Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Agar-Agar Pudding Jelly with Coconut Milk

Hello everybody!

Yesterday marked the first official day of summer, and it is time to serve up those refreshing summery treats.  What is your favorite summer dessert?  During hot weather (not that we get that here in Seattle!!), I like my desserts to be cold and refreshing, light but still with unexpected elements of "richness".  This is why I am showing you how to mold agar jelly.

Before we start, some explanatory notes: "Agar" comes from the Malay word "agar-agar".  I have simply called it Agar Jelly here for consistency in terminology.  Agar is commonly used in cooking worldwide, but is especially popular in Asian desserts.  Agar is called Kanten in Japanese, and growing up, my mom has always called it Cai-yen in Chinese.  Agar is not jello (gelatin), and although both are gelatinous substances, agar is derived from the cell wall of seaweed, whereas gelatin is made from the collagen usually found in animal bones and skin.  Because agar is derived from the cell wall of seaweed, it is rich in a molecule called "polysaccharides".  When these molecules are broken down by adding heat and water, the bonds they reform as a "gel" is what gives agar jelly their unique, spongy texture that is best described as having a "bouncier" texture than jello.

Agar comes in two forms: You can buy it in a dried, clear strip form or in a pulverized powder form.  I personally prefer to use the strip form as it looks more natural and less processed.  The strip forms are widely available in a normal grocer or health food stores- you just have to look hard for it. I must admit in its raw form it doesn't look very appetizing, but if you can get past the initial judgement, you are in for a fun treat!

OK, here is the recipe for this jelly (It is written for the dried agar):

1 bag containing 2 strips of Agar strips (0.5 Oz or 14 grams in total)
1 cup of sugar (You can choose to reduce or add more sugar to taste.)
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
5 and a 1/2 cups of water for cooking (Additional for soaking the agar strips)
A pinch of salt
Red food coloring (Optional)

1.Break the strips of agar agar into half.  Put it into a pot.  Fill the pot with water, until the strips are completely submerged.

2. Soak in water for approximately 30 minutes.

3. After soaking, drain the water, and squeeze out the excess water in the agar strips.  Fill the pot with 5- 1/2 cups of water and bring it to a boil until the agar strips have completely melted and there are no more lumps left.  Add sugar to the mixture and taste sweetness level.  Adjust for personal taste preference.  Turn the heat off the pot.

4. Scoop out 1-1/2 cup of molten agar from the pot and transfer it to a bowl.  Add the 1/2 cup of coconut milk.  Mix completely and then add a pinch of salt.  Add a few drops of red food coloring to color this coconut milk layer and mix until completely even.

5. Next, using a rounded tablespoon, divide the coconut-agar mixture into the molds.  Add 2 tablespoons of this mixture to each mold.  After dividing, transfer the cups to the refrigerator and refrigerate for 3-5 minutes, until semi-firm.

6. The coconut layer should be semi-firm.  Next, using a toothpick or a bamboo skewer, lightly scratch the surface of this layer.  This will ensure that the clear layer will be "bonded" tightly to this first layer, and the jelly will unmold as one piece. 

7. To the remaining agar gel in the pot, add a few drop of red food coloring. (If a thin film has formed, turn the heat back on medium and gently heat the mixture until it is molten again). Stir to combine.  Add this remaining agar to the rest of the mold and fill up to the brim.  You should have enough to fill 12 standard muffin shaped molds.  Refrigerate until the jelly is set and firm.

8. The jelly will unmold easily.  Simply use a bamboo skewer to trace around the pan.  As you can see in picture 8, the jelly should just lift out.  Tip the mold over to unmold.

9. Serve chilled as individual portions, or:

10. Plate on a cake stand.  It should be noted that unlike jello, agar remains solid at room temperature, so there are no dangers of it melting at room temperature once molded.  The presentation is safe from the hot summer sun!

Thank you for reading!


Set of 12 - Jello Animal Shaped Pan:

Agar-Agar Strips:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Brioche Sponge Cakes

This week, I decided to try to be a vegetarian for a week. I didn't have any good reasons for doing this really other than to test if a strictly vegetarian diet would produce immediate benefits in a week.  Would I feel any different?  Have more energy? Lose a lot of weight? Have a sharper mind? Ha! But of course, like all things in life, there are no shortcuts. This must be a long term process. So far, I have found that it does take some efforts to avoid meat in the dishes I normally eat, and soy lattes take a LOT of getting used to. However, I am not suffering from meat withdrawal because I don't eat much of it to begin with.  Instead, the challenge has been going without eggs, lattes, cheeses and milk. Eggs and dairy serve as the "binder" ingredient in most baked goods, so it is hard to bake without these ingredients.

To get around this problem, I looked through my stash of recipes to see if there is a way to make a vegan cake, but it is hard to get the texture of cake right without using any eggs.  Yeah yeah, you can do the whole yogurt and apple sauce thing, but in the end, the cake still needs a binder, so this recipe has 3 eggs. Strictly speaking, this makes it not a vegan recipe, but for those trying to cut out animal fat, the cake does not contain butter but is made using heart healthy, Omega acid-rich canola oil.  This spongecake is light and soft, as the body of the cake comes from beating the dough a little more than usual, incorporating air into the eggs.  The cakes will stay soft for 2-3 days. It is perfect for an afternoon snack.  Soon after I baked these cakes, I re-wrote my own "vegetarian" rules to include eggs.  :)

Here is the cake recipe:

3 Large Eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon custard
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup canola oil
Almond slices


Preheat oven to 360 F and let all ingredients come to room temperature.

1) In a bowl of a stand mixer, add eggs, sugar, honey and salt.  Mix on medium speed until the whole eggs have turned into a paler shade of yellow. I recommend that you use speed 3-4 on a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and beat for 2 minutes.

2) Next, add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and custard powder. Beat for another 30 seconds until they have incorporated into the batter and there are no lumps in the batter.

3) Next to enter will be the canola oil.  Add it all at once and beat for about 1 minute until the batter is completely smooth and has no lumps.  The consistency of the batter is is shown in picture 4.

4) Check the consistency of the batter.  It should be thick and hold a "ribbon" shape.  This will ensure that the finished product will have the desired body.

5) Load the batter into lightly oiled brioche molds, but it is also ok if you do not oil the molds as the cakes will still release properly. 

6) Sprinkle a few flakes of almond slices on top of the batter.

7) Bake in a 360 F oven for 10 minutes, and lower the temperature to 350 and bake for another 15 minutes.

8) Test for doneness.

Let the cake cool to room temperature before removing them from the molds.  Serve.
Sink your teeth in it!
Thank you for reading!



Use a proper brioche mold to ensure that the cake will have a soft center nub.  The mold is designed to push the air out so that the air rises properly. This recipe yields 8 cakes when baked with this mold.
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