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 Mochi (桜餅)

The Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura, is celebrated for its fleeting weeks of beauty.  Sakura season varies based on geographic locations, and the bloom forecast is tracked on Japanese public television.  I have been lucky enough to experience sakura in Tokyo and Kyoto.  My favorite place to view them was Heian Jingu, a Shinto shrine in Kyoto.  I have included a few photos from my visit there.

Sakura season revolves around food as much as it does the namesake flower.  Picnics under the sakura trees and sakura-flavored frappuccinos at Starbucks are unavoidable during the few weeks of sakura frenzy.  The most essential sakura treat, however, is sakura mochi (桜餅).  Some of my favorite memories from Kyoto involved sitting by the Kamogawa River with these pretty pink wagashi.

Both cherry blossoms and leaves are edible.  While shopping for sakura mochi ingredients at Mitsuwa Marketplace, I was disappointed to find out that they did not carry any pickled sakura leaves, the focal point of this wagashi.  A kindly employee suggested that I travel to Washington DC to harvest some of their blooms before the season was over.  This jogged my memory that my family had a cherry tree at home in Urbana, Illinois.  I used leaves and blossoms from that tree to make this wagashi.

sakura mochi sketch

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Sakura bouquet

 

Sakura soaking

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Sakura drying

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