Spring is in the air and I see vibrant colors of the rainbow all around me. Vivid bright pinks to deep cobalt blues, fresh tropical greens to warm saffron oranges. The earth is alive and the sun feels warm and cozy on my skin.
On one of those warm and sunny days, I spent a lazy afternoon with my childhood friend Emi. We both received dessert care packages from Japan and we were excited to share these sweet delights. We sat on her couch as we waited for the Lupicia muscat grape green tea to steep in the white teapot. Meanwhile, her 2 black cats yawned and stretched their long limbs in a downward-facing-dog yoga pose before they curled up on the warmest spot on the couch where the sunlight filtered through the window.
We had baumkuchen and sakura mochi with our green tea. Baumkuchen is a layered German cake that is known as the ‘King of Cakes’ because it is very labor intensive to make it. It literally means ‘tree cake’ because of the many thin ring layers it has. It must be baked layer by layer around a round spit, and some may have up to 25 layers. The largest baumkuchens can be up to 3 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds! Baumkuchen may be covered with a sugar, chocolate, or jam glaze. The one we had from Juchheim bakery had a white sugar glaze. There is also something called baumkuchenspitzen, which are the small pieces that drip off the spit which are then coated with chocolate. Just like donut holes, no part of a pastry must go to waste!
Emi provided the sakura mochi, which is a traditional Japanese confectionary. It means ‘cherry blossom rice cake’, and it’s made with glutinous rice flour with a red bean paste filling. It’s usually wrapped with salt cured cherry blossom leaves, though this one was not. Sakura mochi is commonly eaten from March 3rd, which celebrates National Dolls Day, or Girls Day (Hinamatsuri) until the end of March. It’s a very fitting dessert to enjoy on Girls Day because it’s pink.
Here are some other traditional Japanese treats that I had at my friend’s house for Hinamatsuri last month:
Japanese pastries are usually not too sweet. The subdued sweetness complements the bitterness of green teas, and never overwhelms the taste buds. After Emi and I finished our sweets over a wonderful heart-to-heart conversation, we yawned, stretched our limbs and curled up on the couch next to the cats. Zzzzzzzzz……
Random trivia: Most families take out their display of dolls around mid-February and put it away immediately after Hinamatsuri is over. There is a superstition that says that families slow to put away the dolls will have trouble marrying off their daughters!