Almond "Mascarpone" (Vegan): Amazing Agar Part I

Friday, September 11, 2009

Agar is a wonderful thing. This sea vegetable makes nut and coconut milks into luscious creams that make full fat dairy products jealous.

But that's not the best part. Agar is supposedly a Japanese diet trick (according to the WSJ) and after trying it you'll believe the legend. Eat something prepared with agar and in about 20 minutes you'll feel, really full.

So, there has to be a catch, no? Agar can be pricey. But, little do the yuppies who pay $6 for a small bag at Whole Foods know, Asian markets typically sell it really cheaply. Lucky for my wallet, I get a 2-3 weeks supply of agar powder for a bit over $1 at the Asian market 2 blocks from my apartment. Yes, this white powder is as addictive as the other white powder and I would probably be paying 6 times as much for it if necessary. So, if you have access to an asian market, stock up. You can also order it online in bulk for less than you would pay in a typical grocery or health food store.

You can make this for a vegan, gluten-free tiramisu recipe or decoratively pipe it over a tart or cake. With less of an eye towards presentation, I make a large batch of some sort of agar cream product weekly, sweeten it with powdered stevia (the other addictive white powder for the holistic crowd) and eat it with fruit as a dessert or as an afternoon snack. Here is the almond variation that looks particularly elegant for desserts.

Vegan Almond "Mascarpone"

1 C. almonds, soaked for 2-4 hours or overnight

5 C. water

1 1/2 Tbs. cornstarch

1 Tbs. agar powder** (You will need to use more if you are using Agar flakes, follow directions on package for 5 cups of liquid).

Agave, Stevia or powdered sugar to taste*

Rinsing almond after soaking. Combine with 5 c. water in vitamixer (preferred) or blender for 1 minute or until you have frothy liquid that looks like milk (you are essentially making unfiltered almond milk).

Combine cornstarch and agar with milk at room temperature in large pot and whisk until cornstarch is dissolved. Heat until boiling, whisking occasionally. Once mixture is boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes (you need to boil the mixture for about 5 minutes to activate the agar, but boiling any longer will destroy the gelling properties). Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. When mixture is warm place it in a large ceramic or glass bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. The mixture will be of a jello or tofu-like consistency.

Then blend the mixture (Once again, my favorite blending tool is the vitamixer but you can use a blender or a handblender right in the bowl). You will have a creamy mixture the consistency of a stiff pudding or thick creamy yogurt. Mix sweetener of choice into almond mixture, for an even stiffer mouse, beat sweetener in with a mixer for a few minutes (I didn’t use a mixer for the mascarpone in the picture).

Spoon over fruit or eat alone. For stunning presentation or to decorate a pie, tart or cake put mixture into a pastry bag with tip of choice and pipe.

*When I’m making this for myself to eat with fruit, I use about a packet of powdered stevia per cup of almond mixture. For those looking for a sweeter dessert you will probably want to use agave or powdered sugar.

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