Japanese sweet potato wagashi

I think I've made my love of several things pretty clear on this blog.  First, there's chocolate.  That deserved its own sentence but I've also talked about how much I love things like English muffinseggssteel-cut oatmeal, chestnuts, and desserts incorporating hazelnuts, to name a few others.  Today, I want to add something else to the list: sweet potatoes!  To be exact, I absolutely love Japanese sweet potatoes, or "Satsumaimo".

I recently stumbled upon a simple recipe for Japanese sweet potato "wagashiand made some for an afternoon snack.  Frankly, I'm using it as an excuse to talk about one of my favorite foods. Japanese  "wagashi"  refers to small confections served with tea.  Not being Japanese, I'm no expert but I've often admired the dazzling array of wagashi on display at Japanese markets.  They are generally colorful and intricately designed.  Think of this Japanese sweet potato wagashi as a far more simple, homespun kind that you can whip up as a sweet little bite to go with your afternoon tea.  They're basically mashed sweet potato balls, so you can just call it that if you like.
A simple Japanese sweet potato wagashi (or confection) - it's essentially a slightly sweetened mashed sweet potato ball
Back to the Japanese sweet potatoes...have you tried them?  Maybe there are other fans out there. Unlike the more typical orange-flesh sweet potatoes at the market (which I also enjoy and cook all the time), Japanese sweet potatoes have a purplish-red skin and a pale, cream-colored flesh. Its texture is denser, drier, than the orange variety, and fluffier in the sense of being more like a regular potato.  I love its sweetness, and it's a special kind of sweetness that I think is somewhat more subtle than the orange variety.
Japanese sweet potatoes have a purplish-red skin and light, cream color flesh
I have gotten into the habit of eating a big roasted Japanese sweet potato for lunch, along with some other vegetables, most weekdays.  It's a habit I can't seem to kick and don't really want to for now.  
I wrap the sweet potatoes in foil, roast them in the oven, and dig in for lunch
I have to admit I love it for the pure sweetness.  I literally like to lean into one of these piping hot sweet potatoes and just inhale the sweet, caramelized aroma.  It's really heavenly!  It's also super hearty and satisfying.  In other words, it helps satisfy my insatiable craving for carbs and sugar, in a more natural way.
When they caramelize like this, it's better than most desserts!
I got to thinking recently about this little obsession of mine with the Japanese sweet potato, and a light bulb went off!  I realized I love it because it is very, very much like chestnuts in both taste and texture...and I am crazy about chestnuts!  It all started making sense.

The good news (for me) is I can get my hands on these Japanese sweet potatoes pretty much all year round.  They can be found at Asian food markets and I noticed that Whole Foods has started carrying organic ones in the last few months, which makes me so happy.  I remember occasions while shopping at Mitsuwa, a Japanese market, where there would be a vendor outside with a small barbecue pit during the wintertime, selling hot roasted Japanese sweet potatoes.  The smell was unbelievable.  In Japan, you might be lucky enough to find stone-roasted sweet potatoes.  As heavenly as that sounds, I make do by roasting mine in the oven.  It takes at least an hour, often longer, but it is so worth it.  

These Japanese sweet potato balls, however, are simply made by boiling diced Japanese sweet potatoes until they're tender.  They're then mashed with a small amount of milk, sugar, and butter before rolling and baking.  It's a nice mix-up from the usual sweets.


There are many types of Japanese wagashi, or sweet confections.  Mochi is probably the most common one that we're familiar with.  They can take on many different forms, with different ingredients.  To give you an idea of some more-colorful, intricate wagashi that might be served as part of a Japanese tea, take a look at this example:
A sample of Japanese wagashi
This box was given to me by the mom of a former Japanese classmate of my son's. The family had actually moved back home to Japan but were nice enough to visit us one day when they came back for a summer vacation.  She brought this box of beautiful confections that were almost too pretty to eat.  I had to take a picture, and now I'm really glad I did so I can share it here.

As you can see, those candies are very different from what we're doing here today.  Frankly, I could have done a better job with these little sweet potato balls but I was pretty casual about it and simply enjoying the fun of making something simple.  It got me thinking about the culture of taking tea around the world and how much I personally enjoy my daily cups of the brew.
In the interest of full disclosure, I want to mention that I didn't feel like cracking an egg to brush the sweet potato balls with egg yolk and used some milk that was already on standby instead.  The tops never did brown and the golden-brown marks what you see are actually the bottoms (hence, the somewhat flattened shapes).  I didn't expect much color with just the milk as glaze but it literally stayed anemic looking in color.  I hope you'll forgive my weak interpretation of this home-style wagashi.
The sweet potatoes are obviously naturally sweet and with the milk and a little bit of extra sugar, they really do stand in nicely as a sweet treat with afternoon tea.  My little one might have been a little surprised by this particular sweet offering for the afternoon but he was game....he's a big fan of sweet potatoes too.


Recipe:

Japanese Sweet Potato Wagashi
Adapted from No Pasta for Penguins

Japanese "wagashi" refers to small confections served with tea. They take many forms and many are intricate and delicately designed. This home-style version is far more approachable and is essentially sweet potato balls, made with the delicious purple-skin Japanese sweet potato called, Sastumaimo.  

