Hoshigaki Workshop - Encore!! Sunday November 1, 3-5pm

Posted on October 29, 2015 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (1)

One more chance to learn Hoshigaki - the art of drying persimmons from me.  Second class will be offered this Sunday, November 1, from 3-5pm in Highland Park. To register, contact, [email protected] Fee $70.  There will be homemade shrub and persimmon bread to munch on while making the hoshigaki. 

Persimmon Agar Agar Jelly

Posted on November 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Persimmons are the most beautiful fruit that appears during the months of October and November. Their window is short and their ripening patterns are a bit tricky, especially the Hachiya persimmon, which cannot be eaten until its soft like a balloon and ready to burst.  Unlike the Fuyu persimmon variety, Hachiya are bitter and chalky on the tongue when eaten at their firm stage. But you can dehydrate the fruit and turn it into a sweet jewel. The Japanese have perfected the art of Hoshigaki, which I have written about and have done many workshops. This recipe is for the overripen ones that can be eaten with a spoon. It's gooy like a puree. Add a little agar and it firms up like jello. I like to serve this agar jelly with Okinawa brown sugar syrup. If you can't find this variety of sugar, just use dark brown sugar like Muscavado.

serves 4-6


400 ml Hachiya Persimmon puree

4 grams of Agar Agar (Kanten Powder) - sold at Japanese markets

4 tbls cane sugar to taste

100 ml boiling water

Mint for garnish


1 cup Okinawa brown sugar (or dark brown sugar) or cane sugar

1 cup of water


Combine the agar agar powder and sugar in the boiling water and mix well. Add the puree or juice and continue mixing for a minute. Pour the mixture into a mold. Refrigerate.

To make the sauce, combine the brown sugar and water and bring to a boil. Then cook over low heat until half of the liquid is gone. Be careful not to burn the syrup. Let cool completely and refrigerate until the jelly is set. Serve with sauce.

Garnish the jelly with mint and serve.




Anko - Sweet Azuki Bean Paste

Posted on March 4, 2014 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been making anko - azuki bean paste all morning.  This is my second batch.  I like the way the mound of paste is forming a peak, like a mini- mountain. That was where I wanted to be.  Still moist but firm enough to hold a form. The first batch came out drier. I cooked it too much, and this can happen very easily if you are not careful.

Anko, Azuki Bean paste, comes in smooth, creamy and coarse texutres. There are also whole bean anko, which leaves the beans entirely intact.  The version I made is semi mashed.  I am planning to make Daifuku, using this anko base.  The anko will rest until they have cooled down. Hope, I don't eat it all before I make Daifuku.  The anko keeps in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for 2-3 months.


360 grams of Azuki beans, washed and soaked overnight

250 grams cane sugar

Pinch of salt

Bring beans and water in a saucepan and cook the beans until the water starts boiling.

Discard water, and pour fresh water in the pan.  Bring to a boil again, and repeat the same step of

discarding the water.  Now start again with filling up the pan of beans with water but this time,

just let the beans barely soak in the water.  Trun heat to medium and cook the beans until they are soft.  Test severa

time for doneness.. If the water exposes, replenish more water.  When the beans are soft enough to smash with your

fingers and they are is no hard core, the beans are ready.

Process the beans in a food processor until they are chopped but not pureed.

Put the bean paste in the pot and add half the sugar. Mix well over high heat. Mix for a few minutes,

then add the rest of the sugar. Be careful not to burn the bean paste.  The paste is done when you can scoop it up,

drop it on a plate and it forms a peak, and stays put.

Use bean paste to sweeten your desserts or eat straight with a spoon or dilute it with water and make a sweet dessert soup.

Blood Orange Agar Agar Jelly

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Blood orange is one of my favorite citrus fruit.  I love its bright ruby color and the sweet orange flavor.  The season is not very long so I buy dozens, and use them to make juice and sometimes to make jellies.  

At the recent soba workshop in San Francisco Cooking School, I introduced blood orange agar agar dessert.  I love this dessert because agar agar jellies are simple to make, and so refreshing.  I make this with different types of fruit purees and juices.  Citrus fruit in the winter, strawberries in the spring, stone fruits and berries in the summer, and persimmon in the fall.  I can have colorful seasonal desserts all year round.


400 ml Fruit puree or juice (blood orange, persimmons, pineapple, strawberries, any seasonal fruit – one or a combination of fruits)

2-2 gram bag of Agar Agar (Kanten Powder)

4 tbls cane sugar to taste 100 ml boiling water Mint for garnish Sauce (optional)



Combine the agar agar powder and sugar in the boiling water and mix well. Add the puree or juice and continue mixing for a minute. Pour the mixture into a mold. Refrigerate.  Garnish the jelly with mint and serve.

Strawberry cup cakes

Posted on February 6, 2011 at 12:51 AM Comments comments (1)

Cupcakes have great eye appeal.  "Kawaiiii!," is how some Japanese would react when they see anything as cute as this cupcake. Cute in a Hello Kitty sense.  It can't have a trace of attitude.  

