Walk into any Japanese bakery or Japanese department store and you’ll be on sensory overload for the gorgeous (almost!) sweets that are too pretty to eat. Whether it’s Japanese wagashi (traditional sweets made from rice flour and bean paste), European-inspired cakes, or hybrids of the two that incorporate quintessentially Japanese flavors like matcha, black sesame and seasonal ingredients like pickled cherry blossoms.
For those who love baking, it’s fun to make Japanese-style desserts at home or add Japanese flavors to your creations. But trying to locate these specialty ingredients can be elusive, and English-language cookbooks that offer Japanese-style desserts are rare.
Enter the BAKING: “Amai” Care Package from Kokoro Care Packages, a women-owned company founded in 2018 that aims to connect its community with small-batch artisan products from local Japanese farmers and producers.
Kokoro translates to “heart” in Japanese, but has a much deeper meaning. It represents ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ and ’emotion’ and is the foundation of every Kokoro treatment set. The products in each care package are carefully chosen for their quality, contain no additives or chemicals, and there are profiles of each of the growers along with recipes, travel and growing tips.
The Baking: “Amai” Care Package takes its name from the kanji amai, which means “soft” in Japanese. Unlike Western confections, Japanese desserts use sugar more modestly, satisfying without being overwhelming and adding just the right amount of sweetness.
Inside the Amai Care packet you will find agar, mochiko (sweet rice flour), mugwort powder, okara powder, matcha powder, soy powder roasted, black sesame paste, kokuto powder (a beautifully complex brown sugar from Okinawa), and pickled cherry blossoms from small producers across Japan.
Agar, a vegan alternative to gelatin, is derived from red algae. Once rehydrated, it has gelling properties similar to gelatin. Okara is a byproduct of making soy milk and tofu and is a popular substitute for wheat flour with high amounts of fiber, protein, and other nutrients. Kinako is a tan powder made from roasted soy flour, has a warm, nutty flavor and is typically used as a filling for Japanese sweets.
I’m a big fan of Japanese and Asian pastries, so I was looking forward to trying the products and recipes in the Amai Care Package. Ingredients are paired with 15 full-color recipes developed by Tokyo-based independent recipe developer and cooking enthusiast Yaz Gentry. Gentry is half-Japanese and half-American and enjoys fusing seasonal ingredients and dishes from both cultures, reflecting her mixed heritage. You can follow her culinary adventures on Instagram at @blissprovisions and at www.blissprovisions.com.
Gentry’s creations for the Amai Care package include matcha nama choco (a fudgelike combination of green tea and white chocolate), matcha rosettes, marbled sesame cupcakes, spiced apple mochi clafoutis, mochi “drop rain”, mochi donuts with matcha frosting, marbled sesame cupcakes, and mini sakura jelly cheesecakes.
Several of the recipes include more traditional Japanese desserts like mitsumame, a refreshing mix of cold fruit and vegan jelly cubes made from agar, photogenic “raindrop” mochi, rare cheesecake (chilled cheesecake with gelatin) and hanami dango, festive green, white and pink dumplings on a traditional stick for Girls’ Day in March.
Other recipes will inspire you to experiment with traditional ingredients in new and exciting ways, like adding marinated cherry blossoms to focaccia or incorporating toasted soy powder into a streusel topping. It’s easy to find cookbooks written in Japanese that use ingredients like okara to increase fiber and protein in baked goods, but much rarer to find recipe ideas in English, so I much appreciated Gentry’s suggestions.
I already knew some of these desserts, but other creations are creative and fun, like the yomogi quiche and the camembert and cherry blossom focaccia. The sweet and savory notes of cherry blossom contrast beautifully with the richness of camembert, while mugwort powder (found most often in yomogi dango and traditional confectionery) adds a refreshing vegetal depth to the quiche, sprinkled with leeks, mushroom oysters and goat cheese.
Kokoro Care Packages BAKING: “Amai” Care Package is the perfect introduction to Japanese flavor baking and also makes a great gift for family and friends back home (boxes can be shipped worldwide via DHL). This takes the guesswork out of trying to find those ingredients and recipes on your own and leaves you free to focus on baking delicious Japanese-inspired treats for your friends and family! You can also buy these ingredients in their single-item market: Michi no Eki. Start your journey at https://kokorocares.com/ and on Instagram, TwitterFacebook and Pinterest.
BONUS RECIPE: Mochi Donuts with Matcha Glaze
Yaz Gentry Recipe for Kokoro Care Packages
Mochi Donuts are chewy, chewy, and absolutely delicious!
Servings: 6 donuts
Ingredients for donuts
● 70g Mochiko
● 50 g granulated sugar
● ¼ baking powder
● ¼ teaspoon baking soda
● ½ teaspoon of salt
● 2 large egg yolks
● 100ml milk
● 28g unsalted butter, melted
● ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
Ingredients for the matcha glaze
● 120g caster sugar
● 2g matcha powder
● 2 tablespoons, little milk
Note: This recipe fits a standard size 6-cavity donut pan – for donuts about 8.5 centimeters or 3.25 inches in diameter. Please adjust your batter distribution and baking times accordingly if using another donut pan.
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F. Lightly grease or spray donut pan. Using a fork, lightly mix the mochiko, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
2. Separately, whisk the egg yolks, milk, butter and vanilla.
3. Whisk the liquids into the dry ingredients to form a light batter. Then transfer to a large liquid measuring cup for easy pouring.
4. Pour the batter evenly into your donut pan. Be careful not to overfill.
5. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
6. Keep the donuts in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, carefully turn them over on a cooling rack to cool them completely. Note: Due to the structural density of the mochiko, the bottoms of the donuts may “fall off” as they cool. This is normal and does not mean they are undercooked.
7. Let the donuts cool completely to room temperature.
8. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and matcha, then add the milk one tablespoon at a time. Then, carefully dip the donuts in the matcha glaze and decorate as desired with sprinkles, chopped nuts, or drizzled chocolate. If you want a thicker, more vibrant layer of frosting, dip the donut in the frosting a second time after the first layer of frosting has dried.
9. Mochi donuts are best served immediately because the texture changes with temperature. Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.