Blog, Spring Food

Shinshun “New Spring” The Season Of New Beginnings & Sakura Tofu Taiyaki


There is a saying in Japan, April is finally here, a new life begins. (
Iyoiyo shigatsu de, atarashii seikatsu ga sutāto shimasu.)

いよいよ4月で、新しい生活がスタートします

April 1st marks a fresh start and new beginnings in Japan. Just as the Sakura start to bloom It marks the beginning of 学年 (gakunen, 学年 the new academic year). Students start their new classes wearing their new seifuku, 制服 school uniform and maybe using their randoseru,ランドセル school backpack for the first time. I’m sure you have seen many school children carrying these very recognisable backpacks. The academic year is different to schools and colleges in the U.K. that start in September. In Japan, the first day of school is known as “Nyugakushiki”, 入学式 which means “entrance ceremony”. This day marks a new chapter in the lives of both the students and their families as they will attend a formal ceremony along with their teachers, and classmates.

Apart from the academic year, April also marks the beginning of the fiscal year 年度 in Japan. This is a time of new beginnings in the corporate world . Companies and businesses in set their budgets and make plans for the upcoming year. Employees may receive a promotion or change jobs and businesses may recruit new graduates at this time. This is a crucial event for graduates to attend job fairs and interviews bringing a fresh start for the future.

April is now truly a season of new beginnings and even if you are not starting a new job or school it maybe a good time to start a new journey and set goals for the future. How about learning a new language “Japanese maybe”, or  starting an evening class or new hobby. Maybe the birth of new life might inspire you to try something new or set a goal for the rest of the year.

Even the smallest changes can have an effect, many years ago I decided to take up studying Japanese cuisine and culture as a way to give myself motivation and purpose. Little did I know that this would lead me to work with and meet some wonderful people.

One of these people is Shunzo who had his own new beginning arriving in the U.K. in April 2022 from the parent company Hikari Miso. Born in Kawasaki his first job out of university was working for House Foods America one of the largest Tofu manufacturers in the world and in 2019 joined Hikari Miso Co Ltd. Dragonfly Foods Tofu original brand since 1984 was bought by Hikari Miso in 2015 and decided to upscale production capacity by shipping massive equipment made in Japan and set up a new purpose built facility for making traditionally made tofu in Devon in 2017. You can choose to buy from their range firm, extra firm and soft tofu. The first two are perfect for making any tofu meal the soft is better for desserts smoothies miso soup etc.

 

I have been using such tofu named “Shizenno Megumi” meaning natures best for many of my recipes and I wanted to use tofu again for a very special recipe to mark Shinshun “new spring”.

I decided to create a recipe for Sakura Taiyaki, with a sakura flavour bean paste filling and pink colour to celebrate the blooming of the Sakura and blossoms not only in Japan but where ever you may live.

But why Taiyaki? Well let’s talk about this popular fish-shaped snack that is eaten warm and freshly baked from street food vendors, taiyaki shops and cafes.

I ate my first vegan Taiyaki on a trip to Japan one sakura season back in 2013. I visited a Taiyaki shop in Ebisu Tokyo called Taiyaki Hiiragi たいやきひいらぎ who opened their shop in 2006 selling taiyaki, a traditional Japanese baked sweet in the shape of a fish filled with red bean paste.

There regular bean paste one being vegan. I was hooked by the perfectly crisp waffle / pancake outside and sweet warm bean filling! Sadly not all Taiyaki is vegan.Taiyaki たい焼き(鯛焼き) translates literally as “baked sea bream”, Tai (sea bream) is a type of fish often considered king among fish in Japan, and yaki can mean fried, baked, or grilled. Don’t worry there is no fish contained in this snack the name actually comes from the fish-shaped mould that the snack is baked into.

The origins of Taiyaki can be traced back hundreds of years to the Edo  period to imagawayaki (今川焼) (called oobanyaki (大判焼き) in the Kansai region of Japan.) Imagawayaki was first sold  near the Kanda Imagawabashi bridge (神田今川橋) in the Kanda district of Tokyo, which is where it got its name.

The shape was first a round-shaped cake similarly served warm and filled with azuki sweet red bean paste. During the Meiji era, seabream was an expensive dish that had long been considered a symbol of good fortune in Japan. In fact, even the name tai is considered auspicious because it rhymes with the word medetai, which means joyous or prosperous. Thus taiyaki could be seen as an inexpensive way for ordinary people to enjoy this lucky fish.

