Early Spring Wagashi by Molly Brodak

I have been working on these delightful treats for a long time now and I'm really excited about these forthcoming posts. I will post about each recipe separately so the series will have three parts--what follows is a general overview, and I'll be sure to keep this page updated with links as they appear.

Wagashi is a term for a wide range of Japanese sweets. If you were going to be served wagashi at tea, you would expect a variety of tiny desserts, artfully arranged, and evocative of the current or upcoming season. Summer wagashi might be colorful and refreshing, autumn wagashi might be more subdued and warm. You get the idea.

I have been poring over websites and cookbooks and magazines for the last few months to study these treats and I wanted to stay true to the seasonal themes, but replace many of the traditional Japanese ingredients such as sweetened bean paste and chewy glutinous rice for more familiar dessert flavors and textures for American tasters. 

These adorable baubles are modeled on temari balls, decorative objects made by wrapping silk thread in various patterns around a ball. The wagashi version is made with mochi and red bean paste, but I made these with easy homemade marzipan. They are super simple but very fun and would be a great project for kids or on hot days when you don't feel like firing up the oven.

Next come the jellies. These are vegan, too, made with agar and the occasional splash of coconut milk for opacity. These are my version of yokan, which are jellies traditionally made with red bean paste and served chilled in summer, sometimes with an assortment of fruit. I made them with lemon and rosewater to keep the fresh spring feeling going. Agar sets up much faster than gelatin and doesn't need to be chilled, so layering colors and textures in this process is way more satisfying and and easy. Spheres of agar can be made by dropping it from a squirt bottle into a glass of chilled oil, just like those molecular gastronomy goobers do with their nerd-food concoctions (I am not knocking those goobers, I love them, please serve me all the nerd-food spheres you've got).

And lastly we come to the rakugan springerle. Rakugan are little cakes of dried sugar and rice flour that have been pressed into molds and imprinted with designs. They aren't delicious really, they have the chalky texture of Smarties, but are meant to serve as a counterpoint to the astringency of matcha. I started collecting old kashigata (the wooden molds made for these sweets) on ebay and they reminded me so much of german springerle molds, the connection seemed obvious. So I made traditional springerle in the Japanese molds and dusted the resulting cookies with matcha powder for flavor and beautiful light green color. I used edible petal dusts for the other colors. I also used some of my fondant/gumpaste molds to supplement the kashigata designs. The anise seeds that normally stud the bottom of these cookies were swapped out for sesame seeds, which toasted lightly in the oven and added to the subtle lemon and green tea flavors.

Stay tuned for these posts! Recipes and tutorials for all of the above will be coming out throughout March!