I have actually wanted to make Hiyoko manju since I was a high schooler. These little buns that are shaped like birdies(manju being a type of bun and hiyoko being the Japanese word for ‘chick’ or baby bird), they just looked so cute yet difficult to make. However, after getting as much wagashi and bun making experience as I have now(compared to then), I can confidently say that they are actually easy to make, so long as you keep a couple of things in mind. The first, when making any stuffed bun where the filling isn’t ground meat, is to make sure that your filling is frozen into little individual balls. Doing that guarantees that you don’t have filling that is being squished out the sides when you are wrapping the dough around it. This applies not only just to this particular recipe, but things like mochi ice cream and bread buns as well – I actually learned the importance of this step while working at Milkbar, since we froze all of the bread fillings before wrapping them with dough so that they would be less likely to explode during the assembly and baking processes. I would say that this step is probably the most important when making this particular recipe, since the temperature and consistency of your filling dictates whether or not your chicks will look perfect, or if they will look mutilated with filling spewing out of them – obviously, we want the former, not the latter.
Traditionally, Hiyoko manju are filled with red bean paste. However, I wanted to do something more in line with the moon cakes that I make, which uses sweet potato or yam paste. I usually use that in place of red bean paste since it’s relatively quick to make, has a similar consistency and flavor, and has a custard-like taste to it that I just enjoy. I’m also using salted duck egg yolk, just to lock in said custard flavor, and also as a little nod to the chicks being hatched from eggs and what not. For the eyes, a lot of other sites either would use a burning hot metal chopstick or brand to singe the features on, or making an edible paint with cocoa powder and water, but I found that just gently pressing in the eyes with chopsticks is just as effective, and honestly it looks more like eyes than just features that were pressed or painted on! Overall, these buns were a ton of fun to make, and I highly recommend trying them out yourself!
Makes 12 manju or buns:
For the filling:
1 small Japanese yam, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
salted duck egg yolks, quartered
Steam or boil the yam until completely soft. Place into a pot and whisk with the sugar until completely smooth and lump free. Stir the mixture on low heat until all of the liquid has been cooked out and the remaining mixture is completely stiff – you want it to have the consistency of really thick mashed potatoes or almost like playdough. Pass through a sieve and refrigerate until completely cooled – the starches will thicken the paste as it cools down. Divide into 2-tablespoon portions. Place a piece of salted duck egg yolk in the center of each portion and roll into a smooth ball. Place into the freezer for at least 20 minutes so that it will be to wrap dough around.
For the dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup soy milk
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 tspn baking powder
a pinch of salt
Mix flour, 1 egg, canola oil, sugar, baking powder, and salt together to form your dough. Knead the dough until it forms a smooth surface, then refrigerate for at least 10 minutes so that it can rest. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a flat disk, and place a piece of the chilled down yam paste on. Roll up the sides of the dough to surround the yam paste fully. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for at least 5 minutes before attempting to shape it into a little chicklet. Brush with more egg, and bake at 300 degrees F for 15 minutes. For the features, you can either heat up a metal chopstick and press it against the manju to form your eyes and wings, or you can simply mix together 1 tbsp activated charcoal with 1 tbsp water, and brush that onto the manju.