You’ll find agar agar powder in all the Indian grocery stores; it’s a gelling agent made from seaweed and is really easy to use and delicious to eat. Sometimes called China Grass, it comes both in powder form and as little raffia-looking sticks. The powder is much easier to work with as you can measure your quantities more accurately. I wanted to make sweet treats that my vegan friends could enjoy, so I started playing around with various combinations. If you follow the basic instructions you will have real success.
You need 1 teaspoon (tsp) - use the measuring spoon not your domestic teaspoon - to 1 cup of liquid to ensure a good result.
Always dissolve your agar agar in cold water before adding to the liquid, and it’s a good idea to leave it to soak a little before using it.
Agar agar needs 5 minutes of stirring once the liquid is bubbling - this makes sure that it is properly dissolved.
Basically you can gel any liquid with agar agar, unless it is too sour, so don’t use fresh lemon juice! The bonus is also that it sets at room temperature, but of course it tastes more delicious when chilled. I experimented with layered jellies, fruity jellies, fruit puree jellies and fresh fruit jellies. I used diluted coconut cream for vegans, but also used diluted condensed milk and even some left-over tinned cream, as creamy toppings to the jellies. Once you get the hang of it, they are easy and fun to make and keep exceptionally well in the fridge. Try some of these lovely ideas – some healthy, and some decadent!
BLUEBERRY & COCONUT CREAM
Place 3 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to the boil. When sugar has dissolved, add 250 grams of blueberries. As soon as the water begins to boil, scoop the blueberries out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Allow the light syrup to simmer gently while you prepare the agar agar: 3 tsp in 1/4 cup of cold water. Add to the syrup and stir well, bringing it to a gentle boil. Now stir and watch the time - 5 minutes. Pour into moulds or into a pudding dish. Wait at least 15 minutes before starting out on the coconut cream layer, as your blueberry syrup needs to be firm before you pour on the next layer.
Add a little water to a can of coconut cream, making it up to 3 full cups and put in a pan with 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring to the boil and then add 3 tsp of dissolved agar agar, stirring well as before. Pour over the back of a spoon onto the blueberry mix and before it cools, scatter the poached blueberries evenly into the mix. It will have jelled in 30 minutes and chilled in an hour. Great with ice-cream!
COFFEE & COCONUT CREAM
Add 2 tablespoons of a good instant coffee to 2 cups of water and add 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring to the boil. Mix 2 tsp of agar agar to enough cold water to dissolve. When the coffee mixture has started to heat up, add the agar agar and stir for 5 minutes. Pour into little silicone moulds, filling half way up. When set, proceed with the coconut cream as before, but using only 2 cups of the cream and 2 tsp of agar agar. When set, sprinkle lightly with a mix of castor sugar & raw cocoa powder
Herbal teas make beautiful jellies. You can either use the fresh feathery tops of fennel, boiled in water with a little sugar and then strained, or steep tea bags of herbal teas such as rooibos, honey bush, buchu, camomile, mint and so on. The process is always the same. Make as much or as little as you like. These go down well to finish a light lunch with something semi-sweet, or to have with a glass of iced water.
EXOTIC SYRUP JELLIES
Mix rose or cardamom syrup with water, add sugar to taste, and then proceed. Exotic-flavoured jellies in jewel-like colours that can be served as sweetmeats after curried or spicy foods.
FRUIT PUREE JELLIES
Blend poached fruit in a blender (I have tried with plums, rhubarb, apricots and blueberries - they all worked well. Use 2 cups of thick puree, add 1 cup of water. Taste for sugar - 1/4 cup will keep it sweet. Proceed as usual. The jelled puree has a different texture, rather like a firm mousse.
FRESH FRUIT JELLIES
Fresh fruit cut into bite-size pieces and added to your jelly mix are really special. However, the longevity of the product is affected by the inclusion of fresh fruit, so either make a small batch or take it to a party. Stick with fruits that are firm and not too ripe - lychees, mango, kiwi and blueberries work really well.