This dessert comes from a combination of various friendships, childhood memories, and a growing appreciation for my Taiwanese-Chinese-American upbringing. So I’m sure a good amount of people out there have zero clue what almond tofu is. Also called almond pudding, almond tofu is a Chinese dessert that consists of a sweet almond-flavored, milk-based jelly, similar to a panna cotta. One thing that makes this dessert so distinct in flavor is the usage of Chinese almonds. Also called bitter almonds, these are technically not even almonds at all, but rather, the core of the pits of apricots and peaches. The cores of those fruits are a singular kernel that tastes like an extremely bitter version of almond extract. And a little of that goes a long way. I remember trying one of those kernels when I cut a peach in half, out of curiosity because the core looked like an almond, and it almost was very bitter. Apparently, these cores have small traces of cyanide in them too, so I wouldn’t recommend eating more than one actual core like that per day if you enjoy living. The poisonous cyanide Chinese almond talk aside, that ingredient is used, along with regular almonds, to flavor Chinese almond tofu with. However, there are ways to achieve that flavor profile without having to cut open an apricot pit or use almond extract. And that is Hong Kong almond powder.
Back in college, my friend Savannah gifted me with this Chinese almond tea powder. Back then, I literally had no clue what it was, but after dissolving it into water and tasting it, it was creamy, aromatic, and it had those same notes as the bitter almonds, but without it being overbearing or unpleasant. That ingredient was my absolute favorite way to consume a Chinese almond or almond extract flavor, just because it was very much palatable. And the right ingredient to use in the base of this dessert. I used a combination of almond milk and Hong Kong almond powder to make the almond tofu with, and it’s being set with agar agar, just to make it vegan. I found that a lot of the desserts I grew up on in Chinese restaurants were vegan, so it just felt right to do that with this particular recipe. The almond tofu is served with a couple preparations of persimmon, a chrysanthemum-ginger syrup(based on my childhood of drinking chrysanthemum tea at dim-sum), and Chinese almond cookies to finish. Chinese almond cookies invoke my early childhood memories of driving all the way from the South Bay to the 626 Area(roughly a 30-35 mile drive) so that my parents could visit their chiropractor and getting desserts from Chinese bakeries on the way back as an award for being well-behaved and not throwing a fit for being hours away from home. These almond cookies are crunchy, sweet, and a little flaky. In this case, I am making the cookies vegan as well, relying specifically on the proteins in almond butter to bind the cookies in lieu of an egg! I also used palm sugar in this recipe, just because I love the earthiness of it, but turbinado sugar works as a more accessible substitute as well!
When it came to the persimmons used in this recipe, I used a combination of fuyu persimmon and hachiya persimmon. The fuyu(the Japanese word for winter), is a flatter persimmon that can be eaten raw, and has a very dry texture, but sweet taste to it when consummed in an unripe way. I grew up on fuyu persimmon because we had a tree in my childhood home! I also got fuyu persimmon from my parents, and hachiya persimmon from my friend Dara, and her mom Carole! Compared to the fuyu persimmon, hachiya persimmon is rounder, almost peach-shaped. Hachiya cannot be eaten raw, only super ripe, and when they are ripe, they are juicy and almost pudding-like. Dara’s mom, Carole, mentioned that she loved to peel and dry them, a Japanese technique called hoshigaki, which sounds like an absolutely delightful way to prepare a persimmon! If you have ever had a dried persimmon before, it’s similar to eating a dried apricot or a date, but they are just sweet and a little smoky! I grew up eating them with smoked cream cheese, and it was that flavor combination that actually inspired a previous persimmon recipe of mine. If you have an abundance of persimmon, truthfully not a bad idea to just dry some of them if you are not using them for this recipe! In this case, I am roasting the hachiya persimmon to get them gooey and caramelized, and shaving the fuyu, dressing the fuyu with yuzu juice, just to add a fresh, crunchy, and bright component to the dessert.
Makes 4 portions
For the almond tofu:
2 cups almond milk
1/2 cup Hong Kong/Chinese almond powder
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp agar agar
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a blender, puree the almond milk, almond powder, and salt together for roughly 30 seconds. Pass through a sieve to remove any lumps. Pour the mixture into a pot and heat up with agar agar, stirring until the agar is dissolved into the liquid and it begins to simmer. Take the mixture off heat and cool down slightly before adding in the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into four bowls and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid has firmed up into a soft, jiggly solid.
For the ginger-chrysanthemum syrup:
4oz palm sugar
1 cup chrysanthemum tea
a pinch of salt
In a pot, bring everything to a simmer over low heat. Allow the liquid to come down by half and the sugar to fully dissolve into the liquid. Pass through a sieve to remove any solids. Allow the syrup to cool down to lukewarm for serving.
For the roasted persimmon:
1oz palm sugar
1 tbsp coconut oil
a pinch of salt
4 semi-ripe persimmons
In a pot, heat up the sugar, coconut oil, and salt over low heat until everything is melted together. Peel and cut the persimmon into roughly medium dice. Toss the persimmon in the sugar-coconut oil mixture first, then spread onto a parchment-lined sheet tray. Roast at 375 degrees F for about 20 minutes. Allow the persimmon to cool down before using.
For the yuzu-dressed persimmon:
1 semi-ripe persimmon
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp yuzu juice – can sub with any citrus juice on hand
Peel the persimmon and cut in half along the length. Slice into ribbons on a mandolin and toss with the other ingredients. Store in an airtight container prior to plating.
For the almond cookies:
1.5oz palm sugar
2 tbsp almond butter
3 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup almond meal
2 tbsp Hong Kong/Chinese almond powder
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
8 whole almonds or almond flakes
In a pot, melt down the palm sugar with almond butter and coconut oil over low heat. Once the sugar is fully melted into the mixture, take it off heat and stir in the almond meal, almond powder, and salt first. Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool down, before adding in the flour, baking powder, and vanilla to form your dough. Divide the dough into 8 pieces, pressing an almond into each one. Brush the exterior of each cookie with some of the ginger-chrysanthemum syrup. Bake the dough balls on a lined sheet tray at 375 degrees F for 8 minutes.
To plate, top the almond tofu with the roasted persimmon, ribbons of the shaved persimmon, and edible flowers. Serve the cookies and syrup on the side, with the intention of pouring the syrup right before serving.