new year dessert: crystal osmanthus flower jelly with wolfberries

Crystal Osmanthus Flower Jelly with Wolfberries is an agar-gelatin dessert. It is served at New Year because the osmanthus flower, a tiny yellow fragrant flower, is thought to represent good luck, friendship, and success. For centuries the Chinese have been using flowers like these to make fragrant teas and desserts. This dessert also contains wolfberries, also called goji berries, which are considered an antioxidant high in Vitamin A, 8 essential amino acids, and minerals. The Chinese have been using them for thousands of years to make soup-tonics. This dessert is light, slightly sweet, with a tiny sharp clean scent from the chrysanthemum flowers in the tea. It is a bit firmer and “crisper”  than desserts made with gelatin on account of the agar. But it is so good for you. So here’s to a healthy 2020! Chaiyo!

Crystal Osmanthus Flower Jelly with Wolfberries
Makes one 8-inch cake

9 g powdered agar
20 g gelatin bloomed in 100 g water
166 g rock sugar
1380 g water (about 6 cups)
2 chrysanthemum tea bags
2.5 g dried osmanthus flower (about 2 tablespoons)
8 g dried goji berries (2 tablespoons)

Special Equipment:
large aluminum finish saucepan
8×8-inch square or 8×2-inch round pan

Put the goji berries in a small bowl and cover them with water. This will plump and soften the berries. When softened, 5-10 minutes, drain off the water and reserve the berries. Hydrate 20 g gelatin in 100 g cold water. Stir to mix well and let stand 5 minutes. Lightly oil pan and set aside.

Simmer rock sugar in the saucepan until sugar is completely dissolved. Off the heat and drop in the chrysanthemum tea sachets. Let the tea steep until you get a light golden color for the jelly. Discard tea bags.  Sprinkle agar on top of the liquid to hydrate. Because agar needs to boil in order to activate, bring the mixture to a boil.

Add the osmanthus flowers and goji berries; simmer, 2 minutes. Don’t steep the flowers and berries any longer than 2 minutes unless you want a darker jelly. Strain the flowers and goji berries, and reserve. Add the gelatin mixture to the tea mixture. Mix until completely dissolved.

Let mixture cool 30 minutes. To hasten thickening, set the pot in a large bowl of ice. Stir occasionally. Once jelly has started to thicken slightly, add the reserved flowers and berries, stirring gently with a fork to mix well so that the flowers and berries are suspended in the jelly. Pour into the prepared pan. Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours,  preferably overnight.

When it is set, unmold the jelly. Run a long thin blade around the edges of the jelly. Cover with a plate and invert. Gently shake, slap the bottom of the jelly pan. The jelly should slip out onto the plate. Use a sharp knife to cut the jelly into squares. Refrigerate until ready to serve. It is best when it is cold.

berry blox

What better way to enjoy the last berries of summer, than to put them in a delicious snack! Instead of using gelatin, which is made from parts of the cow that, trust me, you don’t want to know about, use agar-agar, which is made from seaweed. Thus this snack, a variation on the Knox Blox that I used to carry to my daughter’s soccer games, is a vegan jelly treat. It’s also low in sugar. So it’s (mostly) good for you.

3 cups strawberries
1 cup blackberries (or blueberries)
1/4 cup water
1 cup applesauce
1 cup apple juice (or orange juice)
8 teaspoons agar-agar powder*

First put the berries and the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir the mixture occasionally. This will take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. I hate it when America’s Test Kitchen uses the shorthand “off the heat.” It reminds me of the Queen of Hearts screaming at Alice “Off with her head!” So turn off the heat and put the berry mixture in the blender. Puree the berries until the mixture is smooth. You’ll end up with strawberry seeds but unless you want to strain it, the seeds won’t hurt. They’re just a minor inconvenience.

Put the puree back into the pot and add the applesauce. Stir and set aside. In a large bowl, pour the apple juice and sprinkle the agar-agar powder on top. Whisk to dissolve, about 3-5 minutes. Pour the juice mixture into the pot with the berry mixture and heat until bubbly, stirring constantly. Agar-agar needs to come to a boil in order to activate its jelling properties.

Pour the mixture into one 8×8 inch square pan or dish. Unlike gelatin, any mixture with agar-agar in it doesn’t need refrigeration to set. Just leave it on the counter to cool and thicken. Refrigerating the pan will hasten the process, of course. Cut cooled jellies into squares or triangles. If there are any leftovers, refrigerate them. To me, these Berry Blox taste best cold. They are not gelatinous, they don’t wiggle, they are not “gummies.” But they are yummy!

*Agar-agar powder is available in small packets from Asian markets and is usually quite a bit cheaper. I bought mine in Chinatown New York from Bangkok Center Grocery on Mosco and Mulberry. They were just $1.00 a packet.