Today’s recipe is waaay off the kitschy Americana beaten path, but I’ll allow it because still fits the theme of molded gelatin dishes!
I’ve been recently exploring historic Chinese food for a project posted on my other site and my friend Wilma Wu suggested I look into something called Almond Tofu or Almond Jelly.
Intrigued, I attempted to find ancient or early almond tofu recipes in manuscripts I have no ability to read. I ultimately abandoned that idea (for this particular dish anyway) and instead hunted down a few traditional almond jelly recipes written for a modern audience.
Unlike modernized American jello salads parading themselves around online under the guise of being “traditional,” “old-fashioned,” or “Grandma’s recipe,” I have the utmost confidence that these Chinese recipes really are traditional and have been made much the same way for a very long time.
Here are a few English-language versions of the recipe that are more traditional in that they call for apricot kernels and not almonds.
By the way, “Chinese almonds” are actually apricot kernels! The Chinese character for almond and apricot kernel is the same. Apricot kernels come in two types: bitter (north) and sweet (south). Both are considered unsafe to eat raw because of cyanide poisoning, but the sweet southern almonds are the ones to use if you plan on doing this as authentically as possible.
For those of you with limited access to apricot kernels, there are simplified, less-traditional versions using almond milk that are still commonly enjoyed in China and Hawai’i:
If you’re not ready to take the leap into authentic 5-hour apricot kernel jelly/tofu territory, I suggest starting with a simplified beginner version of this classic Chinese dessert.
Because this recipe does not actually belong to me I don’t feel right about posting it here. It’s against my code to take credit for things that are not mine.
I will, however, provide some suggestions and slight changes below related to Maggie Zhu’s version.
First of all, Maggie suggests bringing the almond milk to a boil in the first step and then adding the gelatin. If you are using plain gelatin powder this just will not work. So instead, soak the gelatin (I used two packets) in a cup of cold almond milk before heating it.
When the gelatin dissolves, add the sugar and almond extract. When the sugar dissolves, add the second cup of cold milk.
Pouring the mixture into a square dish was great, though mine still had a lot of bubbles even after straining it the first time I tried. Do this slowly and gently to make a nice and smooth jelly. If I had a third hand, I’d use a spoon to slow the flow of the liquid being strained from the pot.
It will set for about an hour and then you can cut it into little tofu-like squares. For fun, I experimented with a miniature cube mold to see if they turned out prettier, which they did not. It’s better just to set it in a dish and cut it like the recipe suggests.
I absolutely love almond tofu! I’ve made a couple different versions but this one is extremely easy and fast.
In China this tofu is often served with canned fruit, goji berries or even honey. I absolutely recommend macerating some strawberries with sugar and tossing the fruit and jelly together. Definitely a new family favorite!
While it’s not exactly an authentic historic recipe, it’s a great place to start if you want to explore traditional Chinese gelatin desserts!