Ginkgo Nut Pastry Balls

28Sep09

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Once upon a time long, long ago… (Well it wasn’t that long ago… it was actually yesterday). One of the greatest translators of our time had her nose to the grindstone, working out an English version of a Japanese document that might very well bring about that elusive ideal: World Peace.

But the thing about this translator was that she was also a great multi-tasker. (some might say she was easily distracted, but never mind) While one part of her amazing brain was wrestling with World Peace, another part of her brain was trying to come up with another savory appetizer for her dear friend’s wedding, which she had agreed to cater for. In yet *another* part of her brain, she was wondering how to make the best use of a bagful of ginkgo nuts in the shell.

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Ginkgo nuts…. although used frequently enough in Asian cuisine, they usually seemed relegated to a minor role, and the way they were used in Japanese home-cooking was really rather boring, if you want to know the truth. But the translator had read somewhere that it wasn’t a good idea to eat too many ginkgo nuts at one time. So how could she make ginkgo nuts the star of the dish without endangering the health of the people she served it to?

Suddenly she had an epiphany. She rummaged through her refrigerator and her cupboards. There wasn’t a whole lot there, but this is what she found:

a small chunk of Blue Cheese, approx 60 g (1/4 cup) chopped finely
a bigger chunk of Gouda Cheese, approx 190 g (3/4 cup), chopped finely
butter, 1/4 cup softened
flour, 3/4 cup sifted
paprika, 1/2 teaspoon
oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon,
hot pepper sauce, a dash
black sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons

The next thing she did was prep the ginkgo nuts. Ginkgo nuts were a food she had always been curious about. But she hated the water-logged texture of canned ginkgo nuts, and the procedure of extracting the nuts from their smelly yucky inedible fruit exterior had put her off trying to make use of the bucketfuls of fruit-encased nuts that fell from the maidenhair trees that lined the boulevard of nearby Nakajima Park. This year, however, a friend had done the yucky work, and had presented her with a bagful of cleaned up and sun-dried ginkgo nuts in the shell.

The translator took a tool from her kitchen drawer. I think it’s what you would call pliers. All she knew was that it was a useful multi-tasking tool for food prep. It took a few tries before she got into the rhythm of nut cracking and learned to use just enough force to crack open the shell without smashing the nut inside. There was a thin papery skin remaining on the nut, but that was okay. Next she rolled the shelled nuts around in a hot wok with a tiny bit of oil. The nuts took on a beautiful jade green color. Taking the nuts off the fire, the translator discovered how easy it now was to slip the papery skin off the nuts. She salted them and let them cool.

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Next she worked the finely chopped cheese, softened butter, flour, paprika, oyster sauce, and hot pepper sauce into a pastry-type dough with her fingers, trying to get everything to bind together without overworking the dough. The dough still looked dry and crumbly when she was finished, but when she took some in her hand and squeezed gently, it stuck together firmly, which is what she wanted. She took a bit of the dough, pressed it into a inch-sized ball, then flattened it on her palm. Into the middle of this flattened dough, she placed one shiny jewel-like ginkgo nut, and then wrapped the dough around it back into the shape of a ball. She did this with all the dough and ginkgo nuts until they were used up (about 30 balls). Then she gently pressed these balls into some sesame seed to coat them, lay the balls an inch apart on an UNgreased cookie pan, and baked them in a 200 C (400F) degree oven for 15 minutes.

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They came out exceedingly well. She mustered as much self-control as she could, and managed to freeze the bulk of the ginkgo-nut cheese balls for the wedding reception it was intended for. Oh well, maybe she could have just one more bite? She was working her brain pretty hard you know, and it needed fuel.

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As someone in some long-forgotten American TV drama used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!” There! That was two birds with one stone. And you know what else is cool? The cheese balls sort of look like the ginkgo nut fruit hanging from the maidenhair tree (see second photo from the top), don’t you think?

With two of her problems taken care of, and her brain re-fueled to tackle the graver issue of World Peace, the translator was ready to return to the grindstone.

In all fairness I have to admit that there was a tiny bit of fiction in this story. To give you just a hint: it was at the beginning of this blog, the last two words of the second sentence. Someone in my house is suggesting that there might be a little bit of fiction in the first eight words of that same sentence as well. Well, good grief! Did you want me to take ALL the drama out of the story?

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One Response to “Ginkgo Nut Pastry Balls”


  1. 1 Ginkgo Nut Bleu Cheese Bites « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

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