Sakura Mochi (桜餅)

The Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura, is celebrated for its fleeting weeks of beauty.  Sakura season varies based on geographic locations, and the bloom forecast is tracked on Japanese public television.  I have been lucky enough to experience sakura in Tokyo and Kyoto.  My favorite place to view them was Heian Jingu, a Shinto shrine in Kyoto.  I have included a few photos from my visit there.

Sakura season revolves around food as much as it does the namesake flower.  Picnics under the sakura trees and sakura-flavored frappuccinos at Starbucks are unavoidable during the few weeks of sakura frenzy.  The most essential sakura treat, however, is sakura mochi (桜餅).  Some of my favorite memories from Kyoto involved sitting by the Kamogawa River with these pretty pink wagashi.

Both cherry blossoms and leaves are edible.  While shopping for sakura mochi ingredients at Mitsuwa Marketplace, I was disappointed to find out that they did not carry any pickled sakura leaves, the focal point of this wagashi.  A kindly employee suggested that I travel to Washington DC to harvest some of their blooms before the season was over.  This jogged my memory that my family had a cherry tree at home in Urbana, Illinois.  I used leaves and blossoms from that tree to make this wagashi.

sakura mochi sketch

bag o rice

Sakura bouquet

 

Sakura soaking

Sakura soaking 2

Sakura drying

sakura mochi 1

sakura mochi 2

sakura mochi 3

sakura mochi 4

sakura mochi 5

sakura mochi 6

sakura mochi 7

heian jingu sakura 3

heian jingu sakura

 

Yomogi Mochi (蓬餅)

For my wagashi debut, I wanted to tackle a classic, simple treat.  Over the next few weeks, I will work up to more complicated designs and tastes.  During a recent vacation, I visited a Japanese grocery store in San Francisco’s Japantown.  It had been a while since I had encountered so many Japanese products.  Without consulting a recipe, I purchased and took home as many traditional baking ingredients that I could carry.  Sizing up the pile of ingredients, I decided to make yomogi mochi.

Yomogi mochi (also called kusamochi, 草餅), is a springtime treat ubiquitous in Japan.  I often came across it at food vendors throughout the city while I was living in Kyoto.  Yomogi, or mugwort, is a plant native to Japan that has wandered the world and made itself comfortable on many foreign soils.  The mochi is filled with koshian, fine red bean paste.  This wagashi felt like the perfect bridge to celebrate Chicago’s first warm days of the season and my memories of Japan’s springtime energy.

yomogi ingredients

kusamochi 1

 

kusamochi