I love it when friends go on their travels. There's something so wonderfully evocative about hearing their tales of food markets and dishes from across the seas. And perhaps, if I'm lucky, I might receive a small parcel of some strange and exciting food stuff, like the kodampuli last month.
Hearing the stories of a friend just back from Tokyo reminded me of my own memories of Japan. I loved their appreciation of fresh, seasonal ingredients, prolific use of umami flavours, and ability to bring out the inherent beauty of food itself.
We had to stick to a serious budget on our trip, so we often avoided restaurants and instead picked up a few delicious and mysterious nibbles from a food shop, to picnic with in one of the parks, or by the river in Kyoto.
Sweet potato cakes were a common sweet that I ate a lot of, a type of wagashi (traditional sweet) I think. If you live in London do try one of the jewel-like sweets in wagashi shop Minamoto Kitchoan on Piccadilly, they are so very pretty and tasty to boot. This recipe is a play on the wagashi I remember, a little less sugary perhaps but full of the natural sweetness of the potatoes, and coated with crispy toasted sesame seeds.
SWEET POTATO CAKES IN A CRISPY SESAME COAT
600g sweet potatoes
40g softened butter
2 egg yolks
tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
about 1½ cups sesame seeds (about 200g)
2 x silicon baking trays, or 2 x oiled and floured baking trays
1) Bake the sweet potatoes for 35-50 minutes (depending on size) at gas mark 6, until soft all the way through. Scoop out the soft flesh and beat in the butter, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, flour, vanilla and salt. Chill the mixture for an hour.
2) Pour the sesame seeds into a bowl. Use a teaspoon to scoop out rounded teaspoons of mixture, and drop each one in the seeds, giving each a generous sprinkling all over with seeds until they are completely covered, then very gently use your hands to pat them into 6cm rounds. You will need to be very careful as you do this, or they will smoosh. Place each cake on the baking tray, leaving a centimeter space between each.
3) Bake for 15 minutes at 400f/200c/gas mark 6, or until the sesame seeds are golden but not turning brown at the edges. Leave to cool on the trays for 5 minutes before transferring toa wire rack to cool.
These are best eaten fresh, as the seeds will soften on storage, but they can be recrisped by heating briefly in the oven again.