Yatsuhashi, Cinnamon sweets from Kyoto

Just about anyone who takes a trip to the historical city of Kyoto goes home bearing a box of yatsuhashi (八つ橋), a small delicate sweet that is flavored with nikki or cinnamon. While I am not from Kyoto, I get a fit of nostalgia for yatsuhashi on occasion. Fortunately they aren't that hard to make at home.

Yatsuhashi, which means 'eight bridges', come in two basic forms: nama or 'raw' yatsuhashi which are soft, and yaki yatsuhashi which are hard and cookie like. Nama yatsuhashi, pictured below, are soft, thin squares of cinnamon scented mochi (sticky rice) dough, folded into a triangle with a filling of sweet azuki bean paste (_tsubuan_).

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Like other mochi-based sweets, yatsuhashi are totally gluten-free, so if you are gluten intolerant you might want to try these out. They also happen to be more or less fat free and vegan too. (They are definitely not sugar-free though!)

Really traditional yatushashi calls for nikki sui or cinnamon water, but ground cinnamon is much easier to get a hold of so that's what I've used here. I have also used natural or raw cane sugar for additional flavor.

Some notes about this recipe

You might hate me for this if you are in the U.S., but as a departure from my usual practive I'm only giving you metric weight measurements here. Because so little of each ingredient is needed, accuracy is very important. Fortunately most modern scales can switch from metric to imperial measurements and vice versa, and a good scale is really a good thing to have if you do any kind of baking, not to mention portion control!_

I've given two dough recipes here. One uses mochiko or sweet/glutinous rice flour only. Mochiko or the Chinese equivalent which is usually labeled "glutinous rice flour" seems to be quite widely available at Asian grocery stores and health food stores. Most Japanese recipes for yatsuhashi call for a mixture of medium-grain rice flour (joushinko) and sweet rice flour, but when I used this mixture for mitarashi dango I got a lot of comments and emails that it was hard to get the joushinko. Note that the amount of water is a bit different when you use 100% mochiko vs. a mix of mochiko and joushinko.

Recipe: Nama Yatsuhashi

This amount of dough makes about 12 small yatsuhashi, or a batch of baked yatsuhashi. For maximum cinnamon flavor, make sure to use fresh cinnamon powder!

Dough - Mochiko or glutinous rice flour only version:

  • 100g mochiko or glutinous rice flour
  • 60g raw cane sugar or light brown sugar (in Japan use wasanontou (和三温糖))
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 85g (85cc) water

Dough - Mochiko and joushinko mixture version:

  • 40g joushinko
  • 60g mochiko
  • 60g raw cane sugar or light brown sugar (in Japan use wasanontou (和三温糖))
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 95g (95cc) water

Other ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs. kinako (ground toasted soybeans)
  • 1 Tbs. ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 3-4 Tbs. _tsubuan_ or other filling (see notes below for suggestions). You can make your own tsubuan, or buy cans or bags at a Japanese grocery store.

Measure your ingredients accurately!

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Mix the dry ingredients together well with chopsticks or a fork, add the water and mix very well. It will be rather loose and sludgy.

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Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Take out and mix well again - most of the moisture would have been absorbed.

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Put back in the microwave and cook on HIGH for 1 minute 30 seconds. Take out and mix again. At this stage it will form a rough ball and more or less clear the sides of the bowl.

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Spread a large piece of heat-proof plastic wrap (like Saran Wrap) on your working surface, and turn the dough out on it.

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Wrap the dough up in the plastic.

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Knead the dough several times, using the plastic wrap as a heat barrier and to prevent sticking between you, the working surface and the dough. This kneading is very important to ensure the dough is smooth and pliable. You may have to open the plastic wrap and re-shift the dough a few times. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and shiny.

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The dough here is almost ready - it just needs a few more kneading turns to make it totally smooth.

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Mix the 3 Tbs. of kinako and 1 Tbs. of cinnamon, and use this as the dusting 'flour' to roll out the dough as thinly as possible. It helps to use more plastic wrap to prevent sticking here. If you have trouble getting it thin enough, try dividing the dough and rolling out smaller pieces.

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Cut the dough into 10 to 12 squares. Wet two sides, fill with about 1/2 tsp. of filling, fold up into a triangle and press hard to seal. I then like to coat them again in the kinako-cinnamon powder mix, and dust on extra cinnamon to serve, but this is optional.

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Green tea is the perfect accompaniment to these.

Filling notes

If you can't get or make tsubuan, you can try:

If filling the dough doesn't work, you can just spread the filling of your choice on top of a flat piece and pop it in your mouth.

Baked yatsuhashi cookies

You can use the dough to make little cinnamon flavored cookies that are, of course, gluten and fat free.

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Just cut the thinly rolled out dough into squares, or fancy shapes with cookie cutters.

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Bake in a 170°C/335°F oven for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave the cookies in there for an additional 15 minutes. The cookies may or may not puff up, but either way they will be very crispy. You can optionally sprinkle them with additional cinnamon or cinnamon sugar while still warm.

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