Tag Archives: agar agar

Raspberry Tart

28 Nov

With purple pansiesThis raspberry tart is dramatic, beautiful, romantic and outrageously delicious. Its such a perfect combination of flavours and textures, and its so pretty that people smile when they see it. I love this tart, and I must give credit where it is due – it was inspired by Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio’s amazing raspberry tart, but enlivened with a few of my own happy pleasures. Specifically, dark bittersweet chocolate – and instead of a cookie crust, a pistachio crust inspired by her pistachio ice cream.

This tart is easily made (in its various components) ahead of time, and put together a few hours before serving. The combination of pistachio biscuit crust, dark bittersweet chocolate cream, light vanilla whipped cream and tart fresh raspberries is just outstanding. Crunchy, slightly bitter and nutty, creamy, chocolatey, tart, fresh, cool, bright – decadent, sumptuous, and totally sensual. Can you tell by all the superlatives how much I loved this tart? 😉

The element which brought drama and a really natural beauty to the tart were the flutters of sweet purple flowers adorning the top. My local supermarket sells edible flowers in a little packet – all different colours and they are beautiful. I picked out the purple ones – pansies I think – and together, they made for a stunningly lovely presentation. You can find information on edible flowers at the Cook’s Thesaurus and also some very pretty photographs here and here. Flowers are a wonderful way to make food look visually appealing and beautiful, and after this result, I definitely need to start using them more often!

This tart will serve 10 – 12 people. Its very rich, so you dont need huge slices.

Pistachio Crust

  • 1 cup whole pistachios
  • 2 tbsp powdered/icing sugar
  • 5 tbsp flour (plus additional if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 egg + 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Using a coffee grinder, processor, your immersion blender – or even a plastic back and a rolling pin to smack them into submission! – grind and pulverise the pistachios with the powdered sugar. The sugar will ensure that the nuts dont go over into a paste – but watch them carefully. I usually grind the pistachios in two batches of 1/2 cup each plus 1 tbsp of powdered sugar.

Put the ground pistachios and sugar into a bowl. Add the flour and salt and toss to combine. Grate the cold butter over the pistachio mixture, and using the tips of your fingers, combine very gently. You could even use a fork left in the fridge to mix everything up. This mixture can be exceedingly delicate so be careful!

Beat the 1 egg and vanilla together, and add to the pistachio-butter mixture. Combine gently and quickly until the mixture comes together into a dough. If its really sticky, add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time until it comes together, but be gentle and work quickly.

Shape the dough into a ball, and refrigerate, covered for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 175 C (350F). I used a 11″ tart pan with a detachable base and non stick surface for this tart. If your tart pan is not non-stick (and really, it should be if it has a detachable base), butter the pan well. Remove the dough from the fridge, and centre it on a the tart pan. Using your fingers, quickly spread and knead and push and prod the dough so it completely covers the pan. Line the tart with parchment/baking paper, and pour in some pie weights. I use dried beans – theyre much cheaper, and they work just as well!

Bake your tart for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the baking paper and pie weights/beans, and place the tart crust back into the oven for a further 5 minutes or so, or until the shell has lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 3 minutes or so. Whisk the egg white with a fork in a small cup or bowl. Brush the interior of the shell with the egg white. This is a great trick to ensure that the tart crust is “water proof” and does not become soggy when you add the pastry cream!

Set aside to cool completely before assembly.

You can make the tart crust up to 1 day in advance, and store in the fridge, covered until needed.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pastry Cream

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups cream
  • About 150 grams (1 1/2 small slab bars) best quality bittersweet chocolate – I used Lindt, broken into pieces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt until well combined. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl, and whisk into the sugar-flour mixture until you get a smooth paste.

Place the saucepan over medium low heat, and bring slowly to the boil, whisking all the while. This will take you about 10 minutes – about 5 minutes into this time, stick your thumb in the mixture. It should be like quite hot bathwater. Add the chocolate now, and continue whisking for a further 5 minutes or so. The mixture will start to steam, and bubble, and will have become noticeably thicker.

