Brief Overview of Japanese Sweets "Wagashi"
Japanese Sweets (Wagashi) Was Developed with Traditional Tea Ceremony
Japanese sweets (Wagashi) is a whole category of confectionary made using traditional production techniques in Japan. Japanese sweets were developed as a foodstuff to be eaten during the tea ceremony with light green tea or fuller-bodied green tea and, were expected to be appealing to taste as well as visually attractive. Normally, dried confectionary is eaten when partaking of light green tea whereas, fresh confectionary is provided with the fuller-bodied green tea. The kind of major ingredients are relatively a few, such as sugar, rice, wheat, and red beans, which are used for various Japanese sweets. White sugar has been used as an ingredient only since recently as it was not easy to obtain during the Edo period and wasanbon (Japanese traditional sugar) is said to have been contributed to the development of Japanese sweets with its unique flavor and the right degree of sweetness. Since persimmon was the sweetest extravagance prior to the use of white sugar, it is understandable the subtle flavors of Japanese sweets.
Wagashi Strives to Present Season and Nature of Japan
Also, Japanese sweets are also required to incorporate artistic elements. During the summer season, Japanese sweets products are produced using starch, and so on to install a sense of refreshment; each single ingredient is chosen carefully to express the season. Amongst Japanese sweets, there is a sub-category called Manufactured Confectionary where the product is particularly exquisite and this product is made of edible ingredients used in making Japanese sweets but, express an array of traditional Japanese themes related to the beauty of nature. If the moisture content of the wagashi is less than 20 %, it is called higashi (dried or desiccated wagashi) and, ones above 40 % is nama-gashi (fresh wagashi), ones from 20 % to 40 % is hannama-gashi (soft, semi-baked wagashi). Wagashi is roughly classified into these three types.
Documentary of Japanese Sweets "Wagashi" (26:39)
Traditional Dry Wagashi of Japan
Higashi is a generic term that refers to dry Japanese sweets. The opposite of nama-gashi (uncooked cakes made from glutinous rice, agar and an). It refers to a sweet with a moisture content of 20 % or less. Sweets with 30-35% moisture content such as monaka (a wafer cake filled with bean jam), suhama, ishigoromo (wafer cake) are differentiated and categorized as `hannama gashi' (soft, sami-baked Japanese sweets). It has been developed and used for offerings, Chanoyu (the tea ceremony), wakes and weddings, and various skills, including uchimono-gashi, unpei-zaiku and aruhei-zaiku, are applied during its development process. It has been loved as a sweet kept in a pocket and eaten when one cares for something to eat.
“Jogashi” , The Kyoto Style High Quality Wagashi
Kyoto style wagashi is delivered to the Imperial Court, nobles, temples, shrines, and tea houses, and are categorized as 'Jogashi' (confectionaries in high-quality) ordered for particular celebrations or 'oman' (abbreviation of manju), 'dango' (dumpling), and 'mochi-gashi' (rice cake sweets) for every day consumption. Confectioners who prepared the former are called 'kashisho' (confectionary craftsmen) or 'onkashi-tsukasa' (confectionary master), and so on, while ones who prepare the latter 'omanya-san' (manju manufacturers) or 'omochiya-san' (rice cake manufacturers). To this day, there are still shops signed as '... mochi' (... rice cake) that also offer udon (wheat noodles), sushi, ohagi (rice ball coated with sweetened red beans, soybean flour or sesame). Presently, the difference between them become unclear. Jogashi has been finely developed as osonae-gashi (Japanese sweets for offerings) and confectionaries for the tea ceremony, and also various kinds of confectionaries for everyday consumption have been made since people have many types of Japanese sweets which is suited for every annual event. This tradition is reflected in Kyoto style wagashi today.
Sophisticated Techniques to make Jogashi
Jogashi is made to look beautiful by utilizing the raw and intermediate materials and methods. Prepared as an intermediate ingredient, there are some processes to be cooked, steamed, mixed and kneaded, and skipping even only one of the processes may result in a poorer tasting confectionary. Also the techniques of bringing out the flavor is required by selecting ingredient carefully, cooking properly suited for each ingredient such as skimming the scum. Furthermore, at the end of the process, to capture the sense of the season, the confectionary must resonate with the place where it is to be consumed. Jogashi can only be made by those with refined taste and a solid technique. However, the technique and sense of manufacture depend on each confectioner and shop, and the sensitive differences show their originality. Following are the representative intermediate materials. Besides these, it is used in multiple ways as an intermediate ingredient in confectionaries such as: 'Domyo-ji Temple,' 'Awayuki' (literally, light snowfall), and 'Kingyoku' (literally, brocade balls).
White bean paste (white kidney bean or white azuki bean paste), and weak wheat flour are mixed and steamed to which sugar water is added. Coloring is added and the material is formed into many varied shapes. It has developed into variously including 'Mikaiko' (literally, red ume plum to be flowered) formed plum buds and 'Tatsuta-gawa River' made into autumn leaves, and filling of kuzu-gashi (Japanese sweets made from arrowroot).
Steamed Japanese "Yamaimo" yams are strained to which items simmered with sugar (Shoyo yam cut in blocks), white sweet bean paste set using agar-agar (pureed sweet potato, gelatinized bean paste) white bean paste set solid like jelly (cut in blocks) are dyed in a range of colours and in a strainer are pureed into a paste and then shaped and filled with sweet bean paste, etc. to represent seasonal motifs.
Water is added to flour of uncooked sticky rice and blanched in hot water, and while hot, sugar is added and kneaded. Used in summer confectionery such as 'ayu' (sweetfish shaped confection), 'chofu' (a waffle wrapper with gooey gyuhi inside).
Authentic arrowroot flour added water is strained, added sugar and heated to gelatinize. Kuzukiri (translucent sliced arrowroot) and kuzu-manju (sweet bean paste balls covered in clear arrowroot gel) bring to mind a sense of refreshment. Also, 'kuzuyaki' is a cubed confection requiring high technique of simply roasting all sides of it.
The skin of Joyo manju (steamed yeast bun with filling) such as 'Oribe Manju' is made of grated yamaimo with sugar and joyo-ko (fine grade wheat flour). Sweet bean past is wrapped in this skin and steamed. Also, grated yamaimo yam, sugar, water, and karukan powder (rough-grained rice flour) are mixed together and once steamed are known as karukan, a type of steamed cake. Steamed yamaimo yam is strained and cooked with sugar is called joyo-nerikiri. In whatever application, it is vital to utilize the unique aroma and original "whiteness" of yamaimo yams.