I asked my boy to try this traditional agar agar sweets, he refused citing that there is too much colouring. I was stunned and to a certain extent, Singapore education system is a success. I presumed he learned from school not to indulge in food with too much food colouring which is a good sign. While I am happy with his response, I am also unhappy that at his age of 9, it is too rationale a decision for him and I really do not want him to lead an extreme lifestyle with lots of do and don’ts. What I have shared with him all these while is anything not excessive is acceptable..
I am sure a lot of readers also rejected the consumption of colouring like him. But what I am wondering is it not gummy bears as in the picture above are full of colouring? How about the famous M&M chocolates as in the picture below? How about the trendy rainbow cakes? Macaroons?
I have to make my stand clear that i am not promoting the consumption of colouring, but we should not have a phobia of permitted food colouring if it is not excessive. Well, talking about colouring in this juncture is rather irrelevant. For this recipe, there are tons of natural alternatives for artificial colouring. For this illustration, I did not resort to the use of natural colouring because I am experimenting my new method of preparation. I am unsure if it will be successful..
My suggestion of some natural colouring are as follows and there is definitely not a need to have so many colours as in my illustration.
- red – beet root juice
- green – pandan juice
- blue – bunga telang juice
- orange – carrot juice
- yellow – pumpkin puree
The agar agar solution in this recipe is rather concentrate. Therefore, adding a 1-2 tablespoons of the above suggested juices will not alter the texture much.
These are the sweets that was sold or rather common in the olden days. I do not know how many readers can recall eating these sweets . They are slightly crunchy and the most interesting part is some of the sugar will crystalize on the dried agar agar and when you take a bite, you can feel like you are biting the sugar. Is it very sweet? In my humble opinion, no but if you insist to reduce sugar, you can reduce 10% of the sugar.
Traditionally, the sweets are sundried for about 4-5 days. Sun drying agar agar is nothing new to me. My late mum used to sun dry agar agar for a few days before Chinese New Year. The agar agar in recent years are very soft and easily breakable. However, in the olden days, a plate of good agar agar is assessed on the firmness of agar agar. It must not be easily breakable and you have a chew a bit to appreciate the agar agar. To achieve this stage, you will have to drive away the water moisture in the agar agar. One way is to sun dry the agar agar. That is also the principal of these agar agar sweets. While my mum’s version still look smooth and firm, these sweets are more chewy because of the longer drying time.
For readers who resides in Singapore of whom mostly lives in the high rise HDB apartments and condominiums, it is very difficult to get sunlight for sun drying. We have only a few hours of sunlight per day. We even have difficulty to sun dry wet clothes if your unit is facing the wrong direction. Therefore, it may take weeks to reach the desired texture. By the time the texture is there, I presumed the sweets will be very dirty too as it is impossible to cover the object while sun drying.
Taking the above factors into consideration, I have decided to use oven to bake the agar agar stripes at low temperature. I have been toying with the temperature and please don’t be greedy to steadily increase the temperature. The maximum you can used probably should not exceed 65 degree Celsius. Above that, your agar agar will melt again into liquid form. I did not dry continuously using the oven as it will take a long time. I used a combination of both.. While i am baking my cookies, I will sun dry or wind dry the agar agar stripes. When there are oven slots, I oven dried them. I think it took me about 1.5 days to get what I wanted. Probably the time in the oven is only 6 hours at an average of 50 degree Celsius.
WHAT IS REQUIRED
Servings: A small bottle of agar agar sweets
- 35 grams of agar agar stripes
- 10 pandan leaves
- 300 grams of sugar
- 500 grams or ml of water
- Some permitted food colouring or natural colouring of your choice
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Cut the agar agar stripes and soaked until soft which will take about 10 minutes.
- Put the soaked agar agar, water, sugar and bundled pandan leaves in a pot, bring to boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to medium and simmer until all the agar agar dissolves. It will take about 15 minutes.
- Get ready some bowls and put a few drops of your desired colouring. Once the agar agar dissolves, put some agar agar to the colouring, stir until well combined. Add more agar agar and ensure that the colour and the agar agar are well mixed. Let it cool and harden. To expedite the cooling, you can put under the fans or if you are not rushing for time, you can chill at the fridge. (Note: if you are using natural colouring, add some 1-2 teaspoons of natural colour juices directly to the agar agar)
- Once it hardens, dislodge and cut into thin stripes of about 1cm x 1cm x 4 cm. While it is still wet, do not let the various colours touch each other as the darker colour may dirtied the lighter colour agar agar. Transfer to the baking tray.
- Oven dry the agar agar stripes at the maximum of 65 degree Celsius until it is dry, not smooth to touch and you can see a thin film of sugar appeared on the agar agar surface that will make the agar agar translucent instead of transparent. If the agar agar have friction while you try to stir them by hand, it means that it is still very smooth and it is not ready. Fully dried agar agar are easy to stir by hand with no resistance against the baking tray. To test the readiness, take a piece and try . If you feel like eating some crunchy agar agar with sugar crystals, it is considered as done. You can also sun dry under the sun that will require about 4 continuous day of sun drying.
Do not be deter by the colouring used in this recipe. As i have mentioned again, you can use natural colouring. As a blogger, I need to make my sweets attractive and since it is an experimental stage, I did not go all the way to extract the natural colour. Since it is a successful attempt, I may do some simpler version in my next attempt with less colour. Do give it a try even without colouring, I believed most will like it.
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