This Watermelon Jelly intrigues people as it looks fascinating. It has  more food colouring than I like or care to admit but I hardly ever eat this and let me tell you, there is far less food colouring that goes into it than a recipe for Red Velvet Cake or Cup Cake. With that clarification, I feel a little vindicated for sharing this recipe. But why do I want to share this recipe especially as it is not an easy recipe to master and of course there is the question of food colouring which I personally avoid using as far as possible.

The answer is simple. There is no reliable recipe for Watermelon Jelly. I have tried whatever few recipes I could find and they don’t work. Measurements are off, instructions poor, left to guess work really, and the method advised for incorporating food colouring into an almost set jelly was to use my fingers to stir it in. Thank you but not for me.

I was frustrated with the recipes I came across. This is a difficult recipe so why not provide clear instructions so that those wanting to attempt to make Watermelon Jelly will have a close to perfect chance of success? Why not deal with the myriad of issues that can go wrong so that everyone has a better understanding of what it takes to get this recipe right?

I will highlight a few issues so you know what you are dealing with before you start this recipe: (1) leave the jelly to set too long and you won’t be able to incorporate the red food colouring  (2) on the other hand, if the jelly hasn’t had enough time to set and the red food colouring is added, the red will bleed throughout the jelly and the ‘whites’ of the watermelon rind will be lost (3) this recipe uses coconut milk which has a tendency to split and separate into visibly distinct layers if not incorporated correctly.

I have made this Watermelon Jelly close to 20x and I know it works. Follow my instructions and you will be fine. Read through the entire recipe before starting. I’ve taken the time to explain as clearly as I can, with instructions written as concise as possible about the whys, do’s and don’ts to get this recipe right the first time.  I went through many failed renditions before I got this recipe right. My blood sugar level must have gone sky high during that period. How I wished someone else had done the homework I did before putting out a recipe for Watermelon Jelly.

Watermelon Jelly

Prep: 30 minutes 
Cook: ~10 minutes
Inactive: ~10 minutes first setting
~1 hour second setting
Level: Difficult
Makes: 1 3-cup sized bowl
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Only if you are experienced enough
Make ahead? Keeps 2 days and possibly more.

Ingredients  

1 cup=250ml=8.45US fl oz

Mix A – egg whites
(~1/2+1/8 cup)(5.07 US fl oz)(150ml) egg whites
(~1/4 cup)(~2.11oz)(~60g) caster sugar
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon cornflour*
* Helps to stabilise the egg whites

Mix B -agar agar
13.52 US fl oz (400ml) water
2T+3/4 tsp +1/8 tsp  (0.84oz)(24g) agar agar powder with no food colouring added
~1/2 cup (~4.4oz)(~125g) sugar
1 arm length pandan leaf*
6.76 US fl oz (200ml) coconut milk**
* Do not use pandan essence/extract from a bottle since they are usually coloured green. It will naturally colour the jelly green! Omit if you can’t get pandan leaf.
** I use refrigerated coconut milk as it is more similar to freshly squeezed coconut milk. Some brands contain too many stabilisers. For this recipe, I keep clear of cardboard pack ones that are labelled ‘coconut cream’ – Always check ingredient list as those almost always contain too much carrageen, a seaweed used to thicken up the texture.

Other
3/4 teaspoon red food colouring*
~ 2 teaspoons green colouring**
1 can or Grass Jelly/Chin Chow*** OR omit if you don’t have this. You could make a separate little block of agar agar and colour it using charcoal powder though. Nah, I would skip it. It is all for visual and not for flavour and you really will only be using 1 Tablespoon of it OR try a few cooked red (azuki) beans or kidney beans.
* Use a strong red colouring. Liquid red colouring works well. Use 3/4 teaspoon. Use any less and you will end up with a pink shade.
** Fear not, you won’t be using it all but you must have enough to work with. Use a strong green colouring. I choose an Apple Green shade. Liquid or paste green colouring works well.
***  For image, scroll down to the third image. Grass Jelly is deep black in colour. It is plant based. The leaves are dried and then boiled. It doesn’t taste grassy or bad at all, maybe just a subtle herbal bitter taste. The jelly contains no sugar and becomes a jelly through the aid of corn starch, that’s what I am inferring as only 2 ingredients are listed: mesona chinensis (plant) and corn starch. Eaten on its own, it taste like, well, boiled down herb. However, if you add sugar syrup and other sweet things to it like canned fruits, etcetera, it does taste rather nice. It provides textural contrast and the unusual taste of the Grass Jelly contrast nicely to all the sweet things it is paired with. It’s used in cold desserts.  If you are into Boba or Bubble Tea, some drink outlets add them into their drink concoctions. It can be purchased at Asian grocery stores. Find them either in the chiller sections (sold in plastic tube packaging) or it can be found along the canned food aisle (maybe with the canned fruits?). Best to ask a staff member.  What to do with leftovers? Please scroll down to ‘Tips’.

