Itadakimasu! 蕎麦ぼうろ Soba Boro – Kyoto Buckwheat Cookies
When we were in Kyoto, we were intrigued by the variety of traditional Japanese snacks available in just one shop alone which we’d visited. It is a 老舗 shinise, which means that it has been around for a very long time, and the selection was far more extensive than what we would probably find in all the snack shops we’d seen elsewhere combined. Senbei and other forms of rice biscuits in all thinkable Japanese-inspired flavours from the savory sansho and sakura-ebi to sweet ones like kurogoma and matcha. But this comes as no surprise of course. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan for more than 1000 years. Many of these snacks have their roots deep in the art of 和菓子 wagashi, the traditional artform of Japanese sweet-making. But some of these are classified as 南蛮菓子 nanban-gashi, brought into Japan by the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries more than 500 years ago. The most famous of these “imported confectioneries” must surely be the カステラケーキ kasutera cake which was derived from the Portuguese “Pão de Castela”. It has since become a speciality of Nagasaki. Another lesser known confection which is essentially a nanban-gashi as well, is a cookie known as そばぼうろ Soba Boro, These have since become a popular snack which is synonymously associated to Kyoto, where visitors would buy packets of them home as omiyage. But the recipe is fairly straightforward, so now you can make them on your own as well!
A traditional cookie craftsman in a traditional snack shop we’d visited in Gion Kyoto two years back. The beauty of Kyoto lies in its preservation of culture and heritage. Unlike other major cities like Osaka, Yokohama or Tokyo, most of Kyoto remains pristine in the past from the rolling mountains in the west of 嵐山 Arashiyama, to get eastern ends in Higashiyama where Gion and Kiyomizudera are located.
蕎麦ぼうろ Soba Boro, sometimes stylised as 蕎麦ボーロ, or そばぼうろ is cookie made of buckwheat which has a crisp biscotti-like texture. It is not exclusively found only in Kyoto but because this old city houses several shinises which are very well-known for making soba boro, this snack has now being linked to Kyoto to become a 京銘菓, which literally means “famous snack from Kyoto”. Originating from Portugal, “boro” means “cake” in Portuguese. How does a cake become a cookie, oh well… we ain’t exactly sure. But one think we do know for sure is, they are extremely incredibly and aromatic, making them a favorite snack accompanying Ocha served to guests during afternoon teas. They also travel very well, and stay crisp and dry for a long time, thus making them ideal omiyage gifts.
The ingredient list is fairly straightforward, but one interesting inclusion is the use of 蕎麦 buckwheat flour. It is essentially the chief ingredient for making 蕎麦麺 soba noodles which most are familiar with. Apart from the noodles, buckwheat flour is otherwise associated only with soba boro, although some folks have developed alternative gluten-free or partial gluten-replacement recipes for pancakes, muffins etc by using buckwheat flour in place of wheat flour.
There are two types of buckwheat flour available in the market. The unhulled version has the husks milled together with the grains for additional nutirious value, though it purportedly does not taste fabulous at all. The hulled version has the husks removed, milling only the grain within. For traditional Japanese soba-making, or for that matter, making soba boro, the unhulled verson MUST NOT BE USED. The packaging should stipulate if the buckwheat grains have been hulled or not, otherwise a look at the flour itself is generally good enough for one to determine if what one’s buying is hulled or unhulled. Hulled buckwheat flour which uses only the polished grains should be uniformly col;our, whereas the unhulled version would show speckling of different tones due to the presence of the husks. In SIngapore, hulled buckwheat flour is avaiable from organic food stores like Zenxin (brand: Radiant Whole Foods) and Four Seasons (brand: Dr. Gram). Friends in Malaysia can get it through Radiant Whole Foods.
There are several recipes for preparing soba boro. There are quite a few that use a piping bag and nozzle to pipe little dollops to form the petals of the ume blossom which soba boro is customarily takes the shape of. Otherwise, the ume blossoms can be “produced” by using yasai i.e. vegetable cutters which are commonly (and cheaply) available at 100 Yen shops throughout Japan. That is where I bought my yasai cutters and I’m sure Daiso in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan has them as well. The hole in the middle is made with a 4mm narrow nozzle piping tip, as shown in the photo above.
After all the ingredients are amalgamated, the dough has to rest for a couple of hours, preferably overnight in the fridge. This allows the flours to thoroughly reconstitute. They are then taken out of the fridge to soften slightly before being divided into smaller portions and rolled out into thin sheets between layers of cling film. I’d used a pair of disposable wooden chopsticks to guide my rolling pin to ensure even thickness. Using clingfilm to sandwich the dough during the rolling out process works well for me to prevent the dough from sticking onto the rolling pin and surface. It minimises the use of flour for dusting which may alter the composition of the dry ingredients in the dough. The sheets of buckwheat flour dough are then cut out using vegetable cutters and a small piping nozzle. If necessary, return the dough sheets to the fridge to firm up again. It is much easier to cut the dough when it is chilled and firm than at room temperature. Trust me, much much easier. The remaining dough after cut outs are made can be gently gathered, rolled, chilled and cut out again. But do not knead too much.
Please use a silicon mat or siliconised baking parchment for baking these cookies if possible. I’d tried with siliconised baking paper and it worked well with the cookies sliding off with great ease after baking, but with “normal” greaseproof baking paper, the cookies tend to stick slightly despite being called greaseproof. Irony of ironies, I know…
蕎麦ぼうろ Soba Boro – Kyoto Buckwheat Cookies Recipe (adapted from here)
100g 蕎麦粉 hulled buckwheat flour
80g 薄力粉 low gluten flour (e.g. cake flour or pastry flour works well)
100g 三温糖 sanbontou, or any light-coloured unrefined sugar like demerara or Taiwanese 二号砂糖. If not available, just use regular fine-grained or caster sugar. DO NOT USE DARK SUGARS like jaggery or muscovado. These are too strong in taste and would mar the flavours from buckwheat flour.
1 卵 egg (55g)
3g 重曹 baking soda
30g 溶かしバター melted butter (buerre noisette i.e. brown butter can also be used)
Beat the egg and whisk slightly with sugar
Sift buckwheat flour, low-gluten flour and baking soda together. Add the dry ingredients mixture into the egg-sugar mixture and stir well.
Add melted butter and knead slightly until all the ingredients just come together and are uniformly incorporated. DO NOT OVER DO THE KNEADING PROCESS,
Divide the dough into 2-3 smaller portions. Roll out each portion between layers of cling film to 5 mm thickness.
Cover each sheet of dough with another piece of cling film and chill the sheets for minimum 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Remove top layer of cling film, and while the dough sheet is still chilled and firm, cut out shapes with a vegetable cutter. Make a small hole with a piping nozzle with a small diameter tip.
Bake over a silicon mat or siliconised baking parchment in an oven preheated at 180℃ for about 10 min.
Transfer the baked cookies onto a cooling rack and store them in an airtight container when they are at room temperature. (PS: Can’t find an air-tight container? Worry not as they are highly addictive! Not many will last for them to be stored into the container I’m sure *wink*)