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Girljin in Japan
By Rachel Tranter Davies



Hanami - The Joy of Japanese Flower Viewing
April means sakura season, which means hanami - the traditional appreciation of the fleeting beauty of flowers, and in particular? Pretty, pink cherry blossom.




The Japanese take sakura season very seriously. This tradition of welcoming in springtime has been celebrated throughout Japan for many years, and is now so engrained in people's lives, that there is a whole host of blogs, media reports and unique menus dedicated to the joy of Japanese flower viewing. There's even a special meteorological forecast that estimates the dates that sakura will start to blossom - kaika, and when they will reach their full, flowery bloom - mankai.

Throughout sakura blooming weeks, hanami (coming from the Japanese words hana, meaning ''flower'', and mi, meaning ''see'') really gets into full swing with parties and picnics popping up under cherry trees. Celebrating with family and friends is a highlight of the season and is perhaps why the tradition has lasted so long and is so fondly looked upon by all. The gatherings are often accompanied by delicious seasonally-themed treats, from sakura mochi (sweet, sticky pounded rice cakes), to sakura sencha (blossom infused green tea), and even hanami bento (pre-prepared lunch boxes with a beautiful array of colorful delicacies).

Flowering sakura trees first came to popularity in the eighth century, but the word hanami became synonymous with sakura through its use in the Heian period novel; The Tale of Genji. Emperor Saga of the Heian Period held hanami feasts with sake underneath the blossoming boughs of sakura trees in the ancient Imperial Court of Kyoto. Adulation of these hanami feasts grew so much so, that during the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568-1600) they were commonplace in imperial courts up and down the country, quickly spreading to the samurai and commoners’ sections of society too.

Kyoto has long been admired as a special place to see sakura, playing host to elaborate parties of the past, often written about in Japanese poetry and depicted in art and dances showing scenes from the festivities. Today, hanami is a little less regal, but remains every bit as cherished, and Kyoto is still the perfect place to while away the hours beneath these delicate, awe-inspiring flowers.

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Here are two of my favorite recipes to take along to a hanami picnic. If you're feeling adventurous you can try and whip them up yourself, otherwise just head over to any convenience store or depachika (department store basement food market) and choose from their delicious selection of sakura based goodies.


Sakura Kouglof Cake



Ingredients

-200g white flour
-100g sugar
-200g butter
-3 eggs
-30g almond flour
-60g honey
-5g baking powder
-20g icing sugar
-1 tsp water
-Salted sakura blossoms
-15ml liquor, such as rum or brandy (optional)

Method
1. Sift together the white flour, almond powder and baking powder. Lightly grease the Kouglof cake tin with butter (normal cake tins are fine for a cake without a hole).
2. Cream the butter and sugar, then beat until pale and creamy.
3. Add eggs slowly to the creamed butter and sugar. Continue beating until evenly mixed.
4. Add the honey (and liquor) and continue beating. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula until the flour disappears.
5. Pour the batter into the cake tin. Bake in a preheated oven at 170˚C for 40-50 minutes. Remove the cake from the tin and let cool.
6. Make the icing by mixing 20g icing sugar with 1 teaspoon water. When the cake has cooled, drizzle over the icing and decorate with sakura blossoms.



Sakura Cookies



Ingredients

-120g unsalted butter
- 60g white sugar
-2 egg yolks
-180g cake flour
-0.5 tsp baking powder
-1.5 tsp cherry blossom powder
-Red food colouring
-Salt preserved sakura
-Egg white

Method
1. Combine and sift the flour and baking powder.
2. Add the white sugar to softened (room-temperature) butter and whisk until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix.
3. Fold the flour and baking powder mixture into the eggs, butter and sugar. When the mixture is no longer floury, divide into two equal portions.
4. Add the sakura blossom powder and food colouring to one portion. Mix the ingredients by pressing into the dough with a spatula.
5. When the dough comes together, shape the sakura-flavoured portion into a 3cm sausage. Shape the plain dough into a flat rectangular tube.
6. Wrap portions separately in plastic wrap and leave to rest in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
7. When firm, roll out the plain dough into a rectangular sheet and brush with egg white.
8. Place the sakura dough on top and roll with the plain dough on the outside. Create a seal at the end of the roll by pressing the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and rest in the refrigerator until firm.
9. Soak the salt preserved sakura in water for 20 minutes to remove salt. Pat dry with a paper towel.
10. Slice the dough into 7-8 mm disks and top with the desalinated sakura. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 180˚C. Allow to cool.
11. Top with one small salt preserved sakura blossom to enhance the flavour and give a lovely salty finish to these sweet cookies.



Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.




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