Tuesday, October 27, 2009

ginkgo nut pastry nuggets


In Sapporo, it's now the season when ginkgo nuts start dropping from the maidenhair trees. I racked my brains to think of a tea-time treat that could be made from this seasonal delight. We think of wagashi, of course, as a sweet thing. But not all Japanese tea-time treats are sweet. We munch on sembei rice crackers of all kinds as an accompaniment to tea, and one of my favorite snacks is a brick of mochi grilled till it's crackly outside and melty inside, then served with a mixture of soy sauce and grated daikon radish. Mmmm, delicious! Ginkgo nuts strike me as best suited to a savory snack.


Ginkgo nuts.... although used frequently enough in Asian cuisine, they usually seem relegated to a minor role, and I have read that it isn't a good idea to eat too many of them at one time. So...how to make them the star of a dish without using too many at one time? I decided to adjust a recipe I have often used with olives.

Ingredients for 30 snacks:
Cheese, 1 cup (I had Gouda on hand, so that's what I used), finely chopped
Butter, 1/4 cup softened
Flour, 3/4 cup sifted
Paprika, 1/2 teaspoon
Oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon,
Hot pepper sauce, a dash
Black sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons
30 ginkgo nuts

The best ginkgo nuts are freshly gathered. If you are lucky enough to get these, you'll need to know how to prep them for this recipe. I hate the water-logged texture of canned ginkgo nuts, but the procedure of extracting the nuts from their smelly yucky inedible fruit exterior has always put me off prepping them from scratch. This time, however, a friend did the yucky work, and presented me with a bagful of cleaned up and sun-dried ginkgo nuts in the shell.

Use pliers to crack open the hard exterior of the nuts. It may take a few tries before you figure out how to use just enough force to crack open the shell without smashing the nut inside. Don't worry about any papery skins remaining on them. Next, roll the shelled nuts around in a hot wok with a tiny bit of oil. The nuts will take on a beautiful jade green color. After you take them off the stove, you'll see how easy it now is to slip the papery skins off. Sprinkle them with salt and let them cool.






Next, work the chopped cheese, softened butter, flour, paprika, oyster sauce, and hot pepper sauce into a pastry-type dough with your fingers, trying to get everything to bind together without overworking the dough. The dough will look dry and crumbly when you're finished, but if you take some in your hand and squeeze gently, it should stick together firmly. Take a bit of the dough, press it into a one-inch-sized ball, then flattened it on your palm. Place one nut in the center of this flattened dough, and then wrap the dough around it to reform a ball. Do this with all the dough and ginkgo nuts until they are used up (about 30 balls). Then gently press the balls into some sesame seeds. Lay the balls an inch apart on an UNgreased cookie sheet, and bake them in a 200 C (400F) degree oven for 15 minutes.





Baked pastry nuggets freeze very well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

miniature kabocha confections (nerikiri series)

The nerikiri dough (rice flour and white bean an combo) is as easy to use as playdough. A lot of people have been telling me it reminds them of marzipan, which I've never tried. And I don't know if marzipan can be made with a main ingredient other than almonds, but I do know that neriki can be made with alternate ingredients. In today's recipe, I substituted pureed kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) for the white bean an, wrapped the resulting nerikiri around a core of red bean an, and molded it to look like a miniature kabocha.

Ingredients for ten confections:

kabocha (or pumpkin)..... enough to result in 300 grams/ 10 oz of puree
shiratama-ko (glutinous rice flour)....2 teaspoons
sugar (optional)......30 grams/ 1 oz
matcha (powdered green tea).... 1 Tablespoon
tsubuan (coarse red bean an).....150 grams/ 5 oz
black or white sesame seeds for decoration (optional)....20~ 30
pine nuts or sunflower seeds for decoration (optional)....10

I cut one medium-sized kabocha into chunks and microwaved the chunks (loosely covered with plastic wrap) till the orange flesh was tender. When the chunks had cooled enough to handle, I cut away the hard green peel from the orange flesh, and mashed the flesh with a fork till it was a smooth paste. You can do this in a food processor if you prefer. I didn't add any sugar because I thought the kabocha was sweet enough. But if you like it sweeter, add sugar as you mash the kabocha.


