In the 8th century, the Chinese introduced into Japan candies made from a sticky rice and wheat flour paste. This was a tremendous novelty to the Japanese, who had always satisfied their sweet cravings naturally with peaches, nashi pears, sun-dried chestnuts and kaki. It was only later, in the 12th and 13th centuries, that they began producing a reddish paste made from beans such as azuki. This was the beginning of traditional Japanese sweets, still enjoyed today.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese and Spanish showed the Japanese how to prepare European-style desserts. And in the second half of the 17th century, the art of making purely Japanese-style sweets saw unprecedented expansion, set off by the large-scale domestic production of sugar, which until then had had to be imported. The result: candy-making art of incomparable aesthetic heights.
Moriyama Satchiko has produced for you these adorable little sweet potato candies, rich in carotene, which the body turns into vitamins A and C, and dietary fiber.
First, you will need a cloth like a chakin used to press the sweet potato purée into little balls. The chakin is a linen cloth used in the tea ceremony to dry the tea bowls and kettle after use. Instead of a chakin, you can use cotton cheesecloth or a cotton handkerchief.
You can add apricots or raisins to the recipe: their acidity is a perfect counterpoint to the sweet potato's natural sweetness. You can also dissolve a little red food color into the water to tint half the mixture if you want a more decorative effect. Or, depending on your personal preference, you can add some butter or cream. Yet another possibility: as the main ingredient, use pumpkin or chestnut instead of sweet potato.
The strainer and mortar are traditional Japanese utensils, but is always possible to use a mixer or blender.
- Peel the sweet potatoes, removing a fairly thick layer to ensure a good deep color, since the color is paler nearest the skin.
- Cut the sweet potatoes into 3 cm (1 1/4") slices.
- Soak the slices in water to remove their natural bitterness.
- Over high heat, cook the sweet potatoes in water in a covered pan.
- While still hot, press them through a sieve; if you allow them to cool they will become gummy and difficult to sieve.
- In a mortar, mash the sweet potatoes and salt into a smooth paste.
- Wash the raisins in warm water; dry them well before adding them to the sweet potatoes paste.
- Moisten a thin chakin or cotton cloth and wring it out well; spread it over the palm of your hand, and place a ball of sweet potato on top.
- Wrap it in the cloth and twist; this will create a cloth pattern on the ball that is one of its charms.
- Remove the cloth. Top each ball with a raisin for garnish.
For flavor, you can add a spoonful of sugar.
For color, you can add a little green tea powder (matcha) to the paste.
In collaboration with Kishi Asako, food writer, and Moriyama Satchiko, a graduate of the Tokyo Candymaking Academy.
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