Today is one of my favorite holidays of the year – Chinese New Year! I love it, not because we tend to celebrate in any sort of spectacular way, but because it’s one of the few Chinese traditions we participated in growing up. And by “participate,” I mostly mean by picking up some Chinese-takeout and counting how many red envelopes we received in the mail. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been trying to learn more about my Chinese heritage, especially when it comes to the kitchen. A lot of my favorite dishes seem a little complex and intimidating, so I thought I’d start with something that felt a little easier. This recipe for Chinese almond tofu (also known as almond jelly and Chinese almond pudding) is really quick to put together and it tastes so good. It’s also really light, so it’s the perfect ending to a heavy meal or a summer treat.
It’s actually been years since I’ve had this dessert at a Chinese restaurant. I had to make several versions because I couldn’t quite get the correct ratio of liquid to agar agar powder. When I mentioned to J how many versions of the pudding ended up in our fridge, I realized his confused look was because he’d never had it before. Whenever we go to yum cha (dim sum), we’re often too full at the end to get anything off the dessert cart. And when we do, I like to opt for the egg custard dan tats because we usually can’t get them where we live. But I’ve always loved Chinese almond pudding and it always comes to mind when I think of Chinese desserts. Sometimes, it’s formed in pretty jello molds or layered with other kinds of flavored Chinese puddings, like mango or coconut.
This can be made with either agar agar or gelatin, but I like agar agar because it gives the pudding a firmer texture and it’s vegan (it’s made from dried seaweed). A little goes a long way, though, so you don’t need much for this recipe. Also make sure you use agar agar powder and not the strands or blocks. The amount of agar agar required for this recipe would change depending on what form you’re using. If you use something other than the powder, you’ll likely end up with multiple versions of pudding in the fridge like I did until you find the correct balance.
Chinese Almond Tofu
Almond tofu really isn’t tofu at all, but rather an almond-flavored milk-based dessert that looks similar to tofu. In Chinatown, it’s commonly served with fruit cocktail, but I chose to pair it with fresh fruit instead. Because…fruit cocktail.
2 cups milk of choice (cow, soy, almond, coconut, rice, etc.)
2 cups water
3/4-1 cup sugar (to taste)
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. agar agar powder
- In a large pot, whisk together milk, water, sugar and almond extract. Cook gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid begins to simmer.
- Sprinkle the agar agar powder over the mixture. Stir gently to dissolve the powder, making sure that no clumps remain. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil for three minutes, stirring constantly, and then remove from heat.
- Pour the liquid immediately into a 9×13 glass baking dish. Remove any bubbles floating on top. Refrigerate uncovered until solid, about three hours or overnight.
- When the almond pudding has firmed, carefully run a thin knife around the edge of the dish to help loosen the sides. Cut the pudding into 3/4-inch cubes. Serve with jam, fresh fruit or by itself.
*While this dessert can be made with any kind of milk, I want to note that cow’s milk and soy milk will offer you the most ideal texture and flavor. Using coconut milk will alter its flavor slightly and I found that almond milk gave the dessert a slightly less smooth texture.
Gong hei fat choy (which is Cantonese for wishing you a healthy and prosperous New Year)!