Dissolve the shiratama-ko (rice flour) in a tablespoon of water, and mix it thoroughly into the kabocha puree. Click here for detailed directions (with photos) for making nerikiri. When the kabocha neriki is the right consistency and cooled to room temp, divide the dough in half. Take one of the halves and knead matcha (green tea) powder into it. This will color the dough green and add a wonderful green tea fragrance.


Roll the tsubuan (red bean an) into ten balls. Roll the orange half of the nerikiri dough into about 15 balls, and the green half into about 15 balls.


Once again, click here to see photos of how to put three nerikiri balls together in your palm and press them together to form a flat circle large enough to enclose one of the tsubuan balls. Only this time, combine the orange and green so that any one confection will be mostly green (with a dash of orange), or mostly orange (with a dash of green). Pinch pieces off the balls to adjust the amount of color you are aiming for.


Make sure the seams are smooth and the separate pieces of dough are sticking well to each other. Then press gently down on the top so that each ball is slightly squashed. Use the dull edge of a straight utensil (I used chopsticks) to press dents into the flattened balls to make them look more like real kabocha. I used sesame seeds to express the imperfections in the outer skin of the kabocha, and a sunflower seed to represent the stem.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

O-hagi (plus an explanation of "an")

A Dictionary of Japanese Food by Richard Hosking describes O-hagi as an "inside-out rice cake, so called because the an normally inside the cake is on the outside. The cake is named after hagi (bush clover), which flowers in the autumn and which the cake vaguely resembles. When these cakes are made in spring, they are called Botan mochi (peony cakes). They are made with a mixture of glutinous and non-glutinous rice and are coated with tsubuan... Simple, very popular, and very good."

I often think of Ohagi as an inside-out daifuku, which I guess is what Hosking means by "rice cake.". I introduced daifuku in my blog on Ichigo-Daifuku (Strawberry Daifuku), in which a fresh strawberry and red bean an were wrapped in mochi. An is a paste that can be made from various starchy ingredients and sugar, but the most common ingredient is azuki beans, which are reddish. Red bean an comes in various degrees of coarseness. The tsubu-an mentioned in the quote above is a coarse an which includes pieces of the bean skin. Koshi-an is smooth an where the skins have been sieved out. Shiro-an is made from white kidney beans. An can also be made from sweet potatoes, chestnuts, and lily roots, among other things.

Today I made kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) an to slather over my ohagi. I use a short-cut method to make the mochi center, by following the directions in the aforementioned Strawberry Daifuku blog. You may, of course, prepare a mixture of glutinous mochi rice and non-glutinous rice from scratch, but you won't find directions here for that (sorry).

To make the pumpkin an, I cut up a Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) and cooked it in my microwave until it was soft. I scraped the orange flesh off the tough green outer peel, and mashed it with a fork. Use a food processor if you like. Kabocha are naturally sweet, but if you want it sweeter-- or if you use a pumpkin that isn't quite as sweet-- add sugar to taste as you mash it.

Make oblong rolls of mochi (made sufficiently soft by following the directions in the daifuku blog) and coat with with the pumpkin an. I made a few of the traditional ohagi covered in coarse red bean an, a few with the pumpkin an, and placed one of each on a dish for contrast.


Friday, October 2, 2009

camellia blossoms (nerikiri series)

In my previous post, I explained how to make nerikiri, a combination of sweet white bean paste (shiro-an) and rice flour (shiratamako) that is the basis for a whole category of traditional Japanese sweets. Once you get the hang of neriki, this camellia blossom wagashi is a cinch to make.

Ingredients for 10 confections:

nerikiri dough from previous post, (about 300 grams/ 10 oz)
food coloring (red, yellow)

1. Divide 90 grams (3 oz) of the nerikiri into ten equal pieces. Roll each piece into an oblong ball.
2. Color 150 grams (5 oz) of the nerikiri red, and divide it into 50 equal parts.
3. Color the remaining nerikiri yellow, and divide it into 10 equal parts.
4. Flatten each yellow piece into a roughly rectangular shape (1.5 cm x 4.0 cm) and make little cuts along the top of the long edge with a knife. Wrap each one around a rolled piece of uncolored nerikiri.
5. Shape each piece of red nerikiri into a thin flower petal (wider at one end than the other), and place five petals evenly around the sides of each of the white and yellow centers you made in #4.




Serve with hot green tea.