I went to my favorite Asian grocery on Friday (A Food Market). I hadn’t been for a few weeks, and they had got a lot of new and exciting things since I was there last. One of the things I picked up was agar agar powder. This is a sort of derivative of seaweed which is used as a vegetarian/vegan substitute for gelatine (which is actually made from some sort of animal cartilage, quite off-putting if you think about it). It doesn’t result in quite the same texture as gelatine — it’s firmer and not so bouncy. It also sets at room temperature, and will not melt if left out at room temperature. This means that it’s possible to bring desserts made with agar agar in a bento box.
There are certain foods that you can’t use with agar agar because they affect its gelling properties. Very acidic things, like citrus fruits, will do this, and sadly mango. I read that chocolate has the same effect but it didn’t happen in this recipe.
I wasn’t sure how to measure the agar agar, which I had in powder form.The recipe I used called for about 1/2 tsp, but it seemed so little to me, particularly given that chocolate is supposed to affect the gelling. I put something like 1 1/4 tsp, and I only used half the milk. This was based on trying to calculate from the packaging (which said 25 g per 3 litres… And equated 1 g with a tsp.) The result was indeed very firm, and I think I would reduce it next time.
So anyway, I looked around for things to make with the agar agar, and I found a lovely recipe on a charming food blog called Foodbeam, written by a young French woman who is training to become a pastry chef. It has three ingredients and no added sugar! What’s not to love? You can see the recipe here. I made half the amount, which yielded 6 bento-size portions.
I did modify it somewhat according to what I had in my fridge, essentially making a veganized version. I used Alpro vanilla soy milk instead of normal skim, and 70% chocolate. For some interesting texture and flavor, as well as visual appeal, I put toasted black sesame seeds in the bottom of the mould, as well as a sprinkling of salt. The first one I ate actually had the sesame seeds perfectly distributed on top, but I ate it before rememebering to take a picture, and then discovered that the other ones were not so pretty… I recently ate some Lindt chocolate with fleur de sel, and it was so tasty, so that was my inspiration for the salt addition. Yum!
It’s not at all jello like, but it has an interesting texture. Next time I will reduce the agar agar a little, to see what that does. This one is not at all sweet, so for people who prefer things sweet one might want to add a little sugar or use chocolate with more sugar in it. I think this recipe could be varied with different additions to great success– such as a sprinkling of chili powder, or some espresso, or some orange liqueur. The possibilities are endless 🙂
The thing set in only an hour, so this is definitely a nice dessert idea that doesn’t require much planning. It’s lovely and creamy and not too sweet. I often have issues with soy milk, but you really can’t tell at all that this is vegan. It should definitely appeal to my lactose intolerant man!