Check that the mixture will hold a line when it coats the back of a spoon and you run your finger through it. If not, continue to cook for a few minutes further, whisking all the while. It should not take that long to get there, so be vigilant! And remember, the pastry cream will thicken as it cools, so the consistency at which you take it off the stove is not the consistency it will be when you finally assemble the tart!

Remove the saucepan from the heat, and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract. Strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve, and allow to cool to room temperature.

The pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance, and stored, covered (with parchment paper spread over the surface for preference), in the refrigerator until needed.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream – 2 tbsp of cream removed from this amount
  • 1 1/2 tsp agar agar
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split, and beans scraped – or 1 tbsp vanilla essence/paste

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. From this amount, measure out 2 tbsp, and remove to a small bowl. Sprinkle agar agar over the 2 tbsp of cream, and set aside for a few minutes to allow the agar agar to dissolve into the cream.

Whisk the remaining cream (by hand if youre macho – with a stand mixer or handheld electric beaters if youre me!) until it just begins to hold soft peaks. Add the reserved cream and agar agar mixture, the icing sugar and the vanilla, and whisk until the cream holds stiff peaks.

The agar agar will ensure that the cream holds its shape for about six hours.

I would prepare the whipped cream just before assembly.


  • Pistachio Crust
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Pastry Cream
  • Vanilla Whipped Cream
  • Raspberries – About 1 1/2 pints (1 1/2 small packets)
  • Pretty edible flowers for additional decoration (optional)

Place the tart crust/shell on a good working surface. For the kind of pretty decoration that I created here, I actually centered the crust (in pan) on a small lazy susan that I had from Ikea – this helped move the tart as I was placing raspberries and piping cream.

Pour in the bittersweet chocolate pastry cream, and using a palette knife or even a spoon, ensure that the pastry cream is evenly covering the tart shell, and is smoothed on top.

For this tart, I placed half the vanilla whipped cream into a piping bag with a small round tip (and topped it up when needed). If you want to get extra fancy, you could use a star tip, but that for me would be gilding the lily!

GorgeousPipe a border of whipped cream around the edge of the tart. Now take the raspberries, one at a time, and using the small tip, fill the raspberry with whipped cream, and pipe a small circle of cream at the opening of the raspberry. Place the raspberries onto the pastry cream in circles – working your way from outside in.

Once the tart has been covered with raspberries, begin placing the flowers. Pipe small circles of cream between the raspberries, working from inside out, and on each small circle of cream, place a single flower. You could cover the entire tart with raspberries and flowers, or, as I preferred to do, leave the outer edges with the decadent chocolate cream peeking out.

Refrigerate the tart until ready to serve. Assemble no more than 6 hours before consuming!

When you are ready to serve, remove the tart from the pan, leaving the bottom intact.

Enjoy the pleasures of this most lovely of desserts.

Vegetarian Panna Cotta

9 Jul

I have always loved panna cotta. The milky, trembling, perfectly set dessert just does it for me. May be because its so simple – the essence of milk. Scented lightly with vanilla, not too sweet, creamy and yet light, its a wonderful dessert. You can add all sorts of things – a chocolate sauce, a drizzle of strawberry jelly, fruits – to the pana cotta itself, or on the side, and you will get a different taste. A light espresso sauce comes to mind. Anyway, the whole point is, panna cotta is a simple and delicious thing – but I was unpleasantly surprised when I found out how it was made: milk, sugar, vanilla and gelatin. Now, vegetarians cannot eat gelatin because its made up basically of hooves, bones and cartilage of animals from the slaughterhouse boiled down. I will consume animal by products like eggs and milk, but not by products from animals that have been slaughtered. So I have foregone my panna cotta, and moved on to other delights.

