The transition period from the end of a year to New Year in Japan is interesting. Traditionally we close a year by listening ‘Joya-no-kane’, 108 gongs of a huge bell at a Buddhism temple. In the Buddhism world it is believed that each person has 108 evil passions so each time hitting the bell it is removing our passion from us before starting the new year.
However, when we celebrate the New Year in a totally Shinto style. Of course we are all sin-less thanks to the Joya-no-kane on the previous night so it is a happy celebratory morning. When I was a child my family used to have a morning bath and changed into brand new underwear. When we sat at the table the first thing to do is haveing a little alcoholic beverage called ‘O-toso’ in a flat goblet and hope that all family would be well and healthy all through the year. We moved onto the breakfast having ‘O-sechi’ (special New Year meal prepared previously) and ‘O-zoni’ (Mochi in broth).
There are so many other customs we do only in New Year but one of them is placing ‘Kagami-Mochi’ in certain places. It is basically a set of two round mochi ( which are pounded glutinous savoury rice and not the dessert mochi sweets with ice cream inside) with a citrus fruit ‘Dai-dai’ on top. Normally it also gets decorated with some green leaves and white paper cut into Shinto style, but how you decorate it depends on the family.
All the things I wrote above are the customs in Japan. I’ve been living in the UK for a long time and haven’t done much traditional custom in the past, however, I felt I wanted to do some for this year so I made Kagami-mochi.
The year 2021 has just started but we are already in the fifth day in the New Year! Since we entered into this pandemic time has passed too fast. Now we are facing an even tougher situation particularly in the UK and our movement will be more restricted soon.
Ox Year has begun!
For celebrating the New Year I created some Japanese sweets. One of them is the red and white sweet with Japanese ‘Mizuhiki’ design that I used for my New Year card. Another one is this sweet. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2021 is the year of the Ox. I know the design on this sweet is a cow and not ox nor bull, but in Japan we include all their family.
I made this sweet with an image of a happy cow jumping up on the spring field. I wanted to create something rather comical to cheer us up by hoping this year will be a better one than 2020!
During the first lockdown in the UK, I made Babka twice. One was with Cinnamon and the other one was with Chocolate. When I was eating it, I thought that babka must go well with some Japanese ingredients. I’ve been thinking to try making my Japanese Babka for a while but didn’t have a chance … until recently.
Just before the UK went into the second lockdown, I started participating a virtual Bake-Off competition that is hosted by my local deli shop. The first task was Babka so it was the great opportunity for me to try creating my imaginary Japanese Babka.
Matcha Babka with Sweet Azuki Bean Paste & White Chocolate
I added Matcha green tea powder to the brioche dough to give the pastry beautiful green colour and also, sweet but a little pungent green tea flavour. For the filling I spread ‘Tsubuan’ sweet Azuki (red) bean paste all over the stretched dough and then scattered some white chocolate pieces on top. What I aimed to create was a great contrast in colour as well as flavour.
Yesterday, the 22nd of September, was the Autumnal Equinox Day this year. One week period around that day is called ‘Higan’ in Japan and people cleanse ourselves spiritually by doing right things and cleaning ancestors’ graves.
On the culinary side of this tradition during the week we have sweets called ‘Ohagi’. It is a mochi type sweet with half pounded sweet rice with ‘Azuki’ sweet red bean paste. Some of them are flavoured and decorated with ‘Kinako’ toasted soyabean powder, green seaweed or black sesame seeds.
I love Ohagi and can eat 2-3 pieces of them easily all one go! It is normally quite big and filling, and for the people who’d like to try all the flavours for a teatime it might be a little hard. So I made a version of all three types of sweets on one skewer! In this way everyone can taste all the flavours. 🍡
A little Indian summer has come to London. The temperature has risen to around 28-9℃ for two to three days. I know it’s not any significant temperature for people who live in very hot weather. However, in the UK this summer was terrible. It suddenly became unbearably hot about 34 ℃+ in June that stopped me from doing anything outdoor or even indoor. Then after there were rainy-cold-miserable days that to last forever… But now in mid-September, finally very nice summer days are back to London.
Whenever we are in summer, there is Watermelon. This is the watermelon ‘Wagashi’ Japanese sweet I made this summer.
It’s made with lots of Watermelon juice which is gathered with agar powder. It’s a little similar to jelly but agar is made from seaweed and is vegetable based.