Method

This recipe uses a high agar agar to liquid ratio. That means the jelly solidifies much faster. You have a relatively short time to work with it. Therefore, be organised, have utensils and crockery at hand, ingredients measured and laid out.

Prep work for Mix A: egg whites
1. I use my immersion blender with its whisk attachment to whisk.  I suggest you use your electric mixer unless you want an arm workout.
2. Egg whites will only whisk up nicely if:
– Egg whites are at room temperature
– Egg whites are completely free of traces of egg yolk
– Your equipment is completely free of grease – the measuring cup, the mixing bowl and whisk to be used must be completely free of any trace of grease.  Dab a little vinegar on kitchen paper towels and clean your equipment.
3. Measure out the egg whites in the measuring cup and transfer into the mixing bowl.
4. Measure out the cornflour and the sugar and mix them together, getting rid of any lumps.

Prep work for Mix B: agar agar
1. Choose a pot that can hold 4 cups (1 litre). It should be deeper, with a narrower diameter so that it will be easier to whisk and dissolve the agar agar powder and sugar into the water.
2. Fill the pot with 13.52 US fl oz (400ml) water.
3. Measure out the sugar and the agar agar powder into a bowl and mix well. This step is important as it means once this dry mixture hits the boiling water, it will dissolve evenly. Miss this step and the agar agar might clump in the boiling water and what should take 10 seconds to dissolve will take you a nightmarish 5-7 minutes trying to break up the congealed agar agar lumps. It had happened to me.
4. Wash the pandan leaf, shred it lengthwise by hand into 3 to release the essential oils and then knot it into a small ball.
5. Measure out the 6.76 US fl oz (200 ml) coconut milk.

Prep your stove top area for cooking the agar agar 


1. Set the pot filled with the 13.52 US fl oz (400ml) over the burner you will be using. Cover the pot.
2. Set another pot with a 8-cup (2 litres) capacity on the burner next to the first pot. Sit a sieve over this pot as we will strain the boiled agar agar mixture through it and into the pot. You need to strain as we don’t want any bits of pandan leaf or undissolved agar agar in the mixture. The pot also needs to be this large as you will be whisking the whisked egg whites into this larger pot. Finally, it has to be a pot not a mixing bowl. Why? We will be transferring this larger pot to sit on the burner that was just used and benefit from the residual heat. It will keep the jelly from solidifying. Therefore, the vessel used has to be heat worthy.
3. To keep your stove top clean, use a tray to hold: a whisk, a heat-proof spatula. Things will get sticky so a tray to set utensils whilst in between use will keep things tidy.
4. On the same tray place the following items: the knotted pandan leaf; the bowl of premixed agar agar powder and sugar; the coconut milk.
5. Have the whisked egg whites within reach.
6. If you are using an immersion blender (with the whisk attachment) have that within reach.

Prep your work area for
(1) transferring liquid jelly from pot to jelly mould
(2) scooping out a ‘crater’ from almost set jelly

1. You need a ceramic bowl with a volume of 3 cups (750ml) -this would be used as the jelly mould. Why ceramic? Agar agar sets really fast and the property of the bowl will affect the speed at which the agar agar sets. I choose to use a ceramic bowl as the agar agar doesn’t set too quickly in it, giving me enough time to work with it. My timings are also based on ceramic. If you are using metal or glass bowls, you will have to make your own time adjustments. I suggest you stick to ceramic.
2. Rinse out the ceramic bowl with water but don’t wipe it dry. That little bit of water clinging to the insides of the bowl will make it easier to unmould the set jelly.
3. This ceramic bowl will need to sit in an ice bath. Do not skip this step. The success of this recipe is based very much on timing and experience. How quickly or slowly the jelly sets is important. You have a very narrow window of time to work on the jelly. It cannot be too soft and it cannot be too hard. So to have a better control of timing and how quickly or slowly we need the jelly to set, the ice bath is crucial.  You will understand more as I run through and explain the remaining steps.
4. To have the ceramic bowl sit in an ice bath, you need to place it inside a large basin. With the ceramic bowl sitting in the larger basin, fill the basin with ice until it runs 1/3 – 1/2 way up the sides of the ceramic bowl. Top up the ice with cold water until it reaches short of 3/4″ (2cm) from the top of the ceramic bowl. Why so precise? Once the jelly is poured into it, that’s the level where the top of the jelly will sit.
5. Have a heat-proof spatula ready to help transfer, liquid jelly from pot into ceramic bowl. The spatula will also help to level out the transferred jelly so it sets evenly.
6. Also have a large, broad-face spoon ready to carve out a crater from the almost set jelly.
7. You need a bowl with a ~2 cups (500ml) capacity. It is in this bowl that you will transfer the scooped out jelly.

