Friday, January 22, 2010

plum blossoms (gyuuhi series)

Though in northern Japan we are still snowbound, and will be for at least three more months, we were comforted, along with all of Japan, when the TV weather girl announced last week that plum blossoms had begun to bloom somewhere down south. Plum blossoms are one of the official harbingers of Spring. Yes, it's that time of the year when any self-respecting, Japan-based foodie will insert something plum-related into the menu.

Today's recipe is for a plum blossom-shaped, plum-flavored confection made from gyuuhi, a mochi-like dough that is tender and easier to mold than mochi. The original recipe uses plain white bean an (shiro-an) as the filling, but I mixed preserved plums into the an. Half with chopped red pickled plums, and the other half with chopped sweetened green plums left over from making plum wine. Sometimes you can find these green plums at the bottom of a bottle of plum wine. Don't throw them out. Freeze them and use them for just such a recipe as this.

Ingredients (for 8 confections):

shiratama-ko (glutinous rice powder)...50 grams/1.6 oz
granulated sugar..................50 grams/1.6 oz
water.................................80 cc/ 1/3 cup

katakuriko (potato flour, may substitute corn starch).....1/2 cup or less
shiro-an (white bean an)....................160 grams/ 5.5 oz
soft umeboshi (red salt-pickled plums) and ao-ume (preserved green plums)...2 each
the yolk of a boiled egg, for decoration



1. Finely chop the red and green plums, discarding the pits. Mix half of the an with the pickled plums, and the other half with the green plums. Divide each half into four equal portions (eight total) and roll them into balls.

2. Place the shiratama-ko, sugar, and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir with a whisk till any lumps are gone. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cook in microwave at 500 watts for 3 minutes. When done, use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the mixture thoroughly. This is the gyuuhi dough.

3. Dump the gyuuhi dough onto a surface sprinkled with katakuriko (or corn starch) and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten each gyuuhi ball and wrap it around one of the an balls.

4. Use the dull edge of a knife to press 5 lines from the outer edge of each ball to its center, to represent the petals of the plum blossom. The gyuuhi will bounce back, so press firmly.

5. When all eight balls look like plum blossoms, place a pinch of boiled egg yolk in each center.




notes: The red plum-an mixture was very soft due to the moisture in the umeboshi. It was hard to form it into balls. But the flavor balance of the sour umeboshi and the sweet shiro-an was fantastic. The green plum-an, on the other hand, had the interesting crunchy texture of green plums without much added moisture, so the an was easy to handle. I liked the flavor of the red plum-an filled confections best.

My conversions into ounces are always approximate. Please use metric if possible, and if not, check the conversions with your own reference books to make sure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

wagashi-style imo-mochi

wagashi imomochi L

The area where I live is famous in Japan for its potatoes. We are used to having potatoes in our diet in a variety of forms, including a snack loved by children and tourists. This is imo-mochi, a dumpling made only of potatoes and potato flour, and pan-fried in a bit of butter. The potato flour (you can substitute corn starch) gives the dumplings a glutinous texture like mochi rice cakes- hence the name. Ordinarily we shape the potato mixture into roughly circular patties, but given a fancier shape, this rustic snack becomes a pretty confection that is suitable for a tea party. It is not usually sweetened, but for this post, I've offered a sweet alternative.

ingredients (for 10 confections)
potatoes.....cooked and mashed (without skins), 250 grams/8 oz
katakuriko (potato starch).....50 grams/1.6 oz
soy sauce, seaweed flakes (salt, sugar, optional)

1. Mash the potatoes while they are still hot, add the katakuriko (or corn starch) and a pinch of salt. Combine ingredients thoroughly with a spatula. Depending on the potato or how it was cooked, it may need a tiny bit of water to make it malleable. If you decide to add water, start with one teaspoon or less.
2. When the mixture has cooled enough to handle, knead it with your hands till it is a smooth, elastic ball.
3. Roll the dough into a rope about 15~20 cm (6-8 inches) long, then cut it into 10 equal segments.
4. Place one of the segments on the palm of your hand and shape it into a leaf. Using the dull side of a dinner knife, make vein-like impressions on the top of the leaf. Do this to all segments.
5. Heat a frying pan over medium fire and melt the butter in it.
6. Place the leaves in the frying pan (vein side down), and cover the pan. Cook till they begin to brown- about 2 minutes should be enough.
7. Turn the leaves over and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
8. Remove potato leaves to a plate and brush a little soy sauce over the surface of each. Then sprinkle a bit of seaweed flakes over them in an irregular pattern.





These little imo-mochi leaves will be crispy on the outside, soft and chewy like mochi on the inside. The dish and fork in the photo are very small, so the leaves are smaller than you might think-- no more than 3 inches long, and 2 inches at the widest part. They are best eaten hot.

If you want a sweet version, add sugar to taste when preparing the potato dough in step #1, omit step #8 and instead, add soy sauce and sugar to the pan just before the potato leaves are cooked through. This will form a syrup with which you can coat the potato leaves, just as we did in the previous post on renkon yakimochi.