n part 1
, we introduced the wagashi – traditional confections of Japan. Wagashi comes in many shape and forms. Some are liquified while others are rock-solid. Although preparation differ widely between different wagashi, they usually use similar ingredients. This reflects the scarcity of Japan’s natural resources. Sugar, for example, did not become affordable before Japan’s modernization.
Mochi is a dominant ingredient present in almost all wagashi. It is a rice cake made with a type of Japanese short-grain rice. By pounding it into paste, the texture becomes chewy, sweet, and highly malleable. Anko, or red bean paste, is another common ingredient in wagashi.
Wagashi are made not only with taste in mind, but the overall visual appeal. Depending on the context of their presentation, they take on different colour, shape, and exterior carvings. Many take on regional flavours, while others are served only at specific times of the year.
While desserts are often treated as an accessory of a meal, wagashi can be a standalone affair served as part of an elaborate ceremony. Immense care is put forth to ensure the right types are chosen and presented appropriately. In part 1 we looked at seven of them – beans, konpeito, biscuits, dango, dorayaki, kanten agar, and kuzumochi. Let us now explore the remaining six, starting with Manju.
Manju are baked, or steamed, buns filled with sweet bean paste. They are traditionally round with a smooth surface. Like mochi, they are a broad category that encompass many varieties, often reflecting the characteristics of the region they are made in.
With that said, many traditional manju have hard shell made from flour and buckwheat and a filling of anko (red bean paste) made from adzuki beans
. Manju is common in Japan as well as in China, where it can be stuffed with pork or cooked yolk.
Mochi is the quintessential Japanese dessert. It serves as the basic material for almost all traditional confections. Mochi is made from a type of Japanese short-grain rice pounded into a sticky dough. It is fragrant and light-flavoured. This is why they are often seen stuffed with pastes or ice cream. Sky’s the limit when it comes to form.
Like many other basic ingredients, mochi can also be served directly. This makes mochi an ambiguous name that could encompass a wide variation of desserts. The picture below is a form of mochi dessert that consists of mochi balls covered with sweet taro slush. It has no fillings. The chewy texture complements deliciously with the slush.
Monaka is a type of wagashi with sweet fillings enclosed in crispy outer shells made of rice wafer. This wafer shell comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes, reflecting season and the occasion of consumption. A popular theme, again, is the cherry blossom. It is made from sticky rice molded and baked to carry the desired shapes.
The sweet fillings are traditionally made with adzuki beans, a type of red beans grown throughout East Asia and the Himalayas. Sometimes, the fillings are substituted with chestnut paste, mochi, or ice cream. They are fragrant and naturally sweeter than the light outer shell, which present a pleasant contrast in both texture and flavour.
Ohigashi is one of the oldest Japanese confection. It is usually served at the most formal Japanese tea ceremonies. Its sweet and dry texture pairs very nicely with matcha. An Ohigashi is usually small, colorful, with prints that differ by season and theme. Quality Ohigashi is made solely with wasanbon.
Wasanbon is a type of sugar derived from sugarcane called Taketo in the Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures. They are premium, domestic sugars, which are several times the price of imported sugar. Because ohigashi contains very little moisture, it has a longer shelf life than most other types of wagashi.
Yatsuhashi is a speciality of Kyoto. It consists of bean pastes wrapped in a piece of flat, triangular-shaped mochi skin, much like a dumpling. Traditionally, red bean or cinnamon pastes are used but commercially many other flavours exist, such as strawberry, banana, and chocolate, to name a few.
Oftentimes, Yatsuhashi are served raw with mochi skin providing the chewy counterpart to the sweeter paste fillings. In other instances they could be baked to give a crunchier texture. Because they are Kyoto’s speciality, they are often sold as a souvenir desserts around landmarks in Kyoto.
Yokan is a semi-transparent snack made with sugar, beans, and kanten agar. It dates back to the 18th century as seen from illustrations of the time. Though it is predominantly jelly, it has a thick texture and is usually sold in block form. Yokan comes in a multitude of colours and adventurous flavours like black tea, brown sugar, and white miso.
Some are also infused with plum or honey to accentuate sweetness. This sweetness pairs well with the more astringent texture of matcha, and is therefore often served along with the tea. In summer, a variation of yokan, called the mizu yokan, is served chilled. Mizu yokan has more water content and is therefore softer with a jelly-like texture.
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