Transport yourself to Kyoto through your tastebuds with this traditional Japanese sweet known as Yatsuhashi. Originating from Kyoto, Yatsuhashi is a delectable confection made from glutinous rice flour making it soft and chewy like mochi but made thin and flat. The most common yatsuhashi is flavoured with cinnamon but nowadays you’ll find so many more flavour varieties and even ones that are stuffed with things like red bean (azuki) and chocolate.
Take a walk down any market street or shopping district in Kyoto and you’ll find this popular treat sold everywhere often with accompanying testers so you can try as much as you like! With its delightful squishy texture, this iconic delicacy is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike but you don’t have to travel to Japan to try it. Indulge in this traditional Kyoto specialty right in the comfort of your own home with this homemade Yatsuhashi recipe and savour the authentic taste of Japan wherever you may be.
Table of contents
What is Yatsuhashi?
Yatsuhashi is a traditional Japanese sweets made from glutinous rice flour (mochiko) such as joshinko and shiratamako, sugar, and cinnamon. It’s a specialty of the Kyoto region of Japan where it originated and is a very popular treat and souvenir from the area. There are two main types of yatsuhashi: Nama (raw) and baked.
Nama yatsuhashi has a soft and chewy texture similar to mochi and is made from the steamed glutinous rice flattened out and cut to be a thin rectangle shape. It’s most commonly flavoured with cinnamon or matcha and can also be filled with sweet red bean paste (anko) or sweet white bean paste. The thin yatsuhashi is folded into a triangle with a small bite of filling in the inside. The combination of the delicate thin rice dough wrapped around the rich azuki bean paste creates a delightful contrast of flavors and textures.
Baked Yatsuhashi are the flat pieces of mochi baked until they’re hard in the shape of a semicircular rectangle which is said to be inspired by the koto Japanese harp shape. It’s mostly flavoured with cinnamon and can be very crispy and hard so be cautious when biting into it.
Yatsuhashi’s unique shape and texture make it a popular and must-try sweet treat.
Origin of Yatsuhashi
There are various theories about the origin story of Yatsuhashi, but none have been officially recognised. According to one theory, the name of this sweet is derived from the founder of the koto Japanese harp, a monk known as Yatsuhashi Kengyo. It is said that he did not like food waste and encouraged others to reduce waste as he did. The anecdote goes that he suggested to the owner of a nearby tea shop to make a hard-baked senbei rice cracker from leftover rice by adding some honey and cinnamon. The traditional sweet was named after him upon his death and shaped to resemble the koto harp instrument.
There is also a theory that it originated from Mikawa Province Yatsuhashi(eight bridges) in the 9th verse of Ise Monogatari, “Kakitsubata”. It is said to have been built to commemorate the construction of eight bridges over the river.
Yatsuhashi is believed to have been first sold as a product in the middle of the Edo period at the teahouse of Konkai Komyoji Temple in Shogoin Temple.
Yatsuhashi became famous nationwide when the Taisho Emperor was enthroned in Kyoto, and it is said that Yatsuhashi was the souvenir purchased at Kyoto Station by many people who came to celebrate the enthronement.
Joshinko : Joshinko is made from non-glutinous rice (uruchimai) which makes dango that has a chewy and firm texture. Joshinko is often used in making traditional Japanese sweets such as Mochi, dango and many other wagashi. Its gluten-free properties make it suitable for individuals with gluten sensitivities or those following a gluten-free diet.
Shiratamako : Similar to joshinko, shiratamako is another type of rice flour. The primary difference lies in the rice variety used. Shiratamako is made from glutinous rice (mochigome) specifically. Shiratamako possesses a smooth and elastic texture when cooked, making it ideal for creating delicate yet chewy desserts like daifuku (sweet filled mochi), strawberry daifuku and many other dango recipes.
Shiratama flour makes dango that is glossy, springy and soft, while Joshinko gives dango that chewy and firm texture. Using both creates that signature yatsuhashi feel but if you can’t find joshinko then it’s fine to omit it. Using only Shiratamako is fine to make the yatsuhashi, however using only joshinko won’t work as it won’t provide enough stretch.
Sugar : Sugar is necessary to make this dessert deliciously sweet.
Cinnamon : Cinnamon adds a distinct sweet and warm flavor profile to yatsuhashi.
- Prepare the Dough
- Microwave the dough to cook
- Roll out thinly and cut into squares
- Place the Anko and fold diagonally to make it into a triangle shape.
