Wagashi: Kohaku-kan and Umeshu Zeri

Summer Wagashi: Kohaku-kan, amber youkan and Umeshu Zeri, plum wine jelly

Kohaku-kan, translated “amber jelly” is a traditional Japanese sweet made with kanten (seaweed gelatin), this kind of wagashi are especially popular in summer. The attraction of this sweet is its transparency, the crystal-like texture and the feeling of coolness. Kohaku-kan is made with “kogemitsu”, this is caramelized (or even burned) sugar syrup, it gives the sweet the amber color, also a light caramel flavour. Unfortunately the caramel taste was not strong enough, I somehow thought, it will be stronger, nor only a hint(I think, the taste could be improved a lot if more sugar is caramelised). I also used a little mugi-cha (roasted barley tea), the tea achieved a more intense, deeper flavour but also a darker colour. If you don’t have mugi-cha at home you could use other tea like houicha (roasted green tea). There are also recipes for kohaku-kan which use brown sugar like sukanat and a little lemon juice, next time I will try this out, it was a little too sweet for my taste .

The base of this kind of wagashi is always kingyoku-kan (also called nishiki-kan, last year I made a blue nishiki-kan), a transparent kanten jelly, this is also the basic recipe for many yōkan kinds. Kingyoku-kan mixed with koshi-an(smooth, sweet bean paste) is called neri youkan(bean paste “jelly”), it is a very popular Japanese sweet. There are also few other yokan kinds like 道明寺羹 dōmyōji-kan with dōmyōji-ko flour, 吉野羹 yoshino-kan with kuzu starch or果実羹 kajitsu-kan with fruits or syrup. To create a kanten wagashi with a soft, melting texture you will need a good quality kanten (agar-agar). There are few different types: ito-kanten(thread agar), kaku-kanten(rod agar), fureku kanten(flakes) and kona kanten, powdered agar-agar(please click on the links, there you can see the pictures how all these agar kinds look, unfortunately it is not translated yet). Powdered agar-agar is easy to get but not always suitable (there are also huge differences in the quality of the powder), the texture could become very firm. Best choices are thread agar(not easy to obtain) or agar flakes, these are much easier to get, usually they are sold in organic food shops and the quality is very similar to thread agar. It is a fantastic, vegan gelatin substitute for not only Japanese sweets; you can use it for all kinds of desserts like puddings, jellies or creams. There also are kanten flakes which were freeze-dried, these have the best quality and don’t need any soaking at all(I can get this kind in Germany, don’t know about other countries). Ito kanten needs to be soaked overnight, also usual (not freeze-dried) kanten flakes needs some soaking(1-2 hours), otherwise they won’t dissolve properly.

Kohaku-kan recipe

220ml water or 120ml water and 100ml mugi-cha
4,5g ito kanten(thread agar) or fureku kanten(agar flakes)
170g white sugar
10g mizuame, starch syrup
10g white sugar
40ml water
2 tablespoons kuro mame amani, sweetened black beans

For the mugi-cha flavoured kohaku-kan I used 100ml mugi-cha and 120 ml cold water, instead of mizuame(starch syrup) you can use rice syrup.

Soak kanten in cold water overnight, then discard the water. If using agar-agar flakes, place these in 200ml of water and let soak for 1-2 hours, use the same water for preparing the jelly(don’t drain it).
Place soaked kanten and water(or mugi-cha and water mix) in a pot and bring it to a boil, let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir the inside with a wood spatula, especially around the bottom of the pan, until the agar completely dissolves in the water, there shouldn’t be any pieces left.
Add the sugar and bring it to a boil again till the sugar dissolves.
Now boil the liquid down until it the temperature reaches 100 °C and a small part of the liquid will evaporate, then add mizuame(starch syrup).
Kogemitsu syrup: heat and caramelise the sugar in an other pan, then slowly add 40ml water and boil it to dissolve the caramelised sugar. Add the kogemitsu to the transparent liquid.
Pour the hot liquid inside of a nagashikan(rinsed with cold water) or an other container and scatter the sweetened beans, if the liquid is hot they will sink to the bottom, if you cool it down a little, the beans will stay on the top.
Cool the kohaku-kan down to room temperature and then place it in a refrigerator till the jelly hardens, then cut in pieces and decorate.

The small green maple leaves are made from green yokan-kinton, this is a special kind for decorating wagashi(recipe follows), the small white dots are mijinko flour.

Umeshu zeri, plum wine jelly

200ml water
300 ml umeshu, Japanese plum wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
80g sugar
5g fureku kanten(agar-agar flakes)
3-4 umeshu plums

For this  simple but very refreshing dessert/wagashi I used umeshu dento, Japanese plum wine, this kind also contains whole ume fruits. If you don’t have umeshu dento, you could just use pure plum wine with fresh fruits like plums or peaches. This jelly is soft and delicate, very nice served really cold on hot summer days.

Place cold, filtered water in a pot, add agar-agar flakes and let soak for 1 hour. Bring to a boil then add the umeshu wine and sugar. Boil the liquid for about 5 minutes to evaporate the alcohol, then add fresh lemon juice. Pour the hot liquid in small bowls, place an ume fruit inside and let cool, then put the sweet in the refrigerator for about 3-4 hours or overnight. Serve cold, topped with little cream. The topping here is an easy, vegan cream made from soaked cashew nuts, almond milk and a little wasabon sugar and vanilla.

For the umeshu-kan wagashi I boiled the liquid down a little longer and used such cookie cutter(dessert ring in German) like this one. Be careful when eating these umeshu plums, they are very alcoholic and make you tipsy really fast! :-D


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