When I go back to Tokyo,  I update my pastry chef sister Fuyuko on the latest trends in western sweets.  Cupcakes often come up.  How about cupcakes with polka dots and plaid decorations and teal blue frosting -  designs and colors you would associate with furniture fabric, not cupcakes.  What about that color of red velvet cupcakes?  It's artificial looking but noone seems to be bothered by it. Fuyuko listens curiously.  

In a recent baking class, Fuyuko decided to introduce cupcakes. But the cupcakes she bakes are extraordinary.Take her strawberry cupcake, for example.  She adds pureed strawberry comfit into the batter. She tints the frosting in light pink and tops it with a dehydrated strawberry comfit and a crystalized flower petal.  It's such a fine cupcake that you just can serve it as a wedding cake.  I told her, cupcakes are supposed to be eaten casually but she serves it to me on a Wedgewood plate with a silver fork.


When I think of cupcakes, it's basically a box of Betty Crocker mix.  The only work is to add water, eggs, and oil and the batter goes straight into the oven.  The frosting is Betty Crocker's pre-mixed frosting - vanilla or chocolate. When you are assigned to bring a snack dessert to the soccer match and you only have 1 hour, Betty Crocker is the easiest solution.   Sprinkle it with some sugar, the kids appreciate you even more. These cupcakes have a sickly kind of sweetness. You can see that I am not a big fan of cupcakes.  


But after seeing what Fuyuko has done with a simple cupcake, I am impressed. I am going to give this recipe a try.



First, I have to see if I can get through the strawberry comfit.

Buckwheat Shortbread Cookies - Sables

Posted on December 26, 2010 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (2)

This is the first holiday in years that I got myself into baking.  Usually I do one dessert during the holidays, which is Tart Tatin and I rarely get around to baking others.  But I have a sudden desire to bake.

I used to bake butter cookies regularly for my Dad in Japan. I would air mail it to him from LA  but in recent years, he has cut back on eating rich cookies and noone in my household eats sweets except me.  That slowed me down.  Still, if you bake cookies, I find you can always find someone to share them with.

I got motivated to bake cookies this season because I am looking for ways to use buckwheat flour.  With so much fresh buckwheat flour around the house for making soba noodles  (I have one refreigerator full), I though I could make other things with it.

Plus during the holiday season, Anson Mills sent me some fresh Tartary buckwheat to try. I was thrilled. Unlike the standard buckwheat flour, Tartary buckwheat flour has a slight bitterness in flavor. In Asia, this particular brand of buckwheat is prized for its high "rutin" content.

Back to baking cookies. I found a buckwheat sable recipe in Ansen Mills website which really appealed to me.  

The original recipe calls for buckwheat flour, butter, sugar, salt and orange water. I didn't have orange water so I used milk instead. Milled buckwheat is almost tremulous in its delicacy,  as Ansen Mills explains. A few ounces of all-purpose flour is added to provide structure and shape to the gluten free dough.  

These cookies came out  strikingly nutty and fragrant, with bran flecks against a mustardy yellow hue. I used small cookie cutters.  I think the dough holds together better when they are cut small.   I took the cookies to my buckwheat farmers and friends in East Washington and served them at Lark at the buckwheat dinner event. Everyone loved it.  


Recipe (Inspired by Ansen Mills Buckwheat Sables)

1 cup  Anson Mills Rustic Aromatic Buckwheat Flour or Tartany Buckwheat Flour

3/4 cup  unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup hand milled buckwheat flour or regular buckwheat flour

1 tsp baking powder (optional)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 ounces  unsalted butter, room temperature

9 tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) Demerara granulated sugar for the recipe, plus additional for rolling the raw cookies

2 teaspoons milk



1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flours, salt, and baking powder into a bowl to combine.


3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in the bowl of  until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light. Add the milk. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the batter.  


3. To shape the cookies: Roll bits of dough—about 2 teaspoons, or, if you have a kitchen scale, 0.3 ounces— lightly between your palms to form baseball size balls. Roll each ball flat and use a cookie cutter to make shapes.  Sprinkle Demerara sugar on top.  Bake the cookies, until golden brown on the edges and bottoms, about 10-12 minutes.


Makes about sixty 2 1/2-inch cookies







Tart Tatin - Which Apples Work Best

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Tart tatin made with Golden Delicious apples

During Thanksgiving weekend, I made three tart tatins with three types of apples. I wanted to see which apple worked best for this dessert.  Perhaps Thanksgiving is not a good time to test recipes on family and friends but past experience says, better to have more guinea pigs than one.

 I used Pipin for the first tart tatin, which I blogged about. (Here is the recipe)  Granny Smith for another, which didn't come out so well, thus no picture, and this one, which I made with Golden Delicious. They say the third time is a charm. It seems to apply to tart tatins, too.

