I absolutely love cooking with agar. I like that I have lots of control over the resulting texture and that I can transform most dishes to suit a vegetarian or vegan diet or special diets with low sugar or low fats. In this recipe, the custard could have been made with eggs but here, I achieve a similar result using New Zealand Agar to create the creaminess.
The biggest producers of agar around the world are Chile, Spain and Japan. Agar is now used in a variety of industries & manufacturing processes but it is only recently, in the Western world, that it has become available at retail stores as a consumer product. Click the link to find out more about NZ Agar.
The increased demand for vegetarian products has motivated retailers to offer a substitute for gelatine, and the awareness of the consequences of too much sugar has also created demand for an alternative to pectin. As people start using agar, they become familiar with its culinary versatility and wellness properties. We are lucky in New Zealand. Although our production is small, we produce some of the best quality agar in the world. Click here to learn how to use Agar in food.
This RECIPE is the perfect balance of the crunchiness of the pastry, the warm creaminess of the custard and the sweet caramelised chewiness of the oranges. It is a good recipe to make at this time of the year when the orange season is in full swing and we are in need of comfort food.
FOR THE CRUST:
2 cups Butternut Snap biscuit crumbs (available gluten free in some stores)
70g butter, melted (or oil based spread or coconut butter)
50g toasted slivered almonds
Combine the biscuit crumbs, butter and nuts.
Press the mixture in tart dish and bake at 180 C for 15 minutes, then allow to cool down.
FOR THE CUSTARD:
650ml of cream (soya or nut milks can be used instead)
zest of 2 oranges
100g caster sugar
3 tsp (flat) Pacific Harvest agar powder
3 tbsp of orange liqueur (or orange water)
150ml of cream for whipping (soya or nut milks can be used instead)
Note: Using cream only for this recipe makes a luxurious dessert that is also very rich, it is excellent in small protions; for those who enjoy bigger portions (like I do), replace half the cream with full fat milk
Pour 650ml cream into a cooking pan and sprinkle with the agar powder. Using a whisk, mix to combine and let stand 10 minutes for the agar to swell. Make an orange cream by adding orange zest, orange liqueur and caster sugar to the agar mixture. Stir to mix and place the pan on medium heat.
Allow to warm while stirring to dissolve the sugar & the agar. (Do not allow it to boil.) When the mixture reaches a simmer, you should feel it thicken slightly, much like a custard. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whip the remaining cream (150ml) until firm. (This last step (whipping) is omitted if using soya or nut milks – just combine the additional milk to the orange mixture.) To combine, add 1/3 of the orange cream to the whipped cream and mix well with a whisk. Continue adding the rest of the orange cream until combined thoroughly. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally for the mixture to thicken with a smooth finish.
Ladle the cooled mixture into the cooked crust.
FOR THE GARNISH:
3 oranges, sliced thin
icing sugar for dusting
Arrange the orange slices on the tart. Dust with icing sugar, caramelize under the grill and refrigerate for 2-3 hours to set well.
Serve at room temperature for maximum flavour.
Note: if you’d like a little extra that creates a festive mood and additional flavour, warm 3 tbsp of Grand Marnier or Triple Sec in a pan and light a match to it to create a ‘flambé’. Pour on the pie while the liqueur is still burning…it creates a very dramatic effect at night with the lights down!
Agar is a positive alternative to gelatine and has 10 times the gelling power of its animal counterpart. Agar needs to re-hydrate to activate its jellifying abilities which can be used in a number of varied applications. It can also be used to harmonise the texture (like in our recipe today) and to stabilize certain ingredients like sugar by prevent its crystallisation.
Agar is considered to be a functional food in term of its beneficial contribution to balanced nutrition. It has virtually no calories, is fat free, is very high in fibre (75-80%) and has a beneficial effect on digestion. Being a seaweed extract, it contains minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin Bs, while being very low in sodium. It has a good satiating ability (as agar’s indigestible fibre absorbs and retains water resulting in a feeling of fullness) and a purifying action on the body which is great for weight reduction. Agar also has a mild laxative effect.