As the name tai forms part of the word medetai, which means lucky, Taiyaki became a popular snack for new students and employees in April to eat to bring them luck in their new future. So I decided creating a Taiyaki for April would be the perfect snack.

I have never come across a recipe that uses tofu in the batter but I thought the soft Shizenno Megumi tofu would be the perfect replacement for the milk and eggs often used in the batter mix.

You may come across many different fillings for Taiyaki in Japan like sweet potato or custard, some might be seasonal like chestnut in the autumn. With that in mind I wanted to make a sakura flavour sweet white bean paste.

My creation was a sakura bean paste and tofu taiyaki to bring you good luck and prosperity this spring.

Sakura Shiroan 白餡 Filling

Ingredients & Method

First you will need to make your white sakura sweet bean filling. For the sakura flavour I used a mixture of a few salted sakura blossoms that had been rinsed with water to get rid of the salt and dried for a few days between kitchen towel and a finely chopped preserved salted Sakura leaf. The flowers are easier to get than the leaves. I do have a recipe to make both yourself on this website but obviously that takes forward planning a year previous. You can find both however already pre-made on line.

You can if you wish omit this and just fill your Taiyaki with traditional red bean paste.

You will need 200g of already cooked and drained butter beans (also known as Lima beans). A 380g carton with a drained weight of 230g yielded the correct amount.

Blend your beans into a smooth paste adding a little water to get them moving then add them to a pan with 150g of sugar and your chopped sakura and leaf. (If you would like to colour your bean paste you can add a 1/4 teaspoon of beetroot powder. Because I used organic unrefined granulated sugar which isn’t white I added more beetroot powder. If you are using white sugar you will get a pretty pink.


Turn on the heat to medium low and let the sugar dissolve. Keep stirring for about 15 minutes until the beans become a smooth paste.

When it’s thick and you can scrape a line in the bottom of your pan it’s done. To stop the sakuraan being too sweet I added one tablespoon of ume su plum vinegar for extra tang and two fresh sakura flowers with the salt rinsed off for extra flavour.

Transfer to a container and refrigerate overnight. This will keep in the fridge for at least a week.

Tofu Batter Mixture

Ingredients & Method

You will need x1 pack of Shizenno Megumi soft tofu drained of liquid and added to a blender or food processor with 1/3 cup of soya milk. Blend this until smooth.

In a bowl sift 1 cup of plain all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of potato starch, then add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and give it a mix to combine. Pour in your tofu mixture and give it a good whisk to combine, then leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.


Just a note:
(I added 1/4 teaspoon of beetroot powder with the idea of making them pink but the colour got lost in the baking process. I would be reluctant to add more beetroot powder incase it either went red or the colour just didn’t look nice in the baking process. I decided you will probably not need to add beetroot powder as the pink from the bean paste is a nice contrast.


To make authentic Taiyaki waffles at home you will need a special Taiyaki pan. You can buy these quite easily on line. The one I have is a cast iron pan made by Iwachu keeping the 400 year old tradition of making Nambu iron ware alive. You can buy these from one of my favourite companies on line to ship authentic kitchen ware from Japan called Global Kitchen.

When you are ready to make your taiyaki, heat up the pan (this can only be done on a gas burner) then brush the insides of the taiyaki pan with oil. Pour in your batter to 60% full and add your pink sakura bean paste filling to the middle.

Then cover over the bean paste with more batter. Close your pan and immediately turn it over and cook for 2 minutes, then flip the pan over and cook for a further two minutes. Check to see if it needs any further cooking.

You may find that the batter has run over the sides when you open the pan. Wait a minutes for the batter to cool slightly and ease the taiyaki out of the pan. You can then cut round the taiyaki into a better shape. For this I like to use my Japanese red super chef kitchen scissors made of high quality 420 stainless steel which are great for snipping herbs and doing things like this.

You can change the recipe by adding a different filling . Popular fillings include sweet potato, custard, sweet bean paste and chocolate spread (like Nutella). Some shops even sell taiyaki with okonomiyaki, gyoza, cheese or a sausage inside so maybe you could create your own.

The taiyaki are at their best eaten straight away but be careful of that lava hot filling. Alternatively you can reheat them back to crispness under the grill or in the oven.