Standing in front of the fridge in despair, prodding a very runny jelly? Running out of time for your jelly pudding to set and wondering what to do? Yes, I know, I’ve been there too…
With party guests arriving any minute and you worry whether the jelly dessert will set in time, it should be served?
Depending on the fridge temperature and the jelly size, the setting can take up to 2- 4 hrs. The good news is that there are many ways of speeding up the jelly-setting process.
I’ll go through the different options and I’m sure you’ll find your perfect way of setting jelly, whether it’s in the fridge, freezer or just in a room temperature.
I’ll also tell you how to speed up your jelly setting process to make sure your jelly pudding is ready in time.
So, how long does jelly take to set?
I’m sorry to be the bearer of a bad news, but most jellies take at least 2-4 hrs to set in fridge (which is set to about 5C).
But some large jellies (say if you use one of those lovely oldfashioned jelly moulds) might take even longer – up to 3-6 hrs if you are using one large mould.
If you have the time, just make the jelly the day before you needed and it will always set fine. Jelly will last in the fridge for a good few days, so you don’t need to worry about it going off.
If you are looking to speed up the jelly setting process, there are quite a few ways this can be done, including using smaller moulds, ice cubes, partly chilling the jelly in the freezer or using less water all together.
Jelly or Jello?
Also before we get started, let me just reassure you that whether you are in the UK and calling this simple pudding a ‘jelly’ or in the USA, Canada or Australia or anywhere else in the world, and calling it ‘jello’, I’m talking about the same thing here.
In the USA, Canada or Australia you might be familiar with the Jell-o brand, Simply Delish (which also makes sugar free and plant based versions) or other gelatine fruit powders.
Since I’m based in the UK, it’s ‘jelly’ for me, but the same principles about how long does jelly take to set will apply to ‘jello’ too. The types of jelly I usually use, include Hartley’s Jelly Cubes or any supermarket’s own brand of fruit gelatine powders.
I should also mention, that in this jelly guide, I’m referring to sweet jelly pudding, which is made with gelatine, water, sugar and flavourings and not fruit jelly that’s usually made as a preserve (and usually set with pectin) to serve with cheese, meats or savoury dishes.
To help to set jelly conserve, you can follow my step by step advice for setting marmalade, which is very similar.
The traditional way of making jelly at home, using a fridge
The traditional way of making jelly at home is to first make the jelly with either gelatine powder or jelly cubes and slightly heat up the gelatine (either by warming the mixture in a small saucepan or pouring hot water over the jelly cubes).
When the jelly has dissolved, you add more water – this time cold, stir in, pour into the mould and leave to cool down in the room temperature. This can take anything up to 30 minutes, depending on how big moulds you are using or how cold (or hot your kitchen is) etc.
Afterwards, you move the jelly to a fridge and leave to set completely – for another 2-3 hours. Large moulds will take a lot longer and you might need to leave the jelly in the fridge overnight to set properly.
Make sure that your fridge is temperature is set at no higher than 5 degrees Celsius. Also make sure that you check this if you have a digital thermometer as I’ve sometimes noticed, that my fridge can be a little higher even if the setting is at 5 C.
Also, ensure the jelly mould is placed in the coldest part of your fridge (which is usually at the bottom on a glass shelf) with the fridge door closed properly. If you can, try to avoid opening and closing the fridge door too much during the setting process as this can increase the temperature in the fridge by few degrees.
Timescales for setting jelly in the fridge
- Make the jelly – 5 min
- Leave to cool down at room temperature – 30 minutes
- Leave to chill in the fridge – 2-3 hrs for medium sized moulds or containers or 1-2 hrs for small glasses or containers
Setting jelly in fridge & freezer
If you are wondering how to speed up the jelly firming process, the only thing you can do (if the jelly is already made) is to carefully place it in the freezer.
To make sure that the gelatine has the chance (and the time) to set the jelly, I’d always recommend to initially leave the jelly to start setting in the fridge and then move to the freezer if needed.
Be careful to keep the jelly mould level, so that you don’t end up with a lopsided jelly, when placing it in the freezer.
How long does jelly take to set in the freezer?
Freezer will cut down the setting time by about half.
Make sure that you check the jelly every 20 minutes or so (depending on the size) as you don’t want the jelly to freeze. The jelly often change it’s structure and looks crystalised if it’s completely frozen over and the gelatine doesn’t have the time to set naturally before it freezes.
This is why it’s not advisable to put the jelly straight in the freezer. The jelly liquid will freeze, but when you defrost it, it will turn back to liquid. This won’t be good to you if you are making jelly that you want to take out of the mould to serve.
Timescales for setting the jelly in the freezer
- Make the jelly – 5 min
- Leave to cool down at room temperature – 30 minutes
- Leave to chill in the fridge – 30 minutes
- Leave to quickly chill in the freezer – 1 hr (check every 20 minutes & don’t allow the jelly to freeze)
- Place back to the fridge until needed (or serve straight from the freezer)
Setting jelly in a room temperature
Sometimes, you might not have access to the fridge or freezer, but you still want to make a jelly. This method will take the longest and if your room is very warm, it might not even work.
Jelly starts to set at 15 C, which is fairly cold for a modern house or a flat.
Even in the winter, my cold victorian house kitchen is only hovering around 16-17C. If you really don’t have any other option than to set your jelly in the room temperature, here is what to do:
Make your jelly as normal and try to use as cold water as possible for the second part of the jelly making.
