Sunday, July 19, 2009


Daifuku is a soft ball of mochi filled with an (sweet bean jam), and ichigo-daifuku is daifuku with a whole fresh strawberry in the center. I can take or leave ordinary daifuku, but ichigo-daifuku is one of my favorite Japanese sweets. The refreshing sweet/sourness of fresh strawberries is a perfect balance to an, and it turns daifuku into a completely different taste experience. Chill it in the refrigerator a while before serving for a delightfully refreshing hot-weather treat. The super simple recipe I've posted below uses mochi made from brown rice, rather than white. White mochi is more traditional, makes a smoother daifuku, and is probably easier to find, so go ahead and use that. I like brown rice mochi because of the higher nutritional value, the coarser texture, and the deeper rice flavor.

Ingredients for four servings:
brown rice (genmai) mochi, four cakes of about 50 grams each
commercially available an, 120 grams (about 1/2 cup)
4 fresh whole strawberries, stems removed
a small amount of cornstarch or katakuriko

You'll also need a microwave oven and a suribachi mortar (but I will suggest a substitute for the mortar later)

Cover the mochi with hot water in a microwave-safe dish for 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile, divide the an into 4 equal portions. When ten minutes has passed, drain the water from the dish of mochi, add two new tablespoons of hot water, and place the dish in microwave. Microwave the mochi (uncovered) for 3~4 minutes at 500W. Place the softened mochi in a suribachi (ribbed mortar) and beat it with a wooden pestle till the mochi is soft and smooth. Place the doughy mochi on wax paper dusted with katakuriko or corn starch. Divide the mochi into 4 equal mounds. Take a mound in your hand and placing it in the palm of your hand, pull and press gently to flatten it into a circle. Place a portion of an in the center of the circle, and place a strawberry on top of the an. Pull the edges of the circle gently up to surround and wrap the filling. Pat into a ball and place on a serving dish.

Variations: Substitute raspberries, blueberries, or any fresh fruit that is sweet/sour and makes a pretty color contrast with the dark an filling.

If you don't have a mortar, you might try putting the softened mochi in a sturdy zip-lock bag and kneading it with the heel of your hand till the mochi turns into a doughy mass.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

kinako nejiri

After a class trip to Kyoto in my last year of high school, I developed a craving for suhama dango, the small, very sweet, colorful balls skewered three to a toothpick, packed in gift boxes, and sold at the Kyoto train station for tourists to take back home. I didn't know what they were made of, and this became a problem for me years later when I was in the US, dreadfully homesick for the flavors of home. A childhood friend asked me if she could send me something from Japan, and I described those balls the best I could. But she lived nowhere near Kyoto, and what arrived from her a month later didn't look anything like the colorful balls I had been craving. They were dull-colored flat strips of some kind of dried dough, twisted like a ribbon. When I ate it, though, it had the same taste and texture I remembered. This was how I discovered Kinako Nejiri. I checked the listed ingredients, and there were only two: Mizu-ame (rice syrup) and kinako (soybean flour). I realized then, that the colorful balls were essentially the same thing, just rolled into balls rather than rolled out and cut into strips.

ingredients for 4 servings:
Mizu-ame (rice syrup), 4 Tablespoons
Kinako (soybean flour), 60 grams (3/4 cup) and more for dusting

Place the syrup (it has an odd consistency somewhere between a liquid and a solid) in a heatproof dish, and soften it by heating it in the microwave for one minute. Stir half of the soybean flour into the syrup with a wooden spoon or spatula. When that is mixed in well, add the rest of the soybean flour little by little till the dough becomes stiff enough to roll out on a soyflour-dusted board with a rolling pin to about a quarter-inch in thickness. Add more flour if necessary to get the right stiffness. Cut into rectangles (3/4 inch x 1&1/4 inch), then twist gently like a ribbon. Coat the ribbons with some more soybean flour and store in an airtight container in a cool place.

There is green kinako and yellowish kinako, depending on whether it was made from green soybeans or yellow soybeans. I mixed up two batches of dough, one with the green powder, and one with the yellow. I made the ribbons with part of the dough, and balls with the rest. I also rolled some of the balls in black sesame seed for variety. If you won't be eating it up within a few days, freeze it. If you want it sweeter, roll the balls in granulated sugar, and/or add some sugar to the dough. The stuff they sell at the Kyoto station is much sweeter than my version, and they obviously use food coloring for the bright colors. I have tried this recipe using honey in place of the rice syrup, but I felt the honey taste was too pronounced.

