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Japanese culture really does not contain many sweets, except a few traditional ones for socialization purposes only called和菓子(Wagashi).  Most of these confectioneries do not generally meet a modern day idea of being “sweet” at all.  Hence, there are a lot of French patisseries plotted copiously around the country serving sweet pastries.  Japan learned the ancient Mediterranean pastry art through a long trail which originated in India to China and finally to the Land of the Rising Sun.  If you ever played the ‘telephone game’ as a child, you know how things get a bit mixed up just after a few people down the line.

Traditional sweets are called和菓子(Wagashi)while newer foreign-style candy generally considered sweets are called O-kashi (お菓子-pastries and candy) or あめ (just candy).  There are two different types of traditional 和菓子, which were basically served during tea ceremonies for entertaining guests.  One type is called Namagashi (生菓子), which has a good amount of moisture and contains more sugar.  The second type is called干菓子 (higashi), but is lacking moisture and is hard to taste any sugar.  For me, ‘higashi’ is entertaining to the eye but is similar to eating sidewalk chalk.  Maybe that’s just my opinion though.  Both are traditionally made from rice flour or Japanese-style sugarcane, only grown in Japan.  ‘Wagashi’ normally contains more sugar and a sweet bean paste in the middle.

Sweet bean paste can sound a bit disturbing to anyone from western countries.  Trust me, its well worth the first initial frightful taste; it’s sweet and creamy unlike anything you may have first imagined.  In Japan, this sugar laden adzuki bean paste can come in two different textures smooth こしあん (koshi-an) and chunky 粒あん (tsubu-an).  It’s used a lot like custard in America, it can go inside a sweet bun or on top of shaved ice or ice cream.  Today I’d like to share the sweet bun with you あんパン (an-pan).  This may be familiar to you if you’ve heard ofアンパンマン(Anpanman), whose head is made of an ‘An-Pan’.

You can either purchase or make your red bean paste- I made my own this week just since it was easier and more cost effective.

Red Bean Paste Recipe
600g adzuki red beans (technically you can use any bean)
1c caster sugar
½c  vegetable oil (optional)
3½ tbsp whole-wheat white flour
1.  Cook your adzuki beans until very soft – refer to pkg instructions.  I toss mine in a small crock pot with water and let it do the work.
2.  Place the cooked adzuki beans and other ingredients in a pot on hot until it begins to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  This will decrease the moisture in the beans and make it into a paste.
3.  Remove from heat and cool completely.  It will thicken more as it cools.
Makes 8 rolls
3/4c Whole-Wheat White flour (or plain white)
4 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
4 tsp non-dairy butter
3/4 c non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
3/4 tsp dry yeast
1½c anko paste (red bean paste)
Black sesame seeds, optional
1.  Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl until a dough forms.
2.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about an hour.
3.  Divide dough into 8 balls.  Flatten and fill with a few tbsp of anko.  Pinch the corners together and securely set on top of greased cookie sheet or plain Sil-pat.   (You will not want to move these later since the shape will deform.
4.  Cover and let rise for about 20-30 minutes more.
5.  Remove kitchen towel and bake 350F for 15 minutes.  I did mine in the toaster oven to save energy and it worked just fine.
6.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Remember to let it cool completely because the red bean paste is extremely hot inside!  Enjoy!

Optional Step before Baking:  Spray with a little oil and sprinkle with black sesame seeds for more visual appeal.