Manju! Who would have expected that these little sweets would show up in Sakura Quest? Koharu, the main character, has been summoned out to a village that has been left behind by the times. Her job is to be their new Queen in the hopes of bringing tourism to the area. The village is a little old-fashioned and quaint, so I guess it makes sense that manju are featured as opposed to, say, a more trendy dessert, like pancakes or crepes. Manju are definitely a more traditional kind of sweet, typically filled with red bean paste. I actually haven't tried manju in real life, as I'm not a huge fan of red bean paste. However, red bean paste is a traditional sweet in Japan and is commonly found in a lot of confections like mochi, anpan, taiyaki, and manju.
Koharu and her friends absolutely STRUGGLE to sell these little manju, making for a very entertaining episode chronicling their attempts to offload 1,000 boxes of manju. These manju are decorated with the mascot of the town- a Chupakabra. In case you missed the pun, a Chupacabra is a type of creature from folklore in the Americas. It's like the Bigfoot of South America, but real, bloodthirsty, and coming to GET YOU.
From what I was told when I was little, the Chupacabra is supposed to be from Mexico, it drinks the blood of livestock, and has spines all down its back. I know people (*cough* my room mate *cough*) who were absolutely TERRIFIED of the Chupacabra when they were little. In California, at least, the fear is REAL.
You can imagine my surprise when the Chupacabra came up as the mascot of a tiny Japanese village. For real, what the heck? After a little investigating (read: asking my boyfriend, who is fluent in Japanese to translate for me), I discovered that Chupakabra, as it's spelled in the anime, is a play on the Chupacabra and a kabra, which means turnip in Japanese. Which also makes sense, if you look at the original mascot of the town, which is a large, sad faced turnip boy. In the picture below, you can see his head.
Honestly, I think this whole show is so weird and funny. What the heck. Who thinks turnips would make a great mascot??? The Chupacabra is TERRIFYING! Why would be bring people to the village? So many questions, so few answers. But, if manju can do anything, it can provide us wil a snack while we ponder over life's mysteries. After watching Koharu try to sell so many, I wanted to give the recipe a try, mostly to make my roommate happy. She loves red bean paste, so I thought this would be perfect for her.
Once again, I made these two ways- gluten free, and the normal way. Both ways worked incredibly well, so I recommend you give either recipe a try. The end result was a crunchy outer layer, almost like a cookie, with a smooth, warm, red bean paste filling. We got our third room mate to try these, as she's actually eaten manju before, and she said they tasted really authentic! This makes me very happy since I've never actually eaten manju before...
As you can see, the original manju have the Chupakabra monster painted on. Despite my best attempts, I found this way too difficult to replicate usinig just my home kitchen. If you are hell-bent on making this happen, you can do it a few ways.
1) Paint on the monster using the egg wash glaze. When it bakes, it should produce the lines so you can see the monster, though I would consider this the most ineffectual of the options. I tried it and had poor results.
2) Make a stencil. Dust chocolate powder over the stencil to create the lines of the monster's face. I did not try this, because I had neither the right paper, nor the right tools for cutting out slivers of tiny paper, nor the patience to do this.
3) Make a brand out of metal. Heat over a flame. Brand your manju. I did not try this because I'm not a metal-worker, nor do I know anyone who is, nor do I have the money to drop on a one-time-use custom kitchen item.
4) In hindsight, I suppose you could draw on the design with a food-safe marker. I didn't attempt this because I'm only thinking of it now, but it probably wouldn't matter anyway because I can't draw to save my life. However, if you wanted to try this, I think a food-safe marker would be the best idea.
Watch the video below for full instructions!
Recipe adapted from here.
1. Combine half of beaten egg, sugar, condensed milk, and butter in a bowl.
2. Sift in flour and baking soda. Mix together and form dough into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour-overnight.
3. Divide red bean paste into 9 pieces, and roll into equal sized balls.
4. Preheat oven to 350 F. When dough is ready, divide and roll into 9 pieces.
5. Flatten a ball of dough between your hands, and, when big enough, tuck a ball of bean paste inside the dough and pinch the edges together. Roll gently to smooth seams. Place seam down on a lined baking sheet.
6. Using the remaining egg, wash the manju with the egg to give a nice shine when in the oven.
7. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown and tops are shiny.