"Agar" comes from the Malay word "agar-agar". I have simply called it Agar Jelly here for consistency in terminology. Agar is commonly used in cooking worldwide, but is especially popular in Asian desserts. Agar is called Kanten in Japanese, and growing up, my mom has always called itCai-yen in Chinese. Agar is not jello (gelatin), and although both are gelatinous substances, agar is derived from the cell wall of seaweed, whereas gelatin is made from the collagen usually found in animal bones and skin. Because agar is derived from the cell wall of seaweed, it is rich in a molecule called "polysaccharides". When these molecules are broken down by adding heat and water, the bonds they reform as a "gel" is what gives agar jelly their unique, spongy texture that is best described as having a "bouncier" texture than jello.
Agar comes in two forms: You can buy it in a dried, clear strip form or in a pulverized powder form. I personally prefer to use the strip form as it looks more natural and less processed. The strip forms are widely available in a normal grocer or health food stores- you just have to look hard for it. I must admit in its raw form it doesn't look very appetizing, but if you can get past the initial judgement, you are in for a fun treat!
1 bag containing 2 strips of Agar strips (0.5 Oz or 14 grams in total)
1 cup of sugar (You can choose to reduce or add more sugar to taste.)
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
5 and a 1/2 cups of water for cooking (Additional for soaking the agar strips)
A pinch of salt
Red food coloring (Optional)
1.Break the strips of agar agar into half. Put it into a pot. Fill the pot with water, until the strips are completely submerged.
2. Soak in water for approximately 30 minutes.
3. After soaking, drain the water, and squeeze out the excess water in the agar strips. Fill the pot with 5- 1/2 cups of water and bring it to a boil until the agar strips have completely melted and there are no more lumps left. Add sugar to the mixture and taste sweetness level. Adjust for personal taste preference. Turn the heat off the pot.
4. Scoop out 1-1/2 cup of molten agar from the pot and transfer it to a bowl. Add the 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Mix completely and then add a pinch of salt. Add a few drops of red food coloring to color this coconut milk layer and mix until completely even.
5. Next, using a rounded tablespoon, divide the coconut-agar mixture into the molds. Add 2 tablespoons of this mixture to each mold. After dividing, transfer the cups to the refrigerator and refrigerate for 3-5 minutes, until semi-firm.
6. The coconut layer should be semi-firm. Next, using a toothpick or a bamboo skewer, lightly scratch the surface of this layer. This will ensure that the clear layer will be "bonded" tightly to this first layer, and the jelly will unmold as one piece.
7. To the remaining agar gel in the pot, add a few drop of red food coloring. (If a thin film has formed, turn the heat back on medium and gently heat the mixture until it is molten again). Stir to combine. Add this remaining agar to the rest of the mold and fill up to the brim. You should have enough to fill 12 standard muffin shaped molds. Refrigerate until the jelly is set and firm.
8. The jelly will unmold easily. Simply use a bamboo skewer to trace around the pan. As you can see in picture 8, the jelly should just lift out. Tip the mold over to unmold.
9. Serve chilled as individual portions, or:
10. Plate on a cake stand. It should be noted that unlike jello, agar remains solid at room temperature, so there are no dangers of it melting at room temperature once molded. The presentation is safe from the hot summer sun!