Other variations could include adding cocoa powder or ground sesame to the soybean flour, and coating the strips or balls with colored sugar crystals. I rolled my kinako dough a little too thin, as the photo shows, and must try to make it thicker next time. Refrigeration helps stiffen it, and so will leaving it out to air for a while. But beware letting it go uncovered for too long. For more photos of this recipe, click here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

shiratama an'mitsu

This is a nostalgia-inducing, cool, and colorful summer dessert, greatly loved over the generations. An'mitsu is basically a scoop of sweet bean paste with colorful (often canned) fruit, syrup, and sometimes cubes of kanten (gelatin made from agar-agar). Shiratama are small round dumplings made from shiratama-ko (glutenous rice flour). Together it becomes Shiratama An'mitsu, and it can be upgraded even further with the addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Although the shiratama dumplings can be made from just water and glutenous rice flour, I prefer this recipe using tofu instead of water. It gives the dumplings greater depth of flavor and helps prevent hardening when chilled in the refrigerator.

basic ingredients for four servings (amounts are approximate)
silken tofu (kinugoshi), 200 grams (7 oz)
shiratama flour (shiratama-ko), 120 grams (4 oz)
can of fruit, syrup reserved.
sweet bean paste (an), 200 grams (7 oz)

If the tofu is sold loosely packed in water, drain the water and rinse the tofu gently. Place the tofu in a medium-sized bowl with the shiratama flour, and knead it together till well-blended and soft, but firm. In Japan, the right consistency for dumplings is often described as "the firmness of your earlobes." Keep some shiratama flour in reserve, and add it little by little till you get the right consistency.

Take spoonfuls of the dough and, using your fingers, roll them into one-inch balls. Flattening them a little will help them cook through faster. Place the balls in a pot of boiling water. Wait for 1~2 minutes after the balls rise to the surface before scooping them out and transferring them to a bowl of very cold water. When the balls have chilled, place several in a cool-looking glass dish. Top the dumplings with a scoop of sweet bean paste, and scatter fruit decoratively around everything. Spoon the reserved syrup over all. If you want, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream to the dish.

Variations: Add various things to the shiratama dough for both flavor and color. (1) For the version pictured above, I divided the dough, added crushed red perilla (shiso) leaves to one half, and powdered mugwort (yomogi) to the other half. This resulted in half pinkish shiso-flavored dumplings, and half green yomogi-flavored dumplings. (2) Add powdered green tea (matcha) to the dough for a different version of green-colored dumplings. (3) You can play with the syrup ingredients too. Kuromitsu, a dark syrup similar to molasses, can replace the syrup from the canned fruit. To see a version of shiratama an'mitsu that I made during cherry-blossom season, click here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Dorayaki is one of the most accessible of Japanese sweet snacks. Dora means "gong" in Japanese, so the name of this sweet probably comes from its shape. If you are a fan of Japanese TV anime, you, along with every Japanese child who grew up between 1970 and 2005, know that dorayaki is the favorite treat of Doraemon, the cat-shaped robot from the future. In Japan, dorayaki is inexpensive and vendors can be found everywhere. But it is easy enough to make at home. Essentially, it consists of two small pancakes stuck together with a filling of sweet bean paste (an), but there are endless variations. Here is a recipe I use for basic dorayaki. It makes enough for 6~8 pairs of pancakes that are approximately 4 inches in diameter:

fresh eggs, 2 large
sugar, 2/3 cup
honey, 1 tablespoon
mirin, 1 tablespoon
baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon
flour, 1 &1/2 cup
water, 5 tablespoons

commercially sold sweet bean paste (an)

Whisk the eggs and sugar together till blended. Add honey and mirin and whisk some more. Sift together the baking soda and flour, then gradually add to the rest of the ingredients in about three batches, stirring gently with a spatula or wooden spoon till mixed. Add the water last, one tablespoon at at time.

Spoon the batter onto a heated, lightly oiled hotplate or frying pan. Don't crowd the pan. Cook the pancakes over medium heat until the top surface is covered with bubbles and the edges get dry-looking (about 2 minutes). Turn the pancake over and let cook for 1 minute longer. Remove cooked pancakes to plate and keep making pancakes till the batter is used up. The honey and mirin in the batter makes the pancake turn dark brown where it touches the pan, but that is normal. Be careful not to overcook it though. It will get tough.

When the pancakes are cooled, spread bean paste over the rough side of one pancake and cover it with another so that the smooth glossy side of the pancake is facing out. Although in a pinch, you could use ordinary pancake batter for dorayaki, it won't taste the same.

Variations: (1) Add things to the pancake batter. I've succeeded with powdered yomogi (mugwort), crushed green tea leaves, and dried ume (pickled plum) granules. Coarser additions, like chopped walnuts, make it difficult to make an even pancake. (2) Save the coarser ingredients for adding to the filling. Besides walnuts, chopped sweet chestnuts make a tasty addition to the an filling. So do some fruits like strawberries and cherries (sweet&sour goes well with an), or chopped candied citrus peel (sweet&bitter goes well with an too).

Serve this sweet snack with strong green tea.