Pandan and Coconut Agar Agar Jello
A dessert staple in household growing up, agar agar was my first introduction to what most know as jello. Rendered from red algae, agar agar is generally prepared either from sticks or, as I used here, powder form, and yields a much firmer texture than your traditional gelatin desserts. A nice alternative for vegetarians, agar also has many other uses outside of being served as a straight dessert. It can be used as a stabilizing agent in many other dishes such as whipped cream and as well as a thickening agent in savory or sweet dishes such as jellies. Personally, my favorite way to have it is as a dessert, sweetened and chilled. Simple, easy, delicious, and refreshing!
Growing up, my mother used to always make agar agar for special occasion desserts and used to almost always mix it with coconut milk to give it a richer, more luxurious flavor and texture. While I love my coco nut, I personally prefer it as a layered dessert to provide some counterbalance to the richness. One of my favorite combinations is pandan, or screwpine leaves, and coconut. Pandan is wonderfully aromatic and lends a sweet and unique flavor unlike anything else that I’ve ever tasted. Traditionally prepared by boiling knotted pandan leaves in with the agar, if you aren’t able to find fresh pandan don’t worry. Most asian supermarkets will have pandan essence/flavoring readily available. I picked up a bottle for about $1.50 in Philly and barely used more than a few drops…a little will go a long way!
Agar sets at room temperature in about an hour so preparation is fairly quick and easy. One of the beautiful things about agar is that after it sets, if you find that the texture is either too firm or too soft, it can be melted again over medium heat, readjusted, and then reset. In my first attempt of the coconut layer, I found that I did not add enough agar so the coconut was too soft and separated from the pandan layer. I took it off, reheated it, added more agar, and voila! Success! Seriously, if only so many other dishes in life were this forgiving.
Pandan and Coconut Agar Agar
As envisioned by TastyDesu
For Pandan layer:
2 teaspoons agar agar powder (I use Telephone brand)
2 cups of water, lukewarm
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon pandan essence
For Coconut layer
3 teaspoons agar agar powder
1 13.5oz can coconut milk
1/2 cup water
5 tablespoons sugar
Prepare pandan layer first. Begin by mixing agar powder with lukewarm water and let stand 15 minutes. This allows the agar to bloom and ensures an even textured product. After blooming, heat over medium high heat and add sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar has dissolved completely. Add pandan. Let simmer 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and pour into mold. I used a 9×13 aluminum pan. Allow to set at room temperature for 25 minutes before beginning coconut mixture.
For coconut layer, mix agar powder and water and let stand for 15 minutes. In a small saucepan, heat over medium heat and mix in coconut milk and sugar. Bring to simmer and stir until sugar has dissolved completely. Allow to gently simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and gently pour over pandan layer. I like to pour this over the back of a spoon so that it gently pours into the pandan mixture without melting it. Allow to set until firm at room temperate, about 1 hour. Chill. Cut into decorative shapes and serve. Enjoy!