"Today, we are going to learn how to make knee....rear...key...rear", Norie Uematsu, the assistant of instructor Tomoko Yagi, translated as Yagi-sensei kneaded some sort of hazy-white dough. "And this is queue he..", Uematsu-san continued to translate. My friend had signed me up for a Japanese wagashi class and I was more than thrilled thinking that I would be learning how to make mochi, a classic Japanese sweet that is made from pounded glutinous rice that melts in your mouth. I had always wanted to learn the secret to mochi.
It was not until I tried to understand what Uematsu-san was translating that I started to become alarmed. I stared at the recipe pamphlet for the class and soon realized that we would be learning how to make Nerikiri - dough made from sweet white bean paste and glutinous rice flour. The description didn't make it sound too appetizing but who could possibly resist taking photos and being charmed by the miniature snow kingdoms that Yagi-sensei had created? One could tell that she had put lots of effort into her magical snowy-artwork.
After Yagi-sensei demonstrated how to create colorful nerikiri dough, how to mold them into Christmas trees and snowmen, and how to use Japanese tools to create snow, it was our turn to get our hands dirty and take a chance at experimenting with the dough. It certainly seemed like a breeze to watch her complete a nerikiri cake. However, tackling nerikiri myself seemed much more complicated. It took a while to incorporate colors into the dough and it was extremely important to keep the moist cloth over it while kneading it. Nerikiri is a very sensitive dough that cannot be let dried out or else it will be impossible to mold it. The body structure of the snowman was fairly easy to replicate. However, tinier pieces, such as eyes and lips were much harder to create. By the time I knew it, most people were cleaning up and I was still standing there for fifteen minutes struggling with creating a mouth for my snowman and trying to get it to stay on its face.
To this very day, Yagi-sensei has my utmost respect. She has the ability to pour her heart out and create mesmerizing snowy masterpieces. Now, I understand that there is much more to learn in the world of Japanese wagashi. It takes a lifetime to develop such intricate and exquisite artwork.