A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
I can't remember exactly when I first heard of saffron kulfi, but I think it was mentioned in a Bharti Kirchner novel, or perhaps a desi short story collection. The book waxed poetic about the value of slowly simmering saffron and cardamom, which reduces the volume of the milk by about half while thoroughly infusing it with the aromas of the spices. This is a time-consuming, hour-long or more process, only possible to achieve on fairly moderate heat with plenty of patience.
It seems unlikely that you could accomplish the same level of flavor by pulling out a can of condensed milk and stirring the ingredients together, no matter how long you wait for the cold ingredients to meld together. The extra labor is totally justified by the results.
That being said, I'm fairly lazy, as obsessive cooks go... I delight in simplicity. The unusual level of labor means I haven't made this for about 5 years, when it was unceremoniously and completely devoured, along with some sort of sorbet, in less than 15 minutes at a dinner party I hosted. This time I served it to a much smaller crowd, so that I could guarantee I'd have more than a spoonful to taste for myself. I'm jealously guarding what remains.
Kulfi is not truly an ice cream, but simply a frozen dessert made in molds or even ice cube trays. It's rather unlikely to be churned, so the result will typically be quite firm and popsicle-like. However, thanks to my Cuisinart ice cream maker and a generous hand with cream, it develops a remarkably smooth, soft texture, and can fairly be called an ice cream.
Kesar Kulfi with Salted Pistachio
8 cups milk
1 cups cream
A generous pinch of saffron, about 8-12 strands
1 tsp. ground cardamom (best if freshly ground)
1 cup sugar
A few tablespoons shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely ground with a pinch of salt and a heavier pinch of sugar
Additional pistachio for garnish, if desired
Bring the milk, saffron and cardamom to a gentle simmer. Stir regularly as the milk simmers until the volume of milk is reduced by half.
Add sugar to dissolve. Add cream, and refrigerate until chilled, generally several hours or overnight.
Pour mixture into an ice cream maker with a 6 cup capacity (if your machine is smaller, the recipe can easily be halved). After 20-25 minutes, stir in most of the seasoned pistachio mixture.
I reserved some of the pistachio mixture for a nifty silicone mold I generally leave, neglected, stowed above my kitchen cupboards. I simply sprinkled the pistachios into the bottom of the mold before pouring in the ice cream mixture. Freeze the molds overnight. Unmold and serve, perhaps with some additional broken pistachios.
If you don't have such a mold, sprinkle the pistachio over scoops of ice cream after it's hardened in the freezer overnight.
In place of pistachios, almonds work quite well.
This kind of kulfi is ordinarily poured straight into a mold and frozen, rather than using the intermediary step of an ice cream maker, but the ice cream maker results in a smoother, softer texture. The extra cream, generally not used in Indian recipes, makes the ice cream extraordinarily rich and indulgent.
Although it's also not typical in Indian recipes for kulfi, the small hint of salt in the pistachio helps bring out all the other flavors in the ice cream. Like the great salted peanut butter ice cream at Seattle's Veil, one of the most remarkable items I've sampled there, it may evoke some strong reactions: At Veil, people either love it or hate it. I don't use as much salt as Veil does in my pistachio blend, so nobody who has tried my version was terribly shocked, but getting the balance might be tricky. Start with just a little pinch.
Last weekend, I made the medically unfortunate mistake of going to the Fremont Solstice Parade last Saturday with a not-quite-healed metatarsal. Even though I was mostly standing, wearing a supportive medical boot, and generally resting on my unbroken right foot, this wasn't so clever. I mostly succeeded in irritating my right knee, exacerbating the dull pain in my left foot into acute agony.
So I decided not to repeat that mistake by being all in-denial and active... I stayed domestic most of the weekend. I didn't even shave until 3pm on Sunday, though I owe that mostly to the fact that I ran out of shaving cream.
As a completely irrelevant aside, don't ever bother to use the shaving cream supplied in a little 5ml packet that comes from the shaving kits in hotels and ryokan in Japan. You only have this at all because you stash it in your luggage in case your tiny sample-size shaving cream suddenly runs out on your trip, and you completely forget about it until returning to the US, when it gets unceremoniously stashed somewhere in your medicine cabinet until, one day, you run out of shaving cream. Then, you discover that it's not really enough cream to do much good, and that, in terms of quality, it's just a slight step up from a moisturizing soap. Second, it smells almost exactly like a Band Aid.
So I was really craving something along the lines of a dinner roll, but I wanted something a bit more protein-dense than the average bread, I also thought it would be nice to have a nice stew, so I made a variation of the channa masala that I previously served with the besan roti.
I wanted just a hint of spice and I wanted something moist and reasonably soft, so I chose to use a little garam masala and some butter and milk in service of that ambiguously dinner-roll like quality that is easier experienced than described.
This is prepared like most yeast doughs: mix dry ingredients together except for the yeast, create a well, add the melted butter and milk with the yeast. Gradually incorporate the flour into the sponge by stirring along the outer edge of the well, until the dough comes together.
Kneaded until smooth but fairly sticky, the dough rises for a couple of hours before I divide it into into 12 rolls. I let the rolls have a second proof while the oven preheats to 425F on a cookie sheet, then I bake them until golden-brown, about 15 minutes. I test for doneness by tapping on the bottom of one of the rolls, making sure it sounds hollow.
They need to cool down and rest a few minutes, but can be served warm with butter and a nice stew or curry.
