Friday, August 9, 2013

Shiro-an 白餡, White Bean Paste

Recently, I've finally figured out how to whip up a nice bowl of matcha.  One that is not bitter and vegetal.  But with matcha, I need some Japanese sweets to go with my tea as per tradition.  This gives me the opportunity to finally explore the world of wagashi, Japanese traditional sweets, which are usually served with green tea or during tea ceremonies.

Wagashi touches on the five senses.  It is pleasing to the eyes, to the tongue, to the nose, to the mouth, and to the ears as denoted by The Art of the Five Senses.  Wagashi often also uses natural ingredients to colour and flavour, usually corresponds with the seasons.  So, this provides a different level of challenge for Meow.

One of the challenges of making wagashi is finding the ingredients.  We are lucky enough in this city that it has an Asian supermarket that carries most of the starches that is required.  And also the ever increasing trend of vegan and gluten free diet has made such what the West considered "alternative flours" more readily available and in good quality.  I was able to find sweet rice flour (mochiko 糯粉), another type of sweet rice flour but processed differently (shiratama-ko 白玉粉), soy flour (kinako きな粉), even Japanese brand potato starch (katakuriko 片栗粉).  Other flours like arrowroot flour (kuzu-ko 葛粉), or potato starch, white/brown rice flour are available from the gluten-free aisle.  Raw, whole ingredients are somewhat easy to find, however, if I want to be lazy and buy pre-made fillings or pre-mixes, I'm out of luck.  The best this city can do is sell red bean paste in the form of koshi-an (smooth), or tsubu-an (coarse).  This is fine and all, however, wagashi doesn't stop at red bean paste fillings.  Other flavoured paste fillings require the basic white bean paste, shiro-an (白餡), and then be flavoured.  So, Meow's wagashi journey started off with the basics - making shiro-an.

The process uncannily resembles my mother's Sunday chore of making soy bean milk.



Shiro-an (白餡)
Adapted from Issoan Tea Room
150 g lima beans or navy beans
water
sugar

coarse strainer
fine strainer
pastry cloth (not cheesecloth, too porous)

1. Weigh out your beans and soak it in plenty of water overnight, about 12 hours

2. Next day, strain out the water, put beans in a medium sized deep pot and fill it with water, about 1 inch above the beans


3. Bring pot to boil and add 200 mL of water, skim off any foam.


4. Bring to boil again and add 200 mL of water, skim off any foam.

5. On the third boil, take pot off the stove, strain out the water, rinse beans, return beans to pot and fill it with fresh cold water and allow the beans to sit for 5-10 minutes to remove any bitterness.



6. Strain out the water and fill the pot 3/4 full and simmer the beans until soft.  The beans should "dance" lightly, but not crazy.  The beans should end up soft so you can easily squish it between your fingers and its pasty.  Should take about half an hour.

7. Strain the beans with the coarse sieve.  Rinse out your pot and place it under the sieve.


8. Using a spatula, begin mashing, scraping and pushing the beans through the sieve.  The skins should stay behind.


9.  Add some water to the bean mush and swish it around to "wash" it

10.  Place a pot under the strainer and pass this bean-water mush through the fine strainer.  Scraping and pushing as you go


11.  Add some water to the bean mush and swish it around.  Then allow it to sit and settle.  You will see a division between the bean mush and the water


12.  Slowly and carefully, pour the water layer out.  No need to try and get all the water, just don't pour out the bean mush

13. Add water to the bean mush again and allow it to settle, then pour off the water layer.


14. Repeat this until the water layer becomes clear


15. Lay your pastry cloth over a strainer (doesn't matter which one, just one big enough), wet the cloth with water and pour the bean-water mixture slowly onto the cloth.  If there are some bean mush remaining in the bowl, you can add a bit more water to wash it out and onto the cloth


16. Carefully gather up the sides of your cloth, trying not to spill its contents, and wring out as much water out of the bean mush as possible


17. Open up your cloth, you can use a little spatula to scrap the sides of the cloth to gather the bean paste.  This is your nama-an, raw bean paste


18. Transfer the nama-an to a pot and weigh out the result


19. In a separate pot, weigh out sugar that is 1/3 of the nama-an weight, and add just enough water to moisten the sugar.  You can add more sugar to your taste, I've seen recipes that add up to 1:1 an-sugar ratio.


20. Heat sugar over medium heat to melt, and then add half of the nama-an and stir


21. Once the an comes to a boil, add the rest of the nama-an and stir so as to not burn it


22. Cook until the paste is no longer sticky to the fingers.  You can cook it even drier depending on what you need to do, but dry, firm and mould-able is the goal.



23. Store in plastic wrap and then in ziploc bag, freeze or refridgerate.  No air contact prevents drying out.

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Matcha-an (抹茶餡)

130 g shiro-an
1.5 tsp matcha powder
      The amount is really dependant on how strong you want it.  Low grade culinary matcha may require less to flavour

1. Add matcha powder to an, knead to combine



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