It seems like the Japanese are content to keep the art of wagashi (Japanese confections) within Japan. I have had a difficult time finding any classes or books on the subject available in English, and my endless Google searches turn up very little. Still determined to learn how to make wagashi, Andrew and I headed to the Japanese grocery store for inspiration. We found rice flour and a bag of red bean paste, two classic Japanese ingredients. Mixing rice flour with water will create a dumpling, which we could fill with the bean paste and create a very simple wagashi called Daifuku.
As usual with Japanese products, the rice flour had picture instructions on the back showing how to use it.
I asked the clerk to translate the accompanying text for me, just to make sure I understood it correctly. Asking a clerk to translate is one of my favorite parts of the Japanese shopping experience. They are always so nice and willing to help, but their English isn’t perfect so they use a variety of words they do know to help describe what is written on the package. In this case, the clerk said, “Pour flour in bowl. Add splashes of water and mix until the consistency of your ear,” and then she proceeded to pull on the lobe of her ear. I’m not sure if the package actually equates the consistency of the dough to an ear lobe, but in any case I got the point. With her help and the great pictures on the package, we were able to make the dumplings correctly at home.
Andrew kneaded the dough, and we set out to experiment with shapes. I used my Western cookie cutters to make hearts, and we rolled the rest into traditional ball shapes. Once cooked, we took a pass at the art of plating before digging in. I went the “Pastry Chef” route and opted for a balanced presentation of wagashi and sesame paste, while Andrew went for the snowman effect.
Plating our Japanese creations was more fun than actually eating it. While the Daifuku were satisfactory, it was nothing I would run to the store to buy. Our dough wasn’t soft like professionally made Daifuku, and we didn’t fill it with enough bean paste.
Attempting my first wagashi has taught me that even though it may be technically easy to make, it is very difficult to do it well. I think we just need more practice, although they say it takes at least 10 years to become a wagashi expert. In the meantime, I’ll rely on Minamoto Kitchoan to keep me well stocked with the real thing.
P.S. Andrew and I are traveling to Japan in November, and I plan to spend a large amount of my time researching wagashi (I’m lucky Andrew is so patient with my obsession!) I would appreciate any recommendations for good bakeries, classes or books to read on the subject (in English.)
Slowly add 200 cc (ml) of water to one package of rice flour (approximately 2 cups of flour) and knead to form dough.
Roll the dough out about 1/8″ thick, and cut into 3-inch circles (size may vary depending on your preference.) Top one circle of dough with a teaspoon of red bean paste, and top with another dough circle, pinching the edges together to seal in the paste.
You can then roll the dough to form a ball or use a cookie cutter to shape the edges. Cook the Daifuku in a pot of boiling water and remove once they begin to float. Immediately run the daifuku under cold water and once cool, roll in reserved rice flour for easier handling.
4 Stuyvesant St (the shop is on the second floor of a building just off the corner of 9th street and 3rd avenue)
6 subway to Astor Place
New York, NY, 10003