Friday, 11 July 2014

Naturally Coloured Agar Agar Jelly

I'm not the greatest in the kitchen. I watch Nigella Lawson macerate blackberries wearing a crisp white shirt, looking all sexy and in control, and snort. My favourite white shirt is now a colourful bohemian one with pink and red splotches because of the below beetroot recipe.

That said, I do love the way beetroot turns everything it touches into a deep ruby red or lurid pink (everything except my shirt, that is). This is a great note for anyone looking into natural dyes for your Easter eggs decorating. Easter is just round the corner! (No it's two weeks away to be honest, but we need something colourful to look forward to in March when everything's grey and wet.) Please if you are making edible coloured goodies for your children don't dye them with artificial colourings, it's probably why I got so hyperactive around Children's Day and Easter.

Beetroot makes a wonderful natural red food dye. Beetroot plus a touch of milk or yoghurt or coconut milk gives you pink. Blackberry gives your purple. Carrot gives you orange. Pandan gives you green. Many south east Asian puddings and kuehs are often coloured lurid shades, and traditionally those were done with the herbs and flowers in your garden. Most people don't bother anymore, which is a shame. I got the last of Sarah and Robin's beautiful cylindrical beetroot at the farmer's market on Saturday, and thought of making one of my favourite coloured desserts from home using that naturally gorgeous red colour-- agar agar.

It’s funny how agar has become the cool new toy for chefs when it's the kind of jelly I’ve grown up with all along. For the agar-uninitiated, it’s a seaweed-derived (hence vegan) substance similar to gelatin, but it sets much more easily at room temperature and gives a ‘bouncier’ bite. It’s quite often made with ready coloured agar powder with the most elementary instructions on the packet, and set in adorable moulds, so as kids, we loved making and eating these simple treats. I used plain unflavoured agar strands instead, and dye the jelly a natural ruby shade with beetroot. This is a two-layer agar agar, one a firmer clear jelly, and the other, more pudding-like with the addition of coconut milk; if you want and are patient/ anal enough, you can go ahead and do multi-layers.

Makes 20-30
14g agar strands 
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar (adjust to taste)
1 small red beetroot, peeled and chopped
pandan leaves, tied into a knot
750ml water + More for soaking
75ml thick coconut milk
Pinch of sea salt

You also need:
10-20 jelly moulds (I use silicone mini cupcake moulds, makes unmoulding a breeze!)
OR a large tray with 2 inch high sides

1. Roughly snip the strips of agar and submerge them in a basin of water, soaking for about 20 minutes till softened. After soaking, drain and squeeze out the excess water and snip.
2. Meanwhile, drop the beetroot into 750ml of hot water. You really just need the water to turn red, so a couple of minutes should do. You can leave it longer if your guests are weird beetroot fans. Drain, reserving the beetroot for some other dish, like a good frugal Asian cook should.
3. Bring the beetroot water, pandan, and agar strips to a boil, stirring until the agar strips have completely melted and you see no lumps. Add the sugar, tasting and adjusting till you’re happy with it.
4. Remove the pot from heat. Scoop out 250ml of agar liquid from the pot, into a jug. Add the pinch of salt and mix with the 75ml of coconut milk (ratio is roughly 3:1).
5. Divide this mixture into the molds, filling up to but not more than halfway. Or, if you are doing it in bulk or don’t own moulds or are just plain lazy, pour this mixture into a large high tray, till it comes up halfway. Transfer the molds or tray into the fridge to allow it to set until just semi-firm. This will take only 5 minutes or so, because agar sets really quickly.
6. Lightly scratch the surface of the semi-set coconut layer with a toothpick, so that the next layer can hug/cling/bond to it. Pour the remaining agar liquid on top of the coconut layer, up to the brim of the moulds or tray.  If it looks like it’s starting to thicken and turn lumpy again, just stick the pot back onto the stove, stir, to warm it up and it will melt again.
7. Refrigerate the moulds or tray until the agar agar is fully set. 
8. To unmould, just run the toothpick around the edges and flip over; it should pop out easily, and, if you’ve followed my tips, in one piece. If you have made them in a tray, cut the agar agar up into cubes/wedges/choice of crazy creative shapes. You can keep these chilled until ready to serve, preferably cool, though these are picnic-safe too because they won’t melt away in the sun like jelly. 

You can also add fruits to agar agar. Slightly sharp fruits are best for a surprising contrast to the sweet jelly: fresh raspberries in summer, or poached rhubarb this month. Wait till the second layer of agar has turned semi-firm (about 3 min in the fridge) before adding the fruits, so it stays suspended within the jelly.

I know it seems confusing with all those measurements but you don't have to be perfectly accurate to the last ml. It does make you feel sort of like a scientist though, pouring coloured liquids and watching them turn into solids, so I think this could be a fun project for the little ones. I'm not little but I thought it was fun anyway. Best of all, agar agar is annoying light and healthy for a pudding. I popped 4 into my mouth for a snack. I'm not sure it's that guilt-free then, but I felt like a happy (but not hyper) kid again :)

Related recipes:
DIY Flavoured Sugars (Pandan Sugar) - I used this sugar actually for an even stronger fragrance
Jasmine Rice Pudding with Poached Rhubarb - In case you want to do the rhubarb agar agar
Tea Leaf Eggs - How to make natural pretty marbled patterns on eggs

You can get crazy with agar. If you mess around with the ratios a bit, you can come up with things like mousses/puddings/creams. Sissi has some glorious ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment