Dorayaki: two flat round cakes sandwiched with red bean jam.
A dorayaki stuffed with red bean, cream and banana
A dorayaki sandwiched with ice cream and covered in toppings!
Twice as much pancake
The dorayaki is perhaps one of the most well known and popular Japanese sweets. It is traditionally made of two small round pancakes, sandwiched together by a red bean paste, anko.
But the dorayaki is NOT a PANCAKE!
Contrary to what you might think and despite their appearance, the two cakes making up the dorayaki are not exactly pancakes. In fact, their recipe derives from a Portuguese cake, "castella" (in Japanese, kasutera), imported by missionaries in the sixteenth century. Kasutera has a sponge cake consistency while the pancake looks rather like a thick pancake. It is not the same texture, nor the same taste! Dorayaki are softer than a classic pancake, and besides, the word pankeki corresponds to a completely different kind of pancake in Japan.
Read: Japanese pancakes
In the original recipe and like many traditional Japanese sweets, dorayaki are stuffed with sweet azuki paste (Japanese red beans). However, there is often a more extravagant version with whipped cream available, called a nama dorayaki. Nama means "fresh" in reference to the fresh cream used. Other variations are possible, as it is very easy to change the filling of dorayaki: chestnut, sweet potato cream, matcha cream ... You can even put ice cream inside or add all sorts of ingredients on top. In short, there is something for everyone!
Read also: Azuki
THE CONTROVERSIAL ORIGINS OF THE DORAYAKI
Several stories surround the creation of the dorayaki. The word dora means "gong" in Japanese, and the name of the sweet would come from its round shape and its golden color. It's said that the warrior monk Saito no Musashibo Benkei (1155-1189) one day left his gong behind with a farmer with whom he was hiding. After his departure, the farmer fried a cake on the instrument and thus invented the dorayaki. But it's also said that the farmer and his wife served a cake of this form to Benkei, which then became popular. It's really impossible to know the truth!
It is also possible that the round, flat shape of the dorayaki is simply inspired by Western sweets. Indeed, the majority of wagashi in Japan have rather "closed" forms, the bean paste being entirely inside the cake, as is the case of the manju or the imagawayaki, a cousin of the dorayaki recipe and taste. This is not the case with dorayaki, which is "open". It didn't have the appearance of a "sandwich" originally: the present form is attributed to a sweet shop called Usagi-ya in Ueno, Tokyo. The establishment, which still exists today, started to market the dorayaki in this form at the beginning of the 20th century.
It should also be noted that in Kansai, the dorayaki does not bear the same name: it is called mikasa, in reference to Mount Wakakusa which is also called Mikasa. This hill near Nara is known for being an excellent viewpoint from which to admire the moon. The shape of the dorayaki would remind the locals of the full moon seen from Mount Mikasa. In Nara, very large mikasa (about 20cm in diameter!) are sold. There is no end of stories to tell about this delicious cake!
BELOVED ALL OVER
As you can see, the dorayaki is appreciated by all Japanese, young and old. It's therefore natural to find them everywhere in Japanese popular culture. An anime character from the 1980s is Doraemon, a blue cat-robot who loves dorayaki. He regularly gets into all sorts of trouble because of his obsession with the round cake. Some dorayaki vendor stands have a drawing or a Doraemon figurine next to their wares.
More recently, the dorayaki was celebrated in the film "Sweet Bean" by Naomi Kawase. The film shows extensively and in a very appetizing way the many facets of the preparation of dorayaki, contributing to its popularity worldwide even more.