CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Traditional manju make a festive treat decorated for the holidays. Food coloring pens and extra pieces of dough adorn the dessert with Christmas designs, while for a more Japanesse aesthetic, the dough is pinched together with a little filling showing.
The steamed Japanese dessert takes on a holiday hue
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Little things matter. Take the case of the humble manju, that steamed Japanese dessert that's second cousin to mochi -- and often treated as second class to it, as well. "I'm afraid it's going out of style," says Lillian Yajima, longtime member of the Japanese Women's Society. "It's drier than mochi, so it's not as popular."
But when it comes to manju's fate, Yajima is a woman with a plan. Her own family recipe takes the dessert and jazzes it up to add to its allure.
"Nowadays, when you go to Longs or Foodland, they sell manju, but it's very simple, just plain pink and plain yellow," she laments.
Her recipe adds a seasonal touch. Change the colors of the dough, add a little food-coloring paint and creativity -- and presto! -- you've got special holiday treats.
The ultimate high for Yajima is hearing that young families have used her recipe at home. She wants children of all backgrounds to enjoy manju, a mainstay to Japanese culture.
"When the immigrants came to Hawaii, they were so poor the only things they had for dessert were mochi and manju, because the ingredients are simple: flour, sugar and water," she explains. "Manju is such a precious thing because it was one of the first things Japanese people brought here with them."
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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kimi Andrew, Lillian Yajima's granddaughter, holds trays of holiday manju, including a set made for Halloween. To make the jack 'o lanterns, the tip of a sharp knife is used to carve a face, showing the koshian filling.
This Yajima family manju recipe can be adapted to celebrate other holidays. For Valentine's, make pink, heart-shaped manju. For Halloween, turn the dough orange and cut a jack-o-lantern face into each manju. For Girl's Day, birthdays or other happy occasions, cut out a happy face.
Note that the manju must be placed in a steamer that's already steaming, so get the water boiling a few minutes before the manju are formed and ready to place.
This recipe yields 28 manju.
1 18-ounce can koshian (Japanese strained red bean paste, found in the Oriental section of the market)
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon food coloring (red or green)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons water
2 cups cake flour
28 squares of wax paper, 2-1/2 inches in size
Food coloring pens
Drain koshian completely, using layers of newspaper and paper towels. Stack half the newspapers, top with paper towel, then place koshian on paper towel. Cover with another paper towel and other half of newspapers. Change paper as it becomes saturated, until liquid is gone. Next, form koshian into 28 3/4-inch balls.
Combine 1/4 cup water, food coloring and sugar. Mix baking soda with the 2 teaspoons water, then add to colored mixture. Add cake flour to liquid mixture and mix until a dough is formed (add more water or flour if necessary). Divide dough into four equal portions.
Roll each portion into a 7-inch log and cut each log into seven 1-inch pieces.
Flatten each piece into a circle by sandwiching the piece between wax paper and flattening with a rolling pin or anything handy, like a cup. Using your hands, thin out the edges a bit. The flattened dough should be approximately 3 inches wide.
Place a koshian ball in the center of the dough and wrap the dough around the koshian. Pinch the dough to seal the edges.
Roll manju in your hands until the pinched areas are smooth and a ball shape is formed. Flatten slightly, then place on a small square of wax paper.
As shown by Lillian Yajima, above left, bring water to boil in lower part of steamer. Place a damp, thin cloth over holes in top part of steamer. Place manju 1 inch apart on cloth. When water is steaming, put top of steamer in place and cover. Steam 12 minutes. Cool manju on rack, with wax paper still attached
After cooling, paint Christmas designs using food coloring pens. (Or form designs with colored dough and place atop manju before steaming.)