Prep your work area for mixing in red food colouring & Grass Jelly/Chin Chow


1. You need a bowl, with a ~ 3 cups (750ml) capacity. We will transfer the remaining liquid jelly from the pot into this bowl and colour it red.
2. Add 3/4 teaspoon of liquid red colouring into this bowl.
3. Place a whisk next to this bowl so that you can mix in the red colouring.
4. Have a large spoon ready to transfer remaining jelly from pot into bowl.
5. Don’t forget to have the Grass Jelly/Chin Chow close by.

Let’s Cook!

Whisk the egg whites

1. Mix the cornflour into the caster sugar. Set aside.
2. In a deep bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy.
3. Whilst whisking, slowly add in the corn flour and sugar mixture so that you have egg whites that are billowy.
4. Once you have whisked the egg whites to ‘soft peak’ stage (the tips of the whites when you pull the whisk up and away from the whites, will flop to the side) stop whisking.
5. Place the bowl of whisked egg whites on the stove (or within easy reach from the stove) so that you can easily transfer the egg whites into the agar agar-sugar-coconut mixture that you will soon be working on over the stove.

Dissolve the sugar and agar agar powder
1. Bring the 13.52 US fl oz (400ml) water to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. As soon as water comes to a boil, add the pandan leaves, whisk in agar agar-sugar mixture. Continue to whisk until agar agar and sugar have dissolved. Once you see the first signs of a bubble immediately…

Add the coconut milk 

1. Pour in the coconut milk while whisking into the hot mixture. Whisk very well to totally incorporate. If you don’t, when your jelly sets, you will see separate layers of jelly sugar solution and coconut milk. Continue to whisk until you see the first bubbles, then turn off the burner. Immediately …

Strain into the waiting larger pot
1. Immediately strain the mixture through the sieve and into the larger pot.
2. Immediately, transfer this larger pot onto the burner that you had just used. We are using the residual heat from that burner. Remove the strainer and the now emptied smaller pot from the stove. Move on quickly to …

Add the whisked egg whites gradually
1. If you have an immersion blender with a whisk attachment, use it as it can quickly and evenly incorporate everything. If not use a whisk.
2. Use the immersion blender OR a whisk and dollop about 1 cup of egg whites into the hot mixture and whisk quickly to totally incorporate. Do not add all the whites at once as it will be difficult to mix it in.
3. Then, use a spatula to quickly scrape out remaining egg whites into the hot mixture.
4. Switch back to the immersion blender OR the whisk OR stick to the spatula and work quickly to incorporate all the egg whites in as (1) you do not want the egg whites to cook (2) you want to keep in as much air bubbles as possible.
5. Once it is evenly mixed …

Transfer the liquid jelly into the ceramic bowl

1. Use the spatula (same one you used earlier) to help transfer the liquid jelly from pot to ceramic bowl (that is sitting in the ice bath). Fill until it reaches short of ~3/4″ (~2cm) from the top of the ceramic bowl.
2. Use the spatula to ensure that the agar agar is spread out evenly and it touches the entire inside circumference of the ceramic bowl. Then, move on quickly to the next step.

