Amazing Amazake: Sake Breweries and Cupcakes

This post is the second instalment in a Japanese travel series, telling stories from my recent trip to Japan to explore the wonderful world of edible insects and other culinary delights.After spending five days in Tokyo, Charlotte and I travelled on an overnight bus to Kushihara, located in the rural prefecture of Gifu. The next five days were packed with hot springs, foraging, drums and guitars, more hot springs, a lot of hornet liquor and fermented food.

On the second day there, Charlotte invited me along to a sake tasting with brewery owner Watarai George Misuteru. Packing ourselves into a lumberjack’s truck along with an Irish backpacker named Rowan, we set off for the Lady of the Castle brewery, Iwamura.

sake lady of the castle brewery
Sake!
lady of the castle brewery
Rowan, ‘George’, Charlotte and I

Once we arrived, Charlotte was kind enough to give us an informal tour of the place. The sake brewery was so cold that my numb hands were unable to write much down other than a few exceptional quotes and highlights (i.e. I was too busy sampling sake). Thankfully, it seems like Charlotte has a habit of taking curious Westerners around sake breweries and so you can read all about the ins and outs of sake history and production here.

After the tour, Watarai George Misuteru offered us samples of various sakes, including traditional and sweeter blends, a lemon sake and….amazake.

Oh, this is sweet, sweet heaven in a glass”

My response to trying amazake for the first time is reflected in the comment above, It is glorious. After witnessing my pure delight, Watarai George Misuteru was generous enough to present me with a whole bottle of amazake to take home and enjoy. You might be asking – what is this ‘sweet sweet heaven’ and where can I get it? Well, let me tell you:

Amazake is a traditional, sweet, low (1%) or non-alcohol drink made from fermented rice. It is essentially a by-product of sake. While sake tastes quite similar to wine, it essentially is brewed in the same way as beer, with the starch converted to sugars and then alcohol.

To make amazake, you need to add koji to whole grain rice, helping to break down rice carbohydrates into sugar molecules. The result is a sweet, milky drink. It smells of those Haribo ‘milk bottle’ sweets, tastes like agave nectar mixed with milk, and has a texture similar to bitty coconut milk.

amazake drink
Amazake in all its milky glory

As long as you have a lazy day at hand, it is very easy to make yourself:

  • You need 3 cups of rice (or other grains such as millet, quinoa) and 3 cups of koji.
  • Make the rice/grain into a ‘porridge’ in a saucepan, using a 5:1 ratio of water to grain.
  • Let it cool to around 43 degrees C
  • Add the 3 cups of koji and stir well
  • Leave in a rice cooker/yoghurt maker/oven (at a temperature of approx 50-60 degrees C) for 10 – 14 hours
  • Check on your amazake every few hours if you can, adding water if it looks too clumpy.
  • You can continue after 14 hours if you want it even sweeter than it already is – the longer it breaks down the grain, the sweeter it will be.
Now you have your amazake. What do you do with it? 

Along with being low in sugar and a natural sweetener, it is supposedly great for hangovers, can be drunk hot or cold as a comforting beverage, or incorporated into various sweet recipes.
For just a few, check out: ClearspringCoconut and Berries and Japanese Cooking Class.

I decided to use up some dessicated coconut and fresh rhubarb and make some coconut cupcakes with honey & lime-infused rhubarb. 

lime coconut rhubarb cupcakes amazake


The recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart’s basic cupcake recipe, is as follows:

Ingredients
 
1 3/4 cups of self-raising flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 cup of dessicated coconut (I used unsweetened)
170g unsalted butter
1/3 cup of brown sugar
2 large eggs and 1 egg white
3/4 cup of amazake
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Method
 
For the cupcakes:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees C
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and leave to one side
  3. Cream the butter and (teeny tiny amount of) sugar in a bowl and then add the eggs one at a time
  4. Add the amazake and vanilla extract to the wet ingredients*Right now, it will look horrific. Mine looked like curdled baby sick. It is not a delicious look. But, have faith in the amazake*
  5. Add the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, into the wet ingredients and fold. Not too much.
  6. Divide the batter into little muffin cups – I was able to make about 12.
  7. Bake until golden brown. It took about 20 minutes for mine.
    *They are very moist cupcakes – don’t be fooled by this as they are probably cooked. Check using a fork/skewer and see if it comes out clean*
  8. Cool on a wire rack and get going with the candied rhubarb…
lime coconut and rhubarb cupcakes amazake
For the candied lime and honey rhubarb:
  1. Cut your rhubarb into 6cm strips and place in a baking tray (don’t let them touch one another)
  2. In a saucepan, heat honey with hot water at a ratio of 2:1 and bring to the boil.
  3. Once boiled, bring off the heat and let it cool for a moment.
  4. Add lime juice to taste
  5. Either drizzle over the rhubarb or brush them with the honey-lime syrup.
  6. Bake in the oven (ideally at around 180 degrees C but if in same oven as cupcakes, just bake for slightly longer) until they are tender and caramelised.
candied lime honey rhubarb
I also added a bit of ‘candied coconut’. In other words, I mixed lime juice with icing sugar and dessicated coconut. Oh and a bit of amazake, just for kicks. It didn’t work out too great, but waste not want not; I ended up brushing little chunks of sugary coconut and the syrup over the cooled cupcakes to give a sugary glaze.
So, yeah…that whole ‘sugar-free’ healthy cupcake thing didn’t really work out, but they tasted amazing. 
 
Now I have a tiny bit of amazake left which I will experiment with over the next week…be warned.
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