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Japanese desserts with an alcohol kick

by Robbie Swinnerton

“There are two types of people,” my dear old landlady used to say, handing me a bowl of frothing matcha tea: “Those who like alcohol, and those who like sweets.”

She was well aware which camp I belonged in. But as a tea-ceremony teacher of no little repute, she saw it as her duty to inculcate in me an appreciation for sweets, especially wagashi, the dainty traditional confections that can seem cloying on their own but which go so perfectly with ceremonial green tea.

Of course, the two sides are not mutually exclusive. In the heat of summer she was partial to a glass of sweet but well-chilled umeshu (liquor infused with tart green ume plums). And in the same way, I am more than partial to a fine sherry trifle, a well-doused rum baba or even — twist my arm — Christmas liqueur chocolates.

So I have a strong feeling she would have been just as enthusiastic as I am about an addictively tasty crossover dessert that I discovered recently. It is based on the concept of the rare cheesecake, that distinctively Japanese cream-cheese tart which, instead of being baked, is set into a light mousselike texture using gelatine.

Except in this case there’s no pie crust or other base at all. And instead of being given a light vanilla or citrus tang, the creamy white mousse has been blended with sake-kasu, the lees that are left at the end of the sake-making process after the liquid has been pressed out.

Developed by Shichi Hon Yari, a small sake brewery in Shiga Prefecture, this Sake-kasu Nama Cheesecake has a smooth, light texture and refreshing, understated sweetness. The combination of flavors is beguiling — just as long as you are a fan of sake and the rich residual tang of fermentation.

At present it is only available by mail order direct from the brewery. You can choose from two options: Individual servings (¥500) in traditional ceramic sake tasting cups, with blue and white concentric rings on the inside; or in plastic pots (¥2,000 for a six-pack) featuring sake-kasu from six different brewers in the same prefecture.

Shichi Hon Yari has come up with plenty of other good ideas, from gelato (¥350 apiece, plus frozen-delivery charges) to taffylike candy (¥350) and limited-edition chocolates (¥700) — all with that same sake-kasu. The online store also has cool T-shirts, glasses made from recycled sake bottles and other paraphernalia. But you can’t buy the actual sake there. My dear old landlady would have smiled at that.

Visit the online store at 7yari.shop-pro.jp for more information.