The Tart tatin I made with Golden Delicious came out just right: the brown caramelized apple wedges were tightly packed together, some of the apples were on the verge of falling apart, which is okay; for the most part, though, they were holding their shape. When I inverted the tartin, it came out perfect, which is the rewarding moment. The pastry crust was crumbling on the side, which is where you start nibling. I admit, the crust is my favorite part.   


Each apple is different in flavor and texture, especially when they are cooked. Even the same apples don't always behave the same. My Granny Smith failed me this year.  My dog Ana, who loves apples even turned me down.  The apples were too tart and I didn't use enough sugar to make up for their lack of sweetness.  It was a disappointement but I decided to make another one, since I had my stand by apples - Golden Delicious.

I am not a big fan of eating Golden Delicious apples raw but chefs like Thomas Keller recommend using it for making Tart Tatins. These apples are slightly sweeter than Pipin or Granny Smith. They can be a bit mushy so I picked Golden Delicious that were on the greener side, some even resembled a Granny Smith. Green Delicious made a good tart tatin.  I will stick with these apples this season.  

One thing I can say about tart tatin is be careful when you turn it over.  Some of the apples may stick on the pan.  If it does, don't panic. Peel off the apple carefully with a knife and put it back where it belonged.  Noone will notice.  A nice way to serve Tart tatin is with half whipped cream and half creme fraise mixed together.  Here is my friend Russ salivating over the tart tatin. He ate two pieces.



Tarte Tatin

Posted on November 25, 2010 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I come from a family of apple pie makers.  I wrote about my mother's legendary apple pie for the LA Times some years ago (here is the link).  For some reason, I didn't inherit the pie genes.  My pies are okay but I have yet to taste one that blew my mind. I need more practice.  On the other hand, I have taught myself to make a pretty good tart tatin.  I got introduced to this dessert in France.  You can always find it in a bistro and it is a popular dessert for home cooks. I have made it so many times. It helps to have one dessert recipe that you can brag about.
Everyone loves the caramalized flavor of the apples in this dish. The apples are borderline burnt.  I have seen severely burnt tart tatins in French bistros.  I like them on the verge of burnt but not black because it tastes like charcoal and looks like a mistake. It probably is.  In fact, legend goes that this tart was invented from a mistake but the restaurant (they are a few that claim they were the first to invent this dish) served it anyway, people loved it and it became history.  I find caramelized apples have better flavor than apples in pies. I dislike apples that are coated with excessive amounts of cornstarch and spice, which is often the case with apple pies. Tart Tatin, on the other hand, is made with apples cooked in butter and sugar. That's all.


The crust of a tart tatin can vary.  I make a cookie dough. There is always more than enough cookie dough so I make cookies with the leftovers. That's my favorite part.  This year, I made  a small tart tatin, using my 6 1/2 iinch cast iron pan.  I was still able to pack seven apples.  This will feed about four people. When making dough, I do every thing by hand.  Two knives and a rolling pin are my only tools. I  cut the butter into the flour. The dough rests in the fridge for at least an hour to overnight.  It also freezes well, so I can make it in advance.  

The apples take about 25 minutes to caramelize. Stay near the pan while you are cooking the apples. You may have to adjust the temperature.  I flip each apple once to cook the other side. This is the trickest part because if you have mushy apples, they won't flip. They fall apart.  That's why you want to use firm apples like pipin.  Granny smith is good but not always reliable when it comes to the mushy test.  Golden delicious is the other firm  apple but I like the flavor of pipin better.

I leave small chunks of butter in the dough and try not to mix toomuch. This way gets me closer to my mother's flaky pie crust . You don't see the finished crust in the picture below because I turned the pan upside down while it was still warm. Sorry. But that's what you have to do. This way, the tart doesn't stick to the pan.  Don't forget to run a knife around the pan so the apples don't stick to the side.  The tart tatin came out very nice.


Serves 3-4

6-7 apples, pipin or golden delicious
6 tbls butter
1/2 cup sugar

Cookie crust:
3/4 cup flour
2-3 tbls powder sugar 
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbls butter
1 egg yolk

Heavy cream (optional)" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">1 6 1/2" cast iron skillet  

To make the cookie dough.  Sift together flour, powder sugar, and salt into a bowl.  Use a knife or pastry cutter to work butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal.  Stir in egg yolk.  Assemble the flour mixture into a round ball. Then flatten it into a disc.  Wrap disk in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.

To make the apples, peel, core and quarter apples.  Melt butter in a 61/2- inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and the sugar and mix evenly and let the butter melt completely.  Remove from heat.

Tightly pack apple wedges around inside edges of skillet.  Make concentric circles, the larger circle surrounding the smaller circle.  The inner circle will be made up of three or four wedges.  Set aside 3-4 apple wedges for later use.

