First Wagashi Attempt: Mizu Youkan
水羊羹, or Japanese red bean jelly, is a traditional Japanese sweet (wagashi). It is often eaten as part of the tea ceremony, as it complements the taste of the green tea. It is a good summer treat, though I think it would be nice in autumn as well.
It involves using red azuki bean paste (koshian) and gelatin-izing it. In Japan, this bean paste is bought in stores in convenient little cans; however, I am not in Japan. And thus, I had to make my own. ^ ^;
I started off by bowling 1 cup of azuki beans in 2-3 cups of water. The recipe I was following said to boil for 40 to 50 minutes, and the beans are done when they can be easily mashed between your finger. Well, I boiled for a bit over and hour, and some of the beans were still pretty hard... so next time, it's gonna be 2 hours. After they boiled, I drained the beans and mashed them (above). This gave a mixture of the inside of the beans (what we want) and the husks and shells.
Next step is to, under running water, strain the inside-bean-part through a mesh basket in small batches, in order to leave the husks behind. Please, PLEASE... use a spoon to press the beans against the basket. If you use your fingers, it huuuurts precious... and you get lots of little scratches like I did (before I was smart enough to switch to a metal spoon). So anyways, the running water takes the bean guts down into the bowl below (above), giving you a nice mixture of the stuff you want with a bunch of water you don't want.
Once the bowl you're running water/beans into gets full, you then have to get rid of said water. The way you do this is by taking another big bowl and laying a cheese cloth (or just a normal cloth, like me) on top of it, and pouring your liquid through that. You will notice that the water runs through, and the denser bean stuff stays on top (above).
You then take the cloth and wring out all the extra water (above). After that, you go and dump whatever's left inside the bag into a pot (I used the pot I boiled the beans in in the first place). Then, you have to repeat the process all over again (remember how I said this is done in small batches?) until all the bean mash is used up and you have as much paste as you can possibly get out of it.
Now, onto the actual cooking process (or at least part of it). You have the paste in the pot and add the same amount of sugar in with it. (1 cup of raw beans yield about 1 cup of paste, so use 1 cup sugar. Simple, ne?) You then heat it up and stir it well, making sure all the sugar dissolves. After that, you pour it into a bowl and put it to the side. (Process shown below.)
After it sits for a while, you get a kind of thick paste stuff (above)... I'm guessing that's what the stuff you can buy in cans in Japan looks like.
The only thing left to do now is mix it with the gelatin. Now, the gelatin that it calls for is agar-agar, known in Japan as kanten... but we couldn't find any of that. Thus, I had to revert to plain old pork gelatin. (Sounds disgusting, I know.) It came in these weird leaf things which I dissolved in in a pot before I plopped the bean paste in with it. Once you mix the bean paste with the gelatin (and a little bit of salt), you pour it into a dish and place in the refrigerator.
Ta-da! It is thoroughly gelatin-ized from being in the fridge. You can give yourself a pat on the back; you're done.
Now, on to the review. The result was sheer bliss. Luckily, I had had this at Anri's house before, so I knew what it was supposed to taste like. And let me tell you now, it was gorgeously amazing. The only minor inconvenience? It was the product of FIVE HOURS spent in the kitchen. COOKING THE WHOLE TIME.
Now, the thing that took so long was making the koshian (paste). It had to boil for forever... next time I'm doing something productive during those two hours. And the process of mashing, separating, and straining the bean guts out was INVOLVED, let me tell you now. Honestly, most Japanese housewives have never done that whole process... they're smart and buy the canned stuff. Make sure you have a whole day with nothing else necessary to do if you're going to attempt this.
However - and you'll probably say I'm crazy for this - but the end result was well worth it. Yes, I would go through all that trouble again. I'm serious - this stuff is heavenly. Let me know if you want the recipe. ;)