Recently I saw a couple of people posting a recipe from and old cookbook, probably from sometime in the 1950s. It was short, and the title contained an unusual combination of things that don’t usually go together. Who’d usually associate Coca-Cola with “salad”?
Putting aside issues with the stretched (but not unprecedented) use of the word “salad”, there were a lot of reactions to this, mostly along the lines of it being amazingly gross, insane, weird or wrong. I looked at it though, and saw nothing that you couldn’t put in a cheesecake and have good results with. Cream cheese, sugars, flavours, thickening agents, textures … you don’t have to look hard to find someone who’s already looked at a bottle of Coke and seen a convenient blend of water and sugar to cook with.
Ingredients and Proportions
I decided to do this as a test, but the first stumbling block is that the recipe is very imprecise. A “package” of jello. A “small package” of cream cheese. I hate this kind of vague stuff in recipes. Don’t get me started on the amount of times I’ve had to work out what Americans call a “stick” of butter. Use your numbers, people. You never know who’s going to be reading this stuff 60 years later.
For the Coke, it seems that 10oz is roughly 300ml, which is a spot on match for a “classic” Coca-Cola bottle you can just pick up in my local supermarket. It also looks cooler in photos, so that was an easy choice. I’ll just pour one of them in, and I won’t even have to measure anything. Everybody wins!
Jelly! I really don’t know if the brand-name Jello from the USA is totally equivalent to good old Australian Aeroplane Jelly, but I’m pretty certain ours hasn’t changed much from when I was a kid to now, so I’m going to assume theirs hasn’t either. It makes 500ml of jelly now, and always has as far as I know. Given we’re only adding 300ml of liquid (in the form of Coke) and the cream cheese to the bowl, it should give us a very firm set and good structure.
It was kind of tricky searching for historic packaging sizes for cream cheese, while keeping it vague enough to avoid stumbling over anyone else who may have attempted this exact same recipe. I didn’t want to see anyone else’s results before I started. Eventually I found a clue that the older small packages may have been 4 ounces. This looked like the equivalent to half of our common 225 gram packages. The internal wrapping surprised me when it had markings in ounces after all, but I guess it’s all just imported from the cheapest source for the supermarket brands, and localisation wouldn’t be a big priority.
“Nuts” is the bad kind of vague writing I don’t want in a recipe, but I’m not expecting them to dissolve or really affect the process in any way, just to add to the texture and possibly to clump together and form the “crust” of the cheesecake-esque result I’m anticipating. I chose some crushed peanuts because they were really cheap and I didn’t want to invest much in this in case the internet was right and this was going to be awful.
With the ingredients and quantities chosen, let’s summarise this in clear units for the people of 2079 who eventually stumble across this post and have to try to reconstruct it for some kind of virtual reality cooking blog that’s injected directly into someone’s brain, because that’s what they do now.
- 113g cream cheese
- 300ml fizzy cola beverage with a lot of sugar
- 85g orange flavour jelly mix (makes 500ml of jelly)
- 1/2 cup crushed nuts (maybe about 80 to 90 grams)
With everything assembled on the counter, and decisions made, it was time to begin. I’ll break this down one sentence at a time (there aren’t a lot of them) and talk about my process and thinking at the time.
Let cheese come to room temperature.
I admit, I didn’t plan ahead and get the cheese out early. It was obviously going to be important that I be able to stir this, so I cheated and popped the cheese into the mixing bowl and put it in the microwave for about 20–30 seconds. It did the trick nicely.
Dust jello into cream cheese
This was fairly simple, honestly. Stir the cheese, add the jelly crystals. It turned bright orange and smelled just like you’d expect from an artificial orange flavour. I’m not saying it was bad in any way, mind you. Just that there’s no weird reaction between the fairly neutral cheese and the very forthright jelly. I tasted the mix at this point. It tasted like orange jelly.
Heat Coca-Cola to boiling point and pour over mixture
Again, I went to the microwave for this, rather than pull out saucepans for such a small amount of liquid. It didn’t take long, and it’s really hard to get a satisfying picture of boiling Coke, I must admit. It sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. It’s bubbling during the whole process, and eventually it just bubbles faster.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cheese here, but I thought it might dissolve rapidly in the heat and combine with the jelly mixture to become a kind of smooth paste. I was wrong. It just kind of clumped together in orange blobs.
I tasted it again. It still tastes like orange jelly.
Mix, add nuts and put in mold
If I saw this in a nightclub toilet at 3am, I would not think it seemed out of place, but I wouldn’t taste it. I tasted this. It is still overwhelmingly orange jelly. I really wish I’d had a colour calibration reference card or something in shot for some of these photos, because I don’t think I’ve really captured what I was looking at.
I’d like to say though, despite the look it smelled utterly fantastic at this point.
Leave out for 1–2 hours before putting in refrigerator
I put the bowl of spew on the kitchen bench, and walked away to watch TV for a bit. Apparently it wasn’t as exciting as this was, as I can’t recall what I watched. My grandmother used to occasionally prepare jelly when I was a kid, and she always said you had to leave it out to cool before it went in the fridge. I still don’t know why. I didn’t believe her then, and I don’t believe this recipe now.
In the absence of a fancy thing to pour it into, I just went with my smallest glass bowl to aid inspection of the separation process. There’s no good photo of this stage, because it’s exactly the same as the last one, but in a smaller bowl. Here’s a picture of the whole kitchen instead. It’s a nice kitchen.
Salad separates into three layers
OK … maybe that’s too harsh. It did separate a little, but not in any major way. There is definitely a less opaque part at the top, and it’s what I was sort of expecting to happen, but maybe a little bit more so. I imagined the nuts would float to the top, and would form a base layer when inverted. The orange-infused cream cheese would then be the bulk of it, and there’d be a nice clear layer on top. There was a little of this going on, but nowhere near enough to be noticed. I have some theories about this failure to separate though, and I’ll get to that in the conclusion.
Time to plate this bad boy and take it for a taste test!
I was definitely apprehensive about the first bite, but I had no need to be. I’d tasted the mix at every stage, and each time my impression could be summarised as “yep, that’s orange jelly”. It’s hardly surprising then that I found it tasted like orange jelly at the end. The blueberries turned out to be an absolutely excellent accompaniment.
What it did have, amazingly, was a really excellent texture. Somewhere between trifle and cheesecake lies “Coca-Cola Salad” in all its glory. It was a little too nutty for my tastes though; I think peanuts were a mistake. I’m not a huge fan of peanuts to start with, and they overwhelmed things a bit for me. Maybe flaked almonds or some crushed cashews might be a better match. Flaked almonds may even form a better layer and float better.
I ate it. It was fine. The only unpleasant thing about it was the colour and the nagging awareness of the truly staggering amount of sugar there must be in each bite.
Would I make it again? Maybe … you see I have a theory about the separation failure that I’d really like to test. The cream cheese I can get off a supermarket shelf has a ton of extra emulsifiers in it and I’m not entirely sure they’re period-accurate for a 1950s dish — I would love to hear from any authority on this matter, actually. What I’m interested in doing is making cream cheese from scratch with full cream milk in my own kitchen — and then trying again using that. Then again, maybe it just needed to sit out on the bench longer before going in the fridge and I owe my grandmother an apology.
I’m not going to be able to casually knock that experiment off in one evening though, so it might be a while before I try.
If you’ve made this, or something like it, come tell me about it.
Originally published at https://bremensaki.com on July 1, 2019.