Return the skillet to the heat and cook the apples over medium heat until butter and suagr carmelize to a rich brown, about 15 minutes.  The apples will shrink as they cook. Use the leftover apple wedges and fill in the gaps. 
Carefully turn the apples once to cook the other side.  Use a fork to turn the apples.  Try to keep the concentric shape. Cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.  You can do up to this step earlier in the day.

When you are ready to bake that tart tatin, pre-heat the oven to  375 F.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into 6 1/2" inch circle, about a 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out the circle so that it fits the top of the 6 inch skillet. 



Bake in oven until the pastry is golden, 25-30 minutes.  Allow tart to cool for 10 minutes, then loosen edges with a knife.  Place a plate on top of skillet and invert quickly.  Serve warm with whipped cream or plain.

On a Galette roll - My First Arabiki Galette

Posted on July 20, 2010 at 11:44 AM Comments comments (0)

Buckwheat galette with maple syrup

On Sunday, I made Breton Galettes, using stone milled Japanese soba flour. They came out so nice that last night, around 10 pm, I suddenly felt hungry for more.  It was actually the perfect time to crave for them because I can make the batter in the evening, and let it rest in the fridge overnight.  Yes, it would be awhile before I can eat the galette but this batter does improve with some resting, just like people. 

The flour I used to make these galettes is very special.  I milled the buckwheat seeds myself, using a German engineered electric  Howa's grain miller , which is a marvelous machine to make wholegrain flour.  I had never used a mill in my life until I started milling flour at the Tsukiji Soba Academy this winter, and let me tell you,  milling flour can become an obsession.  

Whole grain buckwheat flour is called Arabiki.  It contains all the nutrients in the flour so it's the healthiest way to enjoy the seed, and while Arabiki is quite grainy in texture and difficult to handle, especially when making soba noodles, the flavor is unbeatable. 

Post note: Was it worth the wait?  You bet.  I ate three galettes!

For this recipe, I used butter.  Between oil and butter, I like the flavor of butter in these galettes better.  I love butter period but be careful, butter tends to burn so don't turn the heat too high.  

Galettes in the making

Serves 2

1/4 (1/2 stick) cup butter or vegetable oil

3/4 cups buckwheat flour, preferably stone milled soba flour

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

Maple Syrup or powdered sugar

If you tilt the pan while the batter is runny, you can achieve a

nice round galette shape.


If using butter, melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour and salt. Make a well in the center.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and the milk, and gradually add it into the flour to make a smooth batter.

Add half of the melted butter or oil, an d mix well. Allow to stand in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Just before cooking, stir and check the consistency of the batter. It should be like thin cream. If necessary, add more milk to achieve the right consistency. Use the remaining butter or oil to coat the pan.


Heat a cast iron skillet or non-stick pan over med-high heat. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the pan.

Brush with melted butter or oil.  Lower heat to a medium.

Using a ladle, pour enough batter into the skillet to make a gallete, about 5-6 inches in diameter.

Loosen the edges of the crepe with a metal spatula. Turn the galette over when one side is cooked, and brown on the edges. Unlike pancakes, galettes will not rise and will remain thin.

Cook the other side until lightly brown, about a minute and slide it out onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve like you would pancakes, with maple syrup or powdered sugar.

Buckwheat crepes - Breton Galette

Posted on July 18, 2010 at 3:28 PM Comments comments (0)

Breton Galettes

I can eat soba everyday, but there are other ways to enjoy buckwheat flour.  The French make a delicious buckwheat pancake called galettes.  A few years ago, I spent the whole summer at my friend Caroline Forbes' farm in Becavin, which is a small village in Brittany not far from the walled city of St. Malo.  This region is known for their galettes.  Galettes are much larger in size than crepes, and usually served with some type of filling, such as ham, cheese, onions, mushrooms or a sweet filling like honey, chocolate, etc.  Caroline made me this dish on the day I arrived to Becavin; we also tasted gallettes in the nearby villages.  I got hooked. Galletes are delicious with a cold glass of cidre, a sparkling apple cider; it's a typical Breton beverage.  

My galette in this picture is made with stone milled Japanese soba flour. I made them for my friend Mimi who was visiting from Kansas city. I served these galettes like pancakes, with hot maple syrup. They are also nice with powdered sugar. Mimi also wanted to try my soba noodles, so I cooked those, too.  Our breakfast turned into a brunch.


Serves 3


1/4 (1/2 stick) cup butter or vegetable oil

3/4 cups buckwheat flour, preferably stone milled soba flour

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk


If using butter, melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour and salt. Make a well in the center.


In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and the milk, and gradually add it into the flour to make a smooth batter.

Add half of the melted butter or oil, an d mix well.  Allow to stand in the fridge for 1 hour.

Just before cooking, stir and check the consistency of the batter. It should be like thin cream. If necessary, add more milk to achieve the right consistency. Use the remaining butter or oil to coat the pan.

Heat a cast iron skillet or non-stick pan over med-high heat. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the pan.

Brush with melted butter or oil.

Using a ladle, pour enough batter into the skillet to make a crepe, about 5-6 inches in diameter.   