The outer exterior is still crisp, but the interior is moist and aromatic with hints of cumin, coriander, cloves and cinnamon. With a little bit of butter they're just rich enough to be eaten on their own, but they're also a perfect foil for a stew or daal.
Yakinasu (grilled eggplant) is one of those incredibly simple but irresistible dishes... I can't help but order it whenever I see it on an izakaya menu. Sometimes we've even bought it at department stores to take home, as when Hiromi and I ate at her parents' home during my last trip to Japan.
Ideally grilled over Japanese charcoal with a shichirin, yakinasu can also be prepared on an ordinary grill or with a small flame on a gas konro. I used to rely on the broiler feature of my stove, but that requires very careful monitoring to pull off successfully.
You can use either the long, skinny 5-6" nasubi (Japanese eggplant) for this, or the 2-3" roundish ones reminiscent of kyō-nasu (Kyoto eggplant), sometimes called Indian eggplant here in the U.S. The larger European-style eggplants common in the U.S. are probably too big for this.
The one important question to ask when preparing this: Skin on or skin off? I tend to prefer the variations which keep the skin, mostly because it looks more appealing, but you can get a slightly smokier flavor if you're willing to sacrifice it. If you do that, you grill or broil the eggplant on all sides until the skin is more or less blackened, then wrap up the eggplant in aluminum foil, or place it in an airtight container to steam the skin until it becomes easy to remove.
When you remove the skin, you might dress the eggplant with some katsuobushi and soy sauce, or some nerimiso (sweetened miso sauce). Since I'm vegetarian, I make the latter.
For the skin-on version, I typically score the skin on either side, first lengthwise, then about 30 degrees off axis. I've chosen to cut the eggplants in half before grilling, and I rubbed the flesh with a little salt. Each side is grilled gently until the flesh slightly softens. After a few minutes of rest, the eggplant becomes a bit more tender thanks to residual heat, so it's better not to overcook it.
This version is ideal with some freshly-grated ginger, chopped scallions and a little splash of Japanese soy sauce.
Contrary to Tony Bourdain's impression of vegetarian cuisine, salads don't necessarily play a prominent role in an adventurous meatless diet. But occasionally, when presented with some respectably fresh greens and impeccably fresh tofu, I get the urge to eat a little bit raw.
I spotted some fresh kabu (Japanese white turnips) and mizuna (potherb mustard, or so I hear... I just call it mizuna) at the Ballard Farmer's Market on Sunday. I couldn't help but to take some home... both just looked impeccably fresh and hard to resist.
The greens on the kabu (kabuna) can also be eaten raw, so I incorporated some of those into my little salad as well. I sliced and blanched the kabu just long enough to yield a little translucency, without destroying the texture.
I also had some orange bell peppers handy, so they provided a splash of color and a touch of natural sweetness.
The miso dressing is simple:
1 tsp. white miso 1 tsp. mustard 1-1/2 teaspoons jabara juice (see below) 3-4 drops toasted sesame oil A little honey to taste 2 tablespoons olive oil (something more neutral is fine)
Mix all ingredients other than the olive oil until combined, then gradually incorporate the olive oil to maintain an emulsion.
You probably don't have jabara juice, a citrus juice much like kabosu, sudachi, or unripe yuzu, handy... I spotted some in the Wakayama specialty shop at Yūrakuchō, and Hiromi bought one bottle for me to take home and play with. It's aromatic, and distinct from other citrus fruits in an indescribable but pleasing way... Its aroma is vaguely reminiscent of candied limes.
Since you aren't likely to make a trip to Yurakucho, or Wakayama for that matter, just for a little bottle of jabara juice, substitute another tart citrus fruit... Meyer lemon or maybe key lime would be particularly nice.
But umeboshi and cheese were always meant for each other. Grilled is even better.
Camembert is probably a more natural fit, but I had some very respectable raw milk farmhouse-style cheddar from a Washington dairy farm snagged at last weekend's cheese festival. I was eating some pieces of the cheddar when a craving for umeboshi struck, and ate at least one pitted umeboshi on top of a cube of cheese, and it occurred to me: this needs to be grilled.
Where do such crazy ideas come from? Perhaps I owe the initial thought to some "yaki ume" I tasted at the Wakayama specialty shop in to Yūrakuchō... As far as I understood it, those premium umeboshi were at some point briefly cooked over charcoal, though the taste was barely noticeable, if present at all. I settled for some nice $16 umeboshi instead of the more than twice as extravagant "grilled" ones.
How do you make them?
Start by carefully pitting the umeboshi, taking care to pierce only one side; I suppose an olive or cherry pitter might work on some types of umeboshi. Medium-firm umeboshi probably work best; mine were already incredibly soft and I ruined a few while stuffing them.
I did the pitting by hand; I could feel the sharp side of the pit through the skin of the umeboshi, and squeezed the pit out through that pointy side.
Gently insert a small cube of cheese into the umeboshi. Carefully thread the stuffed umeboshi one-by-one onto the skewer.
Ideally, you should grill them over a shichirin grill, but I cheated and used my little gas konro, which I usually use for nabe; I fitted it with a little protective grating to keep the umeboshi from falling into the flame and disintegrating.
No need to use your best umeboshi on this, but please use umeboshi with a short ingredient list: Ideally, ume, salt, shiso, maybe shochu for initial curing. Use a creamy, rather than salty cheese.
Plate, then gently brush with a little olive oil.
Like umeboshi, they're tart. Like cheese, they're creamy. Like anything salty, they would go great with a little shochu, though on this occasion, they served as a little afternoon snack and I remained a teetotaler.
