Happy Children’s Day! Better known in Japan as Kodomo no Hi. It’s a day that celebrates the healthy growth of children and shows appreciation for their parents with colorful carp-shaped streamers waving in the sky. Warm weather, blue skies, and nature invite us to chill outside. So, what could be more perfect than to relaxing and celebrating in the sun with fun treats to share with friends and family. If there’s anything that Japanese people love it has to be food and kawaii (cute) things. Even better? Super cute food!
When I was in Japan I was surrounded by cases upon cases of colorful and carefully crafted sweets. Now, that’s I’m stateside again I find myself yearning for a taste of wagashi, Japanese traditional sweets. Wagashi are usually served alongside matcha tea at home or at a tea ceremony because of the complementary contrasting flavors. The sweetness of the wagashi cuts through the bitterness of the matcha tea and visa versa. I decided to make nerikiri, characters made from white bean paste that can be filled with flavors like sesame and red beans tastes.
White bean paste (shiro-an) has a very subtle flavor and is slightly sweet. It can be molded into any shape and I’ve heard of people using it as an alternative to fondant when decorating cakes because of its less sweet nature. While white bean paste is versatile and tastes great it is EXTREMELY hard to find pre-made, even in Japan! I scoured every inch of the big Asian food market chains like H-Mart and 99 Ranch Market plus some smaller local stores in my area and couldn’t find it anywhere. To my dismay, the only pre-made paste I could find ships from Hokkaido in a very small portion for a very large price tag, plus shipping. So, I set off on my task of making the paste myself from scratch.
Here’s how I made homemade white bean paste for my nerikiri:
Shiro-an (White Bean Paste) Recipe
454 grams (1 lb) canellini beans or white kidney beans
12.5 oz (1 ¾ cups) white granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
- Wash beans in cold water.
- In a large bowl soak beans in twice the amount of water for at least 12 hours.
- Drain the soaking water. Remove the skins from the beans by simply pinching them lose. Be super careful not to let the beans fly out of their skins and across the kitchen. Over the pot of cold water pinch the bean and form a barricade with your free hand over the bean. Discard the skins.
- Bring beans to a soft boil on medium heat in salted water. After it comes to a boil add 200 ml of cold water. Bring to a boil again and add an additional 200 ml of water. This refreshes the water. Skim the foam off the surface as it cooks.
- Drain the old water over a colander. Rinse the beans in cold water to get rid of the excess starch. Put 900 ml, or enough to cover the beans, of cold water back in the rinsed pot, add beans and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Place the pot back on the heat and let it come to a soft boil. Cook the beans on medium heat for an hour to an hour and a half. They’re done when they’re tender enough to break between your fingers. Add water if there isn’t enough covering the beans.
- Remove the foamy top water.
- Strain the beans into a colander. Mash the beans through a super fine sifter or mesh screen. Repeat this process 2-3 times. You don’t want to have an unpleasant grainy texture to your bean paste.
- Wrap in a clean cloth, towel, cheesecloth, or paper towel to remove some of the excess water.
Now to complete the paste!
- Transfer the bean paste into a large pot and cook on medium heat. Add the sugar and stir constantly so that it doesn’t burn. The paste will become loose as the sugar melts. Keep stirring until the paste thickens back up and it’s easy to for a small mound in the pot. Don’t worry if the paste starts to bubble a little, that’s normal.
- After turning off the heat, disperse the paste into smaller batches on a lined baking sheet. Smaller batches cool faster and allows you to get to the fun part sooner!
Once the bean paste is cooled it’s time to sculpt your delicious nerikiri characters and creations! To add color simply add a few drops of food coloring and then knead the paste to incorporate the color. Darker colors take a lot more food coloring so add a little at a time until you get your desired color. Check out the ones I made below!
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