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Tawa, Kembang Tahu, Dofu Hua:
Soy Custard by any name

In Asian communities around the world, people enjoy a soy-based treat called "taho" or "kembang tahu" in Indonesia. Known as "tofu fa", "dohua", "dofu nao", or "dofu hwa (tender tofu blossom)" in Chinese restaurants, it is also billed as "tawa" or "Dau hu", as you travel toward Saigon. This soft, sweet, creamy soy custard is a popular street food or snack. In the Philippines it's served with a sweet, thick caramel sauce, while the Cantonese version has a thin syrup laced with ginger. As you migrate toward Indonesia and Vietnam, it may be served mixed with fruit syrup or sugar syrup and chunks of gulaman (coconut jelly). Sweetened tapioca pearls just like those used in bubble tea can also be found stirred into taho. It may be sold from tubs on the street or in shops, sometimes with a separate container of sweetener, refrigerated or hot. It is also ladled up fresh in cafes and dim sum houses, served in soups or as a dessert (hot or cold).

There is a natural sweetness to taho, which has the fragile consistency similar to panna cotta. If you allow the dish to become more watery (this happens naturally as it sits), you can serve it as a soup.

This sweet treat is soy milk either jelled with agar or thickened with the same coagulant used for tofu. The texture varies from sippable to spoonable. Both taho and regular tofu are sometimes translated as tofu pudding, soy bean custard or soy bean pudding, leading to considerable confusion among recipes. In addition, Chinese cuisine includes several desserts that are made from regular tofu and sugar syrups, so it is easy to be misled. The recipes that follow are collected from local cooks in several countries; if you try one and it is not exactly what you remember, try another.

Taho/ tawa is usually unflavored, depending on its syrups and add-ins for flavor and texture. Modern cooks may add other flavors like chocolate, sesame or peanut to the made from scratch recipes, just by adding the desired flavoring as an extract or powder and cooking it with the soy milk before adding the jelling ingredient.

Taho/ tawa is served hot, warm, or cold, depending on the weather. The flavoring syrup is usually packaged on the side, allowing the happy eater to sweeten to taste. Since it is hard to find outside large oriental communities, here are four alternative methods for making it at home. Always handle the dofu hua very gently, with a big shallow ladle, or it will break into a hundred tiny pieces.

Almost Instant Taho/ tawa
Taho/ tawa from soy flour
Taho/ tawa from soymilk
Tofu-fa (Chinese style) from soybeans or soymilk
Syrups for Taho/ Tawa

Almost Instant Taho/ tawa

The easiest recipe is to purchase a powdered Tofu mixture (comes in a small box) from any Asian grocery store. This will be labeled "soy bean custard" or "soy bean pudding" or "tofu pudding" and occasionally "soy cheese mix". It is found where the Jello is. Buy 3 boxes, use extra water in the mixture, then follow the instructions at the back of the box. You will need about 4 1/2 cups water, depending on your thickness preference. Chill to achieve the desired thickness.

Taho or Tawa- Soy milk base with agar

1/2 gallon unsweetened soy milk
1/2 packet agar-agar

In a pot, scald soy milk. Do NOT not stir at this time. Dissolve agar-agar in a 1/4 cup of cool water. Add to hot soy milk and stir till mixed. Pour to a bowl and leave it completely alone until it jells. Let it cool without moving or jiggling the bowl.
Serve tofu pudding either hot or cold with an ounce or two of sweet syrup for each serving.

Taho/ Tawa- bean curd in syrup- Soy Flour Base, Knox (beef) gelatine

1 cup soy bean powder or flour
4 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) Knox unflavored gelatine
2 cups brown sugar syrup, for topping

Mix soy bean powder/water and let stand 1 hour or overnight stirring often. Bring to a boil stirring constantly and reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes. Stir in gelatine until dissolved and not lumpy. Remove from heat and add lemon juice while stirring. Transfer to desired bowl and chill. To serve slice thin layers and top with hot syrup to cover.
Note: Agar, vegetable gelatin, is more traditional. This recipe was probably developed by the immigrant community.

