Ampalaya, also known as bitter melon, is a knobby gourd that is most commonly used in stir-fries, soups and teas in Southeast Asia. It is also used to make flavored yema candies in the Philippines, where the bitterness of the gourd is prized. Yema is a traditional, custard-based candy from the Philippines that is flavored with vanilla, fruit or, in some cases, ampalaya. The bitterness of the ampalaya is tempered by the sweetness of the candy, but it is highly evident.
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Using Ampalaya Extract
Ampalaya extract has to be handmade, as it is not a common flavoring ingredient. You can make the extract by using a juicer or by squeezing the liquid out by hand. Juice 1 medium gourd, split lengthwise and with the seeds removed, in a centrifugal or cold-press juicer to remove all pulp. One gourd produces roughly a quarter cup of bitter melon juice. To make by hand, grate the ampalaya and wrap the pieces in cheesecloth, squeezing and pressing until all juice has been extracted. This method is traditional, but is less efficient, and may require more gourds than you would need if juicing.
Using Ampalaya Tea
Fresh ampalaya can be difficult to find, but bitter melon tea is available in many health food and Asian grocery stores. You can use the tea to make a substitute extract. Choose a tea made from the gourd only, not the leaves of the ampalaya. Brew extra-strength amapalaya tea. Steep 2 to 3 ampalaya tea bags in one-third cup of water for 30 minutes or until cool. The amount of bags you use depends on your desired level of bitterness. Measure out a quarter cup of the finished liquid to use in making your candy.
Making the Custard
Bring water to boil in a large pot or in the bottom half of a double boiler, and then place a mixing bowl over the pan. Combine condensed milk with your ampalaya extract, along with a little bit of lemon or vanilla extract. Lemon extract gives ampalaya candies a lighter taste, while vanilla makes them taste creamier. When the mixture is lukewarm, carefully beat in egg yolks with a whisk. Use a 1-2 ratio of egg yolks to condensed milk. Whisk in a smooth, gentle motion, never allowing the custard to sit. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat, cooking for another 35 to 45 minutes, until the mixture is very thick. You will need to cook longer than normal for ampalaya candy because of the added liquid.
Done-ness and Storage
The candy is ready to be cooled when it reaches the firm ball stage. Test by dropping a little into a glass of cool water. The liquid should stay in a firm ball that is still easily flattened by hand. The temperature should measure 245 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. When the candy has cooled, scoop it out with a spoon and roll into balls. Wet your hands as you do so to prevent the candy from sticking to your skin. You can also use a greased melon baller to scoop out individual spheres. Roll the finished candies in powdered sugar and wrap individually in cellophane, or in plastic wrap.