And THANK YOU also for your support to my little campaign to raise fund for disaster relief efforts in Japan by making a donation or spreading a word, when I haven't even given full details on the little giveaway I say I am doing as a part of the campaign. So without further ado, let's get down to the business: it's a sakura (cherry blossom) baking ingredients giveaway that I would like to offer in appreciation for your generosity.
* UPDATE 3/22: the giveaway is now closed - thank you everyone! Donation is still accepted and very much appreciated.
As I have already mentioned in my last, quick post here, I had been thinking for a while about doing a little giveaway, as over the past year I have had quite a few inquiries as to where and how they might be able to find some of sakura-flavored baking supplies, especially cherry blossom extract (flavoring), among other things I used when I baked a bunch of things in cherry blossom flavors.
Many of these sakura things are available only for a limited time of the year, i.e. in early spring - before the real blossoms come to full bloom. They usually come around at the end of February or early March. So I started my shopping, mostly online, at the beginning of this month, and things had started arriving... when the earthquake hit.
As an ominously long quake we felt here in Nagano turned out to have been a humongous earthquake that struck the coastline in Tohoku hundreds of miles away and devastated hundreds of thousands of our people, I became less and less sure if this was the time for me to be doing such a lighthearted thing as a baking supplies giveaway. But since I had already bought far more of the stuff than I'd use up before the end of this spring, I wanted to put it in a good use - and thought it would make indeed a good use if I used it as a part of fundraising for the relief efforts.
So there we go - my little sakura baking ingredient set:
This tiny 10-ml (1/3 oz) bottle seemed to have been some sort of most sought-after item among some of food bloggers for the past year or so. A few drops of this cherry blossom flavoring adds a subtle, sweet scent slightly reminiscent (perhaps naturally) of cherries. The flavoring will not give your desserts astrong flavor, and it is not supposed to - what you'd want is a just waft of light floral scent. Note that this is not a so-called flower water, like rose water or orange flower water. So use sparingly or it can give an unpleasant flavor to your dessert.
Now, the other items here are mostly made of real cherry blossoms and leaves:
wrote a bit about it last spring, sakura in traditional Japanese baking (and cooking) mostly takes forms of salt-cured blossoms and leaves - flowers particularly for their visual attractiveness, and leaves mostly for flavor. Both have potent flavor and are very salty, so they need to be rinsed first to remove excess salt. And unless you are using them for garnish (such as when you make sakura-mochi), you'll most likely to do a bit of preparation before using flowers or leaves in baking. That is when these pre-chopped/dried/flaked/sweetened sakura products come handy.
Perhaps the easiest to use of all is sakura sugar, or granulated sugar blended with salt-cured cherry blossoms and leaves, dried and flaked. With the flavors of both the flower and leaf, this flavored sugar is sweet and salty all in one with a hint of vinegar from the cured blossoms. The back of the package suggests that you can sprinkle it on toast, yogurt, ice-cream, or shaved ice, or use it in baking.
Cherry blossom flakes are freeze-dried and flaked salt-cured blossoms, pretty in pink and good for topping for cappuccino, ice cream, chocolate truffles, and cakes, as it suggested by the manufacturer. Sweetened cherry blossom paste is also made from salt-cured blossoms, pureed and sweetened, making it suitable to mix into mousse, ice cream, and whipped cream.
Cherry leaf powder, meanwhile, is salted cherry leaves that have been dried and ground to powder. It makes a nice contrast to pink hues of blossoms, and totally has its own thing going. You can use it in baking by adding it to a batter/dough, or else mixing it with sugar to sprinkle on toast.
...And might as well, the real stuff too; salt-cured cherry blossoms.
umeboshi); they are then semi-dried, and packed in salt for preservation. Umezu brings out the bright pink and adds its characteristic vinegary flavor, which some love, others don't. To be completely honest, I'm not very partial to this peculiar flavor. But I have trained myself to enjoy it, though in very small amounts. This is definitely an acquired taste, mind you.
Then again, they certainly look pretty, and makes an excellent topping for anything. Just make sure you rinse them first, and soak in a small bowl of water for a few minutes to remove excess salt. They are also praised as a "tea", thus called "sakura-cha (cherry blossom tea)", to be served traditionally at engagement ceremony; it is not a "tea" really, but the way how a blossom "bloom" in a teacup is certainly graceful.
Like I also mentioned in my last year's sakura baking post, you can "bloom" the blossoms by popping them in the microwave: rinse, and gently pat dry blossoms, place them on top of a sheet of paper towel, and heat in microwave until they dry a bit and pop open. Cooking time will depend on the microwave you use, but it should not take more than a minute; some may bloom in less than half a minute, some may take a little longer. So keep an eye on them as they cook, or they might get too dry - or burned, even.
cherry blossom flavoring, though you could do just either. It's a nice way to make something really simple a bit special.
