I have long had a fascination with wagashi, Japan’s traditional confectionary, though it took me several years to actually get the acquired taste for them. I never had more than a passing desire to make them, however, until I saw that Ayuko of Buddha Bellies Cooking School Tokyo was offering a hands-on tutorial of the sweets I suddenly couldn’t get enough of. Having already taken the Buddha Bellies’ bento class – a very fun and engaging experience – I decided that the next time I was in Tokyo, I’d make sure I learned how to create my own wagashi.
And barely one month into my residence in Tokyo, I have already made good on that promise. 🙂 I made my way to Buddha Bellies last week to partake in a traditional Japanese sweets class, a relatively new offering on the school’s now substantial class “menu”.
Ayuko began our class with a discussion of wagashi and how its designs tie into the seasons. I was surprised to learn that late August was technically autumn according to the wagashi calendar, so we were actually going to be making chrysanthemums – a fall flower – as one of our creations. Ayuko showed us both and anko (bean past filling) and glutinous pounded rice and starch we’d be using to wrap or form our wagashi and then we got to work.
And work it was! Making wagashi involves taking a “dough” called nerikiri that is made of steamed rice flour and white bean paste. And then you knead it. And “cut” it into balls, which you pray dry out just enough so that when you roll it all back together and need it again, it sticks to your fingers just a little bit less.
Ayuko was done kneading hers in record time. The rest of us took at least 45-50 minutes. Wagashi is labor intensive!
After that, we dyed our nerikiri. We used simple food coloring to create various shades and set separate portions aside to form our wagashi.
We made three basic shapes – a chrysanthemum, a kinton and one that looked like a drawstring bag. The chrysanthemum was the easiest. We took a lump of green-tea flavored bean paste and wrapped the dough around it. Then we took a sharp-edged wooden tool and made lines to resemble the petals of a flower. The pouch-like wagashi was also fairly easy, though to make the ruffles at the top we had to wrap it in a paper towel and twist it into shape.
The kinton, on the other hand … whew! We pressed a bit of the dough through a colander to get a handful of fine thin “strings”. Then we took chopsticks and attached these strings one or two at a time to the bean paste inside. Not easy. In the least. I mushed half of mine down without realizing it – luckily Ayuko came to my rescue and made it look somewhat presentable by the end!
As our wagashi would last up to three days, I brought mine home and savored them over the course of a few meals. I have bought wagashi on occasion during my time in Japan but being able to look at the sweet and know I created it myself? THAT was something to be proud of. (And despite their appearance, my wagashi tasted great! 😛 )
You can visit the Buddha Bellies website to sign up for your own wagashi experience or choose a class from one of the many others on offer.