They're a little tricky to pull off, but worth it.
For some reason I get wistful whenever I think of the various ningyo-yaki (shaped waffles typically stuffed with sweet bean paste) and dora-yaki I have eaten on my many trips to Japan. From a highway service area or a department store basement, fresh, warm ningyo-yaki are impossible to resist.
Maybe they speak to my inner child.
Maybe it's just the sugar rush.
Well, I don't have a taiyaki (fish shaped) waffle pan in my otherwise well-stocked kitchen, so at home I have to settle for dorayaki, the pancake-like equivalent. These are often served cold, but they're even better just a few minutes off the stove. You can make a batch of them and keep them in the refrigerator as an afternoon indulgence for up to 3 or 4 days.
I also don't have pancake rings or an electric griddle, so my dorayaki end up being the size of my smallest nonstick omelet pan. That means mine need to be cut up into quarters for individual servings, or perhaps folded, if i used a thinner batter.
Dorayaki aren't exactly the same thing as the pancakes you'd slather with syrup. The American pancake is, by itself, not distinctly sweet; it typically only has enough sugar to make the pancakes brown nicely. Every dorayaki recipe I've seen, on the other hand, is full of sugar or honey, and distinctly heavier-handed with eggs. That's partially because the fillings are a bit less sweet than the typical syrup topping, and partially because this is a snack rather than a breakfast item.
Mine are sweeter than normal American pancakes, but not as sugary as the typical afternoon snack version that Japanese dorayaki vendors tend to produce. The key is to eat them in much smaller quantities than you might eat pancakes... they're heavier than they look.
Measuring things precisely is still sort of anathema to me, but I used about 3 egg yolks, one whole egg, 2/3 cup buttermilk, a shy teaspoon of baking soda, about 5 ounces (by weight) of all-purpose flour, maybe a tad less than 1 cup. Cake flour might be better, but I never keep it around. You'll also need two tablespoons vegetable oil, a few tablespoons of honey, and a generous pinch of salt. The batter needs to be mixed until lumpy, like regular pancakes; it's easiest if you mix all the liquid ingredients first.
Recipes in Japanese vary widely. Some use all sugar, some use sugar and honey, some are all honey, and some incorporate mirin. Some are lighter and fluffier, some are thinner and aspire to be a little mochi-mochi (chewy, but not tough). Almost none use buttermilk; if you only have regular milk, use that, but switch to baking powder instead of baking soda.
The pancakes need to be cooked on medium-low heat with the slightest brushing of oil in the pan.
Take two pancakes and make a sandwich with them using any kind of anko, anko cream, or maybe a thick custard. I used koshi-an (finely sieved sweetened red bean paste) bought at Uwajimaya this time, but this is also good with ogura-an (coarse red bean paste), uguisu-an (mung bean paste), and probably even zunda (sweet edamame paste). If strawberries are already good where you are, consider putting a halved strawberry in there.
If you make the pancakes bigger than 3" or so in diameter, cut them into halves or quarters before serving.
Until a little trip to Licorous last fall, I had never thought much of financiers. I don't know why... maybe I never had a good one. I don't have much love for madeleines either.
But Licorous' financiers were just too hard to resist... Served warm with an espresso caramel dipping sauce and another dipping option, perhaps a bit of warm maple syrup, the crisp-yet-tender brown-buttery goodness continues to occupy a place in my dreams.
At home, I rarely make financiers... as much as I love butter, there's only so much I can handle. But I've been tempted to reinterpret the financier with a wafuu approach, and so I have occasionally been trying my hand at them recently.
For my first attempt at making Japanese-styled financiers, I replaced all of the standard ground almonds with ground white sesame seeds. It turns out that the almonds add some flavor foundation that a pure sesame seed version doesn't supply, so I've since tweaked my recipe.
This version is based on Dana's financier recipe on Tasting Menu. When I first saw this recipe, I thought the amount of sugar was incredibly high and that this would be unbearably sweet, but it somehow works out to be just about right, and is much less sweet than I expected. Perhaps the bitterness of the nuts helps balance out the sugar.
4 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
2 egg whites
4 tbsp. almonds
2 tbsp. white sesame seeds
2 tbsp. black sesame seeds, whole
1/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp. all-purpose flour (or cake flour)
Brown the butter in a small on medium heat. You want it to become the color of hazelnuts, but not carbon. This time I used some very nice Cremerie Classique butter from the Pike Place Market, which seems to have fewer milk solids than the average butter, so it took a bit longer to brown. Be careful that it doesn't cook so long that it scorches; once it's bubbling, watch very carefully.
Strain and reserve the hot browned butter. Discard any particles of solids that are left behind.
Grind the almonds and white sesame seeds in a food processor, spice grinder, or clean rotary coffee grinder.
Sift the confectioner's sugar into a bowl and add the ground nuts.
With a mixer or whisk, stir in the egg whites until a paste forms. Pour in the warm, but not fiercely hot brown butter, and continue mixing until consistent. Add the flour, salt, and black sesame seeds, and gently mix until everything is incorporated.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Pour into baking forms. I used some nifty individual 1 inch silicone muffin cups on a baking sheet. They take about 17 minutes. Mini-muffin pans would work well I've also used some small rectangular loaf pans filled to a depth of about 3/4 inch, which takes about 20 minutes.
After baking, rest on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. If you used a larger form, use a bread knife to cut the financiers into smaller cubes, but you may want to cut them a bit sooner so that they don't steam themselves soft.
