Wagashi: traditional Japanese confectionery

Two Saturdays ago, I attended a lecture and demonstration on the art of making wagashi or traditional Japanese desserts. Sponsored by the Japan Foundation, Manila (JFM) for the 2012 Nihongo Fiesta, the event brought three young Japanese pastry chefs from three respected and famous confectionery houses in Japan: Noriyuki Myojin, who belongs to Mitsuya-honpo in the Hiroshima Prefecture and known for its jonamagashi or unbaked sweets using seasonal motifs; Keisuke Yoshihashi, a third generation confectioner/owner of Yoshihashi Kashijo in the Ishikawa Prefecture and famed for traditional sweets used in tea ceremony; and Naoya Koizumi, heir to Koundo Honten in Tochigi Prefecture, a confectionery house known for its “Koin Monaka” or sandwich of anko bean paste and crispy sweet rice crackers.

The three young chefs were funny and engaging and my friend B even remarked that one of them should get his own TV show. They took turns to show how they make jonamagashi, dorayaki (two pancakes with azuki bean paste), the painstakingly elaborate hasamikiku (of course they made it look easy), and uchigashi, which is basically (very expensive wasanbon) sugar and water, kneaded and molded. Wagashi ingredients are primarily bean paste, sugar, and rice. Not a big fan of the first two, but oh-my-goodness, they turn out looking good. Almost too good to eat. Wagashi is typically served with tea so all the sweetness gets balanced by its bitter taste.

Feast your eyes on the wagashi below. Though they were taken on a camera phone, you can still see how detailed and beautiful these hand-made desserts are. 🙂

slouching somewhere

Hasamikiku is a confectionery based on the motif of a chrysanthemum (kiku)

slouching somewhere

slouching somewhere

Super sweet uchigashi and the wooden molds used to make them

Jonamagashi are individually made by hand using flowers, birds and other seasonal motifs

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How not to make banoffee pie

Kiera Knightley never looked as lovely as when she was in the 2003 flick Love Actually, standing by the door of Andrew Lincoln (Walking Dead), and uttering the words, “Banoffee pie?” Oh, get inside, woman.

Banoffee pie is one of the few desserts that makes me forget I’m not too keen on desserts.

Years ago in Manila, there was a furniture store and cafe called Area, which gave me my first memorable taste of banoffee pie. Slices of bananas covered in sweet, soft toffee and whipped cream and resting on a buttery crust. I’ve loved it ever since.

Perhaps, it’s because of some anxiety (I try to distract myself when I’m anxious) or seeing the British rom-com again a few weeks ago, that I decided to try and make one. I looked online for recipes; my only requirement being no oven required. I don’t have an oven yet, so I tend to do no-bake desserts (refrigerator cakes, crepes, and whole lot more I discovered courtesy of my friend Kris’s old blog Married2Chocolate when she used to do No-Bake Mondays).

I chose to do this banoffee pie recipe below from All Recipes, because the time spent in front of the stove, cooking the sweet toffee filling, was shorter compared to the other recipes I found. I didn’t get to strictly follow the procedure though, so this is how it turned out…

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Back at Casa Vallejo (sort of) and dessert at Hill Station

When I was recalling some of my most memorable travel lodgings, I included Casa Vallejo in Baguio because it scared the living shit out of me and my companions when we stayed there more than a decade ago, just before it closed. We never actually saw anything, we just heard creepy sounds and felt the heebie-jeebies all throughout our stay. Well, I finally made it back to Casa Vallejo on a recent trip to Baguio.

The new Casa Vallejo

A friend was providing us free accommodations, so we didn’t book rooms in the newly refurbished boutique hotel. And refurbished it truly was. It had a bright and more polished looking lobby, the hallway was no longer as dim as before, and most importantly, that eerie I-feel-like-somebody-is-watching-me-from-the-end-of-the-creepy-hallway was no longer present. (It helped that at the end of the hallway, where the old ballroom used to be, was now the lobby with a cheery staff behind the counter. And we didn’t stay for the night, so we’re not sure how it ‘feels’ then.)

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Mangoes are in season!

Golden season

One of the many things I love about summer is that it’s harvest time for mangoes. Ever since I was a kid, I have always looked forward to ‘mango season.’ This meant an abundance of mangoes in the marketplace and baskets of mangoes on our dining table. I usually eat them as is, just slice off both fleshy cheeks leaving the big seed in the middle, scoop out the sweet, yellow flesh with a spoon, open mouth… burst of joy!

Sometimes I would eat the slices of mangoes with hot rice for lunch or dinner and I would be a happy camper. (Of course, when I was growing up most of my friends thought this was weird, so I thought my family was odd since we all did it. Then I read an interview of the late River Phoenix, whom my sister and I absolutely adored back then, where he mentioned that when he was a kid in South America he used to eat mangoes and rice all the time. That made me feel better.) There was also a time when a good college friend and her mom gave my family a big basket of sweet, ripe mangoes from Zambales. It was one of the best pasalubong ever received. I think my mom and I finished five in one sitting.

With plenty of mangoes in the house, sometimes they overripe before we even have a chance to eat them. (With age and diabetes running in the family, I can only eat one or two a day; mangoes are high in sugar!) Once when this happened, I decided to make a dessert for the family. I got a recipe for Peach Mango Crepe by Sharlene Tan from the ever-reliable Yummy magazine (shameless plug, I know). I didn’t have peaches then, but I had a lot of mangoes so technically it was only Mango Crepe. It was a no-bake dessert, which worked for me because I had no oven. I made it again this Sunday.

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Thinking of cupcakes this Sunday morning

Between savory and sweet, I often prefer savory. For me, dessert often means slices of fruit and not because I’m a health nut. It’s just whenever I eat anything sweet or anything with chocolate and the word decadent whipped into it, eight times out of ten I get a sore throat the following day. When I do indulge in the occasional dessert of the sweet and bitter chocolate variety, I make sure to load up on Vitamin C for the day, have a cup or two of hot tea while savoring said indulgence, and to steer clear from any cold beverages. (Hey, it works for me.)

Last Friday night, two friends treated us to a dinner in Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe. I love this restaurant. There’s also so much to love in their menu, but I especially crave for their freshly-made pasta (you can just toss it with butter and you’re good to go) and for dessert, their chocolate banana swirl cupcakes with fudge frosting. The cake is moist, fluffy and light; it goes well with the rich and sweet (and generous) fudge frosting on top. Friends with a sweet tooth, swear by their Chocolate Fudge (which is supposedly the bestseller). It is heavier, sweeter and will likely send you to chocolate coma. I think they have the best cupcakes in town–and they’ve been making them long before those pricier designer cupcakes invaded Metro Manila a few years back. They’re really good that I take my eight out of ten chances of getting a sore throat for one little cupcake.

Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe: 106 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave., Bgy. Ugong, Pasig City; tel: (632) 9140833