That said, this panna cotta may actually have been the most complex thing I've made this time with all the sakura ingredients; other things were all very simple, and would have been quite plain, even a bit dull, had they not been sakura-ed up.
sweetened cherry blossom paste into lightly whipped heavy cream, and served a few dollops of it with fresh strawberries. Topped with a shake of cherry blossom flakes, strawberries and cream with sakura looked simple yet pretty - with hint of sakura. The paste, I thought, was rather salty than sweet, and I might like to try it in baking - madeleines, financiers, or other simple tea cakes.
And the simplest of all?
sakura sugar. That's it. I really think it's best to use the sugar in a simple way to enjoy the flavor. The only thing you should note is to use unsalted butter, as the sugar has a bit of salt in it.
Now, this isn't an ingredient, but thought some of you might like it...
We have sakura-shaped cookie cutters in a few different sizes, and here I have a one with 51-mm (2-inch) diameter for you (larger ones in the picture; the small one is mine (35 mm/1.4 inch)). You can use it to cut out sakuras from anything you like other than cookies, up to about 10-mm (0.4-inch) thickness.
So, sakura cookies here we have...
last spring, and I've been baking them again; in addition to looking pretty, they taste really good as sweet and salty, thin and crunchy. Other than the use of cherry leaf powder, these also have melted white chocolate in the dough, adding a sweet milkiness to the cookies. The pink flecks are sakura petals removed from salt-cured cherry blossoms, rinsed and dried a little in the microwave (not "bloomed").
The recipe is in Japanese, but you can try and google translate it (here in English) to get a general idea; you use only a small amount of cherry leaf powder (1/2 tsp) nut it's enough to give the cookies a pleasant hint of leafy flavor and just a right saltiness.
Now, perhaps you might like to try slightly different sakura cookies, as well?
sakura meringue cookies, flavored and tinted with freeze-dried strawberry powder and a bit of cherry blossom powder (dried and grounded salt-cured cherry blossoms). You don't have to do the topping, but I like the pretty shade of pink and a very subtle sakura flavor.
I tried and made something similar last spring, using only cherry blossom powder - and ended up with flattened blobs of salty meringue. So this time I followed this recipe (in Japanese) that use freeze-dried strawberry powder, and added a bit of cherry blossom powder. This produced a most dainty morsels in a delicate shade of pink that were airy and crisp. Like the other sakura cookie, you'd want to use only a bit of sakura powder (1/4 - 1/2 tsp) as a little amount goes a long way.
To make these sakura meringue cookies, I used a special pastry tip...
Sakura pastry tips also come in several different sizes, but here I have a small one (about 6-mm (1/4-inch) opening). I may not have done a very good job of showing how you can use the tip to pipe cherry blossoms, but you can see other bakers taking a better shot at it; many use it to ice cakes and make cookies (even macarons! ... though I guess they'd used a larger tip).
Now I am planning to include one small sakura pastry tip in my sakura set and have already ordered a few for the giveaway, but
The same goes to another thing that I plant to include in the set: matcha (green tea) powder from Uji, Kyoto. Bright green in color and burst with flavor, it's a good-quality matcha recommended for baking and dessert recipes, though you can also use it to prepare a traditional cup of matcha tea. I know this in itself has got nothing to do with cherry blossoms, but matcha pairs beautifully with sakura in cakes, desserts and the like, so I thought I'd throw it into the mix. So let's hope I'll receive it soon!
* 3/18 update: I have now got both pastry tips and matcha! So they are definitely in.
...And one last thing...
cherry blossoms in syrup has a surprisingly delicate flavor - when used in moderation, that is. This, too, is basically salt-cured cherry blossoms, rinsed and steeped in sugar syrup; it has some umezu also added to it, and is tinted with red cabbage color. And no, you don't smell or taste cabbage but the same distinct smell of cherry blossoms.
You can use both blossoms and syrup, together or separately. As the manufacturer suggests, you can use the blossoms, syrup drained off, to adorn your cakes, and use the syrup to make gelatin desserts (first diluted with water, etc.). Or top a few blossoms in syrup with sparkling water or wine, like I did here...
I tried last year) seem to be made using this - syrup and/or blossoms.
