Despite being shaped like a fish, Taiyaki is a sweet cake that doesn't contain any fish. Its easy-to-eat format and fun shape make it a popular traditional Japanese snack food often found at matsuri (festivals) in Japan. Although you need a Taiyaki pan to give it the shape, it's not difficult to make, and I'm sharing everything you need to know to make Taiyaki at home in this recipe.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- A 3:1 ratio of cake flour and glutinous rice flour creates a batter that's light and crispy on the outside while it bakes up into a tender cake with just a hint of mochi-like chew.
- Adding baking soda raises the pH of the batter, allowing it to turn golden brown as it cooks.
- Cooking the Taiyaki in stages ensures you have just enough batter to fill out the mold while allowing room for a generous amount of filling.
Ingredients for Taiyaki
- Cake flour - Cake flour keeps the batter light and airy, allowing it to crisp on the outside while retaining a cake-like texture on the inside. Pastry flour will work as a substitute, but I don't recommend using all-purpose or bread flour because its higher gluten content will make the Taiyaki tough, especially after it cools.
- Shiratamako - This goes by various names, such as short-grain glutinous rice flour and mochi rice flour. Shiratamako is milled glutinous rice, which is used to make Japanese sweets such as dango and mochi. In this Taiyaki recipe, it gives the fish-shaped pastry a slightly chewy texture. Mochiko is technically processed differently, but it will work if you use the weight measurement.
- Baking powder - Baking powder is a mixture of a base (usually baking soda) and acid (usually cream of tartar). When water is introduced, the acid and the base neutralize each other, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide in the process. This is what helps leaven cakes and pastries.
- Baking soda - Since this recipe already includes baking powder, you might be thinking that baking soda is redundant, but there's a good reason for its addition. As baking powder activates, the two main ingredients neutralize each other. To get good browning on the outside of the Taiyaki, we want the batter to be alkaline. This is achieved by adding extra baking soda.
- Milk - Older recipes for Taiyaki were unlikely to use milk because it wasn't widely available around the time of the fish-shaped cake's invention; however, most modern recipes call for whole milk because it adds flavor.
- Butter - Butter is not a traditional ingredient in Taiyaki batter, but adding it has two purposes. The first is that it adds a nutty buttery flavor that's a beautiful compliment to the anko filling. The second is that the fat keeps the batter moist and tender while helping it release from the mold. I recommend using cultured unsalted butter, which has a naturally higher concentration of diacetyl, the compound responsible for the flavor of butter.
- Honey - My homemade anko recipe does not include a ton of sugar which is why I like to sweeten the batter. You may want to cut back on the honey if you use a store-bought red bean paste. As for my choice of using honey, I love the flavor it adds to the batter, especially as it caramelizes in the crust. Sugar or other sweeteners will also work.
- Vanilla extract - A high-quality vanilla extract makes most sweets taste better, and Japanese Taiyaki is no different. If you want to get creative, you could add other flavorings such as sakura, matcha, or yuzu.
- Anko - Anko or sweet red bean paste is a staple of Japanese sweets and it's the most traditional Taiyaki filling. It's made by cooking azuki beans until they're tender before cooking the mixture down to a paste with sugar. I have an easy recipe for making anko from scratch that cuts the total preparation time down to about 45 minutes with only a few minutes of active time. I prefer using tsubuan (chunky anko) for this traditional treat, but some prefer the more refined texture of koshian (smooth anko). If you're not into a red bean filling, you can add any kind of filling you like, such as chocolate, Nutella, or custard.
How to Make Taiyaki Batter
To make the batter for the Taiyaki, you first want to sift the cake flour, shiratamako, baking powder, and baking soda together using a wire strainer or sifter into a large bowl. This prevents the batter from getting lumpy.
Next, you want to heat the milk, butter, honey, and vanilla extract in a microwave oven until the milk is warm enough to partially melt the butter. This took about 50 seconds at 600 watts in my microwave. You can also do this in a pan. Just be careful not to let the mixture boil. Then you can whisk the mixture together until the butter has fully dissolved.
Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk the Taiyaki batter together until it is smooth and free of lumps.
How to Make Taiyaki
You'll need a special pan and a gas stove to make Taiyaki. If you don't have one, you can order the Taiyaki pan I used to make this recipe on my online kitchen tool store.
The first thing you'll want to do is wad up a paper towel into a ball and soak it in two teaspoons of vegetable oil. You want the oil to thoroughly soak into the paper, so it doesn't leave trails of oil in the pan.
Heat both sides of the Taiyaki pan to about 285°F (140°C) with the heat as low as your stove will go.
