Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Ninja Baker’s Japanese Plum Sweet Memories and Recipes

You can’t have too many Recipes for Happiness! Here’s a post from one of our favorite bloggers detailing their personal Recipe for Happiness. The author is Kim Watkinson, AKA The Ninja Baker at NinjaBaking.com. Why the name? Although a towheaded American, Kim’s first language was Japanese. Her parents were world travelers—her mother, Dorothy Knode, was the world’s number five tennis player who competed 12 times at Wimbledon. Her dad worked for an international brokerage firm and often traveled on business. As a result, Kim spent a lot of time with her nanny, Kawaji-san. From Kawaji-san, Kim learned about cooking where care is given to every ingredient and flavor, plus the Japanese appreciation of beauty and simplicity. Later, during summer vacations in Colorado, assisting her grandmother, Nona, she learned the importance of pouring love into classic American baked goods. As an adult, Kim studied professional baking in formal Cordon Bleu workshops. Now as The Ninja Baker, she combines Asian fusion cuisine, American standards, and gluten-free sweets for her clients in Los Angeles' entertainment industry. 

(Spread more happiness, and help Allrecipes.com celebrate its 15th anniversary! Share a special moment in your life by posting a photo here of your special #RecipeForHappiness!) 

My American grandmother, Nona, and my Japanese nanny, Kawaji-san, knew the recipe for happiness. Both always used one essential ingredient: Love. From them I learned that love and food are inextricably intertwined and transcend all cultures. It’s a tradition I have taken to heart, as has most of the Allrecipes community with years of experience in winning over finicky friends, children, and other family members with extraordinary tried-and-true dishes and love. When my darling niece Eliza came to visit Auntie K (aka The Ninja Baker) for her eleventh birthday in April 2011, she made a wish list of desserts. I made five. Her favorite was a pumpkin cake from Allrecipes.com. When I wanted to make empanadas for my Dad in Florida, I asked my Argentine tango teacher for a recipe. She sent me an Allrecipes.com link for the recipe (and made me promise not to tell her Argentinean mother that the Allrecipes’ empanadas were on par with those consumed in Buenos Aires).

Thumbs up for Pumpkin Cake! (Photo by Kim Watkinson)
Argentine tango teacher-approved Empanadas (Photo by Kim Watkinson)
There is something to be said about the tried-and-true. Perhaps that’s why family traditions are so important to me. As an American family living in Japan, our homemade brew of Japanese plum wine was pulled from the bottom shelf in our kitchen closet when we gathered to celebrate a special occasion, including my sister Karen’s sweet sixteen…A celebration where I was so proud and excited to present birthday cheesecake. Head held high, I tripped as I entered the dining room and dropped the dessert! Thank goodness my sister is a forgiving sort, and very grateful that Japanese Plum Wine is a lovely complement to vanilla ice cream.

The Japanese Plum, ume. has long been considered special. In the late 1500s, Lord Kuroda, a formidable samurai warrior, decreed all vassals in his domain should plant three ume (plum) trees upon the birth of a son. Many other Japanese feudal lords followed suit as they recognized the soothing medicinal properties of the fruit. In the late 1600s, the first mention of ume plum wine in Japanese cuisine appeared in writing. So, we know the venerable tradition of celebrating with Japanese plum wine goes back centuries.

Through my years on planet earth, I have discovered that one recipe for happiness is to celebrate small victories. Like the completion of the laundry and ironing. Or keeping up with 20-somethings in a Zumba class. So instead of waiting for Christmas or my sister’s birthday, I allow myself to indulge and enjoy the Japanese ume plum, often in candy, frosting, wine, or pickled form.

I believe the Ninja Baker’s Japanese Plum Wine Buttercream is popular because, a) it’s a pretty pink and, b) it’s a sophisticated flavor you won’t find at your average bakery. It’s the perfect smile-provoking frosting to slather on Allrecipes.com vanilla and chocolate cupcakes based on recipes from Allrecipes.com. (Note: Japanese plum wine can be found in most liquor stores and many markets in the U.S. It is also easy to purchase online from several vendors.)

Other blissful bites are found in The Ninja Baker’s Japanese Plum Wine (Ume-Shu) Mini Cream Puffs. The recipe that follows is gluten-free and dairy-free. However, if you do not have a husband or other loved one who is wheat, lactose sensitive, you can easily make the recipe substituting all-purpose flour, regular butter, milk and cream.

The Ninja Baker’s Japanese Plum Wine (Ume-Shu) Mini Cream Puffs

Yield: Approximately 36 mini cream puffs.

8 tablespoons organic coconut spread
1 cup vanilla coconut milk
3/4 cup brown rice flour blend
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 pinch of salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 (16-ounce) carton vegan whipping cream substitute
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons plum wine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 drops pink food coloring or gel (or number to obtain desired hue)
Additional confectioners’ sugar
Pink decorating sugar

Directions for Mini Puffs
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place a bowl and beaters into the freezer to chill.
2. Over a low to medium flame, combine the coconut spread and milk in a saucepan, stirring frequently, and bring to a boil. When and only when, the coconut milk comes to a boil, stir in the flours and pinch of salt. Stir constantly using a heat-resistant spatula. (A wooden shamoji rice spatula is also perfect.) Continue stirring until a ball forms.
3. Place the dough ball into the bowl of a food processor along with one egg. Pulse to mix thoroughly. Add the three remaining eggs, one at a time, blending after each. When the ingredients are completely combined, use a spoon to scoop small mounds onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. A mini ice cream scoop works well for this.
4. Bake the puffs in the preheated oven until tops are golden, or for 16 minutes. (Note: If making larger puffs, more time in the oven will be required.) A good rule of thumb for doneness is a golden shell, and a great aroma in the kitchen! When baked, remove shells from oven and cool on a rack.

Directions for Ume-Shu Plum Wine Cream Filling
1. Remove the bowl and beaters from the freezer. Pour the whipping cream substitute into the bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Stir in the confectioners' sugar, plum wine, and vanilla, and continue beating. Add pink food coloring to reach the desired color—pale pink, rose or even magenta.
2. Split the pastry shells in half. Pipe or spoon the filling into the bottom half, and top with the second half. Dust with additional confectioners' sugar and pink decorating sugar.

The Ninja Baker's Japanese Plum Wine (Ume-Shu) Mini Cream Puffs (Photo by Kim Watkinson)
If savory rather than sweet is what you crave, the lovely umeboshi (pickled plum) is a nice accent atop a steaming bowl of white rice or buried within an onigiri rice ball. If you’d like to see the Ninja Baker demonstrating how to make onigiri click here. You can read all about the onigiri, Japan’s authentic comfort food, here.
Steaming white rice topped with a pickled plum gem (Photo by Kim Watkinson)
Whether you prefer savory or sweet, celebrate today with the small but mighty Japanese plum. I think you’ll find your mouth stretching wide into a grin.

Wishing you plum moments to celebrate your reasons and recipes for happiness!

Posted by The Ninja Baker


This is a beautifully written article! It combines history and personal memories along with unusual ingredients and many variations to suit your dietary preferences. My favorite part is the association of food prepared with love and the valuable advice to celebrate often! Too many times we skip the small victories.

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