So now, what do you think? I wish I could have made more things or been more creative to show you how these sakura ingredients can be used, but I didn't have enough time especially after the quake (I had made a few things before then). But there are other bloggers, many of whom are excellent bakers, who have done their sakura-baking beautifully, as you can see here:
+ Cherry Blossom and Hibiscus Macarons by Helene of Tartelette
+ Cherry Blossom Strawberry Cheesecake also by Helene of Tartelette
+ Cherry Blossom Doughnuts by Aran of Cannelle et Vanille
+ Cherry Blossom Macarons also by Aran of Cannelle et Vanille
+ Sakura Cookies by Shirley of Kokken69
+ Cherry Blossom Marshmallows by Garrett of Vanilla Garlic
+ Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecakes with Cherry Blossom Buttercream and Raspberry Sugar by Mowie of Mowielicious
Feeling ready for sakura now? Here's the deal:
A set contains each of:
- cherry blossom flavoring ...10 ml (0.35 fl.oz)
- sakura sugar ...18 g (0.65 oz)
- salt-cured cherry blossoms ...20 g (0.7 oz)
- cherry blossom flakes ...3 g (0.1 oz)
- sweetened cherry blossom paste ...20 g (0.7 oz)
- cherry leaf powder ...6 g (0.2 oz)
- cherry blossoms in syrup ...100 g (3.57 oz)
- sakura-shaped cookie cutter ...51-mm (2-in) diameter
- sakura pastry tip* ...6-mm (1/4-in) opening
- matcha (green tea) powder* ...30 g (1.1 oz)
* Not shown in the picture above.
Plus, each set will also include a pack of kaishi, which is a type of paper napkin traditionally used in tea ceremony. I have packs of them in a few different sakura patterns (like the ones you can see in some of the pictures in this post), and winners will find which one they got when they received their package.
I have 3 sets to offer you. For your chance to win one of the three sets, please visit my fundraising campaign page and make a donation for the disaster relief efforts in Japan.
* UPDATE 3/22: the giveaway is now closed - thank you everyone! Donation is still accepted and very much appreciated.
You will find details on the campaign page. Here are some of the important points to note:
- All donation by anyone from anywhere in the world will be welcome, and mostly appreciated. However, only those who live outside of Japan are invited to enter the giveaway. This is based on my original intention in doing this giveaway, which was to offer a chance to give people outside of Japan a chance to get a hold of some of cherry blossom ingredients that are really hard to find for them. Thank you for your understanding about this.
- The set contains food items. I tried to pick items that should be relatively safe for international shipping and customs clearance, yet different rules and procedures apply in different countries. If you are unsure whether or not you are allowed to receive certain food items sent from abroad, I suggest you consult relevant sources before you enter the giveaway.
- Giveaway will be closed on Monday, March 21, 2011. Three winners will then be selected randomly, and announced here on this blog within a day or two. The campaign page may be kept open for non-giveaway donations - details will be decided and announced in due course.
- Your donation will be made to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
my last post to announce this project and the campaign page. Chances are that you've seen numbers, read stories, watched footage, and even heard rumors. So I will not repeat any of it here. Moreover, we are in middle of a fluid situation, and anything I say here may not be true in a matter of days, or hours, even.
What is clear now is that, when I set up the campaign last weekend, I had little idea as to how far things would get worse - which prompts me to make a few additional notes:
- I planned to send out packages to winners by regular airmail, for them to reach their destinations by the end of March or beginning of April, in time for cherry blossoms. However, Japan's postal service is partially disrupted in some parts of the country, which may cause delay in delivery of my packages. I already have most of the items that go into my sakura set and am waiting for the last few things (i.e. pastry tips and matcha) to arrive, but if I don't receive them by mid next week, I will send out my packages without the two items.
As of March 16, a central part of the prefecture of Nagano where I am has so far seen little disturbance or confusion in public service or transportation. But it can change at any moment, and it is not unlikely. All of my families and relatives were safe immediately after the deadly quake and tsunami last Friday, but so much has happened since then, and now nobody really knows if we will be.
- Considering this, if something happens to me in the coming week or so, I may not be able to put my words here into action. More specifically, there is a chance that I may not be able to ship out my packages, or even choose winners. I fervently hope that we can let this pass as a bad joke, but as it stands now, we really don't know. So please keep this possibility in your mind when making a donation and entering the giveaway here.
Good news is that no matter what happens to me, your donation will still go straight to the IRC, and will sure be put to good use.
Thank you very much again to each and every one of you who have made a donation, and/or passed the information along. Please take a look at my campaign page - I have updated a few details.
There are a number of other ways for you to support the disaster relief efforts. Among them are presented by my fellow (food) bloggers who are raising fund for this cause, including:
Rachel of The Pleasure Monger
Tamami of Coco&Me
photographer Skye Hohmann
I have also heard that Pim of Chez Pim and Keiko of Nordljus were planning a special Menu for Hope for Japan, so let's wait for their announcement to come.
Lastly, may I ask you one great favor: please give what you can give to help. Make a donation, spread a word, or perhaps give us something that makes us smile. Many people who have survived the disastrous earthquake and tsunami and those are now threatened by the ongoing nuclear crisis are in desperate need of food, water, heat, and safe shelter. We try to help each other and stay strong. As we do so, we also need something that makes us smile, uplifted, or maybe relax, now that everything is ever so bleak and gloomy and gravely subdued (for good reason, of course, but still). I feel that we could do with something funny, beautiful, and/or delicious in our life now more than ever.
Thank you so much for your prayers and support for Japan in this difficult time.
>>> Japan Disaster Relief with Sakura