Variations of Yatsuhashi
While the classic version showcases a cinnamon flavor, numerous variations have been created. If you visit a yatsuhashi specialty store in Kyoto you’ll find a wide range of flavours and fillings. Here are a few variations:
1. Matcha Nama Yatsuhashi: Green tea enthusiasts will love this twist on the original recipe. The earthy and slightly bitter taste of matcha pairs perfectly with the sweetness of Nama Yatsuhashi, creating a delightful balance of flavors.
2. Strawberry Nama Yatsuhashi: Incorporating dried strawberry powder or fresh strawberries into the dough elevates these treats with a burst of fruity goodness. The hint of tartness complements the soft texture and sweetness beautifully. This is my favourite for sure.
3. Chocolate Nama Yatsuhashi: For all chocolate lovers out there, this variation adds cocoa powder or melted chocolate to the dough mixture, resulting in an indulgent treat with rich chocolatey notes.
4. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Nama Yatsuhashi: This seasonal variation captures the essence of spring by infusing cherry blossom flavor into the dough. The delicate floral taste creates an enchanting experience reminiscent of hanami (cherry blossom viewing).
Here are a few ideas on what to serve alongside nama yatsuhashi to complement the flavour and enhance the overall taste experience.
Green Tea: Since matcha is one of the popular flavors for nama yatsuhashi, serving it with a warm cup of green tea is an excellent choice. The bitterness and earthy tones of the tea perfectly complement the sweetness of the dessert.
Hojicha : a roasted green tea from Japan, offers a distinct flavor profile that sets it apart from other teas. With its nutty, earthy undertones and soothing aroma, Hojicha provides a perfect complement to the sweet and delicate flavors of Nama Yatsuhashi.
Hojicha Latte : This delightful beverage combines the rich roasted flavor of hojicha tea with the creamy goodness of a latte. It goest perfectly with traditional Japanese sweets like Yatsuhashi.
Ice Cream: For those who enjoy exploring unique flavor combinations, try pairing nama yatsuhashi with different types of ice cream like matcha or black sesame. The cold creaminess complements the soft and chewy texture of the dessert while adding another layer of indulgence.
Fresh Fruits: Adding a refreshing touch to your dessert spread, serve sliced fruits like strawberries, banana, or mango alongside the nama yatsuhashi. These juicy and tangy fruits provide a delightful contrast to the chewy texture of the sweet treat.
Tips for Making Yatsuhashi
- Shiratamako will form lumps, so mix well first, then add joshinko, sugar, and cinnamon.
Everytime you take it out of the microwave knead it well with a spatula until it becomes shiny.
- Use both joshinko and shiratamako to make yatsuhashi as authentic in texture as possible. However if you can’t get access to joshinko then using only shiratamako is fine too. However, using only joshinko with no shiratamako won’t work as there won’t be enough stretch to it.
A : Nama yatsuhashi is made from rice flour, so it will harden if stored in the refrigerator. Eat them on the day made or the next day at latest in room temperature. You can also freeze it.
A : Yes. It is made from rice flour and contains no animal products.
- 20 g Shiratamako or 5 tsp
- 30 g Joshinko or ¼ cup
- 1 g Cinnamon or ¼ tsp *1
- 25 g Sugar or 4 tsp
- 120 ml water ½ cup
- ¼ cup Kinako soybean flour
- 40 g Anko sweet azuki bean paste or 4 heap of tsp
- Place Shiratamako In a microwave-safe bowl and add half of the water gradually while stirring continuously.
- Add rest of the water to combine well.
- Add Joshinko, sugar and cinnamon to the microwave-safe bowl and mix well. The mixture should resemble a thick batter consistency.
- Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a microwave-safe plate, leaving a small vent for steam to escape.
- Place the bowl in the microwave and cook on high power for approximately 1 minute 30 seconds on 600w.
- Open the microwave door carefully (watch out for escaping steam) and check if the dough has thickened and is slightly transparent.
- Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the partially cooked dough until smooth and put it back in the microwave for a further 30 seconds. Take it out and stir till all becomes transparent and cooked through.
- Dust your work surface with kinako soybean flour to prevent sticking.
- Transfer the dough onto the prepared surface and also dust more kinako over the dough to prevent sticking, roll out thinly and evenly about 1/16 inch (2-3mm) thick. Cut it into square pieces.
- Dust off the surface of Yatsuhashi with a brush and place 1 tsp of anko sweet azuki bean paste slightly off center of each square piece.
- Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, creating a triangle shape.