Earlier this year I came across a book on Goodreads titled Sweet Bean Paste which was recently translated into English. I added it right away and then received a tip from a Goodreads friend and fellow book blogger Evelina@ Avalinahsbooks that it was available on Edelweiss. Luckily, I was approved for it, because it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.
Sweet Bean Paste
The story begins with Sentaro, a man who was previously in jail and is now working in a little confectionary shop to pay off some debt. He makes a Japanese sweet called ‘dorayaki’ every day but puts no heart into it at all. He works in a depressed part of town and feels quite depressed himself. He doesn’t have much appreciation for life while spending most evenings drowning his sorrows with alcohol. He’s always wanted to be a writer, but just doesn’t know what his purpose in life is at this point.
One day, he puts an ad out for a helper. A little old lady named Tokue comes to visit Sentaro and begins to chat about his red bean paste. She wants the job, but Sentaro is hesitant to hire her because there are differences in Tokue’s appearance which make her different than other people. Her fingers are disfigured, but after Sentaro tastes some of her sweet bean paste, he begins to question in his mind how he can hire her without offending customers because her sweet, rich bean paste is like nothing he’s ever tasted, and he has to learn how to make it. As time moves on, Tokue becomes part of the shop and enjoys meeting with some of the customers, until a rumor starts and people become afraid of something they don’t truly understand.
I loved the characters and cherished Tokue’s wisdom. Besides teaching Sentaro how to make the best bean paste, she helps him on his journey of self-discovery and teaches him how to truly listen and to be patient.
“We were born in order to see and listen to the world.”
Reading about Tokue’s harrowing past was difficult, yet the unlikely friendships formed between this small group of people is heartwarming. Each of them has something to give one another and as they connect, Sentaro finally begins to see the light from Tokue’s teachings.
After reading the book, I sat for awhile and reflected on Tokue’s suggestions to Sentaro and found the book very educational because of it–from her messages about listening and seeing to also learning about Hansen’s disease in Japanese history. I absolutely adored reading this wonderful book and appreciated the author’s note at the end which explains the author’s experience with Hansen’s disease and the inspiration for this story. This is a book anyone can enjoy and I highly recommend it. My rating is 5*****
I’d like to thank Edelweiss, the publisher, and the author for sharing a copy of this book with me in exchange for an honest review.
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Oneworld Publications (November 14, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1786071959
- ISBN-13: 978-1786071958
I was so excited to learn that this book has been adapted to film and it’s available on Netflix. I haven’t watched it yet, but plan to this weekend and I’ll share my thoughts after. Here’s the trailer…
All this reading about Dorayaki and sweet bean paste really sparked my interest. I’d never had dorayaki or even heard of it. I went straight to Amazon and ordered some adzuki beans so that I could experience this Japanese treat with my family.
What is dorayaki?
Dorayaki (どら焼き, どらやき, 銅鑼焼き, ドラ焼き) is a type of Japanese confection, а red-bean pancake which consists of two small pancake-like patties made from castella wrapped around a filling of sweet Azuki red bean paste.
The first thing I did was soak the beans. I put about a cup of adzuki beans in a jar with water and let them soak overnight. I rinsed them once before and then again in the morning.
I decided to make the paste first. I started by putting the beans in the pan with water to cover and brought them to a boil and boiled them for a few minutes. Then I rinsed them completely. I put them back in the pan again with plenty of water to cover and brought them to a boil again. This time, I let them simmer for about an hour until they were soft.
Once they were soft, I drained the water and blended them up in my Vitamix.
I blended them until fairly smooth.
Next, I added the paste back to the pan with a heaping half cup of sugar. I stirred it and cooked this down for about five minutes on low heat.
I ended up with a nice smooth paste that was thick and not runny.
Now it’s time for the cakes!
Here’s the recipe I used:
4 large eggs
2/3 cups sugar
2 TB honey
1 1/3 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 TB water
1 tsp or so of vegetable or other cooking oil
Add 4 eggs to a bowl with the sugar and honey. Whisk until smooth.
Add the sifted flour and baking powder and whisk until smooth.
After whisking, let it sit for about ten minutes and then add in the water. Whisk it in until smooth again and you’re ready to start cooking the pancakes.
Heat your pan up and oil it. Wipe all the excess oil out of the pan. Drop your batter, about 3 TB per cake. We used an ice cream scoop.
Once the bubbles have formed and have started to pop, flip the cake over.
Cook it for about 30 seconds more. Transfer to a plate and add your filling.
Seal the edges by pressing lightly.
We did a few with whipped cream as well.
These were quite good and my kids and I enjoyed the experience of making fresh Dorayaki! Looking back there are a few things I learned.
1- Cast iron didn’t work well for the cakes and butter simply burned. I ended up switching to stainless and using just oil. The cakes turned a beautiful brown this way.
2- My bean paste was a little too smooth so, next time I’ll use a processor.
3- I’ll try Canadian beans like Tokue suggests in the book as well. It had a slightly bitter taste to it and maybe this might help. I’ll also do the steaming method she teaches Sentaro in the book and adding more water to the boiling process.
4- I hope to find a dorayaki recipe that uses a sugar syrup rather than adding straight sugar to the bean paste.