Japanese Desserts

There are no sweets or desserts in the Western sense of the word to be found in traditional Japanese cooking, instead meals are ended with fresh fruits of the season. Sweet things do exist however, originally they were something to indulge in when drinking ocha (tea), and so sweets are closely linked to the “way of tea.” Today okashi (sweets) are enjoyed with tea between meals, in fact, “chagashi” (tea sweets) is a name used to refer to Japanese confectionery.

Mizu Yokan
(azuki bean jelly)

Kanten is a gelatin derived from a seaweed known as “heavenly grass” (tengusa). Unlike Western gelatin which is made from the hoofs and bones of animals, kanten sets without refrigeration (though refrigerating quickens the process), it doesn’t melt in hot weather, makes a firmer jelly, and has a neutral taste. Kanten (also known in the West as “agar-agar”), provides fiber and bulk and best of all it has zero calories, making it perfect for dieters! Kanten is sold as a brittle, thick, dry rectangular stick. It is usually clear and translucent but a red variety can be found. Purchase kanten in Asian food markets. The following kanten recipe calls for azuki beans, small flavorful red beans that are used in a number ways in Japanese cooking, primarily as the main ingredient in “an” (see top of page, second paragraph). Mizu yokan is a very satisfying “dessert” and best enjoyed during hot weather.


  • 1 stick of kanten (about 10 ounces)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 3 1/2 ounces of sugar
  • 1 fourteen ounce can of pureed azuki beans


Rinse the kanten and tear it into several pieces, cover with water in a small bowl and allow to soak for about 30 minutes (place a saucer on the kanten to prevent it from floating up).

Squeeze out as much water from the kanten as you can, tear into very small pieces and place in a small sauce pan. Add the water and cook over medium flame until the kanten has dissolved. Strain the melted kanten through a small hand held sieve into another pan. Add sugar and continue stirring over medium heat until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the azuki beans (if they’re not already pureed, run them through a blender).

Return the pan to the heat and cook until the mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring continually. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. At this point you’ll want to pour the kanten into a tray of some kind. I like using a plastic tupperware container with a lid (about 5″ x 6″ in size). Pour the kanten into the container and refrigerate until set. The jelly will be ready to eat when it is completely firm and chilled. Cut into squares and serve.

Sweet Omelette

(Atsu Yaki Tamago)

These thick omelets are very sweet and always served cold. They are not thought of as sweets in Japan, and are actually favorite items to be found in bento (lunch boxes), along with delicious morsels of fish, pickled vegetables, and rice. I’ve included the omelets here because I think you’ll enjoy them as a dessert.


  • 1/3 cup of dashi (see basics for preparation method)
  • 6-7 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of shoyu
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sake
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • vegetable oil


Combine all the ingredients (except the eggs and vegetable oil), in a small saucepan and heat until everything is dissolved and well mixed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Mix the eggs together but try not to whip too much air into them while doing so because the completed omelet should be solid and thick, not light and fluffy. This omelet should be made with a traditional Japanese square pan (tamago yaki nabe), but if you don’t have one a small Western style pan will do just fine (the finished omelet you will cut into oblong squares). Heat the square skillet or Western style frying pan and add a little vegetable oil using a swab of paper towel (the pan is ready when a test drop of egg sizzles). Pour in 1/3 of the egg mixture, tilting and rotating the pan so that the egg spreads across the pan’s bottom in an even layer. When the surface of the egg sets and it’s dry around the edges, use a pair of chopsticks (or a spatula), to roll up the omelet to one side of the square pan. Wipe in some more vegetable oil on the empty part of the pan. Add another 1/3 of the egg mixture and tilt to cover the surface of the pan, allowing the egg to cook. When the surface of the egg sets use the chopsticks to once again roll up the omelet… this time rolling the already cooked egg pushed to one side of the pan, over the newly cooked egg. Cook the omelet for just a few more moments and then remove from the fire and allow to cool. Once the omelet is cool you can cut it into oblong square blocks. Place on a platter and refrigerate until well chilled, then it’s ready to serve.

Red Bean Pancakes


These small “pancakes” are sold everywhere in Japan and are very popular. They have all types of fillings, but my favorite (and the most traditional), is made from azuki beans.


  • 2 cups of white flour
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 egg white, beaten until fluffy 1 six ounce can of azuki beans, mashed and mixed with enough sugar to form a thick sweet paste
  • vegetable oil


The word “it Sift the flour into a bowl and add the sugar. Stir in the water to make a batter, then fold in the egg whites. Heat a nonstick frying pan or griddle and swab on some vegetable oil with a paper towel. Drop about 2 tablespoons of the batter onto the hot griddle, let the batter spread by itself and wait for tiny bubbles to appear in the pancake.

