Nama Yatsuhashi (生八つ橋)

The first time I ate yatsuhashi, I was nestled in my hotel room in Kyoto during a Rotary student trip in 2010.  Purchased earlier that day at the bustling Kyoto Station, I had discovered these unique treats among the many modern green tea-flavored chocolates and candies that can be purchased throughout Japan.  Yatsuhashi stood out as a culinary oddity that I had to sample.

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Yatsuhashi means “eight bridges” in Japanese.  They are Kyoto’s most famous regional treat.  When I returned to Kyoto in 2013, I made a new discovery.

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In Gion, the old geisha district of Kyoto, there is a shop that gives out whole yatsuhashi treats as samples!  I frequented this shop whenever I could.  The shop featured yatsuhashi with banana mochi and chocolate filling as well as strawberry mochi with red bean filling, among many more delightful combinations.

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Traditional yatsuhashi features mochi that has a light cinnamon flavor.  It is filled with red bean paste.

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I made two batches of nama, or “raw” yatsuhashi.  One batch of the dough was made with brown sugar and the other with regular cane sugar.  Yatsuhashi dough can also be baked into a hard cookie.  I’ll save that recipe for another day!

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Instead of using red bean filling, I chose to use sakura (cherry blossom) flavored shiroan, or sweet white bean paste.

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Recipe
Dough Ingredients:
100 grams mochiko (glutinous rice flour), 60 grams sugar or light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 85 grams water
Other ingredients:
3 tablespoons kinako, 3-4 tablespoons tsubuan (red bean paste), 1 tablespoon extra cinnamon for sprinkling
Directions
1. Mix dry dough ingredients and add water.  Microwave for one minute.
2. Take out of microwave and mix thoroughly.  Then, microwave again for one minute and thirty seconds.
3. Mix again.  The dough should no longer stick to the sides of your bowl.
4. Form a ball and place the dough in plastic wrap.  Knead the wrapped dough.
5. Mix the kinako and extra cinnamon to use as flour.  Roll dough out into a flat sheet.
6. Cut dough into squares.  Put a small ball of tsubuan in the center of each square.  Moisten the perimeter of each square and fold two opposite corners together.

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Voila, turnover-style Japanese treats!

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Sakura Cookies

My favorite recipe from this summer by far has been this sakura butter cookie!  Because sakura blossoms are no longer in season, I ordered some pickled blossoms online.   After soaking them in water to get rid of excess salt, the blossoms offered the perfect flavor balance for the sweet cookie.  The pink-on-yellow color combination makes this the perfect light cookie for summer!  They paired perfectly with cold houji-cha (a variety of green tea).

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Kyoto seems so far away right now, but to me, the perfect beauty of these cookies replicates the perfect blossoms that drifted on to the pages of my homework as I studied on the bank of the Kamo River.  Like snowflakes, each blossom seemed to cast its own unique spell.  Each gust of wind offered several gentle distractions from my kanji lesson-of-the-day.  My go-to river perch offered a view of Kyoto’s iconic turtle-shaped rocks, which serve as stepping stones across the river.  With distractions like the sakura and the throngs of children and parents frolicking in the river, it’s amazing that I got any work done at all!

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Some of the gaps between the stepping stones seemed much larger than they appear.  Using crutches at the time, I made it over the river just once.  It was more than fulfilling!  I may need to incorporate these cute turtles into one of my future recipe designs.

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Around that time, I discovered a cafe called Saruya, which quickly became the place where I could hunker down and do all of my BA thesis proposal drafting.  When I think of sakura flowers, I also think of Saruya’s amazing coffee and latte art that reminded me of my most-loved Garth Williams childhood story books.

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It’s amazing how so many memories can come flooding back with one batch of cookies!  I highly recommend this recipe to anyone who has fond recollections of sitting outside in the springtime.  Biting into one cookie is almost like catching some spring sunshine on a Japanese river bank!

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Recipe

Ingredients:

90 grams unsalted butter, 50 grams granulated sugar, sakura essence, 1 pinch of salt, 1 egg yolk, 120 grams flour, 1 sakura flower for each cookie, fine sugar for dusting

Directions:

  1.  If store-bought, soak the pickled sakura flowers in a bowl of water to remove excess salt.  I soaked mine for about an hour.  After soaking, remove the sakura from the water and spread them out to dry on a hand towel or paper towel.
  2. Beat the butter, salt, and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Proceed to add the sakura essence and egg yolk.  For the sakura essence, I added four drops for a light flowery flavor.  Add more or less according to your taste.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Gradually mix in the flour until the dough is smooth.
  5. After chilling the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, roll it out and cut it into your desired shapes.
  6. After greasing a baking sheet, transfer the cookie shapes onto the baking sheet.  Press a sakura blossom onto each cookie shape.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.  After pulling them out of the oven, dust each cookie with decorative fine sugar.

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