Taiyaki: Whimsical Fish-Shaped Treats and Cooking with My Kids

By Melissa Lee

In my “Am I Screwing Up My Kids” blog post, I encouraged readers to cook with children at home. When I cook with my children, I usually prefer to cook something simple, whimsical, and delicious, so the children can participate and get a sense of accomplishment when we finish cooking. This month, I would like to share the recipe of one of my favorite street foods: Taiyaki. This recipe fits my criteria for cooking with children. It’s easy to make. It tastes delicious, and the shape of Taiyaki is whimsical.

Taiyaki Japanese street food fish shaped sweet Chocolate filling waffle

Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped cake that imitates the shape of the tai (red sea bream), which it is named after.  In Japan, the red sea bream is thought to bring good luck and wealth. A common filling is a red bean paste made from sweetened adzuki beans. Other fillings are custard, chocolate, cheese, or sweet potato. You can get ready-made red bean paste at H Mart, an Asian supermarket. My children’s favorite filling is custard. Custard might appeal more to American eaters since, in Western culture, beans are usually used for savory cooking.

During my years of teaching Asian cooking classes, I have had American students who loved the red bean flavor, while others can’t associate beans with desserts. So, if you’re an adventurous eater and want to taste authentic Taiyaki filling, definitely try the red bean fillings. And I wouldn’t say custard is not authentic just because it’s western. After all, if you go to Japan or Taiwan, venders use custard as fillings all the time! Don’t worry too much about the “authenticity” of street food. Since we live in a global world and food is a living thing, it constantly revolves itself. Food should never be treated as an art piece in a museum and stays the same forever. It is okay to modify the recipe, or source local ingredients and create a different filling for your Taiyaki.

 

My Taiyaki batter is a modification of my waffle batter. My children love to drizzle toppings on their waffles. My girl, Amber, enjoys making berry sauce for hers. Taiyaki is fun for children because the filling is inside the fish. So, it is a surprise! When you take the first one or two bites, you may just taste the cake. There is a short anticipation to taste the filling. You can also add chocolate chips to the filling. Even though I have never seen chocolate chips added to the Taiyaki in Japan or Taiwan, I have done it with my children, and they love it. Hey! We are in the United States, and we love our chocolate chips. Nothing wrong with that!

 


Here is my Taiyaki recipe:

 

Taiyaki Cake Batter

 

Ingredients

 

1 cup flour

3 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 large egg (beaten)

1 cup milk

2 tbsp melted butter

1 tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, canola, etc.)

 

Instructions

 

  1. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt into a large bowl.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg, milk, and melted butter.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients with wet ingredients and whisk well.
  4. Pour the batter into a measuring cup or jug.
  5. Heat the Taiyaki pan and grease the pan with vegetable oil using a brush.
  6. Fill the Taiyaki pan mold about 60% full over medium-low heat.
  7. Put pastry cream in the center of each mold and pour the batter on top to cover pastry cream.
  8. Close the lid and immediately turn/flip. Cook for 2–2.5 minutes on each side. Then flip and cook another 2–2.5 minutes. Open and check to see if Taiyaki is a golden color. Let Taiyaki cool on a wire rack.

 

Pastry Cream Filling

 

Ingredients

 

2 cups whole milk

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

Direction

 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the cornstarch to the bowl and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain.
  4. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture from the saucepan into the bowl until incorporated.
  5. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture into the bowl.
  6. Using a strainer, pour the mixture from the bowl into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let cool slightly.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
  9. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. (The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.)

 

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Melissa Lee

Melissa Lee

Chief Entertainment Officer

Melissa is 100% MIT (Made in Taiwan), where she worked as a food writer. She’s also worked alongside renowned chefs like Ming Tsai and Joanne Chang, honing her craft and gathering stories along the way. Part story-teller, part educator, and part food lover, Melissa brings a special blend of experience, skill, and enthusiasm to her work. She blends her Asian background, her new home of New England, and love of food and culture to bring joy, optimism, and inspiration to food lovers and fun-seekers everywhere.


What sparked your passion for the industry?
The desire to make things by hand. The joy of sharing delicious, hearty food with students. The opportunity for people to get connected via cooking and baking. When a child smiled broadly and told me it’s the best scone he has ever made and eaten, it really made my day!


In your opinion, what’s the most important course?
Well, I usually take a peek at the wine list first. I like tapas style, so the course doesn’t really matter. Cheese and charcuterie are always a good place to start. And since I’m a pastry chef, there is always room for dessert!


Bill Gates is picking up your tab, where would you go?
Noma, Copenhagen.

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