When bubbles appear on the pancake surface, flip and fry the uncooked side for about 30 seconds, then remove. Continue making the pancakes until all the batter has been used up.. Spread the thick red bean paste onto a pancake and top with another pancake (like a sandwich) Dora-yaki should be served at room temperature and are wonderful with tea!

Watermelon Ice

Makes 4 servings


  • 3 cups Watermelon juice*
  • 1/3 cup Granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup Lemon juice

(* In a food processor or blender, process chunks of watermelon until liquified.) DIRECTIONS

In a saucepan, heat watermelon juice, lemon juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Do not boil!

Cool, then pour mixture into plastic tub. Put into freezer; stir mixture every 20 minutes until frozen, about two hours. Cover. Store in freezer. Spoon the ice into individual serving bowls.

Japanese Fruitcake with Filling


  • 1 c Butter,at room temperature
  • 2 c Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 3 c Flour
  • 1/2 ts Salt
  • 3 ts Baking powder
  • 1 c Milk
  • 1 tb Orange rind,grated
  • 1 ts Vanilla
  • 1 ts Allspice
  • 1 ts Ginger
  • 1/2 c Raisins
  • 1/2 c Pecans,chopped
  • 1 tb Flour
  • 1 1/2 c Coconut,grated
  • Candied cherries (opt)

For fruit filling:

  • 2 tb Flour
  • 1 Juice of 3 lemons
  • 1 c Sugar
  • 1 cn Pineapple (20 oz)
  • 2 Egg yolks
  • 1/2 c Pecans chopped


1. Preheat oven to 350’F.
2. Grease and flour 3 9-inch layer cake pans. Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Beat eggs until light and add to butter-sugar mixture.
3. Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together and add alternately to batter with milk. Stir in vanilla and orange rind; beat well. Spread 2/3 of the batter into 2 of the 3 prepared pans.
4. Add allspice and ginger to remaining batter. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over the raisins and nuts to coat, then add to batter and mix well. Spread spiced batter into remaining third pan.
5. Bake layers at 350’F. for 30 minutes, or until cake tests down and sides shrink from pan. Invert on wire rack and allow to cool.
6. When completely cool, spread fruit filling between layers and thinly over the top and side of cake, using a flat-bladed knife to spread evenly. (Place the fruit/spice layer in the middle when stacking layers.) Cover top and side of cake with the coconut. Decorate with red and green candied cherries in a wreath design if desired.
7. For fruit filling: pineapple should be crushed & drained. Combine all ingredients in top half of a double boiler over, not in, simmering water and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens. It should be quite thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.

Serves 8 people

Okinawan Sweet Fritters


  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup chunky or smooth Japanese bean paste
  • 6 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar (optional)


In a small bowl, combine egg and milk. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the egg and milk to the flour mixture; stir until blended. Stir in bean paste. In a wok or shallow pan, heat oil to 350 F (175C). Drop batter into the hot oil by the tablespoonful. Fry fritters 3 to 5 minutes, turning often to brown evenly. Cut open one fritter to be sure the batter is cooked inside. Roll hot fritters in sugar or serve plain. Makes about 12 fritters.

Recipe courtesy of Susan Fuller Slack, from the book Japanese Cooking for the American Table:

Japanese Cheesecake

submitted by: Jessica
This is a recipe which i found on Recipezaar.com posted by Maéva who learned this recipe while she was staying in Japan.


  • 7 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar (caster sugar)
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (don’t use flour)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling water For the glaze
  • 2 tablespoons jam (Apricot or Strawberry)
  • 1/2 tablespoon water


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray a 9-inch cake tin with cooking oil spray.
3. Beat cream cheese with milk to soften.
4. Add half of the sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and lemon juice.
5. Beat until smooth.
6. Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until foamy.
7. Gradually add remaining sugar and cream of tartar, beating on high speed until soft peaks form, about 8-10 minutes.
8. Gradually fold beaten egg whites into the cream cheese mixture, stirring gently.
9. Pour into cake pan and smooth the surface.
10. Place cake pan into a larger roasting pan and place in lower rack of oven.
11. Pour enough water into the roasting pan to come half way up the side of the cake pan.
12. Bake 35-40 minutes, until a pick inserted in the middle of the center comes out clean.
13. You can eat it like this, or you can put jam on top of it.
14. Put the jam in a sauce pan with the water on a low heat and warm up until it’s melted.
15. Then spread the glaze on top of the cake.
16. If the surface becomes too dark while baking cover with a piece of tin foil, but be careful not to open the oven door until it has been in the oven for at least 20 minutes.