Pour the jelly into smaller containers. The smaller or shallower containers you find the better, as the jelly will cool down quicker.
Find the coldest spot in your kitchen. Check with your hand what seems to be the coldest place, including floor and corners of your kitchen. If you know that some parts of your house are colder than your kitchen consider moving the jelly to those other rooms.
If you have marble, glass or granite chopping boards use those to place your jelly containers on. The thick stone will absorb the heat from the jelly and help to cool it down.
If you are making your jelly in the winter, consider opening windows to let cold air in or even place your jelly outside on the balcony, garden or any suitable outdoor space.
If you do this, make sure that all the jelly pots are completely sealed or covered and that you place something on top of the containers to weight them down. This will prevent any cheeky animals from trying to get to your jelly before you do!
My last tip for setting jelly at room temperature (or without freezer or fridge) is to move the jelly from the first place to another place that’s colder.
As the surface absorbs the warmth from the jelly it becomes slightly warmer. It might be very negligent amount, but if you move the jelly to another spot that’s equally cold and wasn’t used before you might find that the jelly will set faster.
Timescales for setting jelly at room temperature
- Make the jelly – 5 min
- Leave to cool down at room (or outdoor) temperature – 3-6-8 hrs (depends on size of your jelly and weather/season)
How long does sugar free jelly take to set?
I find that gelatine sugar free jelly tend to set about the same time as regular jelly – which is about 2-4 hrs depending on the size of your mould or coldness of the second part of the added water etc.
How long does vegan jelly or gelatine free jelly take to set?
I usually make my jelly with gelatine based jelly or gelatine, which of course is animal based. But, since some of my friends are vegans I’ve recently started to experiment with making gelatine-free jellies too.
I use agar-agar powder or pre-made plant based jelly mix, which comes in different flavours.
Agar powder or agar-agar usually comes in small packages, that can be added to any fruit juice. To make the agar powder set quicker use slightly more powder, but don’t be tempted to add too much (otherwise, the flavour can turn a bit powdery).
Since agar-agar needs to be cooked (boiled) for about 5 minutes, it’s quite hot when you are pouring it into your moulds. But, once in the moulds, agar-agar sets quickly and usually, it’s firm within 60 minutes.
Once cold to touch, you can place the agar jelly in the fridge (or freezer) to cool down quicker. Because agar is plant based (as opposed to traditional jelly), it doesn’t need a fridge to set, and you can easily leave your pudding to set in a room temperature.
Pre-made vegan jelly powders work in a similar way (boil the liquid & leave to set), but it’s worth following the instructions on your packet to get the best results.
If you don’t have a shop bought agar-agar or vegan jelly powder, you can try my traditional Orange Flummery Recipe, which is made with oats and can be easily made to suit vegan diet. The only disadvantage of this recipe is that the setting time is much longer than regular jelly, so you need to plan a little ahead.
Pro Tip for using vegan jelly powder or agar-agar
If you want to speed up the time it takes for your jelly pudding to set, it might be worth considering to use plant based jelly powders or easy to use agar-agar powder, when you are making your jelly puddings next.
The flavour is only very slightly different (with the special vegan jelly (or jello) powders, the flavour is practically the same) and the setting time is 2-3 hours shorter.
Vegan jelly powders are also useful to have around, if you don’t have access to fridge and can’t set your jelly in a traditional way. Vegan jelly powder or agar-agar will set at room temperature and doesn’t require fridge to set.
What slows down the jelly setting process?
Adding alcohol to your jelly (say if you are making alcoholic jelly shots) will slow down the setting process considerably. The higher the alcohol content, the slower the setting point. The best thing to do is to make alcoholic jelly shots the day before you need them or use smaller glasses.
Also, don’t be tempted to just replace the water amount in your recipe with pure alcohol. The jelly will never really set with such a high alcohol content.
Aim to replace about 1/3 of the water content in your recipe with your chosen alcohol. This way you’ll have deliciously tasting alcoholic jelly, but it will also set properly.
You can also add a little less water (or add more jelly) to counteract the alcohol and this will make the jelly set slightly firmer (and in shorter period of time).
Another thing that always slows down the setting process is using fresh pineapple or pineapple juice. This is because pineapple contains enzymes that break down the pectin in gelatine.
A lot of fresh fruit
Whilst adding some fruit to your jelly is a good way of making a simple jelly into more substantial pudding, if you add too much you might end up with jelly that won’t set.
If I’m making individual pudding glasses, I would add the fruit first and then pour the jelly over the fruit.
When the jelly sets I’d add extra whipped cream or a home made fruit syrup (like this Pear Sugar Syrup) or top it with a Mango Fruit curd (depending on a jelly flavour) or a spoonful of my Orange & Lime Marmalade (for any citrus jelly flavours)
Because I know the bottom of the fruit jelly with the fresh (or competed fruit) is very unlikely to set properly, I’d serve the pudding as it its (and I wouldn’t try to de-mould it to serve).
Too much water
When mixing your jelly (whether it’s the traditional type or vegan jelly) make sure that you add the correct amount of water or fruit juice. I always weigh my water or juice ( grams are the same as ml for water or thin juice), but you can also use a measuring jug.
If you add too much water or juice, the jelly will take a longer to set or it might be permanently liquid (only set partially).
My Favourite Jelly Making Equipment & Ingredients
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This blog post was originally written on 2 January 2018 and updated on 15 December 2022