These are perfect dipped into a little kuromitsu, a bittersweet Japanese black sugar syrup. Failing that, consider blending some molasses, treacle, or sorghum syrup with honey to taste; try blending about 80% sweet molasses and 20% honey. I dusted a little kinako (toasted soy flour) seasoned with sugar and salt onto the plate, which also adds a nice flavor and makes the dish even more wafuu.
I served mine with a little espresso... A sturdy tea would work as well.
No, I am not a great fan of meat analogues, but every once in a while I get an odd craving for a veggie burger. Most of the frozen products are not very exciting, and they've gotten incredibly expensive in the last few years, so they're almost never on my shopping list. But I do sometimes decide to make them at home.
This week, I still had a substantial amount of leftover okara, the soybean mash that's a byproduct of soymilk-making, a consequence of my godoufu-making endeavors. It really has a short lifespan, so I've been doing my best to make use of it before it's too late.
Some of the okara I had went into a croquette-like dish I made last Sunday. Seasoned okara has a slightly longer lifespan than unseasoned okara, so I repurposed some of the remaining croquette base, and blended it with some of the filling from some mushroom gyoza that was also sitting in my refrigerator. I shaped the resulting mixture into patties and carefully slipped them into a deep fryer.
What goes into such a concoction as okara croquettes or okara burgers? Well, there are other options, but basically I seasoned everything with a little salt, maybe a splash of some soy sauce, some pepper, and, in this case, and some mitsuba, a Japanese herb slightly similar to flat-leaf parsley. I used a little flour, and maybe even an egg yolk, to help everything hold together. The mushrooms added a bit of aroma and flavor, and since they were repurposed from a gyoza filling, they also benefited from the garlic-like flavor of nira, a chive-like herb.
The okara burgers are, in this case, served on soymilk buns. The excessive surplus of soymilk in my refrigerator perhaps made this inevitable, but it works.
There's no way I'd be able to give a precise recipe for the okara "burgers", but a little experimentation and tasting before cooking should be enough of an indication of the likely success or failure. In this case, I deep fried them, instead of using a frying pan, but either way would work. Deep frying, counter-intuitively, absorbs less oil than using a frying pan, because the temperature is more stable.
They're served with mixed greens, onions, and brie, and the usual mayo/mustard/ketchup (corn-syrup free) condiments.
Potatoes were yukon golds, fried at a bit lower than normal temperature to keep them from browning too quickly, are twice-fried and tossed with porcini salt and a bit of additional sea salt. These would be equally nice roasted in the oven with olive oil.
The soymilk bread is reasonably simple... Unlike the okara burgers, I actually measured the ingredients, though the recipe was still fairly improvised.
Tounyuu Pan (豆乳パン)
400 g flour (I guess that's about 3 cups... get a digital scale and be sure).
225 ml warm, not hot, soymilk (about 1 cup)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp. dry yeast or one cube of "fresh" yeast.
Place the flour into a bowl, making an impression large enough to accommodate the soymilk. Pour the soymilk into the bowl and add the yeast. If your yeast requires it, proof it in the soymilk in that impression. Otherwise, add salt and slowly blend the milk with the flour, using small circles with a wooden spoon.
Knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. The goal is to have a fairly moist dough for rolls, so resist the temptation to add much more flour unless the dough just doesn't hold its shape.
Allow to rise for at least an hour, then use a dough cutter to separate the dough into six equal pieces. Massage these into rounds, and use a rolling pin to make each bun a fairly even thickness, roughly 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Allow to rise for another 20 minutes or so.
Preheat an oven to 200C (425F). Place an oven-safe pot filled with hot water in the top rack of the oven.
Brush a little soymilk or egg on top of each roll. Gently press the wet side into a plate of sesame seeds.
Bake the buns for about 25 minutes, until golden-brown on top. Remove from oven and cover with a cloth, allowing them to mostly cool before consuming.
These buns are, perhaps, a bit too chewy for a "burger" bun, but they're also quite nice as breakfast rolls. They would likely become somewhat less chewy with a touch of sugar, some egg, or added fat such as butter or olive oil.
Godoufu, the soymilk-based mochi-like "tofu" from Saga prefecture, has been featured here before, shortly after I reminisced about my first time tasting it when I was ceramics-hunting in Arita many years ago.
This weekend I got the urge to make it again. It's a bit time-consuming to prepare, so I don't really make it all that often, but I made it twice this weekend. Yesterday I went to a potluck, where my quadruple batch was consumed or otherwise claimed by others. I decided I wanted a bit more for myself today, and I really had more than enough soy milk this time... I made a huge batch of soymilk on Saturday morning.
The basics are simple, but a bit time-consuming. Start with a truly rich unsweetened soymilk. Milk substitute monstrosities such as the popular Silk brand are completely unsuitable, and even most unsweetened soy milks sold at health food stores will not have enough protein or flavor. If you have a local Asian soymilk producer, they probably sell the thicker type of soymilk that will be suitable for the task. Otherwise, you can certainly make your own... That's what I did this weekend, and it's why I ended up with about 9 liters of thick soymilk and a frightening amount of okara.
2 tablespoons kuzu-ko or arrowroot starch (about 55 grams)
1/2 cup plus one tablespoon katakuriko, similar to potato starch, about 120 grams
Kuzu-ko tends to be clumpy, so it's best to use a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or even the back of a spoon to crush the kuzuko into a fine powder. For best results, whisk the cold soymilk with the starches until the solids are completely dissolved; otherwise, small translucent balls similar to gravy lumps tend to form during cooking.
