We are experiencing dantou 暖冬 (だんとう), a mild winter, the consequence of el nino elsewhere in the pacific region. The narcissi are blooming, kids are playing outside in t-shirts; it should be snowing by now. While we appreciate the mild temperature it doesn’t feel quite right, especially when putting out New Year decorations.
The turnips in Japan are crisp and sweet and come in a creamy white or brilliant magenta pink. The latter make beautiful, colourful pickles that brighten up a winter meal. I like to add the stalks for a little contrast in texture and colour.
- 1 turnip, preferably with stalks attached
- 1/2 tsp salt
- yuzu or lemon zest (optional)
- Wash the turnip and peel if necessary. Wash the stalks week of any grit or dirt.
- Cut the turnip in half, then into quarters.
- Thinly slice into crescents.
- Finely chop the stalks.
- Place in a bowl and add the salt.
- Gently rub the salt into the turnip.
- Leave overnight in the fridge (I have also left this for as little as half an hour).
- Drain most of the liquid but do not squeeze dry, you want the pickles to be moist.
- Add shavings of yuzu or lemon zest.
Keeps for several days in the fridge.
A very rich chocolate roll cake
For the chocolate sponge:
- 4 large eggs (or 5 medium)
- 100g sugar
- 65g flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 30g cocoa powder
For the chocolate ganache topping:
- 200ml cream
- 225g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
- Knob of butter
For the cream filling:
- 100ml cream
- 2-3 drops vanilla (optional)
- 10g icing sugar (optional)
Makes 2 small or one large log.
- Heat oven to 190C.
To make the chocolate ganache:
- Break or cut up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl with the butter.
- Heat the cream till it starts to boil and then pour over the chocolate and mix until all the chocolate has melted.
- Leave to cool in the fridge for 1 hour.
To make the chocolate sponge:
- Butter and line the base and sides of a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
- Separate the eggs into two large mixing bowls.
- Add the sugar and 2 tbsp water to the egg yolks.
- Whisk the sugar and yolks together
- Sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa, and then fold in lightly.
- Using a clean whisk, beat the egg whites until they are stiff, then fold into the cake mixture in 3 batches.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, and carefully spread to the edges.
- Bake for 10-12 mins, or until the cake feels firm to the touch.
- Put a large sheet of baking parchment on a chopping board.
- Turn the cake out and cover with a sheet of baking parchment, while still warm roll loosely then leave to cool.
To make the cream filling:
- Whip the cream (and vanilla and icing sugar if using) in a bowl until stiff.
To assemble the roll cake:
- Carefully unroll the cake, and peel off the paper but leave one sheet underneath.
- Spread the cream filling over the top.
- Roll up the cake again using the paper to help you.
- Cover the cake with the chocolate ganache.
- Use a fork to create a bark effect.
- Transfer to a serving plate. Just before serving dust with a little icing sugar to look like snow.
Put a spring of holly on top – thanks to one of the participants for bringing some on the day. I haven’t seen holly in Japan…
Slow cooking daikon radish renders it tender and slightly sweet. It lends itself well to strong flavours to complement its subtle taste. My favourite is sweet white miso and sesame.
- 1 daikon radish
- Sweet white miso
- 2-3 tsp sesame seeds
- Peel the daikon and cut into 2cm thick slices
- Lightly score the surface with a criss-cross pattern; this helps the daikon cook quicker
- Put in a pan with plenty of water and cook until soft
- Place a piece for each person in a small bowl, spread a thin layer of miso on top (or leave in a round as in the photo)
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds
One of the lovely things of living in Japan is experiencing the many seasonal traditions throughout the year. Until this year I hadn’t heard of the customs surrounding the winter solstice or toji.
As Anna’s Kitchen fell on Halloween my students requested we made pumpkin pie. I chose to use maple syrup instead of sugar to give a more complex flavour. I used less nutmeg than usual so the maple syrup really shone though.
For the pastry
- 175g plain flour
- 75g butter
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2-4 tbs iced water
- 10g icing sugar
- 20g finely chopped almonds
- Lemon or orange zest
- Vanilla essence
For the filling
- Half a medium pumpkin (about 350g of cooked pumpkin purée)
- 3 eggs
- 145g maple syrup
- 150ml cream
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp allspice
Makes 2 small or 1 large pie
- Preheat the oven to 180C
To cook the pumpkin
- Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds
- Place on a baking tray and cover with foil
- Bake for 45 minutes or until soft
- Leave to cool
- Sift the flour (and icing sugar if using) into a large bowl
- Add the butter and chop into small pieces Rub the butter into the flour with your finger tips
- When the flour is like breadcrumbs add (the chopped nuts if using) 1 tbs water and the egg yolk.
- Mix with a knife, then finish with your hands to make a smooth dough. If it is sticky add a little flour or more water if still dry, the bowl should come up clean. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
- Prepare a board and rolling pin and dust with flour
- Take the pastry from the fridge and roll into a circle
- Place in a greased pie tin and trim the edges
- Prick the base with a fork. Cover with baking sheet and add baking beans
- Place on a preheated baking tray and bake for 15 mins, then remove baking sheet and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes
- Remove from the oven
- Scoop out the pumpkin flesh with a spoon and put in a bowl
- Add the maple syrup, cream, eggs and spices
- Blend until smooth Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pastry case
- Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes each for small pies or 40 minutes for a large pie or until the filling has set
- Let the pie cool before cutting
The intense heat and shrill scream of the cicadas in August makes way to the mellow chirp of grasshoppers. The rice has turned a golden yellow green and the days are punctuated by the beep beep beep of reversing rice harvesters as they manouver around the small rice fields. Figs are in season, hiding amongst large lobed leaves. Some mornings I wake to find figs left to sweeten on the branches have disappeared overnight, probably in the hands of monkeys.