Why not try your hand at making a Japanese sweet or bean cake? If you go to a Japanese confectionery shop, you'll see row upon row of elaborately shaped and colored wagashi (Japanese sweets and cakes) that look like works of art. Deciding which ones to buy isn't easy. Japanese kids love these sweets just as much as they do cookies, candies, and chocolate.
Traditional Japanese sweets and cakes are very healthy, since their main ingredients are rice flour and beans. The beans, such as adzuki and white beans, are made into a sweet paste called an. This sweet bean paste is a feature of most traditional sweets and cakes.
Japanese sweets and cakes developed alongside the tea ceremony, which was formalized in the sixteenth century. Most wagashi eaten today are said to have first been made in the Edo period (1603-1868).
There are many kinds of wagashi. Mochigashi (rice cakes) [photo 1] made from a sticky kind of rice and dango (rice dumplings) [photo 2] made from a less sticky rice flour are both popular snacks among children. Nerikiri [photo 3] are a feast for the eyes that are often served during the tea ceremony. The white-bean paste used to make them can be colored, and the mixture is molded into the shape of flowers and symbols of the season. A lot of people like dorayaki [photo 4]. Dorayaki is like a sandwich, with sweet bean paste on the inside and pancakes made out of flour, eggs, and a few other ingredients on the outside. And then there are manju [photo 5], steamed bean cakes covered with a layer of flour or rice flour and filled with sweet bean paste.
There are two recipes below. The first is for a dorayaki that is shaped into a pig. The second is for mashed sweet potatoes made into the shape of a bird.
Let's start off by making the sweet bean paste for the pig-shaped dorayaki.