Being a foreigner in Japan has its ups and downs. It’s a little unnerving to be openly stared at on the train, while walking down the street, buying toilet paper in the supermarket–basic necessities, people!–but I just try and flash a big, friendly smile to dispel any preconceived notions about Americans. And for the most part, aside from the occasional gawking or exclaims of “foreigner!” by small children, my presence in the community is a welcome one. But the other day, I admit, my foreigner newness was flat-out taken advantage of. Not in any serious kind of manner, mind you! Just an unfortunate lack of common sense on my part and the sneaky ways of a street vendor.
I was on my way to the grocery store, my food list firmly clenched in my fist to ensure the quickest in-and-out run I could manage. Somehow I always get sidetracked in the produce aisle… In any case, I miraculously made it out of the store with my cheapest groceries bill yet, 1,993 yen for a weeks’ worth of foodstuff! It was with this spirit of smug satisfaction and general happiness that I happened by a street stand laden with baskets, bowls, and overflowing piles of fruits. Oh the splendor…A glowing mound of dried mangoes, succulent fresh figs and wrinkly dried ones, apricots, prunes, pineapple, even candied sweet potatoes and slow roasted tomatoes. I must have been drooling noticeably because the wily vendor sidled out from underneath the shade of his stall’s umbrella to take full advantage of my hesitation. He described everything in mouth-watering detail, and let me try anything I exclaimed over. Before long I had sampled about half of his merchandise, and I felt so guilty when he asked me what I would be purchasing that I sheepishly bought a royally overpriced bag of dried mango, apricots, prunes, and figs. Because who knows when he would have been back, right?? Only to find out a week later, while walking to the bank, that he frequents the city every weekend. *sigh*
Sorrowful tale of my naivete aside, I had to find some way to make use of all that beautiful dried fruit. And with plans for my friend from work, Ms. Office Lady, to come and visit on Sunday, I figured a small afternoon treat to go with coffee would be the perfect confection to give summer and its fruity decadence a last hurrah. The recipe is one slightly adapted from another favorite Japanese cookbook, a simple guide to yeastless bread doughs, or quickbreads. The dough is simple and straightforward, and the rum-infused fruit makes the perfect sweet, melty center to a soft and chewy roll. It was a breeze to make and a pleasure to enjoy for an afternoon Oyatsu! While I used apricots and dates because I had them on hand, thanks to Mr. Vendor’s conniving ways, you could also substitute another dried pit fruit, such as prunes.
Apricot and Date Rolls
4 dried prunes
4 dried apricots
1 TB rum
1 Cup flour (100 grams)
1 TB sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
20 grams butter, chilled
3 TB yogurt
1 TB milk (if dough is too dry, increase to 2 TB)
sugar to finish
- Boil the dried fruit for 5-6 minutes, or until tender. Drain excess water, put in a bowl, cover with rum, and set aside to soak for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut butter into small pieces; add to flour mixture and rub in between fingertips until mixture becomes the texture of course meal. Add yogurt and mix gently.
- Form a well in the center of the dough, add milk and stir to combine gently with hands. Remove dough to a floured surface and knead 5-6 times. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 or more minutes.
- Remove dough from plastic wrap, roll into a 3mm thick rectangle approximately 12x24cm. Cut rectangle into 8 squares. Place one piece of fruit in the center of each square, and carefully wrap dough around to form a circle. Place roll seam-side down an a lined baking sheet. Cut an “X” into the top with cooking scissors, making sure to incise the fruit inside. Dust with sugar and bake at 180 Degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and serve! Happy afternoon tea :)