- Makes 10-12 (depending on exact weight of sweet potato and size of the individual balls you make) - 

1 Japanese sweet potato, approximately 10 oz. (or 285 grams)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons sugar (granulated or brown; I used a mix)
3-4 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk, for brushing (I used milk to glaze but that does not create much, if any, browning on top)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Peel then dice sweet potatoes into about 3/4 inch cubes.  Place into a bowl to soak for a few minutes.  Drain and place sweet potatoes into a small pot with enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil and continue to cook until sweet potatoes are soft and tender, roughly 15 minutes.

Place the hot, cooked sweet potatoes into a bowl.  Add butter, sugar, and enough milk to combine. Mash together with a masher or large fork until smooth.

Form small balls (you could use a small ice cream scoop to start and finish rolling them with your hands) and place onto the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the tops of each with egg yolk and bake until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes.  Let cool and serve, slightly warm, with tea.









58 comments:

  1. I'd never seen one of those sweet potatoes, but they do sound lovely! Just like these wagashi. Oh, what a perfect snack they'd make!
    Hope you have a lovely day Monica dear! xx

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    1. I love these Japanese sweet potatoes, Consuelo. I buy them non-stop...I'll stop when I get sick of it. : ) Hope you're having a great week.

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  2. I love these sweet potatoes too! They are so sweet and fragrant. Your wagashi sounds like perfect tea time snack. I wish I can try some now. Yum!

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    1. Yay! Glad to hear from another Japanese sweet pototo fan! haha. So sweet and fragrant, exactly.

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  3. I have never heard of Japanese sweet potatoes but they sound amazing! If I can't find them, would the orange type work in this recipe? Thanks!

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    1. If there's an Asian market around, you might be able to find them. I can only guess the orange type could work but these being dryer and fluffier definitely make them hardier for rolling and baking plain. You'd have to be careful not to make the mixture too wet and maybe even roll them in something (like crushed nuts) to make them sturdier?

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  4. Yummy! This is the first time I am hearing about these. I would love to try this recipe!

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    1. To be honest, I just stumbled upon this recipe myself and wanted to make them so I can talk about how much I love these Japanese sweet potatoes! I love them just roasted in the oven...if you see some at the market, give them a try. In the summer, I like to buy small ones, wrap them in foil and pop them in the barbecue to slow-roast.

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  5. Oh my gosh - you are totally now making me crave wagashi! These pictures made me hungry!

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    1. Thanks, Kristi...making someone hungry is a good thing, right? : )

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  6. Such a delicate sweet with sweet potato...and how pretty the gift...I sure would like to try this recipe.
    Thanks for the inspiration Monica...have a wonderful week :D

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    1. You have a great week, too. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Hello Monica, I love your little delicately sweet potato treats. When we used to live in Yokohama, I loved visiting the little shops for sweet treats and anything with sweet potato was always my favorite.

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    1. Wow - living in Yokohama! I could get lost just looking in the food shops and marts all day long in Japan (and elsewhere). Thank you!

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  8. If it tastes like chestnuts, then it must be GOOD.

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    1. Yes, it is totally reminiscent of chestnuts. : )

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  9. What a beautiful thing! That caramelized potato...I would be eating it everyday too. And your little wagashi are just fantastic! :) ela

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    1. Thanks, Ela. It really needs nothing else...so yummy and satisfying.

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  10. I keep seeing Japanese sweet potatos at Whole Foods lately but I've never tried them myself! You have me intrigued now! These do look like the perfect pairing for my afternoon cup of tea!

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    1. Yes, it just starting popping up a few months ago at WF and now it really looks like it might be there regularly. In my experience, the best ones are those I get from Asian markets. Sometimes they are just sweeter and have a more intense flavor. Even a more "bland" one is delicious to me though. : )

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  11. Wow Monica - this is fascinating! I had no idea sweet potatoes like this existed. I am compelled to drive 50 miles to the closest Whole Foods and find them! Love the idea of eating these for lunch, or dinner or in a sweet wagashi patty. They looks soooo good!

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    1. I just love them! I can't guarantee Whole Foods will even have it so please don't make that trip for it alone - haha!

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  12. i have seen those japanese sweet potatoes! although i didn't know they were japanese (they weren't labeled as such when i saw them, l feel like they had a different name) and i think they were yes, at whole foods. I've never worked with them, but they sound amazing and i love your little homespun wagashi! things don't have to be crazy-fancy to be delicious, right? although that box of wagashi is incredible. i can never bring myself to eat things like that because too pretty. :)

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    1. I hope you find and give them a try one day. I love to simply roast them. The ones I buy at WF are labeled as Japanese yams, I believe. Sweet potatoes/yams, I'm not even gonna go there! I do hate eating pretty things - unless it's chocolate, in which case I admire it a minute and then demolish it with relish. : )

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  13. I've seen Japanese sweet potatoes at the Asian market but was never sure what to do with them. Now you just inspired me. Thanks for this recipe and the blog-visit!

