September and October mark the beginning of autumn in Japan, my favorite season. Then, of course, there’s koyo (autumn leaves) to look forward to, and there’s also the seasonal produce that opens up a whole range of possibilities in the flavor department.
So after moving away from the cold noodles and salads of summer towards the warm stews and fragrant autumn sweets, I wanted to try something different. Today on Japanese Recipe Adventures, we’re making the much-adored dorayaki.
Sort of like a Japanese pancake sandwich, dorayaki are traditionally made up of two pillowy-soft buns wrapped around sweet azuki (red bean) paste. Inspired by an abundance of in-season sweet potatoes and the return of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte after a 15-year hiatus from Japan, I set out to attempt a flavor combination that was sure to delight.
This will make four sweet potato dorayaki with a bit of leftover sweet potato paste.
Sweet potato paste:
- 200g sweet potato (uncooked)
- 50ml milk (any type of milk)
- 2-3 tbsp maple syrup (depending on taste and initial sweetness of the sweet potato)
- 20g unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice powder
- ¼ tsp clove powder
- 70g cake flour (薄力粉 Hakuriko) (Avoid using strong 強力小麦粉 or ‘bread’ flour as you want the pancakes to be soft and fluffy)
- 5g baking powder
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp milk (any type of milk)
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp water
- Whipped cream
- Maple syrup
Start with the sweet potato paste to allow time to cool. Peel and dice the sweet potato into 1 ½ inch/4cm cubes. Soak the cubes in cold water for five minutes to reduce the starch content and ensure a smoother paste that doesn’t resemble glue.
Discard the starchy water and refill it with fresh, cold water until the potato is submerged. Bring to the boil and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the potato can be easily skewered with a toothpick.
Mash the potato, or pass the cooked potato through a sieve using the back of a spoon for a much smoother consistency. This will take some elbow grease, but it’s worth it for a smoother result.
At this point, it is worth tasting the cooked potato to gauge its natural sweetness. You can then adjust the amount of maple syrup you add to suit your taste.
Add the remaining ingredients for the sweet potato paste to the pot and combine over low heat. You should have a smooth paste that holds together. Continue cooking over low heat to reduce any liquid if the paste is too runny. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Make the pancake batter by first whisking together the maple syrup, milk, egg, vanilla, sugar and water, then sifting over the flour and baking powder. Make sure the batter is smooth and lump-free. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Whip the cream if it is not already pre-whipped. You can add a few drops of vanilla essence to the cream if you like. Set aside in the fridge until the dorayaki are ready to assemble.
Once the pancake batter has rested for 30 minutes, prepare a non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Very lightly grease the pan using a few drops of vegetable oil and wiping it with a paper towel. Spoon enough batter for one pancake into the pan (about two tablespoons) and make sure it forms a relatively circular shape.
Once bubbles start appearing on the surface, flip the pancake and cook for an additional minute on the other side. Keep the cooked pancakes on a plate covered with some baking paper and a clean tea towel. This will help keep them soft while they cool down to room temperature.
To assemble the dorayaki, place about one tablespoon of sweet potato paste on a pancake (not the presentation side) and a small dollop of whipped cream on top. Sandwich with another pancake, and they are ready to serve. A small drizzle of extra maple syrup also works.
How did it turn out?
Admittedly, the first couple of pancakes looked nothing like the typical, perfectly uniform, golden brown discs you would usually look for in a dorayaki. But after some temperature adjustment and ensuring the pan was greased ever-so-lightly, I got the color I wanted.
The addition of the whipped cream really tied the story together when mimicking the popular seasonal drink that inspired this variation on the dorayaki. However, omitting the whipped cream for the sake of health or dietary reasons will not significantly affect the overall experience. In addition, this recipe can be adapted for vegan or dairy-free diets by substituting three tablespoons of aquafaba for the egg and nut-based milk and butter in place of dairy.
The sweet potato infused with the spices and combined with the butter and maple syrup is truly something to behold—a warming, comforting, autumnal flavor. Fortunately, the recipe makes an unavoidable surplus of sweet potato paste that can be spread on toasted shokupan (Japanese milk bread), wrapped in mochi, or filled mini tartlets.
Do you have other filling ideas for dorayaki? Let us know in the comments!