Tag Archives: wagashi

{8} Kuri Kinton

I’ve been trying to include some rather more unusual ideas in my Twelve Days series this year, so with that in mind, today’s recipe looks East, to Japan, for some inspiration. I came across a recipe for simple wagashi sweets made from fresh chestnuts called kuri kinton, and which are also pure whimsy, looking like little chestnuts!

Chestnuts have a strong association with Anglo-Saxon Christmas traditions, from roasted chestnuts sold in the street, to turkey stuffing, and of course the romantic idea of toasting them on the fire in your own home. I figured that kuri kinton would be a great idea for the festive season, with all the flavour of chestnuts but without all the heaviness that usually goes with how they are served.

This recipe is very simple – fresh chestnuts are steamed, them lightly sweetened with sugar and formed into a chestnut shape. Very simple but very clever. As there is only some sugar in this recipe, and no oil or fat, the flavour is light and you get the real intense flavour of chestnuts. This means, of course, that you should try to use the best chestnuts that you can get hold of. I have no idea if you could use tinned or vacuum-sealed chestnuts for this recipe, but I suspect that if you make these, freshness will also be your ally here. The use of canned chestnuts would also seem to run counter to the idea of making wagashi where freshness is important, and seasonality of the ingredients highly prized.

I used a batch of plump, shiny Italian chestnuts for this recipe, and they were easy to prepare using a steamer. However, I also had some slightly older chestnuts which I added to the steamer. After cooking, it was immediately apparent which were which – the fresh chestnuts were tender and easy to remove from their shells. They also had a texture like cooked potatoes and a sweet, rich aroma. The older chestnuts were rock hard and useful. So be sure to go for fresh.

If you wanted to, I’m sure you could jazz these up with a hint of spice or chocolate or some other flavour, but I think they are best enjoyed on their own, so that you can just appreciate the delicate flavour and silky-smooth chestnut that makes up these wagashi. This also seems to be to be truer to the concept of wagashi. And as a Christmas treat, they are unusual, and rather sophisticated.

kurikinton

The original recipe for making these kuri kinton suggested using around 70g of white sugar to 550g of chestnut. However, my naughty Western sweet tooth did not think this was sufficient, so I ended up using nearer 200g. Yes, rather a lot, but I think it is necessary. My advice would be to add as much sugar as you think you need, but remember you don’t want to overwhelm the delicate chestnut flavour with too much sweetness.

It is also recommended to pass the chestnuts through a sieve to ensure a smoother result. However, as I prepared the chestnut mixture to form the wagashi I found the mixture to be too coarse. So…I threw the chestnuts into a food processor and blitzed it until completely, perfectly, utterly smooth. Then the whole lot went back into a saucepan and I cooked it until the mixture was very thick. The result? Perfectly smooth sweet chestnut paste that could be moulded into the shapes you see below. Maybe not authentic, but I liked the result.

Now, the big question – what are they like? If you’re a fan of chestnuts, this is a nice recipe to try, and they look very unusual and attractive as part of the festive selection. I think they would also be fun if made as smaller sweets, and used to decorate the top a chestnut gateaux.

Just one final word of warning – these kuri kinton need to be fresh to be enjoyed. I made the chestnut mixture the night before, and then shaped them the next day. I think they were at their best on that day, and I’d be cautious about storing them for any length of time. They will dry out if left to stand for too long, and if you keep them in the fridge, the delicate flavour of the chestnut will be dulled.

So, if you can cope with the complexity, the quirks and all the fiddly work with the chestnuts, enjoy making these little chestnut sweets!

kurikinton2

To make Kuri Kinton (original recipe here):

Makes around 30 pieces (a lot – you might want to try a smaller batch!):

• 1kg fresh chestnuts
• 200g white caster sugar
• still mineral water

1. Place the chestnuts in a steamer (I used a colander placed above a large pan). Steam for 30 minutes.

2. Turn off the steamer. Take three or four chestnuts at a time (leave the rest in the steamer to keep warm). Cut each chestnut in half and scoop out the inside. Watch out for any bad chestnuts – you’ll know them if you see them, and they should be thrown away. If in doubt, don’t use! If you find the nuts get hard to scoop out, warm them again by steaming for a minute or two.

3. Once all the chestnuts have been scooped out, put the pieces into a sieve and press through with a spoon. This will break up the flesh, and remove any bits of skin or lumps.

4. Once all the chestnuts have been done, weigh the amount of chestnut (I got 550g from 1kg of chestnuts).

5. Put the chestnuts into a blender with the sugar (I used 2/5 the amount of sugar to chestnuts – 200g of white sugar for 550g of chestnut flesh). However, go with what you think tastes good, so if you like less sugar, use less sugar. Add as much water as is needed to make a perfectly smooth puree (if should be smooth but thick, not runny).

6. Pour the chestnut mixture into a saucepan, and cook on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Keep cooking on a low heat until you have a very thick mixture. You should be able to take a piece and roll it into a firm ball. If too soft, keep cooking. If the ball cracks easily or seems dry, add some water and cook for a moment before re-testing. Cover the mixture with cling film and leave to cool overnight.

7. Time to make a chestnut! Take a ball of the paste (around 30g, or the size of a large chestnut) and place in the middle of a damp piece of muslin cloth. Gather the cloth on top, pinch the ball lightly and twist the top of the cloth. Carefully unwrap the sweet, and you should see a chestnut shape. Remove from the cloth and press lightly onto a plate (this will flatten the base and allow the chestnut to stand up). Serve at room temperature with Japanese green tea.

