Saturday, June 25, 2011

Japanese Sweets

Brownies, cheesecake, mile high lemon meringue pie, chocolate fudge cake... all these sweets conjure up images of classic American desserts. Chewy, crispy, creamy, fluffy, sticky, and all very sweet. Nothing wrong with sweet, but sometimes my teeth ache from eating something so sweet I feel the need to have to brush my teeth after. We are so accustomed to such sweet things we forget that all we need is something that just doesn't taste savoury to finish our meal.

This is when I discovered the art of Japanese sweets. I honestly didn't know much about Japanese sweets until I went to Japan. It opened my eyes as to what is considered a dessert. The words "lightly sweetened" is something they do well. Everything is sweetened just to the point that it brings out naturally the flavour of the ingredient they are using.
Mochi served with matcha tea

Mochi. It is simply a rice dough made from rice that's been pounded until a really sticky paste is formed. The result is a dough with a delicate chewiness to it. My favorite type of mochi is when it's a thin dough wrapped around a filling, usually sweet bean paste. There are a myriad of flavours you can find: chocolate, green tea, cinnamon, cherry blossom... there really is a flavour out there for everyone.
Our handmade confections, filled with sweet bean paste

A friend of mine in Japan also signed us up for a Japanese confectionary class. Everything was prepared, and all we had to do was assemble them. The dough we used was similar to mochi, but the rice used instead was in powder form. The result was a dough similar to marzipan in terms of texture and mouthfeel, and a little sweeter than mochi dough. The instructor showed us how to shape it into a cherry blossom that's also filled with sweet bean paste.
Shaved ice topped with ice cream

My all time favorite sweet I had in Japan was something similar to a parfait. It's built in a tall glass and filled with so many goodies. Green tea sponge cake, brown sugar jellies, candied chestnuts, mochi balls, vanilla ice cream, green tea ice cream, and topped with matcha whipped cream. The dessert was big and even though I shared it, I felt like I could eat the whole thing and not feel weighed down after. We also tried a refreshing shaved ice dessert topped with jellies, green tea ice cream, and Hojicha ice cream. (Hojicha is a green tea that's been roasted).

Anything sweet served after a meal is usually served with matcha tea. It's quite bitter and the idea is that the sweet needs something bitter to balance it. I left Japan with a different idea of what the definition of dessert really means. Something "not too sweet" is sometimes just what we need to finish our meal.

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