Musashibō Benkei- a key hero in Japanese folklore and a warrior monk of great prowess- is rumoured to be instrumental in the creation of one of the country’s most popular street foods, the dorayaki. Hiding from one of his many foes in a farmer’s house while he recovered from wounds inflicted upon him, he accidentally left his ceremonial gong behind upon leaving the dwelling. The farmer searched for the hero near and far, but to no avail, and not knowing what the object was used for, he placed the gong in a fire and fried little round pancakes on the metal surface. Wrapping the sweet, hot discs around a ball of mashed red beans the treat was born, albeit in a far more fanciful way than the reality of them being based on a Portuguese sponge cake recipe. However you choose to believe they came about, these little gong cakes have become an icon of Japanese cuisine, thanks in part to them being the favoured food of a futuristic robotic cat called Doraemon from the manga of the same name.
Fluffy sponge discs, warmly fragrant with honey and faintly scented with sweet mirin wine, sandwiched around a smooth filling of pureed azuki beans, dorayaki were our first encounter with street food in Japan and helped spark our obsession with recreating the flavours of the country. The ubiquitous little cakes can be bought in nearly every convenience store or bakery, from vendors on street corners and festival markets, even from kiosks on railway station platforms, and now hopefully you’ll try making them at home too. After you’ve perfected cooking your own dorayaki, try experimenting with other traditional fillings such as custard, mashed chestnuts, sweetened whipped cream or the strangely comforting margarine and maple syrup- the last one greatly inspired by the American breakfast staple.
- 100g plain flour
- 20g rice flour
- 3g baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 50g sugar
- 40g honey
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 30ml cold water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (plus extra for frying)
- 200g anko (red bean paste) you can use tsubuan- chunky, or koshian- smooth
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the sugar and mix well to combine. Pour in the honey, mirin, vegetable oil and vanilla extract, and whisk until the mixture is thick and creamy, before stirring in the water.
- Sift the flours, salt and baking soda into the liquid ingredients and fold gently to combine. Cover the bowl and leave the batter to rest in the refrigerator for twenty to thirty minutes- this will help the gluten in the batter to relax and create a more tender pancake.
- Place a large frying pan or pancake pan over a medium heat, pour in a teaspoon of vegetable oil then wipe with kitchen roll to leave just a very fine film of oil in the pan. Ladle batter into the pan- two tablespoons makes a nice sized pancake- making sure that each individual pancake doesn’t touch its neighbour, and cook the dorayaki until the batter on the surface forms small open bubbles. Flip the pancakes gently and continue to cook the other side until browned.
- When cooked, remove the pancakes from the pan, place on a plate and cover immediately with clingfilm to keep moist; continue to cook the rest of the dorayaki in the same way until you have used all of the batter.
- After the dorayaki have cooled down enough to handle, take a single pancake and smear a tablespoon of the anko paste into the centre of it, then sandwich another pancake on top, pinching the edges to help seal them together. Wrap the filled dorayaki firmly with clingfilm and set to one side, repeating the process with the remaining pancakes. Allow the dorayaki to set at room temperature for at least an hour before serving. The sweet cakes make a perfect accompaniment to the bitter flavour found in a cup of matcha green tea, or if you’re anything like a cartoon cat from the 1970s, serve them with a tall glass of soda.
Makes four filled dorayaki.