Bring the solution to a boil, then immediately take off the heat and start stirring furiously with a sturdy spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low, and keep stirring like mad, making sure nothing sticks to the pan. Keep this up for about 30 minutes.
In many pans it's a bit tricky to keep things from sticking and browning at the bottom, but regularly pulling the pan off heat can help regulate the bottom of the temperature. In a pinch, if the bottom of the pan starts to brown, I've been known to pour out the mixture into another pan and continue the process; it's really hard to rescue the godoufu if things start sticking, so I do my best to prevent disaster.
Turn out the mixture into an airtight storage container. Some Japanese sites recommend placing a layer of clingfilm wrap on the surface of the godoufu to prevent a skin from forming.
Next, if at all possible, put the sealed container in an ice water bath for about 5 minutes. Refrigerate a few hours until set. (In a pinch, you can eat after about an hour, but it will hold its shape better if it's refrigerated longer).
In my experience, godoufu keeps reasonably well for about a week, but it must be kept in an absolutely airtight container.
Two typical sauces often used to top the godoufu include:
Irigoma sauce (Black sesame sauce)
3 tbsp. ground black sesame seeds
1.5 tablespoons sugar
3 tbsp. soy sauce
Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a minute or so. Allow to cool.
Shouga no nerimiso (Ginger miso sauce)
2 tbsp. miso (akamiso or shiromiso)
2 tbsp. mirin
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
On medium heat, bring ingredients to a simmer, stirring regularly. Cook for about 5 minutes after the mixture comes to a boil, until it thickens.
This one is nice with a little finely chopped scallion.
Last night I also tried the godoufu with kinako and kuromitsu, which was very similar to a sweet called "tounyuu no warabi-mochi" the Hiromi and I ate in Kyoto a couple years ago. It should also be nice in zenzai (sweet red bean soup) in place of shiratama or mochi.
On a whim, last Friday night I made a savory galette-style cheesecake. I improvised the dough, cutting a bit of clarified butter into flour, adding a bit of mace and salt, then working in a bit of cold water in a well.
I hurriedly caramelized some onions, which is not a process that likes to be rushed, but it worked out reasonably well. I mixed soft chevre, cream cheese and sour cream together, beat in an egg, adjusted salt, and filled a large round of dough; I baked the cheesecakes until the filling set, and served warm.
Tonight I took advantage of a bit of leftover dough and filling, and made a smaller version to go with yesterday’s borscht.
I was mostly in rush-everywhere-mode today, going from customer to customer and errand to errand. I got a fair amount done but I’m still behind on a couple of things.
Actually, until tonight, I didn’t even get around to sending out shipping notifications for the large number of internet orders I sent out on Monday and Tuesday.
I never ate a proper dinner. I just nibbled on good bread from Le Fournil and dug in to some Brie. If I had been doing this on a park bench or at the dinner table, that would have been perfectly respectable, but actually I was mostly eating it while underway this evening, between tasks.
I got a bit hungry late tonight but I remembered I have some kuri-kinton, or sweet potato puree with chestnuts, that I made a few days ago.
Kuri-kinton is one of the humblest of Japanese confections. You won’t find a lot of middle-aged Japanese mothers who make the kinds of sweets that appear at fancy wagashi-ya-san, even if it’s as simple to replicate as dorayaki. Daifuku (usually ambiguously referred to as “mochi” in the U.S.) are rarely made at home except for special events. But a fair number of people are willing to attempt kuri-kinton.
I have attempted to make daifuku at a nursery school in Japan that a friend’s family managed. This was about 7 years ago, and my Japanese was even worse at that time. The teacher gently scolded me for making them inadeqately elegantly; the 4 year olds had more experience and seemed to understand the instructions on kneading the dough better than I did, and they managed to massage out any hint of seams in the bottom.
Kuri-kinton, however, requires no such attention to detail. Boil some Japanese-style sweet potatoes, peeled and in pieces, until fork tender. Drain. Add a fair amount of sugar to taste, and optionally, a splash of mirin; I recommend adding a pinch of salt to add some richness. Smash with a fork or potato masher while still quite hot (about 160F sounds good to me).
When you have a nice, smooth paste, you will then incorporate some chestnuts. For convenience, canned or jarred chestnuts preserved in syrup work well; the syrup should be drained, and may used in something else if you so desire. Otherwise, you’re welcome to attempt to make them from scratch by boiling in your own syrup; this requires very careful peeling, and even with my nifty Japanese chestnut peeler I rarely quite get that right. I’ll save the chestnut peeling for roasted chestnuts or things that require a less sweet starting point.
You can serve the kuri-kinton warm, but it’s more typically served at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Kurikinton requires no artfulness in presentation and can simply be spooned onto a plate. If you feel so inclined, however, you may shape the kurikinton into little balls or other shapes. I chose to highlight one chestnut in the center.
I don’t know how I got so busy today, but a huge number of Internet orders came in last night, and I also had to rush off an order to a special event on the East Coast. A company picked up my green tea white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies (made with matcha) for a film premiere.
It didn’t help that I had a bit of an office supply shortage. Yesterday I ran out of ordinary paper and started printing invoices and shipping labels on bright yellow paper. This meant that at some point today I also needed to make a trip to get more paper.
After making my final dropoff, I met up with a friend who is attending classes with Urasenke Seattle, and I played the role of clueless guest at one of their Thursday night classes. In Japan I usually consumed matcha in tea shops, not tea ceremony, so I have a lot to learn even just to be a properly dignified guest. Fortunately, the instructors are both patient and informative. Since I had a fresh batch of cookies, I left some behind for other people to enjoy.
