Wagashi: Ajisai, Hydrangea
Tea ceremony Jonamagashi “Ajisai”
The summer is back for few days in Germany, so I decided to make some last summer wagashi for this year. My seasonal “wagashi fatigue” seems to be over. This is rather strange, but it is not the first time, it happens from time to time and I need a break from Japanese sweets. This tiredness usually lasts 3-4 months(one season), then it is gone, and I’m again full with energy and ideas to create wagashi. But, if I make some sweets while it lasts they usually don’t turn out well! Strange, isn’t it??
This kind of elegant and refined sweets is called jōgashi or jōnamagashi. Jōgashi is a type of confection which is generally served during a Japanese tea ceremony, it is designed to reflect the changing seasons, mostly seasonal and natural motives like leaves and flowers are used. There are many different types of jōgashi, I have often the impression, many people think, most of them are made from nerikiri(a soft dough made from shiro-an, white bean paste and gyūhi, soft and sweet mochi). It is true, but beside nerikiri, jōgashi can be made of many other ingredients including kanten, gyūhi mochi, youkan, sweetened beans, kuzu etc. Some jōgashi are rather complicated to make and you will need special tools, but there are also few really easy sweets, these can be prepared at home and served to guests as accompaniment to tea.
Such special wagashi like these always have wonderful appearance and often very poetic names. “Ajisai” means hydrangea, in the background you can see the real flower, it was the last one in my garden. Many ajisai wagashi use two different colours, like soft shades of pink, purple or blue, other ajisai types are made from kinton(bean paste strings) or nerikiri, there are also few very abstract types . Hydrangea is a very popular wagashi motive for summer time, I made the “traditional” shape and the crystal-like kanten cubes are flavoured with a little rose syrup and a drop rose water(literally only a drop). For the flavouring you can also use elderflower syrup, this is very delicious. Just be careful with using acidic flavouring, acid will cause the kanten not to gel properly. And, please note that the taste of wagashi is always natural and delicate, this sweets shouldn’t contain strong artificial flavours. Most wagashi, especially jōgashi are intended as an accompaniment for green tea like matcha, but also other types of high quality Japanese tea are suitable. A too strong taste would overpower the tea itself.
I decided to make small series of articles how to prepare such special sweets, and would like to start with the simple ones, these are made from kanten jelly and white/red bean paste. Imagine your guests’ faces when you serve them such small jewels! Most of these sweets are also vegan.
How to make Wagashi “Ajisai”
For 6 pieces
3g ito-kanten or kanten flakes
100g white sugar
2-3 drops red and blue food coloring
2 tablespoons mizuame(rice or corn syrup)
2 tablespoons rose or elderflower syrup
1-2 drops rose water
100g shiro-an, white bean paste
Tools: nagashikan(15cmx10cm) or any other similar size glass or plastic container, sharp knife, pointed chopsticks, leaf cookie cutter.
I used kanten(agar-agar) flakes here, you can also use other kanten/agar-agar forms: ito(thread) or stick kanten, these should be soaked overnight in cold water(more about that here kohaku-kan). Kona kanten(agar powder) can be also used(please get a good quality agar powder, some brands don’t create a clear jelly).
Place the kanten(agar-agar) flakes and water in a heavy bottom pan and let soak(covered) for 1 hour. Then heat the water and kanten and cook over low heat until the kanten is dissolved, stirring from time to time. Be careful that the mixture doesn’t boil too high as it will become too thick. After the kanten is dissolved add the sugar and continue to cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, then add mizuame(corn syrup), flower syrup and aroma. Turn off the heat and mix in a small amount of food coloring, I used a soft purple tone. In my opinion, the best colors result if you mix very small amounts of red and blue food coloring(I do it in a small bowl, to check the tone).
Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a nagashikan, app. 0,5cm high and let cool, then place in the refrigerator for few hours or overnight.
Remove the kanten jelly and cut in 0,5cm strips and then into small cubes.
Shape white bean paste(shiro-an) into small balls, every ball should be around 25g. Jōgashi are usually around 40g(they are bigger than pralines, my first attempt was too small).
Using chopsticks or even your fingers arrange the kanten cubes around the bean paste ball, like in the picture. Press lightly and try to work clean as possible. After the sweet is done, cut small leaves out with a cookie cutter(I used a kiku/chrysanthemum leaf cutter here) and use a little corn syrup to glue the leaf on the flower. The green leafs are made from youkan-kinton, this is a special yōkan kind for decorating sweets, it’s made with less water, you can use green colored nerikiri instead(this recipe isn’t translated yet). On the pictures there are 2 different ajisai wagashi, the smaller one has a chrysanthemum leaf (and is a little too small).
You can cool the sweets before serving, please enjoy with some Japanese green tea!
The other wagashi is called “seiryū”, translated “clear stream”, it represents cool, running water in a small stream, with some ayu fish and green maple leaves. It is made with dōmyōji-kan, this is clear kanten jelly(kingyoku) with dōmyōji-ko flour inside, the jelly is then cut in stripes and wrapped around a bean paste ball. If you don’t have dōmyōji-ko at hand, you could substitute it with tapioca pearls,but I don’t know how the taste would turn out. The taste of this sweet is very nice, a little “mochi-like”.
It is very important for me, to blog more in english in the future, I really need to get better. It was rather exhausting to write this post, I need more practice! I will post german recipes too, but I would like to write more in english.