Feelings of make-pretend: a plated dessert

I came up with this dessert half out of needing to get rid of my leftover vegan macaron components, and half because I just wanted to do something playful and elegant. With what I already had made, being the ice cream and the gelee, I was able to come up with a couple different ideas, including parfait, mochi ice cream, and anmitsu. And with anmitsu, I knew I could do something really special and pretty with cherry blossoms. For this particular dessert, it’s a hybrid of anmitsu meets ichigo daifuku(red bean paste and strawberry-stuffed mochi) in the flavor profile, but also introducing the sakura gelee and ice cream to it. For those of you who have never had anmitsu before, it’s basically a sweet bean paste, in this case, I’m using red bean, with sakura-shaped slices of kanten jelly(one of my favorite things to garnish with), fresh fruit, shiratama dango(round mochi balls that are poached), sometimes ice cream, and the most important thing, a syrup to pour over all of it. It’s a ton of fun to eat and it takes me back to my teenaged years of having it while living in Japan. I named the dessert itself “Feelings of make-pretend” for the fact that I feel nostalgic and almost younger whenever I have anmitsu. It transports me to a time when careers, income, and responsibilities don’t really matter.

For my rendition, we have the red bean paste, also called anko, strawberry coulis on the bottom, a strawberry-sakura consommé to act as the syrup, strawberry glass, sakura gelee and ice cream, shiratama dango, and fresh strawberries as well. For the strawberry glass, I wanted to dehydrate some lightly poached strawberry slices to make them translucent. For the gelee, I’m also cutting them out with my sakura-shaped cookie cutter, just to keep in line with the theme of cherry blossoms. Lastly, like with my vegan macarons, this dessert is 100% vegan AND gluten-free, which I’m surprised by, but really happy about. Being able to make a vegan and gluten-free dessert is very rare, but then again, most Asian desserts tend to be vegan or vegetarian by default, whereas gluten-based flours aren’t that common in most Asian countries either, so I guess it does make sense to a degree!

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For the anko:
1/2 cup dried azuki beans
5 cups water, in 2 parts
3/4 cups granulated sugar
a pinch of salt

Rinse the azuki beans first. Soak the azuki beans overnight with half of the water first. Once soaked, transfer to a pot with the rest of your water and simmer them, lid off, until all of the water has evaporated into the beans, effectively softening and cooking them. Press the beans against a sieve to extract them from their shells. Then transfer to a nonstick pan on low heat, and add in your sugar and salt. Stir constantly until combined and thickened. Cool down completely.

For the strawberry glass:
4 strawberries
3 tablespoons strawberry-cherry blossom consommé
water
oil

Shave the strawberries on the second thinnest setting on your mandolin. Combine the consommé enough water to fill a pot about 3/4ths the way full. Bring to a simmer. Take that pot off heat, and allow the strawberries to sit in that liquid for about 2-3 minutes, or until they begin to turn partially translucent. Remove the strawberry slices carefully and reserve the liquid. Line two baking trays with parchment that has been oiled. Spread the strawberry slices onto one parchment sheet before placing on another. Weigh down the slices with another sheet tray and bake at 200 degrees F for 10 minutes, before removing the top sheet tray and parchment sheet and baking for a further 1 1/2 hours at 180 degrees F. Store in an airtight container.

For the strawberry-cherry blossom consommé:
2/3 cups strawberries, quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons minced brined cherry blossoms
1 teaspoon lime juice

Combine ingredients in a heatproof bowl and cover with cling wrap. Place over a pot of simmering water(on low heat), and allow that to sit for 35-40 minutes, or until a significant amount of liquid has been extracted from the berries. Strain out the solids (be sure not to press them) and reserve the liquid for plating and for the glass.

For the strawberry puree:
Leftover strawberry solids
Leftover consommé-syrup from poaching the chips
1/4 cup fresh strawberries, diced
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Whisk equal parts of the consomme syrup with the cornstarch first. Reduce together everything else in a pot until the fresh strawberries are completely softened and about 3/4 of the liquid has been cooked out. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and stir on low heat until the mixture has thickened slightly. Transfer to a blender, puree together, and pass through a sieve to finish. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate.

For the sakura-soy milk ice cream:
1 cup soy milk
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons minced brined cherry blossoms
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pitaya powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together all of the ingredients except for the vanilla until the mixture thickens to the consistency of heavy cream. Transfer to a blender and puree with the vanilla until everything is fully smooth and incorporated. Pass through a sieve and chill down the mixture first. Churn in your ice cream machine and then transfer to silicone half dome molds (I used 1/2 inch molds just to keep the size controllable for plating). Freeze until solid, another 1 hour, and then press the half domes together, smoothing out the ridges as necessary to form a perfect sphere. Continue to refrigerate until it is time to plate.

For the sakura-lime gelee:
2 tablespoons minced brined cherry blossoms
1 teaspoon pitaya powder
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup agar agar

Combine everything by the pitaya powder first and bring to a simmer. Once agar has been dissolved, transfer to a blender and puree, adding in the pitaya powder last. Transfer to a shallow container and refrigerate until firm.

For the shiratama dango:
3 tablespoons mochiko
1 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon water
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

Combine the mochiko, 1 tablespoon of water, and sugar together into a crumbly dough. Add in the remaining water into the dough to bring it together. Roll dough into a log on an oiled surface. Cut into 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch pieces and smooth out into balls. Press with a hole into the middle of the ball. Cook the dango for about 2 minutes in boiling water. Keep in cold water and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. We will be using these when they are completely chilled down.

To garnish:
Fresh strawberries, sliced lengthwise and brushed with the consommé

Start with a circle of the puree on the bottom first. Make three quenelles of the anko using two small spoons. Using a cherry blossom cutout, cut out three pieces of the gelee. If the pieces are on the thicker side, use either a paring knife, vegetable peeler, or mandolin to thin them out to the appropriate size(you want them to be thin enough to drape over the ice cream). To plate, start with placing a quenelle at an angle on anywhere on the circle. Adorn it with a strawberry chip. Then place down the ice cream, garnished with the gelee, and a dango, garnished with a fresh strawberry. Repeat twice to make a complete circle.

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