Of course, I got home quite late, and dinner was ready around 9:30 pm. I was in the mood for comfort food, though I suppose something Spanish would have been appropriate considering the hour.
I made a quick macaroni and cheese, using pennette instead of elbow macaroni, and topped with buttered panko. I snuck a little bit of wasabi in there because I was out of regular horseradish.
I don’t customarily plan an entire three course meal around a single ingredient, except to celebrate some seasonal excess, like fantastic tomatoes or the fall mushroom season.
However, over the last month or two, I started to want to push the boundaries of my usual matcha adventures…
I’ve become comfortable letting matcha play a role in sweets, cocktails, and so on, and I have done a matcha flavored cream sauce before, but I never really let it play a starring role in a planned meal. I wanted to test the capacity of matcha to play different roles. In addition to its obvious applications in desserts and sweets, it also has herbal and spice-like qualities I wanted to explore. I thought maybe I would revisit my matcha cream sauce again, but this time make some homemade gnocchi instead of throwing together a quick lunch with some dry pasta from my pantry. In this case, I could let the matcha serve the role of an herb. I also wanted to use it as a seasoning, so I thought maybe a simple tempura would be nice. And I couldn’t really envision a three course meal highlighting matcha without it serving a role as a dessert flavoring, so I decided to go way back in my repertoire to produce a green tea cheesecake. I had made a matcha mousse in Germany in 1996 or so, but I think it wan’t until 1998 or so when I decided to make a cheesecake with it.
When I first attended FoodEx and Hoteres Japan back in 2004, I was intrigued by the idea of a matcha-jio, or matcha seasoned salt. The primary suggested application was as a seasoning for tempura, but I have also seen it used to season oborodoufu (custard tofu) served in small portions. I don’t really make tempura all that often, but I thought that tempura could be analogous to a “fritto misto”, and since tempura was itself a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese cooking, it seemed fitting as a gateway between the European and Japanese elements of the meal I envisioned.
Even though I’m at Uwajimaya at least weekly, I don’t really know where to find matcha salt in Seattle. I do, however, have a small mortar and pestle, and a fairly substantial supply of matcha for cooking, since I’ve been functioning as a sales broker for Three Tree Tea. So I ground some salt up to a fine snowflake-like powder, and combined it with a fairly substantial proportion of matcha for cooking (grade A).
I spotted some freshly harvested local green beans (ingen), and some well packed Chinese lotus root (renkon). For color contrast I thought a few slices of carrot would be nice. I decided to make tempura the “old fashioned” way, which is not with a batter, but by bathing the vegetables in very cold water with a beaten egg, and dipping into flour. This allows for a very thin coating that allows the colors to come through. I did sprinkle everything a tiny amount of salt after frying before plating.
A few weeks ago at La Medusa, Hiromi and I had a nice “sappari” sauced pasta made with a fava bean cream, served with salt-marinated fava beans. I thought it was a good model for what I had in mind for my gnocchi.
For the pasta, I wanted the matcha to function much like rosemary or thyme or any other herb would work in a sauce. My goal was to make it recognizable if you were familiar with it, just strong enough that you would miss it if it weren’t there. So I chose to use a very small amount of cutting-board minced garlic (roughly half a clove), 2 tbsp. butter, 2–3 tbsp. cream (unmeasured), and a bit of parmesan. I prepared matcha by whisking about 3/4 tsp. of the powder in about 1/4 cup of my pasta water. I had some salt-water boiled edamame, which I had dropped in an ice bath after cooking. After boiling the gnocchi, which were a simple potato-based gnocchi with no special seasoning, I combined them with the edamame and the sauce and kept cooking a couple more minutes in the cream sauce (adjusting salt as needed). As a tea, matcha can become bitter or astringent when cooked for a long time, so I combined it into the sauce just before adding the gnocchi.
Gnocchi seem an ideal gateway between Japanese and Italian cuisine. The mild sweetness of the potatoes in gnocchi and the sweet-savory nature of “dango” or Japanese dumplings seemed to make the medium even more fitting. In fact, the first time I made a matcha cream sauce a few weeks ago, I used a tiny amount of sugar (1/4–1/2 tsp) just to make the sauce smoother. This time I skipped that. If someone served me a matcha cream pasta at a restaurant, I would be happy with either choice. The sauce was simple, clean-tasting, and slightly herby without any noticeable astringency.
In the morning I baked a moderately-sweetened green tea cheesecake. I am not a fan of the increasingly ubiquitous super-sweet cheesecakes. Matcha does need a bit of sugar for balance in sweets, so I did use a tiny bit more than if I were just doing a simple lemon zest cheesecake that might be topped with some fruit.
The base of the matcha cheesecake was essentially 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, 2 tbsp. sour cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 2 level tsp. matcha whipped with the softened cream cheese and sugar, a few drops pure vanilla extract, and one egg. I made a simple graham cracker crust. I used two very small (maybe 4”) springform pans. After the cheesecake came out of the oven, I made a sour cream and sugar topping which had additional matcha blended in. I served about 1/2 of the small cheesecake per person, which was more than really necessary but not overwhelming. Just before serving, I dusted a bit more matcha on top and on the plate.
The final product: Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).
Dinner is served!
This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is tea as an ingredient, hosted by A La Cuisine, so please take a look at what other folks have imagined. By Japanese standards, my dishes are probably slightly conventional but still somehow very much my own, so I'm sure you'll find some more radical uses of tea over there.
