“Ama-What?” is somewhere along the lines of the typical response I get when I mention this little known sweetener. Ah-Mah-Zah-Kay; it’s been around for centuries, so it’s hardly the new kid on the block, and yet so few westerners have even heard of this lovely elixir. Native to Japan, and actually the first stage of making sake (it can also be translated as “sweet sake”), it’s thick, creamy, and sweet as can be, and it’s made solely of rice. You heard right- This is just plain old brown rice!
Okay, so there’s more to it than mashing up a batch of cooked rice*, but not too much. Hard to find in the mainstream market place but easy as can be to make at home, the only stumbling block in the whole operation is locating a source of koji, brown rice inoculated with friendly bacteria that will help to ferment your cooked rice into something a bit sweeter. Found in the refrigerated section, usually not too far from the miso (another byproduct of koji, by the way) in your local Asian market, or like all other things, various online specialty stores.
Your koji is likely to come with a set of instructions as well, and you’re more than welcome to follow along with those, but I personally went with the suggestions outlined here, which actually come from the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. By the way, if you’re the least bit into any of this crazy fermentation stuff, I highly recommend you check out this book.
Lacking an incubator or appropriately sized dehydrator to stay at a low, steady heat for a number of hours, I simply set my oven to the “proof” setting, stuck a thermometer in there to monitor it, and let it go. Your oven may run hotter or cooler, so be sure to check where the heat is before sacrificing your amazake to an adverse environment. Think of it as a delicate little rice baby, and handle with care! Checking frequently is key, as there’s no set time that it will be “done;” Just dip a finger in periodically and taste it. When it tastes sweet, you’re good to go, and that’s all there is to it.
You can leave it chunky if you’d like, but I prefer to move mine into the blender briefly to get a lusciously smooth puree. The result is so thick, you can actually eat it like pudding! Traditionally served as a hot drink, you can thin it out with water (maybe 3/4 cup water to 1/4 cup amazake) and heat it up with some grated ginger for a historically correct experience. However, I happen to think that it can work as a fantastic sweetener in many baked goods.
Unlike white sugar and most sweeteners used in baking, amazake will not give you the same degree of browning, and it will never produce that tooth-aching, candy-like sweetness that you sometimes get from say, a cupcake with mile-high frosting. And that’s the good news, if you ask me! Perfectly suited for more subtle, delicate treats with nuanced flavors, I found it to be the perfect addition to breakfast items especially, such as pancakes, scones, and of course, muffins.
Despite my initial trepidation about serving these borderline “hippie” carrot spice muffins to an omnivorous crowd, they were quite possibly the hit of the party, a half dozen snatched up in a minute flat. If the threat of a less sweet baked good still strikes fear in your heart though, never fear; I have just the thing to fix that.
A generous smear of amazake and agave chocolate icing should do the trick!
*Don’t let the whole brown rice concept hold you back, either. I also made a batch of amazake with millet, and another with quinoa, to great success! Use the same proportion of koji, but go wild and try any cooked grain you can think of!
Amazake Carrot Muffins
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Cup Chocolate-Covered Crystalized Ginger, Chopped
2 Cups Shredded Carrots
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Water
1 Cup Homemade Amazake**
Amazake Chocolate Icing (Optional):
1/2 Cup Homemade Amazake
3 Tablespoons Agave
1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
**Being so much thicker than commercial amazake, which is intended to be used as a beverage, you certainly can substitute the latter in these muffins- Just remove the water and use a total of 1 1/2 cups amazake instead.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and either lightly grease or line 12 muffin tins with papers. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices until all the dry goods are thoroughly combined. Add in the chocolate-covered ginger and carrot shreds, tossing to coat, to prevent either from just falling to the bottom of your muffins.
Separately, whisk together the oil, water, and amazake, and then pour the wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Switch over to a wide spatula, and stir just enough to bring the batter together, with minimal lumps. It will be very thick.
Evenly distribute the batter between your prepared muffin tins, mounting it up in the center (I find that an ice cream scoop helps keep things neat and even, but you can always just use a large spoon.) Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and dry.
If you’d like to make icing to go along with your muffins for a more dessert-like treat, simply stir together all of the icing ingredients until smooth. Apply as desired.
Makes 12 Muffins