I absolutely love wagashi and Japanese sweets in general, particularly nerikiri – little moulded white bean paste cuties. Cuties being the official technical term, of course. They're perfect with a cup of bitter matcha, tea ceremony-style. Unfortunately, unlike anko (red bean paste), ready-made shiro-an (white bean paste) is unavailable to buy in the UK. Which means if you want to make nerikiri, you have to make shiro-an yourself. Since it takes hours to boil beans from scratch, I decided to cheat and use canned white beans in water.
The difference between shiro-an and nerikiri is just glutinous rice flour: shiro-an is just the sweet white bean paste. Nerikiri is shiro-an mixed with glutinous rice flour paste to make it more elastic and easier to mould into shapes. It kind of feels like playdough when you work with it.
Usually nerikiri sweets are filled with shiro-an or anko in the centre. I cooked some mashed purple sweet potato into a dough with some sugar using exactly the same method below and used that instead. All you have to do is roll the filling into a ball, roll the nerikiri into a slightly bigger ball, flatten the nerikiri and use it to envelope the ball of filling. Then you can turn it into any shape you want.
This is a cheat, and won't produce absolutely perfect results it skips multiple straining and is just passed the beans through a sieve once. Also, it's definitely not quick – it's definitely quicker than boiling beans from scratch for hours, but it's still a bit of a labor of love. The best part is definitely shaping the nerikiri – I just used a toothpick, a sieve (to push bits of nerikiri through for the centre of the flour) and my hands to create this flour.
Still ready? Let's go.
Ingredients for Shiro-an
1 can haricot or butter beans in water, drained and rinsed thoroughly
5 tbsp caster sugar
Additional Ingredient for Nerikiri
2 tbsp glutinous rice flour
1. Press the beans through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon. Discard the skins and fibres left behind in the sieve.
2. If you're just making shiro-an, just add the strained bean paste and sugar to a nonstick frying pan. If you're making nerikiri, add the rice flour too. For both types of bean paste, heat the ingredients on medium and stir with a silicone spatula: it'll turn more like a liquid at first, but will thicken as the water evaporates. Keep stirring until it starts to ball up and forms a smooth, firm dough.
3. Transfer into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool completely before working with. Now you can dye it with food colouring and turn it into anything you want.
Enjoy, and have fun.