermouth, and simple syrup.

Jell-O shots pre-date frat parties by decades

There is a well-known story that Jell-O shots were invented in the 1950s when a man named Tom Lehrer combined orange Jell-O and vodka as a way to sneak booze into a Christmas party at an American military base (which was strictly alcohol-free at the time). But other written documentation suggests that the concept of gelatinized alcohol predated this event by hundreds of years. Some medieval recipes for jellied aspics contained wine and, while these certainly weren't shots, they show that alcoholic jellied substances were enjoyed by the knights and ladies of yesteryear. 

Even 19th-century culinary superstar Antonin Careme once created an orange flower and pink champagne jelly, and in the 1862 book "Bartender's Guide: How to Mix Drinks," Jerry Thomas included a recipe for punch jelly, which contained brandy, rum, and isinglass, the latter being the gelatinizing agent, which is basically collagen from fish bladders. A possible predecessor to the Jell-O shot was published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1902 and was called "wine jelly." It was a mixture of lemon Jell-O, sugar, water, orange juice, and sherry that was poured into hollowed-out orange halves to set and serve.

While Jell-O shots eventually became an easy way for college students to mask cheap liquor in the 1980s, there has been a revival of sorts for the treat, and they're increasingly being made with top-shelf liquor, homemade bitters, and other flashy ingredients. Even if you're using the best spirits you can buy, it's still okay to create them in a pie dish and cut out cubes. In fact, if you place a handful of those cubes in a martini glass, you'll have something that looks altogether fabulous.