Bake up a storm with Kokoro Care Packages ‘Amai’ Japanese sweets baking box

Recipe and photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages
Recipe and photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages

Bake up a storm with Kokoro Care Packages ‘Amai’ Japanese sweets baking box

by Sarah B. Hodge
Stripes Okinawa

Step into any Japanese bakery or department store food floor, and you’ll be in sensory overload at the gorgeous, (almost!) too-pretty-to-eat confections. Whether Japanese wagashi (traditional sweets made from rice flour and bean paste), European-inspired cakes, or hybrids of the two that incorporate distinctly Japanese flavors like matcha, black sesame paste, and seasonal ingredients like pickled cherry blossoms.

For those who love baking, it’s fun to make Japanese-style desserts at home or to add Japanese flavors to your creations.  But trying to locate these specialized ingredients can be elusive, and English-language cookbooks that feature Japanese-style desserts are few and far between.

Enter the BAKING: “Amai” Care Package by Kokoro Care Packages, a women-owned company founded in 2018 that aims to connect its community with small-batch, artisanal products from local Japanese farmers and producers.

Kokoro translates into “heart” in Japanese, yet has a much deeper meaning. It represents the “spirit”, “soul” and “emotion,” and is the foundation of each Kokoro Care Package.  The products in each care package are carefully chosen for quality, contain no additives or chemicals, and there are profiles of each of the producers along with recipes, travel and culture tips.

The Baking: "Amai" Care Package gets its name from the kanji amai, which means “sweet” in Japanese. Unlike Western confections, Japanese desserts use sugar more modestly, satisfying without being overpowering and adding just the right touch of sweetness.

Photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages
Mini sakura jelly cheesecake. Photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages.

Inside the Amai Care Package, you’ll find agar, mochiko (sweet rice flour), mugwort powder, okara powder, matcha powder, toasted soybean powder, black sesame paste, kokuto powder (a beautifully complex brown sugar from Okinawa), and pickled cherry blossoms from small producers across Japan.

Agar, a vegan gelatin alternative, is derived from red algae. Once rehydrated, it has gelling properties similar to gelatin. Okara is a byproduct of making soymilk 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 soybean flour, has a warm, nutty flavor and is typically used as a topping for Japanese sweets.

I’m a huge fan of Japanese and Asian baked goods, so I was eager to try out the Amai Care Package’s products and recipes. The ingredients are paired with 15 full-color recipes developed by Yaz Gentry, a freelance recipe developer and food lover based in Tokyo. Gentry is half-Japanese and half-American and enjoys fusing together seasonal ingredients and dishes from both cultures as a reflection of her mixed heritage. You can follow her culinary adventures on Instagram at @blissprovisions and at www.blissprovisions.com.

Photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages
Marbled sesame cupcakes. Photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages.

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, “raindrop” mochi, mochi donuts with matcha glaze, marbled sesame cupcakes, and mini sakura jelly cheesecakes. 

Several of the recipes include more traditional Japanese desserts like mitsumame, a refreshing blend of cold fruit and vegan jelly cubes made from agar, the photogenic “raindrop” mochi, rare cheesecake (refrigerated cheesecake set with gelatin), and hanami dango, festive green, white and pink dumplings on a stick traditional for Girls’ Day in March.

 

Other recipes will inspire you to experiment with traditional ingredients in new and exciting ways, such as adding pickled cherry blossoms to focaccia, or incorporating toasted soybean powder into a streusel topping. It’s easy to find cookbooks written in Japanese that use ingredients like okara to boost fiber and protein in baked goods, but much rarer to find English-language recipe ideas, so I greatly appreciated Gentry’s suggestions.

I was already familiar with some of these desserts, but other creations are creative and fun, like the yomogi quiche and camembert and cherry blossom focaccia. The salty-sweet notes from the cherry blossoms work beautifully to cut the richness of the camembert, while the mugwort powder (most often found in yomogi dango and traditional sweets) adds a refreshing vegetal depth to the quiche, which is dotted with leeks, oyster mushrooms and goat cheese.  

Kokoro Care Packages BAKING: “Amai” Care Package is the perfect introduction to baking with Japanese flavors and makes a great gift for family and friends back home as well (the boxes are available to ship worldwide via DHL). It takes the guesswork out of trying to track down these 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 purchase these ingredients in their single-item Market: Michi no Eki. Begin your journey at https://kokorocares.com/ and on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Photos courtesy of Kokoro Care Packages

BONUS RECIPE: Mochi Donuts with Matcha Glaze 
Recipe by Yaz Gentry for Kokoro Care Packages

Mochi donuts are chewy, fluffy and absolutely delicious!

Servings: 6 donuts
Ingredients for the donuts
●    70g Mochiko
●    50g granulated sugar
●    ¼ baking powder
●    ¼ tsp baking soda
●    ½ tsp salt
●    2 large egg yolks
●    100ml milk
●    28g unsalted butter, melted
●    ½ tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients for the matcha icing
●    120g powdered sugar
●    2g Matcha Powder
●    2 tbsp, scant, milk

Instructions
Note: This recipe will fit a 6-cavity standard size donut pan - making about 8.5 centimeter or 3.25-inch diameter donuts. Please adjust your batter distribution and cooking times accordingly if using any other donut pan.

1.    Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F. Lightly grease or spray the donut pan. With a fork, lightly mix mochiko, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
2.    Separately, whisk egg yolks, milk, butter, and vanilla.
3.    Whisk liquids into dry ingredients to form a light batter. Then, transfer to a large liquid measuring cup for easy pouring.
4.    Pour 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. Afterwards, gently flip them over onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Note: Due to the structural density of mochiko, the bottom side of the donuts may "fall" as they cool. This is expected 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, and then add the milk one tablespoon at a time. Then, carefully dip donuts into the matcha icing and decorate at your leisure with sprinkles, chopped nuts, or drizzled chocolate. If you wish to have a thicker, more vibrant icing layer, dip the donut into icing a second time after the first layer of icing has dried.
9.    Mochi donuts are best when served immediately as the texture changes with temperature. Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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