Keep the reserved jelly mixture in the pot warm and the pot clean
1. Place the pot with the remaining liquid jelly immediately back on the burner as you want the residual heat to keep it liquid so that it can be used shortly to be coloured red. Move on quickly to step 2.
2. This step is important. With the same spatula, scrape the inside walls of the pot clean of jelly. There will definitely be jelly clinging onto the inside of the pot that are semi-solidified. Incorporate that back into the liquid jelly until it is dissolved. If you do not, whatever little lumps of solidified jelly that has solidified on the insides of the pot, (and they will have solidified), will get poured out as lumps of whites. By that time, you will not be able to break up or dissolve these little solidified lumps and they will appear as white lumps in the red portion of the watermelon jelly. For that same reason, you need to clean the rim of the pot clean of any jelly.
3. Set the pot on the burner for 10 minutes and leave the heat proof spatula in it? Why? Same reason as in point 2.  Unless you want to use a clean spatula, if you leave your used spatula out of the pot, jelly on it will solidify.
4. To prevent jelly from solidifying, check and stir the pot of jelly every few minutes. The sides and surface will solidify first, so stir it. If you think it is setting, turn the burner on to its lowest setting.
5. In the meantime, top up the ice-bath with ice cubes if necessary.

Determining  the right time to scoop out the crater
1. If you are using a ceramic bowl, it should take ~10 minutes before you can start scooping out a crater. How do you tell when to work on the jelly though?
2. ~1/2″ (1.25cm) of the outer circumference would feel firm to the touch. It should not stick to your fingers. You actually would be able to move the jelly around the bowl as the sides would have solidified.
3. The rest of the jelly will wobble when the bowl is shaken. You want it to wobble!
4. Keep this in mind: If you want the red and white part of the watermelon jelly to adhere to each, the jelly must still be at its liquid stage so that wobble in the inner circle is a good sign. It means the circumference wall has pretty much set which will allow us to scoop out a crater to be filled with red coloured jelly.
5. If the circumference wall has not set enough and you start to carve out a crater, what will happen is that there will be no stable ‘walls’ to work with as it is still too liquid. This is salvageable. Leave the bowl in the ice bath. Top with more ice to bring down the temperature to speed up the solidification process. Check on it after 1 – 2 minutes and try scooping out again. The ice-bath is crucial as it gives you some control so don’t skip the ice-bath.
6. On the other hand, if the jelly firms up too much, the red and white parts will not adhere to each other but will most definitely be 2 separate pieces.  I would much rather have worked too soon, as in started to scoop the jelly out too early (as I detailed in step 5), than too late? Why? If I scoop out the jelly out too early, it is just too liquid. An issue I can rectify. However, if I wait too long to scoop out the jelly and it has already solidified, there is nothing I can do to rectify the situation.

Time to scoop out a crater


1. Keep the bowl in the ice bath. Wet the large, broad-faced spoon, angle the spoon slightly and slice through the jelly ~3/4″ (2 cm) away from the edge. Now turn the bowl as you curve out a circle.
2. Once you have run the spoon a full circle, scoop out your first scoop of jelly into the awaiting bowl. Remember you need to leave ~3/4″ (2cm) thick of jelly for the base. If you are bad at estimating, use a toothpick to pierce through the base. Remember to cover up the hole, tiny as it is, as soon as you remove the toothpick.
3. What’s in your spoon should still be liquid. If it has started to solidify, remove bowl from ice bath to delay jelly setting.
4. As you continue to scoop out jelly to create a crater, keep in mind that you don’t want to scoop out too much, especially from the bottom. Leave a thickness of at least ~3/4″ (2 cm) all around.  This concave ‘wall’ should have a wet liquid consistency. If it has started to solidify, the solution is to, quickly plaster over it with some of the wetter jelly that you had just scooped out and remove the ceramic bowl from the ice bath to delay solidification.
5. As you were scooping out a crater, you would have noticed that the outer rim of the bowl of jelly would be firmer than the insides which you had scooped out. That’s the ice bath working but don’t dilly dally, you must work fast before the jelly starts to solidify.
6.  What to do with the jelly that was scooped out? I get someone else who loves jelly to eat it 😃. There won’t be use for it. 

Transfer the remaining jelly that was sitting in the pot (on the stove) into the bowl with the red colouring
1. Give the reserved jelly in the pot a final stir with the spatula.  Check that there is a clean passage, free of any white solidified knobs of jelly, for you to pour it out into the bowl of red dye. Remember, you can’t mix in those solidified white bits into the rest of the red jelly and the white bits will show up like a sore thumb in your watermelon jelly.
2. Now working fast, use the same spatula (or whisk/spoon) to incorporate the red colouring evenly.
3. Scrape the now red jelly into the crater you created. Fill it well.
4. Pour in the pre-cut cubes of Grass Jelly/Chin Chow and stir it in quickly.
5. Level the jelly with your spatula and make sure the red touches the white.
6. Remove the ceramic bowl from the ice bath. Lift it 1″ (2.5cm) off the work surface and drop it twice down over your counter top to get rid of air pockets and to ensure that the red coloured jelly touches and will adhere to all the white areas.
7. Secure top with a plastic wrap (don’t have the wrap touching the surface) and refrigerate until firm ~ 1 hour.

