Rags To Riches – A Jelly Story
Upgrade the humble jelly with this magical ingredient.
This is not another inspirational series of recipes but rather a set of guidelines to help you understand Agar and just how versatile it is. Your imagination is your only limitation, Agar will take care of the rest.
Agar, or Agar Agar, is a plant based gelling agent with similar properties to gelatine. This means that vegetarians and vegans can use it without suspicion. It creates an odourless, flavourless jelly, a blank canvas ready for you to create a spectacular centrepiece or moulded dessert. Just about anything can be set into a moulded delight with Agar!
How it works:
Agar is usually found in powder form from health food stores.
As a general guideline, use 5ml of Agar powder to set 250ml of liquid.
The Agar powder is cooked in liquid for between 2 – 5 minutes (follow packet instructions) to activate its awesome setting powers.
A basic recipe for an almost transparent Agar jelly is as follows: Whisk 5ml of Agar Powder into 250ml water and boil for 5 minutes. Cast into any shape (do not oil your mould, this will change the transparency of your jelly) and allow to cool for about 20 minutes. Demould your jelly by gently wiggling it out of its mould.
Once cast, the Agar jelly will set at room temperature within minutes. This allows you to create intricate layered jellies full of fruit, viennas or even Lego men. Whatever you want!
If you want to add some kick to your creation, only add flavourants or alcohols after boiling the Agar to avoid loss of flavour through evaporation.
Even though Agar will set just about anything, remember that acidic liquids will need more Agar powder for a good set. Some very acidic fruits might still hinder setting, such as fresh pineapple, and must be cooked slightly before adding to the Agar mix.
Agar sets and melts at much higher temperatures than ordinary old gelatine, giving you more room to play. You do not need to refrigerate your creations, except if they contain fresh ingredients that might go off, or cause serious food poisoning if left to stew at room temperature. That would be the prawns in your Avo Ritz jelly…
Because Agar melts at higher temperatures, it has a very different mouth feel to gelatine jellies. Agar jellies do not ‘melt in the mouth’, they break into smaller pieces as you chew. Quite a strange crumbly texture to the unsuspecting eater, it might take some time getting used to.
If your jelly tastes lacklustre or you forgot to cast your berries in a layer before it set, never fear. You can always fix it! Simply reheat the Agar jelly until liquid again, add what you want and recast. You can reheat and set Agar jellies almost indefinitely.
To maximise visual effects with your Agar creations, create levels of different colours, textures and transparencies. For colour – food colouring, fruit juices or cordials. For Texture – anything (edible, not edible, who cares!). For transparency – add milky liquids such as coconut milk to your liquids to create milkier jellies. Add 5ml per 250ml of agar mix at a time to ensure transparency gradients instead of just solid and transparent.
Adding flavour to Agar jellies is very easy. Dissolve sugars or stock in the boiling agar liquid mix, or add syrups and sauces after boiling (to ensure strong, pure flavours) and whisk well before casting. With Agar there is no limit, so go wild! A few of our favourite flavourings are fish sauce, rose water and squid ink.
If you are creating jellies as centrepieces that need to stand around for a bit, remember that they will slowly start to lose moisture and shrink due to evaporation. A 5ml Agar powder per 250ml liquid jelly will easily keep its shape for two days. If you live in a very dry climate, or it’s a windy day, your jelly might show some shrinkage after 24 hours.
Shades of white – Make opaque white jellies by using 1 tablespoon coconut milk per cup of agar jelly mix. To create a solid white jelly, replace the 250ml water in the basic recipe with 250ml coconut milk.
Use colour and opacity to create interesting jellies. Here, Penguin is showing off his wonderful coconut and fish sauce creation, complete with cooked prawns. Hopefully he’ll remember to refrigerate his jellies since they contain heat sensitive foodstuffs.
Create layered jellies by casting one colour, allowing it to set a bit (about 5 – 10 minutes) and then casting another layer directly on top of it. Allow the agar mixtures to cool slightly before casting, as the high temperature might cause the previous layer to melt and create murky colours. Unless you’re into that sort of thing…
Cast anything inside your jelly to create interest and flavour. In this spectacular tomato, vienna and coriander jelly, the humble vienna becomes the hero. Remember – very acidic ingredients will hamper the set of your jelly.
This Paul Smith inspired jelly was created with three different moulds filled with layered jellies and then arranged on top of each other. Use gel colouring for bright colours and sauces for muted colours – soy, tomato and mustard all work well.
Nothing says Nouveau Riche like an oversized diamond. Real, or fake, who cares!
Never mind champagne jellies tastefully speckled with a few fresh berries. Go all the way with tons of berries and a bit of Agar jelly and create this structural and textured jelly.
Try injecting your jelly with various sauces to create dots of flavour. Mr. Fish has had a double vaccine of squid ink and fish sauce. If injected halfway through the setting process, the sauce will form a pocket which will erupt when cut. Very dramatic.