Sweets Too Beautiful to Eat
Japan has the most amazing sweets in the world. The Japanese deserts are not only mouthwatering and delicious, but some of them look so beautiful that it might be hard to make yourself eat such edible art.
Before the sugar became available in 1860, Japanese, as always so creative, developed a number of incredibly tasty desserts which were based only on then available natural ingredients such as fruit, sweet beans and rice. Therefore, the original meaning of kashi (sweets) means literally "fruit and nuts", as no sugar was used until Portuguese merchants introduced it to Japan. Thanks to such circumstances, Japanese diet remains one of the most healthy one even in the category of deserts - despite the fact that Japan is the largest confectionery market in the Asian Pacific region, average Japanese consumes only 100 calories of sweets per day due to their much lower sugar content.
One of the most traditional type of Japanese sweets are wagashi (和菓子), the confections that are to be enjoyed in a combination with a cup of good green tea, ideally in a relaxed atmosphere of the tea house. These confections can be of many various shapes and consistencies, as well as can contain a number of diverse ingredients. But all of wagashi have some common characteristics - the meticulous preparation to combine the tastes and incredibly beautiful artistic presentation.
Even with the common availability of chocolate and sugar, sweet azuki bean paste (anko) remains one of the main ingredient for the wagashi sweets. Many of the sweets can be purchased in cafes and special sweet shops, but some might only be available on certain holidays or during a particular season and even might be sold only in one particular region or specific place. Kyoto has particularly many sweets shops, while the Nakamise shopping street in Asakusa is a good place to sample Japanese traditional sweets in Tokyo.
As Japan´s most vital ingredient, rice based sweets are the most common among wagashi and other deserts. Mochi - rice cakes - are made literally by pounding a special variety of sticky rice (mochigome) into a dough-like mass, which was a very labor-intensive production method until special machines were invented and employed after the industrial revolution.
Mochi can be a very tasty dessert on its own, served cold or toasted and sweetened with toppings such as kinako (derived from roasted sweet beans). But even more often mochi is used for daifuku - rice cakes filled with various sweets fillings, including bean paste, fresh berries and even ice cream.
Green tea candy
There are so many more types of Japanese sweets, that whole books have been written about them. And the creativity and artistry of Japanese confectioners just keep growing. The variety of ingredients that can be found on the dessert plates include everything from sakura leafs and blossoms, to bamboo, pumpkin, soy sauce and even onion.
- 4 tablespoons of sugar
- 3 tablespoons of rice flour
- 6 tablespoons of water
- 150 g of vanilla (or any other) ice cream
- food coloring (if desired)
- Mix together sugar, flour and 5 tablespoons of water into a homogeneous mass. And now is the time to add food coloring if you want!
- Cover the mass with a moist paper towel and put into a microwave for 2 minutes at 600W.
- Add the last tablespoon of water, mix well and microwave under a moist paper towel for another 1 minute.
- Let the mass cool a bit while constantly mixing it, but do not let it cool too much as it will loose the elasticity!
- Sprinkle some rice flour on the table covered with a plastic wrap and put some flour on your hands too to prevent sticking. Now you can shape the mass into uniform flat pieces. You would need to pound lightly and stretch the dough in order to shape it, the thinner the dough the better.
- In the middle of each dough piece place a ball of your favorite ice cream and pinch the edges together.