First, we made manju, which is a mochi-like sweet consisting of 70% sugar. Ironically, the Japanese think it suitable to emphasize how healthy this candy is for your cholesterol while trying to get you to ignore the fact that it is almost pure sugar. Goodbye cholesterol, hello diabetes.
To make manju you basically make a eggless cookie batter of baking powder, sugar and water, and eventually some flour to give it, and I quote, an "earlobe" consistency. I must write that one down. "Earlobe" is a very concise consistency and leaves little room for interpretation. We were all put to shame when asked if there was any particular word in English for this. A room full of 61 exchange students from Yale and UPenn can't find one, however, if you do, let me know. Then the "batter" is molded around balls of an, or red bean paste, put in a wooden vat-like thing and steamed for 8 minutes. Warm manju? Absolutely delish.
Then we made nerikiri, which is very similar to manju, just with a different Sculpey-like outer dough which can be dyed and molded into various shapes.
We tried our hand at morning glories, and though they didn't turn out nearly as gorgeous as the head chef's, it was definitely fun to play with our hot pink food. To get the particular shape of this nerikiri, after the dough is rolled around the bean paste the whole thing is gathered up in a wet cloth and twisted to give it the flower shape.
And then there's the amazingly detailed nerikiri the chef made that put ours to shame (picture nabbed from Veronica over at June, July, Japan ):