Loosen the edges of the crepe with a metal spatula. Turn the crepe over when one side is cooked, and brown on the edges.  Unlike pancakes, buckwheat crepes will not rise and will remain thin.

Cook the other side until lightly brown, about a minute and slide it out onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.

To serve:

Serve like you would serve pancakes.  I had butter and maple syrup on the table.  Also, some mixed fruit and yogurt. 

Dattan Soba Pudding with Cherry sauce

Posted on May 28, 2010 at 7:04 PM Comments comments (0)

Dattan soba seeds settled like a constellation of stars.

I remember when I first tried the Japanese invented dessert - coffee zelly (Japanese pronounce gelatinous desserts "zelly") I was surprised how delicious it was.  Same happened to me recently when I tasted a milk pudding seasoned with Dattarn soba tea (buckwheat tea grown Sichuan province in China).  Dattan, like all buckwheat . is prized for its high nutrients, particularly Rutin.  It's the king of soba because it contains 100 times more Rutin than the other sobas.  If you eat Dattan as soba noodles, they are mustardy in color and tastes slightly bitter and medicinal, which I l iike.  I enjoy the toasty flavor of dattan.  You can also sprinkle the seeds as a topping for your salad or mix them into soba or rice.  I tried making the dattan pudding at home.

I used agar agar instead of gelatin to thicken the milk.  I infused the dattan soba in the milk to make a soba milk tea, sweetened the milk mixture with sugar and that's about it.  Any type of berries or cherries will go nicely with this pudding.  I had beautiful cherries but they were so good, I ate them all before I got to making this sauce, so there is picture with the sauce, sorry! But I had these lovely strawberries, which served the purpose of adding some color to the dessert.   If you want a thicker and richer consistency and flavor, I would use cream instead of milk.

Agar Agar molded the pudding in less than 20 minutes.

Dattan soba pudding with berries - Recipe
Serves 10

8 grams agar agar powder
400 mil of water
500 ml of soymilk or milk
100 ml heavy cream (optional). If not using cream, use soymilk or milk
4-6 tbls sugar to taste

Berry sauce
1 lbs berries (cherries, strawberries, blackberries, etc)
1 cup sugar
kirsch sour (optional)

Dissolve agar agar in measured water. 
In a medium saucepan, bring the agar agar mixture to a boil over medium heat.
When the agar agar is completely dissolved, add the milk, cream and sugar.  Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.  Put the dattan tea in a fine strainer and let the tea sit  in the hot milk mixture for a few minutes.  Throw away the dattan tea.

Pour the pudding mixture in individual serving cups, about 1/3 cup per cup.  Or pour the pudding mixture into a large mold.  Let the pudding cool down and then put it in the fridge for a couple of hours, or until it has hardened.

In the meantime, make the berry sauce. Pit the cherries if you are using cherries.  Combine the berries with sugar and cook over low heat.  Skim surface scum from time to time.  Cook until the sauce becomes syrupy.  Let stand and refrigerate.

Serve the pudding with the berry sauce and kirsch.

Shiratama with Sweetened Azuki Beans

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 1:49 AM Comments comments (0)


I love any dessert that contains sweetened azuki beans (tsubushi-an) and mochi.  Today, I made both from scratch. It was actually quite easy and I have more than enough sweetened azuki beans (tsubushi-an) to last me a week. For me, that's as good a treat as having a box of chocolates around. Shiratama is made from rice flour.  It's basically mochi.  The texture of fresh, uncooked mochi feels like ear lobes. They are cooked in water, and become chewy and smooth like mochi. They are chilled in ice water, to shock and firm them after they are cooked.  I served shiratama cold with tsubushi-an. My tsubushi-an here could use a little more cookin so they have a nice glazy coat,  but I stopped cooking early.  I had to taste it.   I like to eat the beans hot, also.  Shiratama would pair nicely with hot beans, too.

The cooked shiratama is chilling in ice-water.

Makes 4 servings
80 grams Shiratama-ko, Mochi flour
water, to mix flour, about a cup
1 cup sweetened azuki beans (here is the recipe)

In a small bowl, mix shiratama-ko, mochi flour, with water. Don't pour the water at once. Do it a little at a time, and mix it with your hands, until you turn the mixture into a white dough, that feels like an earlobe. Form 8 balls and flatten them in the middle to make little discs. The center is slightly indebted.  

Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan.  Cook the Shiratama until the balls begin to float he surface. Let it cook for about  3 mintues, Drain and chill in cold water.

Heat the sweetnened azuki beans.  Divide the shiratama into four separate dishes.
Pour a couple of tablespoons of the beans on top.  Serve immediately.   

It goes nicely with ice cream.  Yummy.

Strawberry Shortcake - A Homemade Birthday Cake

Posted on April 16, 2010 at 12:28 PM Comments comments (2)

A homemade birthday cake.

