A dorayaki over a plate cut in half to show the castella and red bean layers

Dorayaki: Japan's Traditional Dessert Sandwich

When it comes to traditional Japanese sweets, things like mochi and daifuku tend to dominate the conversation. However, when you actually come here, you’ll find plenty of tasty options to satisfy your sweet tooth. One delicious treat that has spread from traditional Japanese shops to convenience stores is the tasty pancake sandwich—dorayaki.

Read on to learn all about this tasty treat from its fascinating folklore history to how to make it along with some recipe recommendations!

What is Dorayaki?

A dorayaki split in half on a plate to show the bean paste
This treat isn't just a super tasty sweet treat. It also has an interesting history. Let's get into it! Image via Instagram (@mikat.t15)

Dorayaki is a like a sweet sandwich with pancake-like patties instead of bread and a filling of anko (adzuki red bean paste). The reason we say pancake-like is that it’s not really a pancake. The pastry patties are actually made of castella, a cake of Portuguese descent, but with changes over time that better suit the average Japanese palate.

Japanese castella also contains an ingredient known as mizuame, a malt syrup made from glutinous rice or potato starch. But enough about castella. Dorayaki takes two castella pancakes and wraps them around either sweet or regular anko, creating a delightfully sweet treat.

What’s in a name?

In terms of the name, dora actually means gong, with this treat earning its name from its gong-like shape. And if you’ve read some of our other blogs about taiyaki (stuffed fish-shaped cakes), you’ll know that yaki generally means cooked or grilled.

A dorayaki with Snoopy's face on the top and mochi with the red bean paste
While most shops opt to put their shop insignia on top, others opt for cute characters, like Snoopy or Doraemon! Image via Instagram (@krabby_patty33)

Dorayaki Fun Facts

Also, here’s a fun fact for you. However, parts of Kansai actually call this dish mikasa. Specifically, Nara calls it this and makes a larger version of it, being about 11.8 inches (30 cm) across.

Another fun fact: Doraemon, one of Japan’s most popular anime and manga characters, loves dorayaki and it’s his favorite food.

How to Enjoy Dorayaki

Dorayaki is really simple to eat. You just pick it up and eat it. However, if you’re looking to emulate a traditional Japanese experience, much like other traditional sweets, this treat pairs perfectly with matcha green tea. However, if matcha isn’t your thing, other drinks like coffee, green tea, black tea and herbal teas work just as well.

A dorayaki opened to show the Chestnut cream, chestnut and anko inside
For example, this chestnut cream dorayaki may go well with a nice iced latte! Image via Instagram (@batuichi)

Dorayaki being a sweet treat, it's best enjoyed after a savory treat. Luckily, Nakama Noodles has just the thing for you! We curate a monthly ramen box full of tasty limited-edition and regional noodle options that we know you'll love! Get yours today!

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How to Make Dorayaki

Like we often say in terms of recipes, we’re not chefs, but we know the basics of making it. A basic castella has all the same ingredients of a pancake (with different quantities) with the addition of honey and water and no butter or milk. You just mix your dry ingredients and your wet ingredients and then mix them to make a batter.

Then, like a pancake, you cook it on a griddle or in a frying pan or skillet until golden brown on both sides. When it’s done, just take some anko and make your pancake sandwich. There are also options for customization, like adding steamed chestnuts or cream cheese to the filling. You can also try making additions to the batter, like matcha powder.

For a detailed recipe, check out this full recipe from The Japanese Kitchen or this cream cheese dorayaki recipe from Kikkoman (yes, the soy sauce company).

History of Dorayaki

A folded green matcha dorayaki split in half showing an anko and butter cream filling
So how did we get this tasty treat that has evolved to have tons of flavors, like this matcha dorayaki wrapped around anko and butter cream. Image via Instagram (@anko_watanpe)

There are quite a few theories out there on where it came from, but none are 100% agreed upon. All we know is that one day, a version of dorayaki was made. However, the original version wasn’t the same as it is now, with only one patty instead of two.

Folklore Origins

The most popular lore on the origin of this traditional treat is a fun story starring real-life Japanese warrior monk, Benkei (full name: Saito Musashibo Benkei). The story goes that Benkei stayed at a farmer’s home after some injuries in battle. After recovering, he gave flour to the farmer as thanks and accidentally left his gong there.

The farmer supposedly used Benkei’s gong to cook the first version of dorayaki with one patty and a simpler cake using the flour from before and water. However, this theory somewhat bumps with the fact that red bean paste was created in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and Benkei dying in 1189.

Castella History

A dorayaki with a single cake patty wrapped around a lot of anko
While castella originally was one patty with anko on top, another version exists that is a single patty wrapped around its filling, like a taco. Image via Instagram (@kazoo_gohan)

To add to the history of dorayaki, let’s go back to talking about castella. Castella came to Japan during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600). Portuguese merchants brought this treat to Japan, specifically to Nagasaki, and it managed to spread across Japan. Even after Japan closed its borders, castella kept its popularity, even though sugar was a luxury ingredient in Japan.

Dorayaki As We Know It

Fast forward quite a long ways to 1914, and a shop called Usagiya in Tokyo creates the version of dorayaki that we know now, with the two castella patties. The shop was possibly inspired by American-style pancakes, giving them their form and texture.

A confectioner makes castella patties on a griddle for dorayaki
Wherever they got the inspiration from, we're just happy that this Japanese treat exists! Image via Unsplash

Dorayaki really is an amazing treat that you can enjoy all over Japan or in the comfort of your own home and we hope that you give it a try if you haven’t already!

Have you ever tried this treat? How did you like it? Let us know in the comments!

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