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.
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.
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.
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.
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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