Almond jelly is a traditional Chinese dessert made from gelatin and almond flavoring. The jelly is often formed into decorative shapes and is commonly garnished with fruit and nuts. Nuts are rarely ever used in the actual body of the dish, however. Most of the almond flavor comes from almond milk or almond oil.
The dessert originated in Southern China, but has spread throughout the country and to the rest of the Asian continent. It is popular from Singapore to Japan, and is a common offering in Chinese and dim sum restaurants around the world. Use of the small almonds indigenous to the south of China remains the most authentic way of making the dessert, but almonds of nearly any variety can be used.
Traditional almond jelly is made by combining almond milk, which is essentially the moisture extracted from crushed nuts boiled in water, with sweetener and some form of solidifying agent. Gelatin and agar are the most common choices. All ingredients are heated together, then poured into pans or molds to chill.
Modern Chinese cooks may also elect to use instant almond jelly mixes, which are available in many markets. Instant mixes are usually gelatin-based. They are often sold in pre-measured packets consisting of dehydrated almond milk, sugar, and flavoring. Adding hot water is usually the only required step. Most instant almond jelly includes a number of preservatives, and often times artificial flavorings, as well.
Flavored tofu is a common almond jelly variation. Almond tofu is made with soybean paste in addition to almond milk. It typically includes a bit less gelatin than more traditional preparations. The tofu also tends to have a silkier texture and is more opaque.
Many jellies are also made with dairy products, particularly milk or yogurt. Dairy-based almond jelly is often referred to as almond pudding. Sometimes the dairy replaces the almond milk, but more often is simply an addition. When yogurt is used, it is usually blended into the mixture just before it solidifies. Heating yogurt tends to cause its composition to disintegrate.
The fanciest almond jelly is prepared in individual molds, often with scalloped edges or in otherwise decorative shapes. More basic almond jelly is prepared is shallow pans, usually rectangular, then cut into blocks. Almond jelly is almost always served in individual portions.
Depending on the cook’s taste, the dessert can range in sweetness. It usually needs some sugar to be palatable, but the amount that is added varies widely. Less-sweet puddings are typically garnished with candied nuts, sugar syrups, or honey. Highly sweetened versions are often simply garnished with fresh fruit.