Worth making?If you like chestnuts, this is a great recipe, and very unusual at Christmas time.

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Usagi Wagashi

Today’s post is very brief, but I wanted to share a gift I received at the weekend. As the perfect alternative to the season’s chocolate, nuts and spices, I was given a box of usagi wagashi, little Japanese sweets in the shape of rabbits. I’ve blogged before about Japanese sweets, wagashi, from London’s Minamoto Kitchoan (see here), and so this was indeed a most welcome and thoughtful gift.

But before we get to the sweets, let’s appreciate the box:

Cute, yes?

And this is what the little rabbits look like:

These sweets are a perfect little indulgent treat. I would not eat more than one at a time, but only for the reason that I would run out too quickly. They are made with white bean paste, and have a perfectly silky-smooth texture, vaguely reminiscent of moist marzipan, lightly sweetend and with just a little whisper of citrus, not unlike French calissons. Tasty, decadent, whimsical. I loved them.

Tempted? You can get hold of them in Minamoto Kitchoan on London’s Piccadilly. I’ll be heading there shortly.

Minamoto Kitchoan, 44 Piccadilly, London W1J ODS. Tel: 0207 437 3135. Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park.

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Wagashi from Minamoto Kitchoan (Piccadilly, London)

I spent several hours at the weekend trying to get to grips with agar agar. I still see this as an ingredient with potential, but one that I am still unfamiliar with. I’m sure I will be posting something using it quite soon. I checked online for Asian recipes that use it, and this led me to Japanese Wagashi. This is traditional Japanese confectionery, and for me, what really stands out is not only how pretty these look, but also the different basis for making them – jelly, bean paste, rice…all very intriguing.

As a result of my various searches, I came across Minamoto Kitchoan in central London. I was heading to that part of town in any case to pick up a few new books, so I dropped in to check it out. Time to enter the world of Wagashi.

The shop is terribly cute – to my untrained eyes, it all looked very Japanese, with cases filled with all manner of exciting-looking treats, and even a small seating area if you want to buy something and have it straight away. I even heard that you can get a cup of green tea with your Wagashi fix. Being a more restrained type, I came away with a small selection, which I have tried to describe below.

I also want to share the little note that comes with the Wagashi: “Delicious Japanese sweets full of natural goodness. “Wagashi” contains red beans, kidney beans, glutinous rice, powdered rice, sweet potatoes, sesame, agar-agar and sugar. “Wagashi” is full of sun kissed goodness and high in plant protein. There is almost no animal fat, which makes it a wholesome, healthy product. Natural unrefined sugar is one of the most important ingredients in “Wagashi”. The sugar is not only sweet but it is made from pure carbohydrates and they are totally natural. Serving with a cup of hot green tea is the typical way to enjoy the perfect traditional complement to the sweetness of this confection, but you can also enjoy with non sugar English tea. Ah, not just sweets, but a health food! I put the kettle on, and got ready to try my exciting purchases.

Sakuranbo – Japanese cherry in a clear jelly. I loved this one, both how it looks and how it tasted. The cherry was pretty fresh (I was expecting some glacé effort) and the jelly was delicately flavoured. My ignorant palate said “plum wine” although I am sure this is more likely to be extract of cherry blossom. It was light, fragrant, fruity and fresh. Fantastic, and I would buy these again in a heartbeat (for example…this week!). I also understand why it is recommended to consume Wagashi with unsweetened tea – yes they are sweet, but not overly so, and a couple of spoonfuls of Tate & Lyle’s best could easily overpower the delicate flavour of the Wagashi.

Kurishigure – candied chestnut wrapped in soft bean paste. It was unusual, and it did take a moment to decide that I did like it. I think this is just because of how different Wagashi is compared to Western sweets, and I didn’t know what to expect from a bean-based sweet. The texture reminded me a little of marzipan, perhaps a marzipan made with hazelnut rather than almonds, and had a dry-ish, sandy texture. The lack of sugar was also apparent in the chestnut, which was lightly sweetened rather than candied (as we know them here). Overall, the lack of sweetness was nice, a very delicate sweetness and nice texture. I would take another box of these if someone is looking for a little gift idea…

Tsuya – sweet red  bean paste sandwiched between two sweet pancakes. This one…I did not really like. The cake is similar to British mini-pancakes, but it was the filling that I did not like. Sweet kidney beans (or so it seemed to me). This combination just didn’t do it for met. The “beany” taste was quite detectable. I was a little surprised, as the bean paste in the Kurishigure was really nice. I’m glad I tried this, but I don’t think I’ll be trying it again any time soon.

Beika Goma – black sesame rick crackers. OK, I concede that these are not Wagashi, but I love rice crackers and these looked so pretty. They tasted good too – tasty, with a little nuttiness from the sesame, and the typical great “savoury” taste with a touch of seaweed flavour. These are my new favourite rice crackers!

After writing all this, I recalled that I had actually had Wagashi before, but was not aware that there was a whole “world of Wagashi” out there. I received a gift of a box of chocolate Mochi one year at Christmas – chocolate in a soft, sweetened rice paste and rolled in chocolate (thanks Jazz!). They were very, very strange at first taste, but once my sense of taste had adjusted to the lack of sugar, I was happy to have them at a rate of one a day with cups of green tea.

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