I wanted to make sure I made it to Fresh Flours on their opening day, so I came for a late breakfast with my roommate. The space was jumping; a steady stream of adventurous joggers, baby-stroller wielding couples, and meandering neighborhood residents flowed through, and decimated most of the available pastry selection in short order.
There were a number of tempting things, but I got started with two of the more Japanese-ish fusions, and my roommate chose a sibling of the Almond Brioche Toast I first tried at Essential Bakery, where Keiji (Fresh Flours owner and baker) has previously worked.
The cautious use of sugar was a big plus. The fact that this place is in my neighborhood will make it a frequent destination for me… but I better walk there in the future or it will make me fat quickly. I had a morning latte, which was very nice; it’s made with Victrola coffee.
Below: Matcha macaron, kabocha muffin, and almond brioche toast by Fresh Flours.
I made a small delivery to complete the order of my new customer, Les Cadeaux Gourmets, in Queen Anne. They have picked up both my dragon beard candy and the Matcha Latte from Three Tree Tea, so I went and helped them with setting up a display stand and I dropped off the second part of their order, which is the Matcha Latte.
Last night I was playing around a bit and I made my second attempt at an Irish Matcha. When the weather was still cool, it occurred to me that a classic Irish coffee, made with a bit of brown sugar and coffee, then floated with cream, was only a short stretch from my infused gin, and considering that a Matcha Latte works quite well with whole milk, and matcha itself works well with desserts like cheesecake and ice cream. I’ve established that Matcha and gin works well, so I didn’t think it would be too much of a stretch to this.
I haven’t yet managed a decent photo, but I wanted to leave at least some visual impression, so here we go. I’m quite fond of this drink, but I think it will be more fun in winter.
Boil some water, and pour 4 oz. into measuring cup. Add the 2 tsp. Matcha Latte mix and stir until blended. Pour this matcha blend into a glass. Carefully float cream atop.
If, for example, you don’t have the same Matcha Latte mix as I do, try whisking furiously about 1/2 tsp of matcha into the water, then add 1.5 tsp. sugar. For a more Irish effect, use brown sugar. The flavor profile of brown sugar is somewhat similar to kokutou/kurozatou, /Japanese “black sugar”, because of the molasses content, so I would expect that to work fairly well.
I made these matcha muffins this morning, and we used up some recently made shira-tama and leftover ogura-an by placing them in the muffin batter. I think I first tried matcha muffins about 6 or 7 years ago at Kimura-ya in Ginza.
They actually looked substantially more matcha green before being hyper-illuminated, so I might reshoot these at some point when I get around to making some more, and try not to overexpose them so much.
Jason’s Matcha-An Muffins
1–1/2 cups flour 2/3 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 stick butter, melted 1/2 tsp baking powder 2 tsp Matcha for Cooking 1/4 tsp salt
Ogura-an or your preferred type of anko (sweetened azuki bean puree), about 1/2 cup
Mix with a fork to a lumpy consistency, taking care not to develop strands of gluten. I filled a 24–piece mini-muffin pan with this amount of batter, using about a tablespoon of batter per pan. Using two spoons, press a bout a teaspoon of anko into the batter. We also snuck a few homemade shiratama into some of the muffins; when baked they taste kind of like yakimochi.
Bake at 375F (180c) for 22–25 minutes, until edges are browned. You can test one muffin with a toothpick.
Breakfast also included some leftover black raspberry pie, some very orange jidori no tamago medama-yaki (sunny side up orange eggs from very well-fed hens) with a little Ritrovo truffle salt, and watermelon.
Hiromi and I spent the afternoon kayaking yesterday with Jennifer… we made our way from Portage Bay to the arboretum, then up to Madison Park and back. Surprisingly, three hours in the sun didn’t roast anybody. It was Hiromi’s first time on a kayak, so Jennifer gave a basic lesson to Hiromi while I was waiting in line to rent a 3rd kayak at Agua Verde.
Afterward I made a late dinner to take advantage of some decent but early heirloom tomatoes… insalata caprese, a salad with grilled figs, tomatoes and butter leaf lettuce, some bruised tomato garlic bruschetta, various leftover cheeses, and some tomato cream pasta with basil, just to complete the tomato-heavy theme. The day before we also had some tomatoes, but on ciabatta… also an egg white fritatta with morels and some earthy smoky cheese, and a salad with a crushed raspberry vinaigrette and lavender fennel cheese.
We also had a nice dinner at La Carta de Oaxaca on Friday night… preceded by cocktails at Fu Kun Wu. That seems to be a theme every time I end up at La Carta… the waiting list demands stopping somewhere else for a drink. But we got a table in 30 minutes… an impressive feat for a group of 7 on a Saturday night.
About 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker, and not much longer thereafter I found myself making green tea ice creams on a regular basis. This used to be an expensive endeavor: 30 grams of matcha bought in the U.S. usually costs $7.50–$15.00 for average quality matcha, which is roughly two tablespoons. In Japan I can usually get ordinary matcha for $6–8, and sometimes I could get bigger sizes for not much more money. But happily, since I now work with company focused on matcha products, I have access to Matcha meant primarily for cooking applications, and this makes green tea ice cream a far lesser extravagance.
I think two tablespoons of the cooking matcha works out to about $1.88 for 1.5 quarts if you buy it by the pound. Including the cost of organic milk, heavy cream, and organically produced sugar, I think I spent about $5–5.50 for this at retail prices. That’s still substantially less expensive than buying 3 pints of average-quality green tea ice cream at about $3–4/pint, and with a much more substantial green tea flavor, much more fresh, and far fewer additives.
