Thursday, November 6, 2008

I Fail at Uncheese

I recently received The Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak for my birthday, and I made one successful Herb & Tomato Cheese Spread last week. So I thought I'd try my hand at a solid, sliceable block cheese. The book has a recipe for almost any cheese you can imagine — Gouda, Colby, Mozzerella. But as a former fan of Muenster (I always loved the sprinkly reddish orange rim), I decided to shoot for that.

Though it appears fairly solid in this photo, it was definitely not. The cheese was actually more spreadable than the spread I made last week. Apparently, I'm lacking in agar skills.

I didn't have any agar flakes, which the recipe called for, but I did have agar powder. So I looked up the measurement substitutions on a PPK forum. According to one poster, a half-teaspoon of agar powder equals one tablespoon of agar flakes. So I dissolved 2 1/2 teaspoons in the water since the recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of flakes.

The agar and water came to a boil. And I lowered the heat and stirred constantly for about 10 minutes. But it never really thickened. Having only worked with agar once or twice before (without much luck), I assumed the stuff would "set" as it cooled.

So I poured it in the blender with the raw cashews, lemon juice, nooch, and other ingredients and blended until smooth. Per the instructions, I poured the mix into a mold lined with paprika and placed it in the fridge overnight. When I woke this morning, the consistancy hadn't changed a bit.

Fortunately, it still tastes great! I spread some on an Amy's Bistro burger for dinner and on sprouted grain toast for lunch (eaten with leftover linguini).

Does anyone have any agar tips? The Uncheese book doesn't provide much in the way of an agar troubleshooting guide.

35 comments:

ladyliriel said...

As long as it tastes great, it's all good!!

Alice (in Veganland) said...

Oh, sorry, I also suck at cooking with agar... I make my own flakes out of agar strings, but they only work sometimes, rather randomly... And I have agar powder that works better, maybe you have to add more? no idea. I'm dying to try something out of that book!

Mihl said...

So sorry to hear about that! When I make uncheese, I always use 1 1/2 tablespoons of agar powder, which works pretty well. The result is very firm and sliceable. I hope your next results will be better.

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Agar's a bitch! At least it tastes good!

shellyfish said...

Bummer! At least it's tasty! I find with agar that I almost always need more than the recipe calls for, but that's not very precise, is it?

Sal said...

I've had mixed results with agar flakes. I find the best way is to sprinkle them onto cold liquid then bring to the boil without stirring and then when boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer, stir well and just stir every so often until dissolved. It normally takes about 3 or 4 minutes.

shelby said...

sorry I've never used agar but at least it tasted good, right?


I really want to try one of those cheeses!!!

VeggieGirl said...

Hey, at least it tastes good - that's what counts!! :-D

pixiepine said...

I've only made one uncheese, I think it was the Colby. I say, if it tastes good, you are close enough, cuz even when I got it right, it was an odd texture. Still tasted great though!

Anonymous said...

I made this same cheese myself last week. It turned out great, but I was really worried as I was putting it into the fridge to cool. It was like soup, and I didn't think it would thicken at all. But it did. I noticed that while cooking the agar, it didn't really thicken too much, but I have also noticed in making other cheeses (the Gooda, for instance) that if the measurements are off by just a bit, the cheese will come out "spreadable" and not sliceable at all. I don't know if that helps at all, but good luck in future uncheese endeavors!

Jen said...

i'm scared of working with agar, just like i am of working with bread yeast. if there was a cooking class titled "learning to cook with agar and yeast" you'd bet your sweet southern tuchus that i'd be in the front row. i agree with everyone else that as long as it tastes great that's all that really matters.

vegannifer said...

I'm so glad you still liked how it tasted. You're giving me the inspiration I need to try one of these block cheeses for myself.

Erin of Care to Eat said...

That sounds hard!
I added you to our blogroll. Hope that's cool!

jessy said...

i wouldn't call that a failure - i mean, it's still super yummy - and that's damn awesome, Bianca! i too loved that reddish orange rim from Muenster! always looked so pretty, and kinda fun, too.

i've never used agar, but i hear that the key is soaking it for at least 30 minutes before using it. i hear it's tricky stuff! eek!

hooray for more uncheeze!

thedalyn said...

I always make the uncheese in the Native Foods cookbook and, though I make it thin for pouring on nachos and pizza, her recipe calls for making a block. The amount of agar she calls for (as I recall)? A half cup. So you may just need to use a lot more.

