No-bake desserts are a staple of summer desserts. Not only do these desserts require no oven but these kinds of desserts are also some of the easiest desserts you can make. Many are made with gelatin or gulaman (agar agar) but there are some desserts that use other thickening ingredients to make chilled desserts more stable such as whipped cream.
Working with gelatin and gulaman can lead to mistakes, but if you don’t have gelatin for your no-bake dessert recipe, there’s another ingredient you probably have but didn’t think to use: cornstarch.
What Is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is from corn but it’s not corn that has been dried up and ground up like flour. Ground up corn is cornflour which is very different from cornstarch. Instead, cornstarch is the starch extracted from the corn kernels while cornflour still has all the protein and fiber in the mix.
To give you a better idea of what cornstarch is, have you ever cut off the kernels of corn from the cob and noticed a whitish substance either dried up on your chopping board or on the corncob and kernels itself? That’s cornstarch. When a recipe tells you to run the back of your knife against the corncobs to “extract” more flavor from the cobs, that milky liquid is the starch.
How To Use Cornstarch In No-Bake Desserts
Cornstarch is not an uncommon ingredient in desserts. In fact, if you make chocolate pudding, you have used cornstarch to thicken it. If you love maja blanca, it’s the same ingredient used but in a larger amount to create a firmer, more solid slab. Are you a The Chronicles of Narnia fan? You might remember the candy Turkish Delight in the first book, and cornstarch, not gelatin, is the main ingredient that makes these chewy candies firm, too.
Cornstarch is a powerful thickening ingredient and if you take advantage of this quality, you can make desserts that have the qualities of gelatin without using gelatin. In fact, you can make any number of no-bake desserts using cornstarch!
Substituting cornstarch for gelatin is perfect for recipes that only use a small amount of gelatin to set the dessert such as mousses, puddings, and no-bake cheesecakes. However, to use cornstarch as a substitute for gelatin to create a firmer dessert, you’ll need to use much more than you think you need. Here’s an easy ratio to remember:
- 1 cup cornstarch per 2 cups liquid
You can tweak this ratio, use less or use more, to suit your desired firmness but overall, this is enough to ensure that your maja blana is firm enough that you can slice it with ease without the slice falling apart when transferred to your plate.
This is how to use cornstarch instead of gelatin in your no-bake desserts.
1 Dissolve the cornstarch first.
Whether you’re making pudding, maja blanca, or substituting it for gelatin, you need to dissolve the cornstarch in a liquid first. This liquid needs to be cool or at room temperature since heat will activate the gelling qualities of the cornstarch prematurely which can lead to lumps.
It’s very easy to dissolve cornstarch in water but if you mix it too early, the starch can separate and settle to the bottom of your bowl. If this happens, simply stir the water and cornstarch again so your mixture is mixed well before heating it up.
2 Simmer until the cornstarch is thickened.
Once you have your cornstarch mixed into the liquid, bring it to a simmer. You’ll want to bring this to a gentle simmer because it can still lead to clumps if you’re not stirring the mixture. You should stir regularly, especially the bottom of the saucepan which will thicken before the rest of the mixture will. This is where a silicone spatula will come in handy since you can scrape the bottom well.
When the mixture starts to simmer at the edges, you’ll see the bottom start to thicken, too. Stir! Stirring will help the rest of the mixture also heat up and thicken as well. Keep stirring until the entire mixture is thickened to your desired thickness. Turn off the heat.
3 Add the mix-ins.
Once thickened, you can stir in the mix ins. This can be drained corn, cheese, chocolate, pieces of fruit, or even chopped nuts if you’re making something nutty. Transfer this to a prepared container.
4 Dissolve more cornstarch in cool water first before adding it in.
Sometimes you want the mixture to be thicker and firmer. In this case, you can add more cornstarch but not directly! You need to dissolve the cornstarch in cool water, not hot, and add that to the thickened mixture. You’ll need to reheat the mixture again but be careful since cornstarch does lose its thickening properties if heated for too long. Just cook until thicker than it was originally then turn off the heat.
5 Cool completely.
Once your mixture is thickened to your desired consistency, you can transfer this mixture into your mold. This stuff is thick and if your mold has a design, fill it then tap the mold on the counter to fill those spaces in and remove bubbles at the same time. Then set it aside and let it cool completely. You can chill the mixture later when cool so you prevent condensation from forming in your dessert and making it wet.
Here are articles with lists of no-bake desserts to try if you’re suddenly hungry for dessert that won’t make you use your oven: