One of the most common desserts in Chinese restaurants is almond jelly — cubes of almond-flavored jelly served with fruit pieces, usually, canned fruit cocktail. When you order a set menu for a large group, almond jelly is usually the dessert provided in the set. It’s cheap and it’s easy to prepare and it’s light enough after a very filling multi-course meal.
Personally, I prefer the other two most common desserts in Chinese restaurants — buchi (glutinous rice balls stuffed with sweet bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds and deep fried) and the tapioca pearls and mango dessert. See, I’m not a fan of fruit cocktail. It may have to do with the low quality of locally available fruit cocktails which are often 40 percent pineapples, 40 percent papayas, ten percent nata de coco and ten percent everything else. Goodness, nata de coco is not even a fruit. I understand that pineapples and papayas are plentiful in the tropics but does the proportion really have to be that lopsided? So, much as I love the comforting simplicity of jelly, I balk when it is served with fruit cocktail.
When it comes, however, to preparing dessert for a large group (as most of us are wont to do over the holidays), I tend to veer toward those that can be prepared ahead. I also prefer not to spend a ton. In that context, almond jelly makes sense. In this version, there is no fruit cocktail involved. Naturally, for reasons that I have already stated. Instead, I used maraschino cherries, canned blueberries and canned peaches.
According to some people, authentic Chinese almond jelly dessert is classified as a pudding made with soy bean curd. I don’t know about authenticity. I only know that the almond jelly desserts that I have been at restaurants over the years were made with either gelatin or agar-agar (what we call gulaman). Gelatin, of course, comes from animal skin and bones while agar-agar comes from algae or seaweeds. Either will work.
Where to get the almond flavoring? If you’re using gelatin, there are almond-flavored gelatin in boxes or packets. If you’re using agar-agar, you can add a few drops of almond extract which you will find in the baking section of the grocery. If you’re lucky, as I was, you might find almond-flavored agar-agar (brand is Lobo from Thailand). Got mine from SM Masinag yesterday.
I won’t specify the amount of the ingredients as everything is variable. How much fruits you’ll need depends on (1) how much gelatin you will cook and (2) what proportion between jelly and fruits you prefer.
- almond-flavored sweetened jelly (see discussion above as to what options are available)
- well-chilled canned peaches (you’ll need the syrup)
- well-chilled bottled maraschino cherries
- well-chilled canned blueberries in syrup
Cook the jelly according to package directions. You may cook it in water, milk or coconut milk.
Pour the cooked jelly in a shallow container so that it is no more than an inch or so in depth. Cool until firm. Cut into half-inch or one-inch cubes, depending on how small or large you like your jelly. Chill in a covered container until needed.
Drain the blueberries.
Cut the peaches into cubes about the same size as the jelly.
Pull off the stems of the maraschino cherries and discard. Cut each cherry into halves.
Divide the jelly, peaches, blueberries and cherries among individual bowls. Pour in some of the peach syrup.
Serve the almond jelly with peaches, cherries and blueberries cold.