Friday, September 27, 2013

Ajisai 紫陽花, Hydrangea Flowers

The Japanese always like to make things that have a nature or season themed - haiku poems about nature, chiyogami origami paper and even kimono prints with nature backgrounds, kaiseki-ryouri meals use local ingredients according to the seasons, hell, they even start their formal letters with references to the seasons, and so wagashi is no different.  

As I have mentioned in my first post of these wagashi adventures, wagashi is supposed to touch on the five senses.  This one is very high on the aesthetics scale.  It's a "looker", but it certainly doesn't fall short on the flavour either (though it is still not as epic as the Strawberry mochi).

Now, this very pretty wagashi is referred to as jogashi or jonamagashi.  It just means that it is a type of confection that is served during tea ceremonies, and designed to reflect the seasons.  Some jogashi are difficult to make at home as it requires special equipment or even skills, but this one here today, you can make at home.  You just need refined chopsticks skills (sorry, Chinese people, that counts you out :P I have never seen so many in one group who can mess up chopstick usage so much.  Top ends crossing over, sticks stuck together even when trying to pick things up, holding onto sticks in a tight fist, held too high, held too low...just FUCK!)
*Relax people, I am Chinese, so I can insult them all I like :P

Hydrangea, in flower speak, means "thank you for understanding", "boastfulness and vanity" (hence this wagashi being a looker), and even "cold".  Hmm..."cold"...that's a good way to end the summer! :P

Ajisai 紫陽花 (Hydrangeas)
Adapted from Wagashi Maniac

Yield: 4 pieces with more agar than you would want leftover

3 g ito-kanten, kanten flakes, or agar-agar powder
100 ml water
100 g white sugar
2-3 drops red and blue food coloring
2 tablespoons mizuame (rice or corn syrup)
2 tablespoons rose or elderflower syrup
1-2 drops rose water
100 g shiro-an, white bean paste

1. Sprinkle agar over 100 mL of water and bring to boil.  Be careful to not let it boil over.

Do not do what Meow did - agar first, then water.  You'll get chunks
2. Once boiled and agar dissolved, add sugar and return to stove on very low heat and stir to dissolve

3. Once dissolved, add flavouring, add colour and stir to incorporate

4. Pour into a container and allow to set in the fridge, approximately 1 hour

5. Run hot water on the walls of the agar jelly container to loosen, and with the help of a paring knife, run it around the edges of the agar jelly, and lightly jiggle to release

6. Slice thin board strips of the agar, then strips, then cubes.  About 5 mm


7. Roll your shiro-an into balls about 25 g, final size/weight should be about 40 g.  Fit for 1-2 bites

8. Start picking up the agar cubes with chopsticks and gently press into the shiro-an.  Best method I find is to take a piece of wax paper in hand and place shiro-an on the paper, hold the ball gently in your hand while sticking the cubes on, manage rotating the ball in your hand.  You can also gently press the cubes on in your palm as you roll and work with other surfaces.  Most efficient way, I find.

Work on a plate

Or roll it like a Katamari, though I find this method not very effective, but still fun

9. You can prepare some leaves to garnish

Flowering mint leaves!
Because Meow is too lazy to make leaves out of whatever paste there may be
Wow factor: extremely high
Time required: ?? not too long
Patience required: high
Chopsticks skills required: Over 9000  (I will try to avoid labelling it as "Asian" here)

Wow, just wow.  Just. Look, At. It.
Meow Mother also keep wowing about it.

It is not too disappointing in flavour either.  Strong floral scent, light and cool.  I think this ranks second in the repertoire of wagashi that I have made so far.

What I honestly love about wagashi is that they are 1-2 bites size.  Nothing heavy, no making a meal out of a dessert.  Just a touch of sweetness to finish a meal or even as a late afternoon pick-me-up.


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