For a 1.2–1.5 quart batch, I once typically used about 1–1.5 tablespoons of the tea ceremony matcha that I used to use prior to having access to culinary matcha. Now I am using an indulgent 2 tablespoons, which provides an excellent balance of the bitterness and sweetness. If you’re really looking for a heavier matcha flavor, you might use a bit more, but be judicious. You shouldn’t try to replicate the bitterness of straight matcha; you’re just trying to use the matcha as an accent.
I never previously thought blending matcha and vanilla should be controversial, but my roommate seems to be sensitive to heavy vanilla use in green tea flavored things, so I’ve since reduced the amount I use in my own matcha recipes.
Jason’s Matcha Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream 2 cups whole milk 1 cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) 2 heaping tbsp. Matcha for cooking, Grade A 1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Whisk the matcha for cooking with the milk and sugar, making sure the matcha dissolves. Stir in the cream and vanilla. If using a frozen-canister based ice cream, maker, chill the ice cream in the refrigerator for another hour to make sure it is sufficiently cold for processing, or hold in the freezer about 15 minutes.
Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. This produces about 1.25–1.5 quarts of ice cream, depending on expansion. Make sure this is appropriate for your ice cream maker and adjust proportionally to your capacity.
If you’d like a more custardy ice cream, you might use an egg yolk or two in your recipe, perhaps reducing the cream a bit to compensate for the extra fat.
If you are using Ippuku Matcha Latte mix, you will use about 1/2 cup matcha latte mix and reduce the sugar content to a scant 2/3 cup.
I was too much a slacker to photograph either endeavor, but yesterday morning I made some buckwheat waffles, and at night I realized that I still had a bit of batter left. I thinned the batter a bit and added some chopped pickled takana and leeks, a tiny bit more salt, and produced something along the lines of pajeon or okonomiyaki, dressable with Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce. The buckwheat or soba flour added a nice nuttiness.
This morning, however, I was resourceful enough to get my camera ready. I made a matcha-kinako waffle batter (powdered green tea and toasted soybean powder waffle batter) dressed up with a little bit of matcha whipped cream and kuromitsu (black sugar honey syrup). I’m a little bit low on kuromitsu, so I substituted a bit of buckwheat honey when I ran out of kuromitsu, but the effect was similar.
The green tea of course is more visible in the cross section. By the time I got this far, I was too hungry to photograph it.
Sift dry ingredients into bowl, whisk egg, melted butter, and milk in separate bowl. Mix wet and dry ingredients briefly with a fork until mostly consistent. Bake in a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions. In my small waffle iron, this makes a bit more than 2-7” diameter thin waffles. The recipe can readily be doubled or otherwise multipled..
You can substitute about 4 teaspoons “Matcha latte mix” for the sugar and matcha. I used about 1 teaspoon matcha latte mix for 3 tbsp. of cream to make the whipped cream topping. Dust with powdered sugar and straight matcha.
Continuing my Matcha theme, I made these cookies with cooking matcha, white chocolate and pine nuts.
Jason's Matcha-Matsu-White Choko Cookies
½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter ¼ tsp salt ½ cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) (roughly 80g) 1 egg ½ tsp. pure vanilla essence (some may want to reduce this to avoid competition with green tea flavor) 1 tsp. Matcha for Cooking by Three Tree Tea 1 tsp. baking powder 1 cup flour (roughly 150 g) 3.5 oz. (100g) white chocolate, chopped 2 tbsp. raw pine nuts (matsu-no-mi in Japanese)
Cream butter with salt and sugar. Add matcha, egg and vanilla and mix until consistent. Stir in baking powder and flour. Stir in pine nuts and white chocolate.
Drop in 1 tbsp. portions on a baking sheet with room for 3" diameters. Bake at 375F (190C) 12-15 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Rest before removing from sheet. Yields 16-20 cookies.
Because of the potential for oxidation of the matcha I don't recommend storing a supply of the dough, but you may consider freezing in an airtight container. I have made similar cookies without the white chocolate before, but with a touch more sugar.
If it’s more convenient, you can use Three Tree Tea’s Matcha Latte mix instead of the cooking matcha. Use 4 teaspoons of the matcha latte mix and only use 3 level tablespoons sugar. In the pictured version, I used Grade A or “gold” Three Tree Tea cooking matcha, but with something crispy and low-moisture like a cookie, you should get good results from the Grade B.
Last night I mixed about 1/4 cup Matcha Latte mix with a couple of tablespoons of warm water, stirred it a bit, then I added about 3 cups (or roughly 750 ml) of dry gin and shook it up a bit. I will infuse the mixture for about 7 days and then keep it in the freezer. I want to minimize the risk of oxidation and also keep the flavor green-tea like.
I’ve made this type of drink once before using about a tablespoon of matcha and maybe 3/4 cup sugar (it was a sweeter drink last time). I usually drank it after dinner served extremely cold, just pulled from the freezer. In that case it was more of a strong liqueur; it had a heady green tea flavor but was sweet enough that it needed to be blended with some shochu or vodka to cut the sugar.
I will infuse it for about 7 days. After that I will store it in the freezer to minimize additional oxidation, so that I can keep the color as green as possible. I think it’s discolored a bit since I first made it last night since it was more of a emerald color originally, but a little bit of color change is probably unavoidable.
I’m hoping it will make for a nice martini, just shaken and poured into a glass washed with vermouth. The last version of this I made worked for a martini but was more of a digestiv-style drink.