This month, my  father celebrated the year of Beiju 米寿, his 88th birthday. He is actually turning 87 years old but if you practice the traditional Chinese way, an extra year is added to your age for the time you spent in your mother's womb. So if you ask him his age, he will always say, it depends.  Beiju is a particularly festive occasion in a person's life cycle. Beiju is written with the Chinese character "rice", which symbolizes nutrition, wealth and other wholesome things.  My father asked to keep the celebration small and simple. We did what we usually do on weekends, gather as many children and grandchildren as possible, and have lunch together.

When it comes to birthday cakes, we always baked them ourselves.  My sister Fuyuko, the pastry chef, has been in charge for quite some time. Who else can make it better? This year, her nine year old son, Hayato, was in the kitchen helping his mother clean the strawberries.  Like his parents, Hayato has all the qualities to make a chef: good focus, coordination, patience and an excellent appetite. The shortcake recipe comes from our grandmother, Hatsuko Ishikawa.  She passed away at the age of 102.  She was baking birthday cakes for her family until she was into her mid-nineties.  If strawberries were out of season, she used canned peaches. She always let Fuyuko and I help her decorate the cake. What's great about this cake is its lightness. For 100 grams each of sugar and flour, the recipe calls for 5 eggs.  The egg whites are beaten to a peak and folded into the batter at the very end.  I can make it with almost my eyes closed.  It is airy like angel food cake, only it's  more yellow.  We made 2 cakes to serve 10 people. 

My birthday was just a few days ago, so we decided to celebrate mine, too. One cake for my father and another one for me. But when it came to blowing the candles, my father didn't wait for me. He blew out all the candles at once, including those on my cake. Oh well, at least we know his lungs are working very well and I still got to squeeze in a quick wish.

Hayato helps his mother clean the strawberries.

Fuyuko puts the gold leaf on top of the cake.

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

1 round cake (8 inches)

2 pints fresh strawberries


100 grams all-purpose flour

100 grams white sugar

1/4 cup butter, melted

5 eggs, separated.  Egg whites whipped.

2 cups whipped heavy cream (with 4-5 tablespoons of sugar)



Slice the strawberries.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Grease and flour one 8 inch round cake pan.

In a medium bowl combine the cake flour and the sugar.  With an electric beater, mix the ingredients. Add one egg yolk at a time. Stir until just combined.  Add the melted butter.

Whip the egg whites until peak forms. Combine the whipped egg whites with the batter. Do not mash the egg whites.  Leave the batter fluffy as possible.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool partially in pan on wire rack.

Slice partially cooled cake in half, making two layers. Place half of the strawberries on one layer and top with the other layer. Top with remaining strawberries and cover with the whipped cream.


More Flower viewing in Tokyo - Myogadani

Posted on April 4, 2010 at 5:48 AM Comments comments (2)

Myogadani - Tokyo - Flower viewing festival


During this time of year, almost every body in Japan will make time to view the cherry blossoms. The weather in Tokyo has been particularly kind to the cherries. The necessary cold spell came a few days before the cherries bloomed and once that spell passed, we've moved right into good spring weather. Not too windy. Not wet. Warm enough to allow the blooms to open slowly and surely. In Japan, cherry blossoms are known for their fragility and transient nature. The blooms last for about a week.  Some of us think that life is like that: ephermeral. We might as well enjoy it while they last.

  Spectacular blooms

  The cherry blossoms blanket the sky

  People have picnics under the cherry trees.  


I was in Myogadani with my sister Fuyuko. We went to Ikoan, an artisinal pastry shop that I blogged about last year. They make a pastry called "Mitarashi dango" during the flower viewing season. The tiny shop was crowded with people who came to buy the dango and Sakura Mochi (Pastries wrapped in pickled cherry leaves). The Sakura mochi was sold out.

  Fuyuko takes a bite of the mitarashi dango

  Mitarashi dango is made with rice flour. It is

served with a sweet soy sauce.


The shape of Mitarashi dango was inspired by droplets of water. These little balls are soft and chewy like mochi. What makes them special is the soy based sauce. It is traditional these rice balls during the flower viewing season.


I have to say, this was one of the best spring I have ever experienced.

Zensai with Mochi

Posted on February 1, 2010 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (3)

Sweet azuki beans soup with Toasted Mochi

I realized that during my first year of blogging, I only made six dessert entries.  This is very little for someone who loves sweets.  There is a reason.  At home in Santa Monica, noone cares for sweets but me.  So making desserts is not on my priority list. But here in Tokyo, I practically live in my sister Fuyuko's pastry atelier. Everyone takes desserts seriously so if I make a batch of something, there are plenty of people willing to taste my creations. 

