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Agar-Agar Agaration

In Recipes, Singaporean on March 30, 2010 at 12:36 am

Agar-Agar is one of my favourite desserts to make for the occasional international gathering because it’s easy and versatile, and also because I love being entertained by the disturbed responses it always elicits, especially from biology students. Despite that, any initial apprehension always vanishes instantly with the first piece of these refreshing stiff jellies. It’s simply not possible not to like these thingies!

Making agar-agar is awfully simple if you’re able to get your hands on one of these packets of agar-agar powder. It’s even got clear pictorial descriptions on how to make your own dessert (package says: dissolve 1 packet of powder in 1L water and add 250g sugar, bring to boil and pour into moulds to cool). Since I never ever have colourings or flavourings with me, I prefer to grab a can of fruit from the supermarket and use its syrup as the flavouring, then use agaration (*Singlish for estimation) with the sugar and water to get the stiffness and sweetness I want. I personally think that 1L of water makes a jelly that is way too stiff, hence I usually put up to 1.25L of liquid for these 12g packets of powder. At the same time that makes 25% more agar. Yay. And I also like to throw in some fresh kiwi / pineapple… which takes up even more volume. Yayyyy.

This time that I made agar-agar, I had with me a couple of star- and heart-shaped ice trays from Ikea, which I used as moulds for the dessert. The rest of it, I poured into a large glass bowl, which can then be inverted to get a pretty agar-agar cake like this one that I made during Christmas. I first coated the bowl with a very thin layer of agar solution, arranged the fruits, then poured the rest of the solution with the cut fruits into the bowl and left it in the refrigerator to cool.

Fruity Agar-Agar Recipe

  • 12g packet of Swallow Globe Brand agar-agar powder
  • Syrup of one can of fruit (peach, fruit cocktail or pineapple have always worked wonderfully), topped up to 1.25L in volume
  • Cut fruits into chunks, include other fresh soft fruits if desired
  • Sugar to taste
  1. Put agar-agar powder, sweet syrup solution and cut fruits in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Add sugar to taste
  3. Transfer to a mould / huge bowl, chill
  4. Unmould before serving!

Recipe alternatives:

  1. Layered agar-agar with coconut milk works great as well, especially with pineapple…mmmm! You might want to start with 750ml total volume of water and syrup, bring to a boil, then divide into two equal portions. To one portion add additional 250ml water, to the other add 250ml coconut milk. Pour one layer into the container and chill in the freezer. When the surface is just beginning to set, carefully pour the other layer over it and chill in refrigerator. If surface is too set, use a fork and scrape the surface before pouring the second layer, otherwise it wouldn’t stick!
  2. Make some almond jelly by using 500ml milk + 750ml water / syrup + sugar to dissolve the agar. Chill set, and serve with fruit cocktail 🙂

FAB – Soft German Pretzels

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, German, Recipes on March 29, 2010 at 1:48 am

Friday Afternoon Baking (FAB) is my new venture into regular baking. I love to bake goodies for special occasions such as festive seasons (Chinese New Year and Christmas), as well as for parties and birthdays. But why should I wait for such occasions in order to bake? Loving to bake IS good enough reason to get myself away from boring lecture notes and whip up some yummylicious goodies. My theme for FAB is the search for quick and easy recipes with affordable common ingredients that I can whip up in a jiffy and give away to friends weekly without burning a hole in the pocket.

I first learnt about pretzels through Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel chain that is ever so ubiquitous in Singapore. In fact, Auntie Anne’s is pretty much synonymous with pretzels to almost any Singaporean. I’ve tried it once but never quite liked it because the one I had was soaked in an incredibly soggy amount of fat. Never really wanted another pretzel since then (in 2003 maybe?) until I had the fresh soft pretzels (mit Weißwurst und süßer Senf ) in Baden-Württemburg when I was there for a music festival in October 2009. The roasty flavour of the crust, with its soft interior and specks of saltiness was absolutely addictive. I was instantly hooked and each time I pop over to Germany (I was studying in Wageningen, NL for 6 months before Copenhagen), I’d always make it a point to grab a bag of these ‘steering wheels’.

Pretzels are pretty simple to make, they’re affordable and they make a great breakfast or mid morning / afternoon snack. They are also particularly interesting, from the perspective of a food scientist. If you’ve had any hint of a chemistry education, you might have heard of Maillard browning — the non-enzymatic browning reaction that makes our lovely roast chicken brown and bursting with caramelic roasty aromas. The Maillard reaction is a very complex one, involving a cascade of reactions that begins with sugar and protein (I shan’t go into details of Schiff base formation)… but one interesting fact is that this reaction is promoted by a basic (opposite of acidic) environment, enhancing the extent of browning and flavour development. This is the key to the pretzel’s beautiful dark brown crust. Check out khymos for more chemistry!

Here’s my first attempt at pretzel-making. Not exactly how it would look in a German bakery, but it tastes good, alright! Recipe was adapted from The Fresh Loaf, but I made 9 smaller pretzels instead of 6, sprinkled some poppy seeds and used yeast cakes instead of instant yeast (matter of availability). Enjoy!

Soft German Pretzel Recipe

  • Half a yeast cake (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar / malt sugar / any sugar
  • 2-3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Baking soda bath (about 2 tbsp sodium bicarbonate in about 500ml water)
  1. Disperse yeast in warm milk.
  2. Mix 2 cups of flour with salt, sugar and milk-yeast mixture.
  3. Add additional flour until combined into a soft dough. Knead until smooth (about 5 min), cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm water bath to rest for an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 220˚C while preparing to shape dough.
  5. Shaping of dough: divide dough into as many portions as you want pretzels (how big do you want your pretzel to be?), stretch into cylindrical lengths of dough (I find it easy to grab two ends and gently flick it like an elastic rope). Shape as desired.
  6. Dunk the pretzel in a simmering sodium bicarbonate bath for about 5 seconds, then transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt / sesame / spice mix / poppy seeds / cinnamon sugar / really, anything you want on your pretzel.
  7. Bake for 12-14min or until golden brown.