Japanese baked goods look delicious to me, but unfortunately I can’t find anywhere that will ship them to me (or indeed anywhere local that bakes them). I don’t trust the idea of baking them myself because how will I know the ones I make are in any way authentic if I’ve never tried them before?
Prepackaged cakes like these are the closest thing I can get hold of (for now). I picked these not because I thought they’d be an amazingly authentic experience, but rather because the flavours all sounded really yummy and a good starting point in discovering the tastes of traditional Japanese cakes. Plus, you can’t deny how cute they are!
We got these from Japan Centre, you can find them here. If you’re in the mainland UK and want to try Japanese cakes or breads you should check out the rest of their baked goods section, it’s impressive!
The packaging is very pretty, with all the little cakes individually wrapped inside. You can tell this is designed to be a souvenir type gift, but with such a good selection of traditional flavours it’s quite a nice one in my opinion.
The cakes from left to right are:
あずき Azuki Manjyu, a red bean steamed cake.
栗 Kuri Manjyu, a chestnut steamed cake.
抹茶 Matcha Manjyu, a green tea steamed cake.
めずもち Yuzu Mochi, a citrus chewy rice cake.
小倉ようかん巻 Okura Youkan Maki, a red bean jelly and sponge cake.
The cakes are quite tiny, you can easily eat them in two bites. The figure is approx. 10cm tall, so really they’re only a couple of centimeters each. It’s nice to have a selection of bitesize treats rather than a whole cake though, it means you can save some for later!
This is the azuki manjyu, or red bean steamed cake.
The exterior of the manjyu is hard to describe. It’s like a thin layer of very firm, crumbly sponge, with a hard and shiny coating. Not a glaze as such, just a harder outer layer. It isn’t sweet, but has a rather strange flavour you really have to try to understand. It’s one of those things you aren’t quite sure about but find yourself nibbling a little more. Strange, but not offensive. I get the feeling a fresh manjyu would be very different.
The red bean inside is delicious. I wouldn’t describe it as a paste, it’s more like a ball of cookie dough; soft, slightly crumbly, a little granular. The red bean isn’t overly sweet, but has more of the bean flavour shining through. It’s extremely moreish!
If you’re struggling to imagine the taste of red bean, imagine baked beans without the tomato flavour. Sounds a little strange I know, but you’re left with a sweet flavour and a bean flavour that don’t exactly combine but rather compliment each other. It’s something a lot of people turn their nose up at, but it’s good and certainly no more out there in terms of flavour than using carrots in cakes or beetroot in smoothies.
This is the kuri (chestnut) manjyu. It looks very pretty with the golden interior.
Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing about it. Bleh! This one smells really gross, like dog food or something. I really didn’t want to try it, but I did. It didn’t taste any better than it smelled. There was definitely no chestnut taste. It tasted bad enough I actually double checked the best before date to see if it had gone bad!
I love matcha, so was really looking forward to the matcha (green tea) manjyu.
The texture was much like the red bean variety only a lot more granular. It’s quite dry inside and out, you might want to have a cup of actual green tea on hand to drink while eating it.
The green tea taste was lovely but definitely one of the more bitter matcha treats I’ve tried. It was quite strong, which perhaps was why it tasted more bitter. There wasn’t much sweetness in this little bun at all, which is what appeals to the traditional Japanese palette I would imagine. I’d say those unfamiliar with matcha flavoured confectionery would find this a bit too bitter.
The yuzu mochi is one of the nicest in the selection in my opinion. The texture is more like a firm jelly sweet than a rice cake. Combined with the crunchy sugar coating, you don’t feel like you’re eating mochi at all.
Then the taste hits you and things get confusing. Your brain is convinced that you’re eating a jelly sweet, something in you is expecting fruit flavour, yet out of nowhere there’s the flavour of the rice. The texture and the taste just don’t go. Still, it’s delicoius! Lovely chewy rice combined with a mild and fragrant citrus flavour from the yuzu.
You may be thinking yuzu equates to lemon with the yellow colouring, but I think yuzu tastes closer to orange. It is it’s own flavour of course and doesn’t taste exactly like either, but to me definitely closer to orange than lemon.
This is definitely more like a mochi flavoured sweet than a square of mochi, but it’s really yummy all the same.
The okura youkan maki was quite possibly my favourite cake of all.
The sponge is lovely, so soft and fluffy and sweet. To me it is like the sponge you get on a mini swiss roll, light and sweet.
The firm red bean jelly is super sweet and super sticky. This is by far the sweetest cake in the bunch, which is probably why it was my favourite :p
The red bean taste was relatively mild, especially compared to the azuki manjyu. I wish I had a whole box of these to give to all the people who tell me ‘eww! Red bean sounds gross!’, it would be a perfect way to introduce people to it. It is still undeniably red bean flavoured, just sweet and absolutely delicious.
For £4.59 this was a fun experiment with Japanese cakes. Ignoring the chestnut one (I’m still shuddering a little) they were all really yummy, so while they’re probably not much like real bakery goods they’re not cheap and nasty tourist trap garbage either. Honestly, I’d buy this again just for the red bean jelly cakes! :p
Overall, I’d give this an 8/10; full marks for all the cakes except the chestnut, which I’m afraid gets a 0 from me.