China is known for its complex savory dishes much more than their sweets. However, you may be familiar with Almond Jello. An iconic offering on any dim sum cart, Almond Jello is at once lightly sweet, ethereal and creamy. Sort of like an Asian panna cotta. I love making it for summer gatherings when you want a little something sweet to end a meal, but not something super heavy. It’s also a great vehicle to showcase the season’s bountiful fruit.
What is Almond Jello?
Known as Annin Tofu because of its resemblance in both texture and appearance to soft tofu, Almond Jello is a dessert that originated in Southern China. Once enjoyed by the royal court, its popularity spread throughout Asia, and is now frequently enjoyed in Japan as well. Making it used to be an all day affair, soaking and grinding Chinese apricot kernels, which have a similar flavor to almonds, to extract their flavor. But with the help of modern conveniences, Almond Jello can be enjoyed with only 15 minutes of prep time.
This mixture gets gently heated until the gelatin dissolves. Keep whisking, and keep an eye on the heat; we don’t want the mixture to simmer.
Choose the Dairy You Like
You may notice at many restaurants, the Almond Jello is a little yellowish. This is because the dairy that they use is evaporated milk, which tends to have a beige color. Milk in Asia first came in the form of imported canned and dry goods. Dairy cows were unheard of in most areas and the tradition of using non-perishable dairy is seen all over the continent.
For my Almond Jello, I use half and half. It gives the gelatin a creamier, more delicious mouth feel than milk. I’ve also used heavy cream before too and it does taste just like an almond panna cotta, the decadent Italian gelatin dessert. If you choose heavy cream, you may want to cut down on the portions a smidge as it will be more rich. You really can use any dairy, or even non dairy like an oat milk. However, I do not recommend using a low fat or skim milk as your dessert will taste bland and the almond flavor will be too strong.
So once the extracts and half and half are added, you’re pretty much done. At this point, all that’s left to do is to let the Almond Jello chill. It is customary to make individual servings of it. This is the time to use any pretty little bowls or silicone molds to pour the mixture in.
You can also chill it in an 8 or 9 inch cake pan, and cut it into cubes when it’s chilled.
Almond Jello Fruit
The crowning touch on the Almond Jello is the fruit. Canned fruit cocktail is a traditional choice, and no judgement if that’s your thing. Living in South Florida with so much access to excellent tropical fruits, I usually choose fresh. Plus, you really can’t beat the beautiful color of fresh fruit. Dragon fruit, lychees, clementines, pineapple, berries-pretty much any fruit you desire would be a perfect topping for your Almond Jello. I also like to change it up by season, pairing the jello with whatever looks good at the market.
This cooling, creamy and fruity dessert has been delighting people for centuries. Try it tonight and eat like royalty! Please take a moment to rate and leave a comment on the recipe below. And tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love seeing your creations.
- 2 packages (approximately .3 ounces each) gelatin
- 2 cups water
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups half and half
- 1 tablespoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups mixed fruit (you can use whatever you like: mandarin oranges, lychees, berries, pineapple, etc. Canned fruit cocktail is traditional)
- In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and gelatin. Whisk to combine.
- Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring regularly, for 5-7 minutes until the gelatin has fully dissolved. (The mixture should get very hot but will not simmer. You are not looking to boil this mixture.)
- Add the half and half, the almond extract, and the vanilla extract to the pan. Stir to combine. Turn off the heat.
- Divide the mixture into 4 bowls. Set the bowls in the refrigerator and chill until the gelatin sets, about 2 hours.
- Top the almond tofu with the fruit and serve.
*You can make the almond tofu a couple days ahead of time. Wrap with plastic wrap once the gelatin has set. Top the desserts with the fruit when you are ready to serve.
* If you prefer to cut your gelatin into cubes, pour the mixture into a 8 inch cake pan. Let the mixture set and then cut the gelatin into ¾ inch cubes with a butter knife. Gently scoop the cubes into a bowl, using a spatula, and top with fruit.