Cyn said...

Sadly I have no agar advice as I am slightly frightened of it - you're definitely inspiring me to explore more of the Uncheese Cookbook though.

swellvegan said...

I've made a couple of the block uncheeses and used agar powder, not flakes. I may be wrong, but I thought there were some powder/flake equivalents in the introduction part of the block uncheeses? At any rate, I always made my cheeses subbing some white wine for the water (this worked especially well with the Swiss, to add some tangy flavor) and adding some more oil (that second part is less healthy but also tasty!). They always set up well, though they're never going to be solid like dairy cheese. I've also found, like many people, that I don't really have Stepaniak's palate, so I haven't used that book for a long time (too much ground mustard, onion and garlic powder, in my opinion). But I wish you luck on future endeavors!

Agnesss =) said...

Hey Bianca!!

WoooW!!!!!!!!!! This cheese looks AMAZZZING!!!!!!!! =D I think I have to make sth like these in the future...!! Thx for inspiration!!

And I'm all for Obama,like you =)) I truely hope for the best =D I think he'll do sth to make America less IMPERIALISTIC-looking =)) Hope soo!!

If you have time,pls visit my new post =))

Enjoy the day!!

Melody Polakow said...

i usually use around 1 T of agar powder for uncheese.. one thing I know for a fact is that agar will not set up if it's initially mixed with an acid. (although you didn't do that).. but when I've done my vegan feta, I have to activate the agar first and then blend it in with the rest of my ingredients.

River said...

Well, it looks fantastic if it's any consolation. Plus if it tasted good, at least it didn't go to waste! I love its redness!

Theresa said...

I have no agar tips... but I've been relatively unhappy with the block uncheeses that I've tried. The sauces and spreads are so good, though! Yesterday I made mac&cheese with the "melty chedda cheez" variation of melty white cheez... so rich and creamy and yum!

Ricki said...

Like pretty much everyone here, I've found agar to be very fussy and imprecise. The only solid uncheese I've tried from the book is the Swiss cheese and it came out great (and I love swell vegan's idea of white wine!)

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

i haven't tried cooking with agar yet, but I'm glad you posted this so people could share their experiences with it!

Miss Marie said...

I wish I had tips but I'm sure this is better than what I would have come up with. HaHA.

Bex said...

yes, agar can be a godsend and a pain all at the same time. I haven't worked with it much but each time I do it comes out a little better. 10 minutes should have been enough to dissolve it Stick with it. Kitchen experiments can be fun and at least it tastes good.

miss v said...

i also suck at agar. my first attempt with it turned into something so solid i could have paved my driveway with it. but at least yours was still edible! :)

Susan G said...

I think I have read that 1 tsp. powder = 1 Tblsp. flakes. But I have not tried it myself, so I can't vouch.

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

I love agar, but I've only used it in pudding recipes. But taste is most important :o)

Celine said...

I'm with Susan G. 1 t powder for 1 T of flakes, and it's always worked fine.

Joanna said...

oh geez. i give you credit for even attempting this recipe!!! i've never made my own cheese before. i've actually never even eaten it either!!! i wouldn't know how it's supposed to taste haha

Urban Vegan said...

It looks good, even though you say it was a failure. Go to my blog--I just did an agar post--and there's a link to my Agar Basics post.

And remember, an apple will never taste like an orange. Vegan cheese s different than regular cheese, and you have to enjoy it for what it is...how Zen, right?

zerbert said...

I've made these cheeses several times and I use 1 1/2 tablespoons of agar powder (the amount it recommends in the book) and it works fine. One time mine came out spreadable. It was because it wasn't blended enough. I find that if I blend all the other ingredients well (especially the cashews) BEFORE I put in the agar liquid, it blends better and tends to come out smoother. I love the way these cheeses taste on crackers!

funwithyourfood said...

Agar is just hard for me too... for me, it's a partice makes perfect thing. also i use powdered agar b/c it's suppose to form better than flakes... those are the only tips I have

Teddy

kittee said...

you just followed bad advise is all! you need 1/3 the amount of powder as flakes..

so if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of flakes, use 1 teaspoon of powder (1 tablespoon equals three teaspoons).

xo
kittee

/////HELL/O said...

oh my god, i just used agar in a dessert recipe with very sad results!! i'm not sure WHAT went wrong. it was the rhubarb tart in "vegan desserts" which tastes amazing but never set up.... maybe i'll just try more agar?