Mid-Winter Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya Red Plum Blossom with Frost Theme Namagashi Confection

A wagashi confection that was created in 1699 by Toraya is a beautiful and unmistakable expression of a mid-winter plum blossom. It is called Shimokobai 霜紅梅, or red plum blossom with frost. This confection, created centuries ago, expresses something that I can only clearly recall seeing once: fruit blossoms in snow.

Mid-Winter Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya Red Plum Blossom with Frost Theme Namagashi Confection 京都 とらや 霜紅梅 生菓子

Toraya 'Shimokobai' Tea Ceremony Confection

While it is mid-winter here in Kyoto, we are getting ready for fruit blossoms already. In February the plum trees will bloom and the very fortunate will be treated to see plum blossoms in the snow! To me, plums blossoms are more beautiful and intoxicatingly fragrant than the over-appreciated sakura. The combination of delicate plum blossoms on a leafless, gnarled and contorted black plum tree with lichen and moss, amid snowflakes, all enveloped by the invisible yet penetrating fragrance of the blossoms is an experience with a depth of beauty that I have found unsurpassed.

I hadn’t seen a wagashi that expresses my ideal of plum blossom and snow until today when I dropped in at Toraya to have a look at their tea ceremony wagashi line-up for the second half of January. When I saw this one, I knew I had to show all you foodies out there in the 183 countries with KyotoFoodie fans.

Mid-Winter Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya Red Plum Blossom with Frost Theme Namagashi Confection 京都 とらや 霜紅梅 生菓子

Toraya 'Shimokobai' Tea Ceremony Confection

How to ‘Frost’ a Wagashi Confection: Shinbikiko
Flower shaped wagashi are very common but this one is covered in a kind of rice flour called shinbikiko (新引粉). Shinbikiko is similar to cornmeal in texture but is pure white. It is made with mochi rice that has been steamed, dried, ground and then roasted. The sticky mochi surface of this confection is dusted with shinbikiko creating an obvious yet delicate effect of frost.

Mid-Winter Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya Red Plum Blossom with Frost Theme Namagashi Confection 京都 とらや 霜紅梅 生菓子

Wagashi Frost: Shinbikiko - detail

How Did Shimokobai Wagashi Taste?
While I have complained on KyotoFoodie many times about theredundant and monotonous taste of tea ceremony wagashi, this one really got me. The sensation created by the flavors and textures was quite weird and otherworldly, but in a very subdued way. I loved it!

The filling is gooey but not too sweet white bean paste, it is very soft and creamy. The mochi covering that creates the red plum blossom is gyuhi mochi that very chewy, rather more al dente than normal mochi, like it had been stretched taut over the soft filling and allowed to dry a bit. The shinbikiko really got me though. It reminded me of poppy seeds on a muffin, but not crunchy at all, it was like damp poppy seeds, or damp cornmeal. The taste was ‘ricy’ and dry, yet damp in texture. Weird.

These three contrasting textures and flavors melting together while being chewed made it even more weird.

I found myself wishing for a whole plate to eat so that I could try to better apprehend and express the precious textures and flavors.

Mid-Winter Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya Red Plum Blossom with Frost Theme Namagashi Confection 京都 とらや 霜紅梅 生菓子

The 'kuromoji' traditional tea ceremony utensil is used to cut and eat namagashi.

When do Kyoto Fruit Trees Blossom?
February: Plum (ume 梅)
March: Peach (momo 桃)
April: Cherry (sakura 桜)
Due to global warming these fruit trees are often blooming earlier than they did traditionally. Forget the namby-pamby late spring sakura and seek out the ume!

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13 Responses to “Mid-Winter Wagashi: Kyoto Toraya Red Plum Blossom with Frost Theme Namagashi Confection”

  1. Amato says:

    This is very beautiful, the color and shape.
    We don’t have such red plum blossoms here in Germany, the first time as I have seen it at your blog (it was sake/ume blossom post) I thought they aren’t real, because these flowers looked too perfect, and there were no green leaves around the flower. ;-)

    What do you think, how did they shape this namagashi?
    I have never seen wagashi “frosted” like this before, only with korimochi (氷餅) as frost.
    I like the dish you used for presentation, is this something special?

    I have few wagashi books, and usually it is a kind of uiro-dough (外郎) the namagashi are made from, maybe this is why the taste was a little “dry”. This kind of dough is easier to shape as “real” mochi.

    Do you maybe know the difference between shinbikiko,上南粉jyônan-ko and 味甚粉mijinko? These flours look very similar to me. I have only kanbaiko at home; so far I know it is fine ground mijinko.

    I’m sorry, 100 questions, as always.

    My name should be “the girl who wanted to know everything” instead of Amato. ;-)

    PS. I made cream cheese mushi-pan today, but it wasn’t mochi-mochi. But very tasty, I will try again, with one part hakurikiko, one part shiratamako.
    (You really got me with this mochi-mushi-pan, I love mochi…)

  2. Fuji Mama says:

    Absolutely gorgeous! I too, love ume blossoms. We actually have some blossoming here in Southern California right now–STUNNING!

  3. Peko Peko says:

    Hello Amato, Those plums blossoms that you saw, Sake and Ume Blossoms, those are real and the natural color. In Japan plum blossoms are commonly white or light pink, but red is also fairly common.

    I think that they formed but by hand and used a simple wooden implement to create the petals. Korimochi powder is commonly used to create a frosted effect, but this is something that I don’t recall seeing before. (I did an image search online for , it is by no means unheard of, just uncommon.)

    The dish, is just a lacquered piece of Japanese oak, nothing special.

    As for the covering, I want to ask Toraya about that, because I didn’t think that it was gyuhi but one their month menu of namagashi, it said that this is gyuhi.

    The two other flours you mention, 上南粉 and 味甚粉, I will have to check the difference.

    The mochi mochi mushi pan will be a tough nut to crack, I am afraid!

    Hello Fuji Mama, Nice! We don’t have anything blossoming yet, I don’t think. At least I haven’t seen nor sniffed any ume yet. It shouldn’t be long now. But Southern California, no snow of frost there!!

  4. Harika!Çok lezzetli bir şey gibi ama ben ne olduğunu anlayamadım.

  5. S Lloyd says:

    A colorful vivid item of food!
    Sounds tasty from what you wrote

  6. diva says:

    what a beautiful treat. It looks like what it expresses – that’s exactly what I love about wagashi! :)

  7. deana says:

    The photo was so beautiful I had to visit… I love the wooden plate too… the texture is amazing and a perfect counterpoint to the sweet! Great informative post!

  8. Peggy says:

    you definitely give a great and mouthwatering description of this beautiful treat!

  9. Lauren says:

    This is GORGEOUS.

    Absolutely. Simply. GORGEOUS.

    I am a huge fan of wagashi confections, namagashi and munjo in particular (say, Munjo is a relative of Bao, is it not?) I have been searching high and low for a long time now for a good source material on the practice of making wagashi. Where can I find one?

    Thanks for sharing, wonderful photos as always.

  10. Mora says:

    Stunning…gorgeous…exemplary…I want one with tea now! How I wish Americans would give up their hunger for over-the-top sweet treats and instead enjoy wagashi. Thanks for sharing. BTW the hand-carved wood plate is a real looker as well.

  11. Risa says:

    How lovely and poetic. I can hardly speak. Just exquisite!

  12. Rhonda says:

    This is wonderful. I’d like to start making daikufu !!! do you have a recipe – after that I would like to extend myself to this level (one day) … Exquisite !!!

  13. Kiki says:

    How do I order those wagashi? I looked up toraya group website but it said that the new york store was already closed. Are there any other places I can order wagashi from?

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