Sunday, February 10, 2008

China Grass/Agar-Agar Pudding With Praline Topping

Background of the story: A newly married couple commences their much dreamed about life together in Chennai. Bride’s cooking experience starts with two cups of tea and ends with an omelet. With some simple recipes scribbled in a 100 page notebook and lots of beginner‘s luck in the kitchen, she succeeds in whipping up some everyday recipes. Everything is rosy and pink.
Location: A small town in Kerala
Scene: The young couple comes down to Kerala, after celebrating one month anniversary of a beautiful marriage, to visit girl’s parents and during their short stay there, they get an invite for dinner and stay-over at girl’s aunt’s place. Since our girl being the eldest in her maternal family, her aunt prepares a grand feast to receive the bridegroom, starting from drinks and pre-appetizers and a full course menu for the dinner. ….everyone in a happy mood, lots of laughter and teasing going around…….and when everybody is relaxing after a heavy dinner, our aunt enters the scene with a tray of pudding, tempting everyone with its eye candy look…..everyone starts relishing this sweet delicacy and suddenly our hero, bridegroom drops the bomb and asks the girl, “hey…I loved this dessert….absolutely tasty….why don’t you ask your aunt for the recipe?”” Girl, though shell-shocked at this unexpected move from her husband, tries to hide her nervousness and nods her head in agreement and goes to bed with a wishful thinking that husband might forget the whole thing and she can return to her routine cooking after reaching Chennai. The next day morning, while bidding farewell to the relatives, boy asks the girl again, “So, did you get the recipe?” and the girl halfheartedly says, “aunty will mail me by post….” !!

Location: Chennai
Scene: Newly married couple returns to Chennai and after a week or two, our girl receives a letter from her aunt, with neatly written guidelines for the pudding and seeing her husband’s excitements, she decides to give it a try. So, one day after getting back home from work, she rolls ups the sleeves and knots the apron and starts the work.

STD call after 10 minutes :
Girl: Aunty, this thing is not thickening, how long should I stir this?
Aunt: hmm….only for 4-5 mts after adding the condensed milk.

Telecon ends…. Second STD call after 10 mts:
Girl: …..sugar has melted now…it is golden colour now, shall I add the nuts?
Aunty:….burn the sugar till it is golden brown and then you add the nuts.

Telecon ends….. Third STD call after 10 mts:
Girl: Caramelized nuts are stuck …I am not able to scrape it off
Aunt: Where did you pour it?
Girs : On a newspaper
Aunt: : Eh!!!!! You should have used butter paper…anyway try to scrape off after breaking them into small chunks

Telecon Ends….. Fourth STD call after 30 mts and uncle picks up the phone:
Uncle: Aahhh…….Heard you re making the is it done?
Girl: mm…I guess this is my first and last time with that pudding….aunty is there?
Aunt: Is it ready now?
Girl: I am not able to spread the jam …jam is quite thick
Aunt: oh…slightly smash the jam with the back of a spoon and then spread….
Girl: Why didn’t you tell me earlier that it takes lots of time…? I am done with this and if it doesn’t turn out well, I am throwing it out!!
Aunt: It is such a simple and easy recipe…..I don’t understand why you re having so much trouble!

Girl, quite bugged and impatient at this stage, keeps the phone down, finishes the topping and throws the whole tray into the fridge and wraps up the kitchen. When husband returns from work, they have their dinner together, exchanging the day’s happenings and after some time, girl serves ‘the pudding”. Husband takes the first scoop …..tension builds up…..he smiles and takes another spoonful and tells,” WOW! I am glad you tried this… we will make this often…wont you?”. The moment that made the whole thing worth and gratifying at the same time!! :)


And I should say, aunt was right then, this is an easy and simple dessert that you can whip up in less than 20-30 minutes, especially if a beginner has clear instructions and I realized that after all these years and it is surprising that this China-grass/Agar-Agar pudding is still one of the toppers in CJJ’s favourite list. China Grass, also known as Agar-Agar is a seaweed derivative and a ‘vegetable gelatin’. Because of its gelatinous nature, it is used as a quick setting base for many desserts and it is flavorless in nature and will get set in room temperature as well. The base pudding in this recipe is quite versatile with any other flavorings as well as topping too. Using canned pineapple chunks or any other fruits in sugar syrup is also a great idea to whip up this easy yet tasty pudding in less than 20 minutes. China Grass is available in Asian stores in US.The right consistency for this pudding is when the base pudding holds together, something like the Jello and at the same time, it is not too thick or hard.

For the base:
  • ½ litre milk (around 2 1/8 cups)
  • 1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp china grass powder or (Approx.)10gms china grass strands*
For the topping:
  • 3 tbsp jam of your choice
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts or almonds
  • Prepare the base of the pudding by boiling milk in a saucepan and when it comes to boil, reduce the heat and add sugar and china grass powder; keep stirring continuously, until everything is dissolved well. Now, add sweetened condensed milk, in low flame and stir continuously for 3-4 minutes and switch off the stove. Using a strainer, pour this mixture to an 8 inch pan and let it set in the room temperature, till it is cold and then chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. (Note: If you are using china grass strands soak them in hot water or prepare it as per the package instructions)
  • Prepare the praline topping by heating and melting sugar until they turn medium brown. Keep swirling the pan but do not stir. When sugar is completely melted and bubbles start coming up, turn off the stove and add the dry toasted nuts to it, and pour them onto to a non-stick aluminum foil or a lightly oil coated aluminum foil sheet, placed on a cookie sheet and let it set. When completely dry, crush the caramel coated nut sheet using a rolling pin and then powder them in a food processor or in the smallest jar of a mixer/blender. (Note: Hot caramel can create serious burns, so make sure that you play safe and kids are not around while preparing it. While pouring the caramel coated nuts, make sure that a thick layer is not created.)
  • Once the base is set, take it out of the refrigerator and spread thoroughly mashed jam on top of the base and sprinkle powdered praline and chill it for another 30-40 minutes. Slice and serve.
This goes to Pooja’s Valentines Day Special Event and Zorra's "Heart for your Valentine"

Check out other Valentinyyy treats from this blog by clicking on the image to view the recipe.

Groom Berries and Bride BerriesMango SorbetOrange DelightBlack Forest CakeShortbread HeartsWhite CakePraline CakeMexican wedding cookiesTiramisu

UPDATED on 13th Feb* : There was a typo in the measurement of China grass when I first posted the recipe, I have corrected it now. Sorry for the mistake! I have noticed that there is lots of variation in the measurement of china grass we get back home in India and here in US. The measurements I have given above is as per the products we get here in US. Just like the quality of dry yeast differs in India and US, the quality and strength of china grass also differ. So the safest method is to first try diluting it in warm water and see if you re getting the right pudding consistency and then make variations while working with milk.


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