January 31, 2012
brand new year, same old standbys (and a few new things)
Happy New Year!
...well, this being the last day of January, I suspect it might be kind of wrong for one to say her New Year's greetings. That said, it would be just not right if I didn't say it in my very first entry of the year here, so that's that. I hope you all have made a good start to 2012.
New Year's holidays were a very quiet, family affair for us, as we started off with a small feast for late breakfast on the 1st of January.
Besides booze, a big part of traditional Japanese New Year celebration is osechi, or a set of specially-made dishes, many of which have their roots going back to centuries ago. We don't do much of osechi in my family, but there are a few favorites, including kuromame (sweetened black soybeans) and kuri kinton (sweet chestnut & sweet potato mash).
So that's pretty much it for me as far as traditional Japanese New Year food goes, but my focus has been more on the leftovers: turning some of these dishes/ingredients into desserts.
But if I am honest with you, this was actually NOT what I meant to make in the first place. For the first dessert of the year, I wanted to make matcha and kuromame Swiss roll - something I hadn't made in a very long time. Variations of cream-filled Swiss rolls, commonly called 'roll cake' in Japan, are very popular treats among people here including myself, but I find it a bit too fussy to make and can't just be bothered to make one on my own.
That said, with a new year here I should try something new (or a bit different), I figured, and decided to give it a try - to a disastrous result. The problem was the matcha sponge sheet, which came out a little too fragile and there would be no way I could roll it with or without a filling. So I abandoned the whole idea and made trifle instead, a fuss-free dessert for which it doesn't matter how ugly or irregular a piece of sponge is, as you won't see it anyway.
But an experiment-minded baker shouldn't mope around just because one batch didn't go as well as they had hoped, so I pulled myself together quick and got down to a next project.
Now this is something I have mentioned more than once here, but I don't like anko, or sweetened adzuki bean paste. In fact, "don't like" is an understatement - I positively dislike it, for as long as I can remember. But oddly enough, that doesn't mean I dislike adzuki beans or dishes using them in general. I actually quite like sweetened adzuki beans, just plain boiled and sweetened. I can't put my finger on the factor that makes anko so off-putting for me when sweetened boiled adzuki beans are not, but I suspect it may have something to do with the process of making anko, in which you usually cook down boiled beans to a thicker texture with a more concentrated flavor of the beans and of course sweeter.
Anyway, there I was making my adzuki rolls by rolling out an yeasted dough (studded with black sesame seeds) and spread it with plain sweetened adzuki beans, which is widely available in a can in Japan. I rolled the whole thing up, cut the log into slices, and baked them in the oven. Simple enough.
Whatever the reason might have been, this meant just one thing to me: my very first two batches of baking of the year both went very wrong. Now I positively felt beaten up, but I figured I couldn't let these two events jinx my baking for the remaining 363 days or so of the year, so I wiped my tears and got down to doing another batch:
And so they did, to my great relief - and finished with a drizzle of melted white chocolate, here I had matcha-kuromame rolls with white chocolate.
this recipe (in Japanese) for Finnish cinnamon rolls, which seems to be similar to many Finnish cinnamon roll recipes out there in English. Started with it, I added some toasted black sesame seeds to the cardamom-flavored sweet dough, and filled it with not cinnamon and sugar but matcha powder and sugar - and some chopped sweetened kuromame beans.
When you use matcha in bread baking, you'd often mix matcha powder into the dough as you would with matcha cakes. But for some reasons I don't fancy matcha-flavored bread dough very much even if I do enjoy matcha-flavored cakes, so here I used it as a filling instead. This worked well for me, as the matcha filling gave the buns a clear, vibrant flavor of the tea.
Meanwhile, I had some boiled sweetened adzuki beans left at hand after the adzuki rolls (which my folks happily took care of), and I was determined to put them into a better use:
I've been making for a while.
But here I wanted to do something a bit different, and decided to make it hojicha-adzuki ice cream by infusing the cream with hojicha (roasted green tea). I started by heating some heavy cream and hojicha leaves and let it steep as the mixture cooled. Once completely cool, I strained it to get rid of the tea leaves, and chilled the hojicha-infused cream before whipping it up lightly and adding sweetened adzuki beans to it. I also added a dash of brandy.
