Three friends of winter are pine, plum, and bamboo trees. The Japanese and Chinese culture observes these trees as strong and resilient like cold days don’t affect them. They symbolize resilience and perseverance.
So, this story spiked my interest and made me create deserts resembling three friends of winter.

winter: kasu amazake

This is a variation of amazake that introduces yeast via the kasu (sake lees), aligning it with Chinese jiuniang. Traditionally made with glutinous rice, it can be made with any variety (I like using fragrant jasmine and basmati). Served warm and flavored with yuzu zest, it is sweet, wonderfully aromatic, and mildly alcoholic — an adult version of rice pudding.

Ingredients:

rice                                        1/2 cup               90g
water                                    1 cup                  235g
kasu                                      2 Tblspns            35g
koji                                        1 cup                  180g
microplaned yuzu zest      2 tsps                   4g

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the rice, stir, cover pan, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes or until tender.

Sterilize a bowl, a spoon, and a 1-qt glass jar with boiling water. When the rice is cooked, transfer it to the bowl and cool to 55C/130F. Crumble the kasu over the rice, add the koji, and toss mixture with the spoon until well blended. Transfer mixture to jar and cover. Incubate in a water bath at 55-60C/130-140F for 2-3 days, gently shaking the jar every 6-8 hours. After 24 hours, the kasu amazake should be mildly sweet and smell yeasty. It will continue to get sweeter and headier — remove from water bath when it reaches a pleasing flavor and aroma. If not serving within a few hours, stop fermentation by placing the jar in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes and store in refrigerator for up to a week.

To serve, gently warm the kasu amazake and stir in the yuzu zest.

Bamboo: candied black sesame

When black sesame paste is cooked in sugar syrup and brought to the firm ball stage, the oil and solids create a product with the texture of brittle fudge. Here, young bamboo shoots are first impregnated with the light syrup, then coated with the reduced syrup and left to dry.

Ingredients:

black sesame paste             2 Tblsps           40g
hot water                              1/4 cup             60g
sugar                                     1 cup                200g
liquid glucose                      1 Tblsp              21g
18 young bamboo shoots

Pour the hot water over the sesame paste in a saucepan and whisk to dissolve. Add the sugar and glucose, stir to combine. Cook over high heat to 104C/220F. Remove from heat and add the bamboo shoots to the hot syrup, submerging them. Cover pan and set aside for at least 6 hours at room temperture. Remove shoots from pan and set on a rack to dry. Return pan to high heat and cook the syrup to 121C/250F. Remove from heat and, using a fork, carefully dip each bamboo shoot in the thick syrup to evenly coat, then place on a sheet of parchment to dry. If syrup begins to harden, rewarm gently until fluid before proceeding.

Candied bamboo shoots can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Pine: genoise, meringue

Both the cake and meringue are made with pine infused sugar. To heighten the flavor, a drop of pine essential oil was used in the syrup that moistens the genoise, and in the meringue. When buying essential oils for culinary purposes, look for 100% pure therapeutic grade.

pine sugar

sugar                         1 cup           200g
pine needles            1/4 oz           12g

Place the sugar and pine needles in a blender and blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes until pulverized. Let stand 5 minutes and blend again for 1 minute. Sift the sugar through a medium sieve to remove pine chaff. Sift again through a fine sieve to remove small particles.

pine genoise

sifted cake flour        1/3 cup                44g
cornstarch                  5 Tblsps             37.5g
eggs                             4 whole              200g
pine sugar                   1/2 cup              100g
cream of tartar           1/4 tsp               .75g

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9″ cake pan. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with the cornstarch. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar on high speed for about 5 minutes, or until thick, fluffy, and about tripled in volume. Sift half of the flour mixture over the eggs and fold in with a spatula. Repeat with the remainder of the flour mixture. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites just until foamy. Sprinkle on the cream of tartar and continue whipping to stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the batter, then pour into prepared cake pan and level off the top. Place in the oven immediately and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed, or a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before turning out of pan to finish cooling.

pine yuzu syrup

pine sugar                   2 Tblsps             25g
water                            1/4 cup              59g
yuzu juice                    2 tsps                 10g
pine essential oil        1 drop

Bring the sugar and water to a full rolling boil. Remove from heat, cover and let cool. Stir in the yuzu juice and essential oil. Evenly drizzle all of the syrup over the cake.

pine meringue

egg whites                    1/4 cup              60g
cream of tartar            1/4 tsp              .75g
pine sugar                    4 oz                    115g
pine essential oil         1 drop

In an electric mixer, beat the whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating on medium while gradually adding the sugar. When approximately 1/2 of the sugar has been added, raise the speed to high and gradually add the remaining sugar until meringue is stiff and glossy. Remove a heaping spoonful (about 1/4 cup) of the meringue to a small bowl and fold in the drop of essential oil until well incorporated. Return the meringue to the mixing bowl and beat for 1 minute.Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with #7 (small round) tip. Pipe long lines of meringue onto a silicone sheet. Bake in a 93C/200F oven for 1 hour, then turn off oven. Let meringues sit in oven until they release easily. To make ‘pine needles’ run the blade of a thin, offset spatula under each line of meringue— they will break off in short segments. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Plum: umeboshi puree, preserved ume

umeboshi plum puree

When making fruit purees, I like to freeze the fruit for a day or longer before processing. The freeze/thaw cycle releases flavorful juice by rupturing cell walls, allowing better control of solids:liquids ratio. It also allows the skins and pits to be easily removed. For this sweet/salty puree, I used deep red elephant heart plums and umeboshi (ume fermented in salt, then dried).

Ultratex is a tapioca-derived modified food starch that has the ability to thicken without applying heat. I used it here to tighten the puree, while retaining the fresh fruit flavor.

Ingredients:

juice from frozen and thawed plums             105g
solids from frozen and thawed plums            80g
umeboshi, pitted                                                 22g
yogurt                                                                    50g
honey                                                                     30g
ultratex 8                                                                8g

Place all of the ingredients except for the ultratex in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. With motor running on medium, drop the ultratex into the center vortex and continue blending until thickened. Transfer puree to a squeeze bottle.

ume leaves

Ume, aka Japanese plums, are not a type of plum, but a distinct species in the subgenus Prunus that include plum and apricot. Even when ripe, they are at least twice as acidic as plums. Although fresh ume are difficult to find in the US, Kanjyuku Ume No Mi (preserved plum produced by Choya foods) can be found in markets like Mitsuwa that specialize in Japanese ingredients. Essentially, they are ume preserved in sugar, but they are unlike any candied fruit I’ve ever tasted: crunchy, gelatinous, barely sweet, fragrant, puckery, and addictive.

Cut each ume into 8 wedges, removing the flesh from the pit. Trim the underside of each ‘leaf’ so that it sits flat on the plate.

To assemble dish

Place a 7.5cm/3″ ring mold in the center of a warmed serving plate. Spoon approximately 3 Tblsps on warm kasu amazake in the center of ring mold and spread in an even layer with the back of the spoon. Lift mold off of plate. Trim the candied bamboo shoots to 7.5cm/3″ in length and arrange 3 on top of the kasu amazake. Break the cake apart into small, irregular pieces and arrange 3 pieces at the base of bamboo shoots. Scatter some of the pine meringue needles over the top of cake. Arrange 6 of the ume wedges around the base of the cake to resemble bamboo leaves. Pipe clusters of 5-dot circles on either side of candied bamboo to resemble plum blossoms and single dots to resemble buds. Repeat with remaining plates.