Removing jelly from bowl
1. Have a flat circular plate ready. It should be large enough for you to overturn the jelly onto.
2. With fingers, gently press the inside circumference of the jelly away from the ceramic bowl.
3. Centre the overturn plate over the bowl. Hold bowl and plate securely. Flip over bowl.
4. The jelly should plop out, if not, press the circumference of the jelly, to release it.

Colouring and shading the circumference green

1. Wear plastic gloves for this entire process or your fingers and hands will be the colour of Kermit The Frog for at least the night.
2. If you want to shade your watermelon to make it look more realistic, have some toothpicks ready.
3. Pour green food colouring into a small plate. Dip gloved fingers into the bowl and rub the colour over the entire domed surface. Reapply if necessary to get it the shade of green you are happy with. Blot off excess dye & moisture with kitchen paper towels.
4. To shade, dip the length of the toothpick in food colouring and use that to tap in shadings to resemble markings on a watermelon.


5. When you are happy with your artwork, blot of excess dye & moisture with kitchen paper towels, remove glove.
6. Cut and eat immediately or refrigerate without covering it.
7. If you want the Watermelon Jelly to look picture perfect, do not leave it in the refrigerator longer than 4 hours before slicing and serving. As you sit the jelly in the refrigerator for a longer period, the green colour dye will start to bleed yellow, yes, yellow (blue+yellow=green), into the white areas of the jelly.

How to prevent food colouring from transferring from one area to another
Before you move on to slicing and serving the jelly, keep these pointers in mind:
1. Food colouring transfer easily:
(1) from cutting board onto jelly
(2) from one sliced jelly to another
(3) from knife to jelly. If you want to keep your sliced jelly picture perfect. Be extra careful.
2. That means:
(1) do not rest jelly against each other as the red dye from one can bleed into the white areas of the jelly it is resting against
(2) check where you set down the sliced jelly. Is that surface free of traces of dye?
(3) clean your knife with a kitchen paper towel when necessary to remove any traces of dye before reusing it to slice off another piece
(4) when arranging and rearranging the sliced jelly on your serving plate, check and wipe the surface clean before setting/resetting sliced jelly down
(5) pick sliced jelly up only from the red side(s). As dyes transfer easily from fingers, if you were to touch the white areas of the jelly, after touching the red dye, it will be stained pink.

How to slice the watermelon jelly
1. Put on plastic glove(s), transfer the jelly, green side down, onto a flat glass cutting board or a large enough, flat glass/metal/ceramic plate. Why not wooden? The colour dyes will stain wood. Alternatively, line your wooden cutting block with plastic wrap as I did (image below).
2. Slice into 2. Refer to image below.


3. Even out any uneven side(s) by slicing off a thin slice. Eat or discard that.
4. Now it’s entirely up to you how you want to slice the jelly further.

To serve
1. This jelly keeps its shape well outside of the refrigerator for at least an hour but I think jelly should always be served cold.

Tips

This is a tricky recipe and many will not attempt to make this jelly because it’s not easy to get it right even after a number of attempts. Instead of getting deterred, I suggest you increase your chance of success the first time you try this recipe by reading through and follow my instructions. I doubt you will find another recipe that is as detailed or troubleshoots for you even before you attempt the recipe. 

(1) Read through instructions and familiarise yourself with the steps and the flow of instructions. This recipe runs quicker than you expect. 
If you have to refer too many times to the instructions, the jelly might have already solidified too far down for you to work with it easily.

(2) Grass Jelly/Chin Chow Drink
Extra Grass Jelly/Chin Chow can be made into an easy drink.
1. Grate jelly into a heatproof container.
2. Add boiling water to cover.
3. Let it sit for 5 – 10 minutes. Some of the chin chow will dissolve and you will have a drink with bits of Grass Jelly/Chin Chow in it which you can either suck up with a straw (with a large enough hole) or scoop up with a spoon.
4. Add enough sugar to sweeten. You must sweeten as Grass Jelly has a slight herbal bitter taste.
5. Once cooled, refrigerate until cold or add ice and drink.

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