One of my favorite winter dessert or snack food is a warm Japanese sweet bean soup called Zensai.  Since I had some leftover mochi from New Years, I decided to make Zensai and top it with some toasted mochi.   Zensai is a perfect cold weather soup that is made with Azuki beans, water, and sugar.   When you go to a Anmitsuya (a Japanese style dessert shop), Zensai is usually served with grilled mochi on top, and pickles on the side.  Kinozen in Kagurazaka, Tokyo makes a killer Zensai. I visit Kinozen at least once or twice during my stay in Tokyo to get my Zenzai fix and some.  Kinozen serves Zensai with moch; they also serve it with sweetened chestnuts, Kuri zensai, and Millet gruel, Awa zensai.  Awa like mochi is also gooey in texture. The Japanese find this texture very comforting.   


Mochi- it has long shelf life if you keep it in the package. 
Grilled they soften and pop up like popcorn.  It's great with
soysauce,  and in soups like Zensai.

Simmer the beans  gently


Makes 8 servings


300 grams azuki beans  

300 grams white granulated sugar  or more

1 Tbs soy sauce  

4 pieces of Mochi, cut in half


Rinse the beans in cold water several times. Soak overnight in plenty of cold water to soften.  If the beans are very fresh, no soaking is necessary.

Discard soaking water, rinse and cover beans with fresh cold water.  In a heavy saucepan, bring the beans and water to a boil.  Drain.  Start again with fresh water and bring to a boil and then turn heat to a gentle simmer until the beans are cooked throughly, being careful not to overcook or burn them. The beans should be submerged in the cooking liquid and never exposed. It will take about 90 minutes to two hours to cook the beans. Test one bean and squash it with your finger.  If it squashes easily, it is ready.


When the beans are cooked, pour off the excess cooking water leaving just enough to cover the beans. Add 1/2 the white sugar and the soy sauce. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the remaining sugar and cook for another 15 minutes. Taste and make adjustments.  If more sugar is needed it can be added at this point.  Simmer for a few more minutes and turn heat off.  The azuki beans are ready to be served but it's best if you let them rest in the saucepan overnight. 


When ready to serve, cut the mochi pieces in half and grill under a broiler or a toaster oven until they pop. Heat the zenzai until very hot. Place a piece of grilled mochi in individual serving bowls. Ladle the hot zenzai on top. Serve immediately.


This recipe makes about 8-12  servings.   

Note: If the soup is too thick, you can dilute it with a  little water.  If it is too thin, you can

cook it and thicken the soup. This is a matter of preference.  It should have the consistency of a thick soup.


L'atelier du Gout - a French Pastry Chef in Tokyo

Posted on January 9, 2010 at 8:56 PM Comments comments (1)
Fuyuko's Gateau du Voyage, fruit cakes

L'atlier du gout is very busy today.  A new customer called to place a large order of Gateau du Voyage, fruit cakes. L'Atlier du Gout  is my sister Fuyuko Kondo's French pastry shop and pastry school. It is located on the ground floor of my parents house in Shibuya. When she is baking, the whole house smells of butter burning. That makes coming home to Tokyo, a unique kind of a French experience.

Fuyuko's day starts at six in the morning.  She changes into her neatly pressed, spotless white uniform.  When I come downstairs with my morning coffee, Fuyuko is talking on the phone to the new customer who placed the big order of fruitcakes. Fuyuko assures her that the cakes will arrive in Osaka before noon tomorrow. The cakes still need one final touch up - dried pineapples rings, pistachios, goji berries and orange peel go on top. Fuyuko slices an end piece and asks me for an opinion. For these fruitcakes, she used a new butter from Hokkaido. I am always tasting her creations. I can never refuse her offer.

Fuyuko did her culinary training with Wittamer in Brussells and Ecole Le Notre in Paris in the eighties. Back then, there were only a handful of Japanese studying european pastries abroad. During Fuyuko's apprenticeship, I visited her in Paris a couple of times. I remember her tiny one-room apartment crowded with pastry equipment and  pulled sugar flowers. She was practicing even at home. These glossy sugar flowers had a way of brightening her modest room. That year, Fuyuko won a prize in the pulled sugar contest in Paris.  

Today, French pastry chefs like my sister have multiplied in numbers.  So have the number of pastry shops in Japan. You can find some of the finest French pastries. I always feel at home when I eat Fuyuko's fruitcake in Tokyo. On this visit, I am going to take some lessons in French pastries. Being able to do this in Tokyo is a unique kind of French experience.

Fuyuko decoratees the cakes.

You can order Fuyuko Kondo's cake by visiting the website:
She offers pastry classes and sells pastries on-line.  She can ship anywhere in Japan.
The website is in Japanese but you can e mail Fuyuko in French or English. 

