You don’t need me to tell you that it’s berry season. You’ll likely find lovely, ripe berries in abundance at your farm market. Eat them right out of the basket–what a pleasure. Pour on a little cream (or more likely, your favorite substitute), and if the berries are ripe and sweet, you’ll have a memorable dessert. But if you’re in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, try this elegant summer gel made simply with fruit juice and agar agar, a sea vegetable used as a dessert gelling agent throughout Asia. Although it goes together quickly, make it at least a couple of hours ahead, so there’s time for the gel to cool and set. If you’re remembering the jello you ate as a kid, forget all that. This gel is so much more delicate and sophisticated. Make it in a loaf pan, then slice and garnish with additional fruit and something creamy. In the photo, the garnish is coconut cream, made by using a fork to whip only the thick part of canned coconut milk. You can add a little sweetener if you like, but I didn’t and it worked well. The recipe, as usual, is after the jump.
COOL THREE BERRY GEL
If you’re unfamiliar with agar agar, I’ve written about it here.
3 cups organic white grape juice, or apple juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup or sweetener of choice, or to taste
2 cups (loosely packed) berries or other fruit of your choice (I used blackberries, raspberries and strawberries)
1 1/4 bars agar agar, or 1/3 cup flaked agar agar
1. Heat the juice in a medium pan just until it boils.
2. Rinse the agar under running water, tear it into pieces and stir it into the simmering juice. Stirring nearly constantly, simmer the agar until it is completely dissolved into the juice, which should take less than 5 minutes.
3. Prep the fruit, rinse and cut strawberries in half if necessary. Arrange the fruit attractively in an 8 x 4 x 2 1/2-inch or similarly sized loaf pan.
4. Once the agar agar appears to be fully dissolved, taste the fruit juice mixture and add a tablespoon or two of sweetener if it seems to need it.
5. Pour the agar agar-juice mixture over the fruit, using a strainer to catch any bits of undissolved agar agar.
6. Cool to room temperature, then refridgerate.
7. To serve, cut in slices. Garnish with some reserved fruit and a creamy topping if you like. While this gel will keep for several days in the fridge, it’s best eaten within 24 hours. If it sits longer it, the fruit may gradually release juices, causing the gel to soften. In which case, it still tastes good, but doesn’t look as pretty. Also, I’ve noticed that ripe fruit does keep better once gelled than it does otherwise.