And the pale yellow ice-cream pictured alongside, by the way, was kuri-kinton ice-cream.
And as I decided to make kuri-kinton ice-cream, I thought I'd add some sweet potatoes to the mix, because otherwise it would become just chestnut ice-cream. So I cooked up a few slices of sweet potatoes, mashed them into chunky paste, and mixed it with some whipped heavy cream along with some kuri-kanoko, with a few chestnuts chopped into small pieces. I also added some brown sugar to adjust the sweetness, and a pinch of salt because you have a bit of salt in kuri-kinton. And oh, a dash of rum too. Just because.
Now it was middle of January and it was time for kagami-biraki, where you crack open your kagami-mochi and make oshiruko - sweet adzuki bean soup with mochi.
And adzuki beans happen to be one of the quickest to prepare from start to finish, as you don't need to soak them in water overnight (unless your beans are old). You wash the beans, and start cooking right off the bat.
When the beans are thoroughly cooked and soft, add sugar in a few additions; about a half of the dried beans by weight for a light soup, or up to the equal amount. Stir gently after each addition, and cook further taking care not to let it burn. Cook for another quarter an hour or so, then add a pinch of salt and remove from heat. It's now ready to eat, but if possible, leave it overnight before serving to allow the flavor develop.
And as I made this, I had another thing in my mind to make using oshiruko:
If you wondered what oshiruko had to do with any of this, well, it's because this was adzuki hot chocolate with yuzu marshmallows! Or you could call it chocolate oshiruko, I think, but I see it as more of a drink (hot chocolate) than a soup (oshiruko).
As for marshmallows, I made them myself, too.
this recipe, and added some grated fresh yuzu peel, replaced some of the water for the gelatin with fresh juice of yuzu, and also replaced the corn syrup with honey. I made a quarter of the recipe (using one egg white), and used a half of a yuzu for the peel and juice (about 1 Tbs).
I wanted my marshmallows to come in odd shapes and sizes, so I spooned the marshmallow mixture onto a surface (dusted thickly with a mixture of corn starch and confectioner's sugar). I might have made them look a little too odd, but you wouldn't mind it as they'd end up in hot chocolate, right?
By the way, I've seen some adzuki hot chocolate recipes suggest you put some mochi (rice cake) or mochi dumplings in the drink, which I'd think would make it even more of oshiruko than hot chocolate.
kinako, or roasted soybean powder (sweetened with a bit of sugar). As a kid, I remember thinking at Every New Year's that I could eat this every day for the rest of the year.
But I never did. Somehow, like mochi, kinako is one of those things that you seem to eat almost only during the New Year's time even though it is available all year around. So I always associate it with New Year holidays.
And with it, enter kuromame and yuzu, as well. Might as well.
this recipe (in Japanese) for kinako scones, and added some chopped kuromame beans and sliced yuzu peel soaked in honey - a byproduct of yuzu honey that I'm making a lot during winter, as I did last winter.
The scone dough is pretty standard enough, except it has a lot of kinako added to plain flour, and uses soy milk rather than regular milk.
Another thing with kinako:
Shiho Nakashima, a Japanese cook, food stylist, and baking book author, with a strong focus on whole, natural foods.
The recipe for these kinako truffles can be found in her chocolate book (in Japanese), and I added some chopped crystallized ginger.
And another recipe by Shiho Nakashima to wrap things up here...
another one of her books. Her original recipe is for kuromame chocolate cake, free of flour and butter (she uses premium cold-pressed rapeseed oil in place of butter for all or most of her baking items). And as is the case with many of her recipes, this also uses soy milk in the cake batter.
I've baked this cake before and completely fell for it - very chocolate-y, very rich and yet it manages to have a very light, melt-in-your-mouth texture thanks to the use of whipped egg whites. And kuromame goes really well with chocolate.
I had a few days of bliss, cutting a thick slice of the cake and having it for an afternoon break - or perhaps late at night. Coffee and tea both go well with it, but matcha latte worked particularly well.
I hope your first month of the year went well and full of good food. Here's to your very happy 2012 everyone! -cxx
posted by chika at: 1/31/2012 08:24:00 PM