Thursday, September 13, 2012

blast from the past :: agar basics, passionfruit mousse recipe

Easy Passionfruit Mousse, made with agar
What's in your gelatin? Chances are, even the staunchest pig ear- and cow butt- eating omnivores may balk at the fact that regular gelatin is made from collagen extracted from the horns, hooves, bones, connective tissues and intestines of pigs, cows, chickens and even horses. Yummy, yummy, right? As I write and test recipes for my upcoming pie and tart cookbook, I have rediscovered the wonders of agar, a seaweed gelling agent commonly used in Asian desserts. Since I needed to revisit this primer, which I posted on my original blog on February 24, 2008, I thought you might also find it useful. Hope the information gels. [Groan!]

Agar Basics
If you're American, chances are that your introduction to agar-agar was in high school biology class, where it's often used as a growing culture in petri dishes. Personally, I prefer agar-agar in dessert dishes. Agar-agar is a versatile, neutral-tasting seaweed. A kinder, less processed thickening agent than gelatin [which is made from cows' hooves], agar is commonly used in Asian desserts. The name comes from the Malay word "agar," which means "jelly." In Japan, agar is known as "kanten."

How tos:
You need to dissolve agar in hot or boiling liquid for at least 1-2 minutes to unleash its poweful gelling properties. I like to let agar flakes sit in the liquid [usually fruit juice or soy milk] at room temperature for about 10 minutes before bringing the liquid to a boil to ensure everything is thoroughly mixed.
  • You can substitute powdered agar for equal amounts of gelatin.
  • If you're using agar flakes, you'll need to up the quantity 3:1, for example, 3 teaspoons [1 T] agar flakes = 1 tsp agar powder.
  • Generally speaking, for a "jello-like" texture, you'll need about 2 teaspoons of powder or 2 T flakes added to about 2 cups of liquid. Use less for mousses, more for "jigglers."
  • With highly acidic fruits like strawberries, you'll need to add more agar.
  • Certain fresh fruits, including pineapple, kiwi, mango and peaches, actually disable agar's gelling properties. You can still use these fruits--you just need to cook them first
While all these factoids might sound complicated, in reality, using agar is easy. The most common mistakes are not adding enough agar, or not ensuring it's properly dissolved before molding.

Saving money on agar-agar
Buying agar powder or flakes in a health food store is agar-vatingly expensive--usually about $6 for about 6 tablespoons. To save money, I buy large packets of whole agar in an Asian grocery, and then pulse it into flakes in the food processor or in a VitaMix if you are lucky enough to have one. The result? A few years' supply for only about $1.40.

Recipe :: Easy Passionfruit MousseIf you're an agar newbie or are simply craving a light dessert, try this simple recipe. I enjoy this mousse for breakfast, or as a refreshing dessert after a spicy Indian or Carribean meal.14 oz passionfruit pulp [I use Goya brand]
1 12 oz aspectic box of silken firm tofu [Do not use refrigerated tofu--it will create a grainy mousse]
3/4 cup sugar
1 T agar-agar flakes
Strawberries or raspberries and/or soy whipped topping for garnish

Makes 6-8 servings

Pour sugar and fruit pulp into a saucepan. Sprinkle in agar-agar, mix and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, open the box of tofu and pour it into the food processor.

Slowly bring the fruit-agar mixture to a boil, stirring every now and again. Boil gently for about 1 minute, then remove it from the heat and let it sit for another minute.

Carefully pour the hot mixture into the food processor with the tofu. Blend well [Again, be careful of the hot liquid!], until the mixture is absolutely smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. This takes about 3-5 minutes. Pour into prepared dishes or glasses and chill until firm and cool--about an hour. Top with desired garnishes and serve.
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Marissa Mondine said...

Passionfruit is one of my favorite fruits. It was always my favorite bubble tea flavor, and I love the fresh fruit. I didn't realize they sold the pulp in a can.

Thanks for the agar tips. I like the tip about soaking it before boiling. I think that would help my agar recipes a lot.

Mattheworbit said...

We've been getting into carrageenan lately (oh, how silly that sounds). It's all quite intimidating until you just start using it - though I do find the trial and error with fruits a little frustrating. I also like how Dreena Burton uses a little agar in one of her gluten free cakes. It doesn't make it "jellyish" - just seems to hold it together that little bit more firmly.

Veggie polyglotographer said...

mmmmm, that sounds nice. I just made a banana mousse with agar agar. I'll post the recipe on my blog this week end!

Emmie said...

I was wondering whether you think this would work as a cake filling? It's my sisters birthday soon and she wants a chocolate cake with passion fruit filling and I want to give her just that :)