A couple of weeks ago a Japanese friend invited me for a lunch which ended with a most sensational light dessert. Actually her coconut cream was one of the lightest desserts I have ever had in my life, in terms of both calories and texture and certainly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. Luckily the recipe wasn’t secret! I did hesitate however before making it because it called for agar-agar, a product which brings back awful memories. Since I had been assured the preparation was simple, I gave agar-agar another chance. The cream was very easy indeed and the result was perfect at the first attempt.
Agar-agar (“kanten” in Japanese), apparently meaning “jelly” in Malay, is a gelatinous substance obtained from certain seaweed varieties, usually sold in a form of powder or (in Asian countries) in long sticks. Even though it has been used by food industry all around the world, it is rarely used in European households, gelatin being the most popular gelling agent. It has been gaining popularity probably thanks to its vegetable origins and to its health benefits. In fact agar-agar contains water soluble agents, which help digestion and are considered excellent in slimming diets. Even though some people say agar-agar is a gelatin equivalent, I cannot agree with it.
As I have recently told Charles (Five Euro Food) in my opinion food set with agar-agar is different and someone who is used only to gelatin has to experiment a bit with it on order to obtain satisfying results. This is my first successful dish with agar agar, but certainly not the last because somehow I feel I couldn’t obtain the same results with gelatin. The cream has a very delicate consistency, close to natural yogurt . Since both coconut and cow milk are used, the coconut taste is not overwhelming. In short, an addictive, elegant and refreshing dessert.
Prepared with canned peaches and canned coconut milk, this quick cream is a perfect solution for a last-minute, pantry-based dessert served practically all year round. I find it particularly good now, since we are having very warm sunny Spring. My friend served it with fresh mango and I think any fruit (apart from raw kiwi and raw pineapple) can be used. I am impatient to test it with strawberries!
TIPS: Look closely at your agar package instructions. On mine 1/2 teaspoon is said to set 500 ml/2 cups liquid to a jelly. I use only 1/3 teaspoon and obtain a wobbly, “falling off the spoon” consistency. If you prefer a well-set jelly, use the amount advised on the package.
Do not wait until the cream becomes cold before pouring it into the bowls because agar sets at room temperature and once disturbed, it will not reset properly!
Preparation: 15 minutes + 2-3 hours in the fridge
Ingredients (serves 4 – 5):
250 ml/about 1 cup coconut milk
250 ml/about 1 cup cow milk
4 tablespoons sugar (I have put only 2 but I like moderately sweet desserts)
1/3 flat teaspoon agar agar in powder
4 – 5 halves of canned peaches
Dissolve the sugar and agar-agar in the mixture of the two milks. Bring to boil and, constantly stirring, let it simmer for about a minute.
Prepare four individual bowls or low glasses.
(Do not wait until the cream becomes cold because agar sets at room temperature and once disturbed, it will not reset properly!).
Cut up the peaches into cubes and distribute into the bowls (one half per bowl).
Pour the creamy mixture over the fruit pieces and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Serve very cold.