COLOURFUL jellies, in all shapes and sizes, are among the must-haves when planning a menu for a child’s birthday party.
In fact, cooking with agar-agar is fun and it is a dessert that children often volunteer to help out with, especially if there are many colours involved in creating this sweet treat.The flavourless, odourless and transparent nature of agar-agar is what I like best as it presents a liquid canvas waiting to be splashed with colour and flavour.
Derived from red algae, agar-agar acts as a thickening agent in ice creams, pastries, salad dressings and is also used in canned fish, meat and poultry.
Agar-agar allows a novice cook to look like an old hand in the kitchen as there is so much room to get creative with this ingredient.
Throw in colours, add sugar, evaporated milk or coconut milk (santan) as well as fruits and tantalise taste buds with your imagination.
Just don’t try serving guests the kurang manis version because agar-agar, in these parts, is a sweet treat so the less sugar variety will draw the scorn of gourmands.
One can make rainbow agar-agar by alternating colours layer by layer to achieve a satisfying end product, but this is time-consuming.
You can also include fruits like mango, longan or even dragon fruit to add natural flavour in jazzing up your serving of agar-agar.
My personal favourite is agar-agar santan gula melaka which uses fresh coconut milk, egg and palm sugar for an unforgettable flavour.
This particular dessert is easy to make when having guests over for tea or even as a light dessert after dinner.
It must, of course, be made ahead of time.
This agar-agar has a close cousin to it, in the form of the agar-agar santan pandan.
The agar-agar santan gula melaka is enjoyable for its caramelised, smokey flavour while screwpine leaves (pandan) in the latter lend herbaceous notes and a lingering sweet essence that aromatises not only your dessert, but the kitchen as well.
The trick to a good agar-agar dish is balance in flavours so a taste test when the mixture is on the boil, to determine if there is enough sugar, is recommended.
Using less water in your agar-agar mixture tends to make the dessert firmer while slightly more water in it produces the soft jelly texture that is most enjoyable.
AGAR-AGAR SANTAN PANDAN
To make pandan juice
20 pandan leaves or 1 tsp pandan extract (use more pandan leaves if you do not want to use the pandan extract or green colouring)
½ cup of water
⅛ tsp green food colour (optional)
1 litre water
20g agar-agar (1 packet)
1 cup (250ml) santan
¼ tsp salt
Blend pandan leaves with 1/2 cup water (or slightly more if needed) to extract the juice.
Use a cloth strainer to extract the juice once the pandan leaves are blended and resemble a paste.
In a pot, place one litre of water on the fire and add the pandan juice.
Bring to a boil and add the agar-agar strands.
Add 160g sugar.
Cook until the agar-agar and sugar dissolve.
Break an egg into the bowl containing the santan. Add 1/4 tsp salt.
Whisk the egg and santan together until the mixture combines.
Once the agar-agar has dissolved, turn the heat down slightly.
Slowly add the santan and egg mixture into the pot, stirring continuously to help the mixture curdle.
This should take around seven to 10 minutes.
Increase the heat to hasten the curdling process.
The mixture will be a pale shade of green if you only use pandan leaves but for a deeper shade, add a drop or two of green food colour.
Turn off the stove once you notice white specks dotting the mixture as it presents a lovely contrast against the green pool of agar-agar.
Carefully pour the hot mixture into an eight-inch tin or glass pan, or any tray or mould that you would use to make jelly.
Allow to cool at room temperature for an hour.
Then, transfer to the refrigerator for two hours for it to solidify.
The dessert is best served chilled.
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