Monday, 18 March 2013

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 yogurt or coconut milk gives you pink. Blackberry gives your purple. Carrot gives you orange. Pandan gives you green. Many southeast 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.




NATURALLY COLOURED AGAR AGAR 
Makes 20-30
Ingredients
14g agar strands 
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar (adjust to taste)
1 small red beetroot, peeled and chopped
2 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

Method
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. 

Variation
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

P.S.
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.

39 comments:

  1. These fresh Spring treats are adorable and look delicious! I've never had agar agar jelly and I'm oh so curious about it now. I love the natural color options, that's great to remember! :)

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    1. Thanks emily! I think you'll like agar agar jelly, gives you a lot of room to play with gf desserts!

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  2. Your photos are beautiful! I use silicone fairy cake moulds to make fruit jellies for my daughter's lunch boxes (but I confess, other than the fruit, they're entirely synthetic sugar-free jelly powder :-/)

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    1. I love silicone moulds they just make life so much easier, baking or jelly-wise! Try using plain agar next time, actually not too difficult at all, and you can feel all virtuous eating it haha.

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  3. These are so cute! I love the idea of using beetroot as natural colouring, who can resist the lovely pink colour. I've been curious about agar agar as an ingredient too. I must try these.

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    1. Thanks caz! I love beetroot's gorgeous deep red colour. I even heard of people making natural lip stains with beetroot..! I hope you try agar, I think you'll like it! It's so versatile and very fun to play with!

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  4. A very useful post! I'm saving your colour map for next time I feel like experimenting with natural dyes ;-) I like the idea of using coconut milk and agar agar...

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    1. Hee hee it's much like an art/science experiment all rolled into one :) Coconut milk and agar agar together gives a much softer pudding texture as compared to plain agar x

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  5. These jellies are beautiful! It horrifies me when I look at the contents of the fruit jellies you can buy in the supermarket. Now I have no excuse - I can make my own just as pretty (even more so!) without the guilt. Thank you.

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    1. It's not just fruit jellies! Most processed sweets and treats at the supermarket scare me when I flip over to read the ingredients list.

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  6. Shuhan, first of all you have such an extraordinary, original photography style, I cannot stop admiring your creativity (the thing I horribly lack in food presentation). Your jellies look deliciously cute and I love the idea of using beetroot as the colouring (I have heard many pastry chefs in France use nowadays beetroot powder).
    Thank you so much for your kind mention and link to my blog. I am so happy you have started to play with agar too. As someone who knows it since your childhood days, I am sure you will come up with many more amazing creations.

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    1. Wow thanks sissi, and don't be silly, YOUR food always makes me salivate.
      I have never come across beetroot powder but that sounds like such a great natural food colouring I don't know why it's not more common here.
      And no probs about the mention, am only too happy to,it's because of your blog that I've realised you can do so much more than just jelly with agar!

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  7. If you're not messy in the kitchen, you're not doing it right!! The messier the better in my book!

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  8. My husband refuses to let me wear his shirts in the kitchen! He has seen the state of mine. I seriously thought about going to buy scrubs just for cooking. Inspiration requires messiness. My mum used to make agar agar but she added milk, so I guess it was almost a panna cotta before it became a chef thing and all fancy schmancy.
    I really like your natural colours chart and beetroot is awesome for that gorgeous ruby red colour...also pomegranate. That stuff seriously stains.

    Nazneen

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    1. Haha I have an apron but I just always don't put it on.

      Exactly! i think it's always been an asian sorta gelatine, but recently became a new fancy schmancy ingredient. Weird.

      Will keep pomegranate in mind :)

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  9. I am super in love with your graphics and your photography! I look forward to seeing more interesting graphics!

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    1. Aw cheers janine! You made my day!

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  10. what beautiful colours! beetroot is an absolute favourite despite the fact that it stains my fingers and nails when i am done! i can imagine how happy you must have felt popping those little jellies in your mouth. nothing like a little wobbly jelly-like substance to return one to childhood. it was a staple at my birthday parties often studded with smarties. and when i grew older my mama's friend would make a mean trifle with a boozy jelly!

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    1. Thanks M! Wow jellies studded with smarties..?! A child's dream dessert I bet. Good idea on the booze. Mm... think this might work a treat with a splash of cider.

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  11. Hi Shu Han, I try to use natural coloring whenver possible too. Pandan leaves and blue pea flower are my favorite cos I grow them in my own garden :)

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    1. You're so lucky to have these growing in your garden!

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  12. Hi Shu Han! Beautiful and creative shots, as always!!

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  13. Hi Shu Han,

    One of my Aussie friends is using pandan to make green dinosaur cakes for her kids. Spinach too is another great option.

    I'm now trying to grow blue pea flowers to get natural blue colouring as blue is only colour that I can't get naturally from Australia.

    Zoe

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    1. Wow do let me know if you succeed. I always wonder if the climate is ok for me to try growing these flowers in the uk.

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  14. What a beautiful blog you have - gorgeous images and illustrations. I shall be back!
    The white shirted chefs always make me laugh, too.

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    1. Thanks hannah, please do! :)
      re: white shirted chefs, I'm half-amused, half-jealous.

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  15. hello, I too grew up eating agar agar jelly in chocolate flan. (My mum is vietnamese). But I went recently in a chinese supermarket in Birmingham and asked for agar agar (strands or powder) and they looked at me as if I were an alien... I always stock up with agar agar when I go back home in France as there they now even sell it in organic shops. Where do you find it in the UK ? Anne MC

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    1. Hey Anne! I got mine quite easily..! Chinatown (london), new loon moon has it. But even my local viet/chi longdan store has started selling the pure agar strands. Guess I'm lucky huh!

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    2. Do they call it agar-agar or by another name? (and thanks for the blog which I enjoy reading and trying recipes ) Anne MC

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    3. They call it agar strands! Sorry for the late reply btw! and CHUFFED you enjoy my blog :) Hope to see you back!

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  16. Hi Shu Han, lovely agar agar. Excellent click. Me too... I love agar agar, so addictive and refreshing. I love to use natural color too.

    Have a nice weekend.

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  17. This post is lovely and so spring like...even though when I look through the window it doesn't look at all like spring. These look lovely and refreshing and light too...and made with beetroot and seaweed just have to be good for us. Thanks for sharing Shu Han.
    Have a cool weekend...
    Debx

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  18. Hurray for natural colours! :) I've never used agar before but I am a frequent user of gelatine... perhaps I should see how agar works for me next time.

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  19. Hi! May I ask, how long did you take to make this?
    Please reply asap. Thank you :)

    Lyne

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    1. SUPER quick, super easy. Took me 1 hour ish? Start to end.

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    2. Oh wow, thank you for your reply!
      May I ask for step 3, why mix pandan and beetroot water together? I thought pandan is one of the natural colourings too?
      Thanks:)

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    3. Pandan only acts as a colouring if you blend the leaves to get the green pigment. The pandan here is just knotted and added to the pot for flavour and fragrance, the water will hardly change colour. The beetroot colours it red :)

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  20. I've bought & "played with" agar -strands- but still haven't figured out how to -measure- the strands for a recipe (or a given amount of liquid) sometimes it sets loosely or is 'tight'...
    >How do you measure the right amount of strands for this (or any) recipe? Do you use a gram scale? (I don't have a kitchen scale, let alone one in grams)
    Thanks for any assist.. :)

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