Welcome again to my kitchen. Christmas is almost here, and in many countries it means visiting friends, families getting together, and a lot of festive food and sweets. As with many things, Japan is slightly different. The tradition of Christmas isn’t as old here. It has been widely celebrated for the last few decades, and with around 2% of the population being Christians it simply evolved differently than in other parts of the world. It shares a few similarities like sending and receiving Christmas cards, giving and receiving presents, but more than religious celebration it’s a time to spread happiness.
Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day where couples spend time together and exchange presents - in many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day celebrations. Couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant.
The traditional Japanese Christmas food is Christmas cake. It’s usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream to use a white-red colour combination as the symbol of Christmas. The recipes I chose for today’s edition of my Japanese Cookbook have some far-fetched reasons with which I tied them to Christmas. So, without further ado, let’s start cooking!
Nama Chocolate is a form of a ganache similar to the filling inside French truffles. The chocolate can be called “Nama Chocolate” when it contains at least 40% chocolate and 10% cream by weight and no more than 10% of water. With this, it’s a rich and decadent dessert that brings the perfect final touch to Christmas romantic dinner. It also makes it a great gift, which is much easier to prepare than truffles. Because of the fresh cream, Nama Chocolate must be kept in the refrigerator at all times and it is best enjoyed fresh - within 4 days after being made. You can also keep in the freezer for up to a month.
- 400g good quality dark chocolate (70% cacao)
- 200ml heavy / whipping cream
- 1 Tbsp liqueur of your choice (optional)
- Unsweetened cocoa powder (for coating)
1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces (it will melt easier, faster, and more evenly).
2. Line your tray with parchment paper.
3. Add heavy cream into a small saucepan and bring close to boil. When you see small bubbles, remove it from the heat.
4. Mix the chocolate and cream and make sure there is no lump. *
5. Optionally, add liqueur of your choice and mix.
6. Pour into your prepared tray and refrigerate until firm (4-5 hours).
7. After chilling, remove from fridge and cut into cubes.
8. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Note: If your cream is too hot, your mixture will split and the fat and chocolate will separate. You can solve this by either adding a little bit more chocolate or just microwaving a cup of milk for 30 seconds and add a little at a time, mixing, and adding more if needed.
Yōkan (ようかん) is a thick, jellied Japanese dessert made of red bean paste, agar, and sugar. It is usually sold in a block form and eaten in slices. This variant uses yuzu (ゆず) instead of red bean paste. Yuzu is a citrus fruit, a hybrid of mandarin orange and the ichang papeda, which ripen in November and December. The strong and citrusy aroma gives this dessert a tartness that balances the sweetness of the sugar and brings a refreshing taste.
- 450ml water
- Agar (amount for about ½ of water)
- 200g sugar
- 1 Tbsp Yuzu (100% Yuzu juice)
- Yuzu rind (optional)
1. Heat water in a saucepan.
2. Add agar and sugar; mix well.
3. Add 1 spoonful of Yuzu and bring the mixture to boil.
4. Let it simmer for about a minute or two then remove from heat and pour into a container.
5. Optionally, you can sprinkle the yuzu rind on top.
6. Refrigerate until firm (4-5 hours), then slice and serve.
Dango (団子) is a Japanese dumpling and sweet made from rice flour. Three to five dango are often served on a skewer. There are many variations, but this one utilizes mitarashi (みたらし) - a sweet soy sauce glaze. Although dango is eaten year-round and have nothing particularly in common with Christmas, I wanted to try to make them, so I decided to bundle it with the rest of sweets here.
When you are making dango, you need two types of flour - Joshinko (上新粉, flour made from Japanese short-grain rice) and Shiratamako (白玉粉, flour made from Japanese short-grain glutinous rice). The usual ratio is around 50:50 but you can experiment with different ratios. The second option is to opt-in for Dangoko (団子粉). This is premade mixture of both types of flour. When I started cooking, I realized I had only Joshinko, not the Dangoko what I thought I was buying. Luckily, I had at home Mochiko (餅粉) which is glutinous flour similar to Shiratamako so I added that. It was only later I read that Mochiko is not well suited for dango; but, it was still tasty, so I’m not too sad about it.
- 100 g Joshinko (Japanese rice flour)
- 100 g Shiratamako (glutinous rice flour/sweet rice flour)
- 150-160 ml warm water (Joshinko requires warm water)
- 4 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp potato starch / cornstarch (note: I used kuzu root starch)
- 150ml water
1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan without turning on the heat and mix well.
2. Turn the heat on and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, then remove from heat.
1. In a bowl, mix Joshinko and Shiratamako.
2. Add water into the flour mixture, a little at a time, and mix.
3. The flour should start to stick together and make clumps. Use your hands to bring it together and knead until smooth.
4. Split your dough into several pieces and make small balls.
5. Add the dango into a rapidly boiling water; stir so they won’t stick to the bottom.
6. When it’s cooked (about 3-4 minutes) it starts floating. Take them out and transfer into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
7. Skewer them on a bamboo skewer - 3-5 at a time (mine were slightly bigger and I had only small plastic skewers, so I decided to go with just two).
8. Optionally, you can grill dango or slightly char it with a torch.
9. Brush over the mitarashi sauce and serve.
After tasting all three sweets, the clear winner for me was Yuzu Yōkan. It was sweet yet sour, really easy to digest, and so light. My second favourite was the Nama Chocolate with its rich and decadent chocolate flavour. Also, when I brought it into my office, it was certainly a hit! Dango was a small miss for me - this time. I had it when I was in Japan last year and I loved it, but the combination of not the right flour with the fact I made the dumplings too big were crucial mistakes which took a toll on the quality of the final result. Despite all of it, it was tasty enough that I might give it another shot.
Until then, またね！