Almond Tofu (杏仁豆腐) and Syrupy Smashed Cherries–A Childhood Favorite Teams up with Summer Lovelies For Bliss in a Bowl

Cherries in syrup is quick and simple to make. Feel free to embellish with booze.

Almond tofu or almond jelly is one of the most popular desserts to come out of the Chinese restaurant. It’s almost always served at the end of a Chinese banquet, usually with canned longans in syrup and/or fruit cocktail.

As a little girl in swishy pigtails, I liked almond tofu enough but I lived for the bright pink cherries bobbing like rubies alongside the squishy grapes, soggy pear chunks, and soft peach slices in the accompanying fruit cocktail. With only two or three cherries to a can, a catfight inevitably broke out among the kids.

Flash forward three decades. I am older, wiser, and most importantly, I have enough money to buy as many cans of fruit cocktail as I desire.

However it does seem silly to stock up on canned fruit when cherry season is in full swing here in the Northwest. I am surrounded by cherries. Everywhere I look I see dark purple, almost black, Bing cherries, cheery-yellow Rainier cherries blushing with rouge, bright red sour cherries beckoning like sirens from a neighbor’s yard.

In what can only be defined as an aha moment, I realized I could have all the fruit cocktail-esque cherries I wanted, no hair-pulling required.

A quick Web surf later, I found recipes for macerated cherries, cherries in boozy syrup and cherries in almond syrup which I decided to adapt.

The cherries were easy. Next, it was on to the almond tofu.

The descriptor “tofu” is somewhat of a misnomer as the dessert’s ingredients usually comprise agar agar (a vegan gelling agent made from seaweed), and evaporated milk (which is cheaper and more common than fresh milk in Asia). I suppose the resulting color and delicate texture is similar to silken tofu. You could use soymilk to make it true to its moniker, a great substitute too if you can’t have dairy.

Almond tofu mixes are readily available at Asian stores but I like to make mine from scratch. I went in search of the agar agar brand my mom always used, Swallow Globe. The bright yellow packets are usually unmistakable on the shelf but it was out of stock at my Asian market so I settled for Golden Coins brand manufactured in Santa Fe Springs, CA.

I like that Golden Coins brand is made in California. I don’t quite like that it has added sugar but at least it wasn’t too sweet.

I removed the sachet from the box to discover the mix already includes sugar, which isn’t usually the case with other brands. Fortunately, the box had detailed instructions for making almond tofu so I didn’t have to guess.

I more or less followed the instructions, except I used only 1 cup of half-and-half instead of 3 cups of whole milk. I wanted to use these cute little molds my mom had bought in Singapore and I wanted to ensure they were firm enough to unmold cleanly. To use pure agar agar or gelatin, try this recipe, which will yield a more tofu-like consistency.

Right now, I’m lovin’ eating syrupy cherries to my heart’s content! And for me, almond tofu and cherries go together like black tea and milk in the British Isles.

As it turns out I’m not the only cherry-crazy fruit cocktail-lover. Enter Del Monte’s Very Cherry Mixed Fruit with extra cherries!

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Almond Tofu with Syrupy Smashed Cherries

If you have a cherry pitter, by all means use it. I try to keep my kitchen gadgets to a minimum so I simply thwack my cherries with a large chef’s knife. With crimson juice splattering everywhere, it’s messy but lots of fun and you can save the juice to add to the syrup. It’s also very therapeutic. I used red Bing cherries but go ahead and use any type of cherry just not sour cherries. I have my eye on Rainier cherries for next time!

Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: 35 minutes active

Syrupy Smashed Cherries:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3-inch curl of lemon zest
2-inch piece vanilla bean, seeds scraped
2 cups pitted cherries of your choice (about 1 pound)

Almond tofu:
1 (6 ounce) box of Golden Coins agar agar powder
1/2 cup sugar
6 cups water
1 cup half-and-half
2 teaspoons almond extract
2-quart shallow pan or mold(s)

Place the sugar, water, lemon curl, and vanilla pod and seeds in a medium saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add the cherries (plus juice, if any). Let cool and pour into a 16-ounce jar. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight, or up to one week.

Make the almond tofu. Place the contents of the box together with the sugar and water in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the agar agar and sugar completely dissolve. Remove from the heat and add the half-and-half and almond extract. Let cool a little.

Rinse the pan or molds with water to make it easier to unmold. I use hot water but I don’t think it matters, just don’t wipe it out. Pour the cooled mixture slowly into the pan or mold.

Refrigerate until the agar agar is set, about 2 hours. Serve with the smashed cherries.