This weekend in Kyoto, the sun was shining and the first ume blossom had started to poke their way through a few fat buds at the end of some rather wintery-looking branches. The little pops of pink got me thinking about sakura season and how it’s observed in Japan. I’ve mentioned before the significance that the natural world has on Japanese culture and way of life, with a great appreciation being placed on the landscape of this stunning country and it’s wonderfully distinct seasons. The fleeting and ephemeral, yet totally awe-inspiring beauty of the sakura blossom reflects perfectly the transient beauty of the seasons, which the Japanese believe to be a metaphor for life itself. This way of thinking has been passed on for generations in Japan, so allowing people to perfect the art of honoring this natural symbolism with parties, picnics and even poetry to mark the occasion!
Hanami literally means ‘flower viewing’ and is a word that’s now become synonymous with sakura in Japan. Everyone celebrates it; from business colleagues to school friends to families, throwing a hanami party underneath trees bursting with blossom is not only hugely intoxicating, but is also a sure fire way to secure some good joojoo for the year ahead.
Here are two of my favourite recipes to take along to a hanami picnic. I hope you’re feeling adventurous so you can try and whip them up yourself, don’t worry, they’re so simple even I could make them!
Sakura Kouglof Cake
200g white flour
30g almond flour
5g baking powder
20g icing sugar
1 tsp water
Salted sakura blossoms (you can find these on Amazon)
15ml booze, such as rum or brandy (optional)
1. Sift together the white flour, almond powder and baking powder. Lightly grease the Kouglof cake tin with butter (normal cake tins are fine for a cake without a hole).
2. Cream the butter and sugar, then beat until pale and creamy.
3. Add eggs slowly to the creamed butter and sugar. Continue beating until evenly mixed.
4. Add the honey (and booze) and continue beating. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula until the flour disappears.
5. Pour the batter into the cake tin. Bake in a preheated oven at 170℃ for 40-50 minutes. Remove the cake from the tin and let cool.
6. Make the icing by mixing 20g icing sugar with 1 teaspoon water. When the cake has cooled, drizzle over the icing and decorate with sakura blossoms.
120g unsalted butter
60g white sugar
2 egg yolks
180g cake flour
0.5 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp cherry blossom powder (you can find this on Amazon)
Red food colouring
Salt preserved sakura
1.Combine and sift the flour and baking powder.
2. Add the white sugar to softened (room-temperature) butter and whisk until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix.
3. Fold the flour and baking powder mixture into the eggs, butter and sugar. When the mixture is no longer floury, divide into two equal portions.
4. Add the sakura blossom powder and food colouring to one portion. Mix the ingredients by pressing into the dough with a spatula.
5. When the dough comes together, shape the sakura-flavoured portion into a 3cm sausage. Shape the plain dough into a flat rectangular tube.
6. Wrap portions separately in plastic wrap and leave to rest in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
7. When firm, roll out the plain dough into a rectangular sheet and brush with egg white.
8. Place the sakura dough on top and roll with the plain dough on the outside. Create a seal at the end of the roll by pressing the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and rest in the refrigerator until firm.
9. Soak the salt preserved sakura in water for 20 minutes to remove salt. Pat dry with a paper towel.
10. Slice the dough into 7-8 mm disks and top with the desalinated sakura. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 180℃. Allow to cool.
11. Top with one small salt preserved sakura blossom to enhance the flavour and give a lovely salty finish to these sweet cookies.