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    1. Oh, just roast them whole and eat them! So good! If you can find really small ones, it's great to throw them in among the coals in the summer when you barbecue.

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  14. These look delicious!! I've never tried sweet potatoes that color... but I love the orange ones!! I'd love to try them!

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    1. My family and I adore the oranges ones too. Those are definitely grocery staples as well. Thanks!

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  15. Monica, this is so creative and those look sooo delicious! I know I would love them!

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    1. I deserve no credit on that. I thought it was such a cute recipe and it was a great forum for me to blast my love of Japanese sweet potatoes. Thanks!

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  16. Sweet potatoes are really the best, aren't they? Sweet little dish :)

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  17. I've never heard of this kind of sweet treat before!! Though I do love Japanese sweet potatoes! I bought a whole bunch at Whole Foods last week! They are great. I'm definitely going to have to try to make wagashi the next time I pick some up!

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    1. I see many of those candies/sweets at Japanese markets but I didn't really put the name together with them. I hope I'm not getting it all wrong! I hope Whole Foods continues to stock the organic Japanese sweet potatoes...I went yesterday and there were only 4 left and that got me nervous! haha

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  18. I have tried the Japanese sweet potato and like you loved it! I like it better than the orange fleshed one which to me has a taste that I don't always care for. This one I loved. These little balls look simply wonderful, I definitely could do with a couple with some tea, or maybe more.

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    1. Oh, great to hear that. They are delicious, aren't they, Nazneen? They are my favorite right now though I do like the orange ones too...I like to roast those for salads and such...plus, they're lighter to eat for my son. : )

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  19. I've never had these before, but they look awesome!

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  20. I have never eaten Japanese sweet potato before but these sweet treats look divine and I can totally understand why you are hooked!! Thank you for broadening my baking horizons Monica! Have a great weekend :-)

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    1. I'm totally hooked and been hooked for a long time now. Maybe now that the topic's come up, you'll see them at your market. : ) Thanks, Jo!

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  21. I love new and unique treats, and this certainly falls into that category! It looks so soft and sticky but in a good way (The caramelised potato haha). Love this!

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    1. It's really soft but not sticky! : ) I am seriously in love with a caramelized sweet potato...no joke.

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  22. I'd love to try this!! I've never heard of these Japanese sweet potatoes before.

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    1. I hope you try them one day soon, Ashley - thanks.

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  23. I am obsessed with sweet potatoes, but I have never had Japanese sweet potatoes. They look gorgeous. Hopefully my local whole foods will have them. Really want to try these sweet potato wagashi. Love how many new things I learn from food blogs :)

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    1. Oh, I love to hear from someone else who's also obsessed like I am. So good!

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  24. i love japanese sweet potato all the way, especially the purple ones....
    never had wagashi before, tempting to try!!!

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    1. Glad you like Japanese sweet potatoes too! : )

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  25. Your wagashi looks wonderful Monica and sounds perfect with afternoon tea! I love the japanese sweet potatoes too but haven't had any in a while - yummy - now you have me craving some :) What a nice gift from your son's former classmate's mom too - they look beautiful!

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    1. You're always so sweet and kind, Kelly. Thank you!

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  26. Very interesting Monica. Do you a bit more of a ball park figure of milk, sugar, butter to potato ratio?

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    1. Yes, they really are ballpark figures because it depends on the sweet potatoes. Some are fluffier/drier and you may need a bit more liquid and sometimes it's really moist and you don't need much. I was tempted not to add any sugar at all so that's also to taste. You really only need to be able to roll it into a ball.

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  27. oh my gosh, my husband LOVES Japanese sweet potatoes! I picked them up one day a couple years ago at the asian market, not really knowing what they were and roasted the slices with a miso glaze and now he won't stop asking for them. They're so sweet tho that I bet they're absolutely perfect for this little snack. I'll have to try it!!

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    1. Oh Amy - I still love these Japanese sweet potatoes best plain roasted. It is divine. I must be hooked on the sweetness. Your husband has good taste! I knew that already and this just confirms it!

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  28. I love the color of these sweet potatoes. I don't think that I have seen them in my local grocery store. I'll have to search. I would love to try these.

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    1. I went to Whole Foods yesterday and...horror...they were out of the Japanese yams. The sign was gone and there were just a couple of other varieties. I'm hoping it'll be re-stocked again. If you see it one day, try it out for sure. Thanks, Cindy.

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  29. What temp and for how long do you roast your sweet potatoes to get them to caramelize? Mine always turn out cooked...but so dry!! :( Looking for that gooey sweetness...

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    1. Hi Alice...when I roast sweet potatoes, I do it in a 350 degree oven. Don't preheat the oven but put the sweet potatoes in when the oven is not yet on, then turn it to 350. I find that Japanese sweet potatoes will take about an hour or more. The regular orange variety cooks quicker. There is not as much moisture in the Japanese ones so it's often drier and fluffier. Once in a while, you get more caramelization on them but I think it really depends on the sweet potato itself. The bottoms of mine usually gets a little caramelized but generally, the Japanese sweet potato will be drier. Hope that helps.

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