Grease the mold's interior surfaces using the oil-soaked paper towel. You want to get into all the nooks and crannies, but don't leave any oil bubbles behind in the pan, or your Taiyaki won't brown evenly.
Add a tablespoon of batter to the two sides of the bottom half of the mold. Then, use a heat-safe pastry brush to move the batter into the tail and fins as well as up the sides of the fish. Once the batter is no longer runny, turn the pan, so the top half is over the heat and repeat with another tablespoon of batter on each side.
Add a mounded tablespoon of anko into the middle of each Taiyaki and use a spoon to spread it out, leaving at least a ½-inch border on all sides.
Cover the anko with another tablespoon of batter. Use the brush to spread it right to the edges of the fish on all sides.
Close and lock the mold and then flip it over. Cook this side for 2 minutes. When the timer is up, flip the pan over again and cook for another 2 minutes.
When the timer is up, open the pan to check the color of the Taiyaki. If it needs more browning, let it brown for longer on the side that needs it.
Use a toothpick or skewer to release the Taiyaki from the pan and serve it hot.
Other Traditional Japanese Snacks
Taiyaki ( たい焼き, 鯛焼き or タイヤキ) literally means "grilled sea bream" (tai = sea bream, yaki = grilled or baked), which is a symbol of luck. While the sweet pastry is baked in a fish-shaped griddle, it does not include any fish. Instead, it's made with a sweet filling (most commonly sweet red bean paste) encased in a pancake batter that can vary in texture from light and crispy, to dense and chewy. Due to its fun shape and portability, it's a popular street food often sold at street fairs.
Fish-shaped pastries have a long history in Japan, dating back to at least the Edo era (early 19th century). The predecessor of Taiyaki is thought to be a snack sold by street vendors called Mojiyaki (文字焼), which literally means "grilled characters." It was a thin and hard cookie made by pouring batter onto a griddle in different shapes, such as fish and turtles.
Taiyaki also shares similarities with Imagawayaki, which is kind of like Japanese waffles, expcet the allow center of the mold allows the waffle batter to be filled with sweet azuki bean paste.
The first modern Taiyaki is often credited to a shop in Tokyo called Naniwaya Sōhonten (浪花家 総本店) in Tokyo, which opened its doors in 1909. They used single iron molds to bake the treats, which gave them a three-dimensional shape while allowing them to be filled with anko.
Taiyaki is a 4-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ta like tonic
i like even
ya like yacht
ki like key
This recipe can easily be converted from vegetarian to vegan by substituting maple syrup for the honey, coconut oil (or vegan butter) for the butter, and plant-based milk for the dairy milk.
Taiyaki is best straight out of the pan when it is still crispy around the edges, but it's also good at room temperature after it's had a chance to cool. If you make more than you can eat in one sitting, you can wrap each one separately in plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a few days. I recommend heating it in the microwave oven for a few seconds to take the chill off if you store it in the fridge.
- Wad up a paper towel into a tight ball and soak it in the vegetable oil. You want the oil to fully soak into the paper towel, so do this first.
- Add the cake flour, shiratamako, baking powder, and baking soda to a strainer set over a bowl and sift the ingredients together.
- Add the milk, butter, honey, and vanilla extract together in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 50 seconds in a microwave oven set to 600 watts. Whisk the mixture together until the butter is fully dissolved.
- Dump the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together until the Taiyaki batter is smooth and free of lumps.
- With the stove at its lowest setting, heat both sides of the Taiyaki pan to about 285°F (140°C).
- Use your oil-soaked paper towel to lightly grease the mold. There shouldn't be any bubbles of oil on the surface of the pan.
- Add 1 tablespoon of batter to the left and right sides of the mold. Use a heat-safe pastry brush to paint the batter into the tail and up the sides of the mold.
- Once the batter has set, turn the pan, so the top half of the mold is over the fire.
- Add 1 tablespoon of batter to the left and right sides of the mold and use the pastry brush to spread it around as you did before.
- Add about 1 heaping tablespoon of anko down the center of the mold and press it down a bit, so there are no peaks.
- Pour over a generous tablespoon of batter and use the brush to spread it to the edges.
- Close and lock the lid and then immediately flip the pan over. Let this cook for 2 minutes. Next, flip the pan and cook for another 2 minutes on the second side.
- Open the lid and check the color. If it's still looking light, you can continue cooking it until it becomes golden brown and crisp. If the Taiyaki sticks to the pan, heat the side that's sticking over the stove and use a skewer or toothpick to help release it.