Last weekend I had the chance to attend a workshop making a special type of wagashi, or Japanese confectionary, called wasanbon. This particular type of wagashi is sadly becoming a disappearing art. One reason is because the primary ingredient is a special sugar (also called wasanbon) that is harvested in a cooler climate than other sugars, and takes a lot of work to refine. This high-grade sugar is quite light, and has buttery, honey notes that can’t be found in other sugars. Because of the special care in harvesting the sugar, it is quite expensive.
Like the sugar itself, wasanbon molds are quite pricey. According to the workshop teacher, there is only one craftsman left in Japan making the wasanbon molds, and just the circular one pictured above on the far left costs over 30,000 yen (so just under $300 USD). On the bright side, you can find similar molds for about 3000 yen (or around $30 USD) at places like Kappabashi Dori, but the material and degree of craftsmanship will most likely be different.
Before we began trying to make our own wasanbon, our teacher and other workshop leaders taught us how to make little origami boxes to put our finished confectioneries in. (If you’re interested, you can find instructions for the style box we made here.)
Next, our teacher began to mix the ingredients, which were super simple: wasanbon sugar, a teeny bit of water, and a teeny bit of liquid sugar. The liquid sugar, our teacher explained, makes the shaping process easier for beginners but isn’t absolutely necessary. She added a very small amount of pink dye as well, noting that if the end color is not subtle, wasanbon can quickly end up looking cheap. Once the mixture reached a texture similar to the beginning stages of a crumbly flour, we sifted it–first by tapping the edges of the sifter and then by pressing the remaining mixture through with our hands.
Next we pressed the mixture into a mold as tightly as possible. We scraped off the top so everything was even, and then tapped at the top layer of the mold to release half of each sweet. Lastly, we carefully flipped the mold and tapped as necessary to get pretty little roses to drop out.
Flipping the mold was a little stressful, but on the bright side, the mold can always be repacked to try again (whereas if you add too much liquid to your wasanbon in the mixing stages, you can easily ruin everything–an expensive mistake!).
We also tried using a bird mold, which I totally thought was some sort of fish at first (don’t tell).
Finally, we got to try our creations. Our teacher instructed us to place a wasanbon on our tongue and just let it melt. The wasanbon initially felt light on the tongue, yet thick like frosting. The complexity continued as it melted, giving a distinct sweet flavor that vanished too quickly to hold on to.
I really learned a lot from the wasanbon workshop, and hope I get a chance to attend workshops teaching other wagashi styles before we leave Japan again!
Have you tried making anything new lately?