Saturday, March 24, 2012


Tokara (above)
Umai-do (below)

akuramochi is named for the pale pink blossoms of the cherry tree, and like those blossoms is only around for a short time each spring.

In Japan, there are two regional variations on sakuramochi. Both types have a core of smooth koshian red bean paste and are wrapped in a brined cherry leaf, but the middle layer differs.
In the Kanto region around Tokyo, the bean paste is rolled in a tiny pancake made from pink-tinted rice flour. In the Kansai region (which includes Kyoto), the bean paste is enveloped in a ball of mochi rice dough, often made from dōmyōji-ko a "chunky" glutinous rice flour that originated at Osaka's Dōmyōji Temple; the dōmyōji-ko gives the mochi the ruffled appearance of a cluster of breeze-tossed petals.

Our Seattle wagashi makers are hewing more closely to the Kansai style. Tokara (above) makes a classic sakuramochi, with meltingly smooth koshian encased in a chewy dōmyōji pillow and jacketed in a zingy, tender leaf. At Umai-do (below), there's a homier version, with the shop's own flavorful bean paste and smooth, elastic mochi made from more widely available mochiko glutinous rice flour rather than dōmyōji-ko: a new "Seattle" style?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chè chuối

Chè chuối

Tan Tan, $2

Strip malls and pudding have one great quality in common: they both remind me not to judge solely on appearances. In a nondescript strip mall in Vancouver, WA you'll find Tan Tan, a family-run restaurant serving fresh Vietnamese food and desserts so palpably homemade you could imagine a mom whipping them up to welcome her kids back from a hard day at kindergarten.

Chilling in a glass case by the door, the desserts mostly fall into the "
chè" category of soupy or pudding-like Vietnamese sweets. On any given day there might be cơm rượu (rice balls in sweet rice wine), bukopandan (a sweet tofu tinted green pandanus leaf), Vietnamese yogurt, chè bắp (sweet corn, sticky rice, and coconut milk), or chè đậu trắng (black eyed peas, sticky rice, and coconut milk). All the blobs, lumps, and cloudy liquids are prepacked into clear plastic cups.

Slightly greyish and pocked with dark splotches, chè chuối may not be much to look at, but like all great puddings it offers an experience all the more transcendent for being unexpected. Sweet-tart slices of fresh banana and succulent spheres of tapioca swim in thick, silky, sweetened coconut milk. Tan Tan even provides a garnish of crushed, roasted peanuts, thoughtfully packaged in a tiny ziploc bag so that they stay fresh and crisp until the moment comes to provide the perfect counterpoint to all that unctuous richness.

Tan Tan
Ste A3316 SE 123rd Ave
Vancouver, WA

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pan d'Amore

Almond Croissant

Pan d'Amore, $2.75

Founded in 2003, Pan d'Amore is a bakery and tiny storefront in Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula (with other branches in Sequim and Bainbridge Island). The huge range of crusty breads and delicate pastries are visibly rooted in a European tradition, while a "no throw away" policy (breads too stale to eat end up as fodder on area farms) is a more subtle indicator of the bakery's ties to the local community.

Whenever I can't make up my mind at a European-style bakery, I default to the almond croissant. The dozens I've eaten over the years have mostly blurred together, with only a few individuals distinguishing themselves from the pack; the unusually restrained dusting of powdered sugar on top of Pan d'Amore's almond croissant was my first clue that this would be one of those worth remembering. The buttery, crisp skin gave way to layers of chewier but equally rich connective tissue, and then to the seam of almond paste that really set this version apart: housemade from unblanched roasted almonds and that are coarsely ground with just enough sugar, it was a mouthwatering mashup of marzipan and almond butter.

Pan d'Amore
617 Tyler St.
Port Townsend, WA 98368