Chinese Tofu-Fa from scratch or soy milk, with calcium sulfate

2 cups (about 1 pound) soy beans, preferably large low oil type
water for soaking beans
7 cups water, divided
1 teaspoon calcium sulfate, also called food grade gypsum, or edible terra alba
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Rinse the soybeans until the water runs clear and measure. Put the beans in a pot and add three times as much water.Soak the beans until they expand to 2 or 2 1/2 times their original size.
Mix 1/2 cup water with the cornstarch and terra alba and set aside.
Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Add 6 more cups of water. Blend the soy bean and water mixture (if using a small blender you will have to do this step in batches). Pour this slurry into a colander lined with a few layers of gauze or cheesecloth, let the liquid drain through to your cooking pot, gathering the okara up into a bag-like shape to squeeze out the remaining liquid. Retain the liquid and remove the fiberous portion or okara from the processed soybean/water mixture. You will have about 3-4 quarts of raw soy milk. Note: the raw okara is a nutritious food, but must be cooked before use. Here is the link to some of my
okara recipes. More are indexed in the "Clear Light" section.
Pour the liquid (raw soy milk) into a 6-8 quart pot at least twice as big as the amount of liquid. Stir in 1/2 cup water and cook on low heat until it comes to a boil and is foaming nicely. Remove from the heat and skim, filter out any scum, using the gauze again if necessary.
Return to the pot and bring to a boil again. Stir the dissolved edible terra alba and cornstarch again. When the soy milk boils again, pour it over the milk and cut into the liquid with a cutting motionrather rapidly, don't whip or beat it.
Turn off the heat but do not move the pot- never move the soy milk until it has jelled. Cover with a towel for about thirty minutes. It may form a slightly scummy liquid layer on top, this is normal, drain this off when the taho is set.
Dish up and serve warm or chill. Use that big shallow ladle mentioned above. Pass the ginger syrup, to be added to taste by the diner.
Notes: 1)Terra Alba is the dihydrate form of calcium sulfate containing 23% calcium with neutral pH. Ultra pure gypsum is commonly referred to as "Terra Alba," and is used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. 2)If you have made regular tofu, you will notice that tawa does NOT separate the soy whey from the solids, drain or press. Regular tofu is the dairy equivalent of cottage cheese, while tawa is the dairy equivalent of junket custard.

Taho/ Tawa syrups

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
Dissolve sugar in water and let it boil for 5 minutes. Use more sugar and cook longer if you want thicker syrup.

10 ounces (1 1/4 cup) sugar or brown sugar
1 cup water
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice OR vinegar OR 1/2 lemon

Boil sugar and water. Add lemon or vinegar and set aside. (Note: some Cantonese recipes call for a bit of ginger; you can also add a pinch of white pepper).

OR For a thin, strong ginger syrup:
8 ounces fresh ginger
2 cups water
1/4 cup granulated sugar OR to taste
Grate ginger. In a sauce pan, combine ginger, water and sugar. On low heat, simmer and sugar to dissolve. Strain before serving.

OR Alternative for ginger syrup: In Asian grocery stores, there is an instant ginger powder on the tea/coffee aisle. Make it about 4-8 times normal strength, add sugar to taste and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.

Here is a quickie when you don't have time to make Tawa. It is very pretty and light tasting but has a fine protein content.

Tropical Tofu Custard

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup cruushed rock sugar or honey
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup jackfruit chunks
1/2 cup each longans and loquats
1/2 cup each raspberries or blueberries
1/2 cup diced cantaloupe
2 pounds soft silken tofu, or regular soft tofu, drained

Combine water, rock sugar and lemon juice in a non- aluminum saucepan. Cook over low heat until sugar dissolves, six to eight minutes, stirring occasionally. OR use ginger syrup above.
Remove saucepan from heat and add all fruit. Let cool; cover and refrigerate until chilled.
Cut tofu into half-inch cubes and place in a serving bowl. Spoon fruit and syrup over tofu. Serve chilled. Makes six to eight servings