和菓子 (wagashi) is the Japanese style of confectionary. The main ingredients used in the creation of wagashi are soy, red azuki beans, white azuki beans, sugar, sakura, and natural gelatin. For the most part, wagashi is flour free (unless you make dorayaki, pancakes with red bean filling). Wagashi are often made according to season and served with hot green tea to counterbalance their bright, sweet overtones of azuki and sugar. The best part, in my opinion, is that wagashi can be either molded by hand or placed into special pine molds which makes the activity feel more like play and less like work 😀
Hashiba Jirou, confectioner of Japanese sweets at Marumiya, spent two hours showing Japanese and foreign residents how to make a variety of bean paste based wagashi (luckily for me, no rice). The seminar reminded me of an edible version of ceramics – for anyone who knows the pain of keeping clay at just the right level of moisture (too dry and it cracks, too wet and it loses sculpting functionality) the bean paste acted in much the same manner. Our plates were plasticwrapped to prevent our colorful bean pastes from over drying and a bowl for finger/hand dipping provided all the extra moisture we would need as the molding commenced. Bean paste is decidedly softer, making it easier to retain moisture better than clay, but these traits also come with a less positive flip side: it’s easier to over moisturizer and thereby reduce it to runny, sticky mess if not careful. Also, the colors bleed into each other with more difficulty but can spread over each other more easily. Or in other words: blending for artistry = difficult, but like Playdough once the colors stick to each other they’re hard to separate, this is largely due to the moisture. Or so I suspect.
We made a koi, a pine molded fan, cherries, a rose that stumped us all on the same scale as rocket science, and kabuto (samurai hat). My favorite was, hands down, the koi because KOI. It had an adorably puckered fishy mouth, a chocolate centerpiece eye, and sweet red bean paste filling. Being taught by a master in the field was a unique experience and absolutely better than my usual method of ‘buy the ingredients, say a little prayer, and hope for the best’. And like all new things, it opened a temporary window into a world of possibility. I would like to make my own version of wagashi in my own kitchen someday 😀 but it may not take place of my cookie making. There is something about working with flour that I love, in the way that the dough feels and the uncertainty of anything turning out right until the very end.
ALSO! I got to keep a magic fan that Hashiba-sensei hand made!!! Open out the fan on one side and it looks like any other ordinary fan. Now reverse the opening movement and the individual components of the fan lock out of place to make it look like the cloth covering it’s frame have come apart completely! Pictures to come later…