11-17 Nampeidai-cho
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0036
Tel 03-3461-6551

Homemade Apple Pie - Holiday Baking

Posted on November 28, 2009 at 11:31 PM Comments comments (0)

A calm moment

One thing I can say about baking pies is that I have taken it for granted all my life.  My mother was an excellent baker.  Her pie crusts were consistently flakey and her apples perfectly sweet.  She didn't follow a recipe but measured with her eyes. When she made plans to bake pies, she did most of the work in the middle of the night. A half a dozen pies would be cooling on the pie racks at dawn, filling the house with their sweet aroma.  Then there is my sister Fuyuko Kondo who is a French trained pastry chef. Quite an accomplished one if you don't mind my bragging. She was one of the first female chefs to be invited on the Iron Chef show in Japan to challenge the French Master Chef Sakai (no relation to me). Even though I spend an awful lot of time in Tokyo, I have never taken a pie baking lesson from her. I just eat her pies, tarts, cakes, cookies... everything she bakes.  Her pastries are all so good. I always put on a couple pounds when I go back to Tokyo. I do have some specialities of my own though- tart tatin, butter cookies and creme caramel.  I usually bake a tart tartin for Thanksgiving but this year we were invited to our friends for the festive dinner so I didn't think tart tatin would work as a Thanksgiving dessert.  

I found a Rum Raisan Apple Pie recipe on line from Gourmet, so I made it as part of a refreshment course in baking apple pies. The recipe uses three varieties of baking apples of your choice and rum soaked raisans.  I was multi-tasking on the day I was making the pie crust, which is a no-no. I forgot to put salt in the dough.  Fuyuko tried to help me fix it but it was too late.  I had to start all over again. Of the two pies I finally baked, the one I sprinkled granulated sugar on the crust surface, as the recipe instructed, turned out like the surface of the moon. That pie didn't make it to Russ and Kathy's house.  The other pie was based with egg yolk and milk.  It was baking beautifully but after I stuck it in the oven, I realized that I had forgotten to top the apples with butter.  So half way into the baking, I put the butter through the ventilation slits, which made the slits grow larger. The pie in the picture below is the very pie but seen from a good angle.  From the other angle, it looks like a howling face.  But I didn't let it bother me. I took the little flower cookies from the reject pie and covered the big slits.  People said my pie was yummy, and even enjoyed it for breakfast the next day. I have friends with high tolerance levels. The reject by the way, is being consumed by me.  I am halfway through it.  As for the apple pie recipe, I would cut back a little on the sugar and flour in the apples, and perhaps pre- cook the apples before putting them into the pie crust, as my mother did. The pie crust, I need a lot more practice. I will try again at Christmas time. 

Recipe:   Gourmet - Rum Raisan Apple Pie (here is the link for the recipe).

Fresh out of the oven.

Green Tea with Higashi

Posted on August 17, 2009 at 2:47 AM Comments comments (0)
I treated myself to an afternoon tea of Sencha with Higashi.  The Higashi sweets come from Ikkoan, the artisinal Japanese pastry shop in Myogadani, Tokyo.

Higashi is a sweet made of a fine sugar called Wasanbon.  I can't  compare Higashi to any other sweet because it is neither a hard candy nor a cookie. Higashi is made in a variety of molds which are chosen according to season and occasion.  Mr. Mizukami, the Owner chef, took us to his kitchen studio to show us how these sweets and bean cakes were made.  Some of the Higashi molds were very old.  When you put a Higashi in your mouth and gently bite into it, it crumbles and dissolves on your tongue like melting snow.  Higashi is served with tea to complement the flavor of the beverage but never to overwhelm it. That's a challenge for the pastry chef. 

Higashi molds at Ikkoan.  Some of the molds are very old.


Higashi - Molded Sugar Sweets

Posted on August 17, 2009 at 2:46 AM Comments comments (1)

 The beautiful box of Higashi from Ikkoan.

Higashi -molded sugar sweets

5-5-15 Koishikawa
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 5884-6591

Jacques Genin - Chocolatier, Paris

Posted on July 21, 2009 at 10:44 AM Comments comments (1)

My pastry chef sister Fuyuko e mailed me just before leaving Paris that I should check out Jacques Genin's new salon de the if I could get myself over to the Marais district.  Jacques Genin's  salon is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a bit daunting at first but the lovely marshmallows and caramels in the display case will lure you in.   What's was most impressive were Genin's chocolates. Creamy and dense in flavors of caramel, vanilla, chinammon, mint, etc.  The chocolates are packaged in a silver metal box.  I am telling you, he treats these little chocolates as if they were jewels.  I learned that in the old days, chocolates used to be sold in metal boxes because they stayed freshers.  Genin is bringing back the good old ways. I bought the smaller box of nine chocolates.  It was 10 euros for 9 tiny pieces but well worth it.  I was instructed not to put the chocolate in my suitcase while travelling because the temperature of the plane's cargo section was too cold.  So the silver box travelled with me in my backpack and stayed close to me during the 12 hour flight back to Tokyo.  

While you are at the shop, do have a cup of tea, sit here and enjoy the tranquil space. I loved it.  The teas are all Chinese green tea blended with herbs and flowers.  It was very relaxing.  You get two pieces of chocolate with the tea.  Also, when you buy the chocolate, they will let you try a free sample.  I ate so many chocolates that day, I felt full and happy.  I skipped dinner.