Until a few months ago, when I used agar agar to stiffen and hold whipped cream. Hmmmm. I wondered if the same could be applied to the creation of panna cotta. Well, yes, but. Yes it can, agar agar is an excellent gelling agent. And yes, its relatively easy. But, you really have to follow instructions. I know this by trial and error. For almost each cup of milk or cream that you use, you need a little less than 1 tsp powdered agar agar. The agar agar must be given sufficient time, in a variety of circumstances, to melt and incorporate into the cream. If it doesnt, you get a yucky, grainy, unset mess. I know. It happened to me!

I did save it though, and now have six pretty glasses of panna cotta settling peacefully in my fridge. This dessert is easy to make as long as you accept there will be a long period of calm reflective slow cooking, and a few moments of utter chaos. Best prepare for the chaos at the beginning and set everything up so that at least it is controlled. If you do, you will have a guilt free (well relatively) panna cotta that really delights.

For 6 ramekins or glasses you will need:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or additional milk if you dont have or dont want to use the buttermilk)
  • 3 3/4 tsp agar agar
  • 3 cups cream or half and half (I used 1 1/2 c cream and 1 1/2 c whole milk)
  • 6 – 8 tbsp sugar (preferably caster)
  • 1 vanilla bean split in half  or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • At least 2 cups ice

First off the prep. Set up your six glasses or ramekins on a clean tray or baking sheet and set aside. Have a large mixing bowl (that will fit your saucepan comfortably) at the ready, along with ice in the freezer, a large pouring jug, and a sieve.

In a medium saucepan, pour the 1 cup milk + 1/2 cup buttermilk and sprinkled the agar agar on top. Mix well and leave for at least 5 – 10 minutes to soften and incorporate. I use buttermilk in this recipe because I love the subtle tang it gives the finished product – it enhances the taste of milk, without intruding. However, if you just like milk, just use milk!

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, pour the cream / half and half and sprinkle over the sugar, and mix in the vanilla extract, or scrape out the vanilla bean, and pop its contents, and it, in. Leave to get acquainted.

After about ten minutes or so, go back to the saucepan, and on low heat, bring to the simmer, stirring all the while. What you will want to see is the mixture slowly getting thicker, and the agar agar melting. You want to bring this just-almost-not-quite to the boil. A few bubbles coming lazy to the surface and you know youre just  a tad too hot. You want to do this slow and gentle.

Hold the milk at a simmer, stirring slowly all the while for 3 – 5 minutes, and then add half of the cream mixture. Continue stirring and repeat bringing the milk-cream mixture just to the boil, and keeping it at a high simmer for a few minutes. Finally, add the rest of the cream mixture and repeat. This entire process should take you between 10 – 15 minutes. Your main aim here is a smooth creamy mixture. You want to ensure that the agar agar is completely melted into the milk and cream, and it can only do so if you bring it just to the boiling point. Enjoy this time, because all hell will break loose soon!

Agar agar gells without the need for refrigeration, so as soon as you take it off the heat, it will start to stiffen up. You now need to work extremely quickly. Put ice into the large bowl with water, and set the saucepan atop. Mix to cool down for only a few minutes – you still want to work with a warm/hot mixture, otherwise it will start gelling! Place sieve over your pouring jug, and pour all the cream through, pressing down on the solids, and discarding. Pour the cream straight into your ramekins or pretty glasses. You will see the drips and drops starting to gel so work quickly but evenly. Cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

A note on the agar agar: I have read that agar agar to liquid should be a 1 tsp to 1 cup ratio. I have tried this, and it comes out a very very stiff jelly. My aim for the panna cotta was a slightly wobbling, smooth, silky dessert. I have therefore come up with a ratio of 4 1/2 cups liquid to 3 3/4 tsp agar agar. This is an important measurement. Please make sure you measure everything carefully. If your agar agar does not set, or sets too hard, you can always melt everything down again, reheat and go through the same process. If it is set too hard, add at least 1/2 cup of milk and 1 tsp or more of sugar. If it has not set enough, add 1/4 tsp of agar agar.

Good luck!