Rakugan (Confectionery) (落雁)
Rakugan is one of representative Japanese confectionery, and made by mixing flour of starch derived from rice or the like with starch syrup and sugar to apply coloring, and drying in a mold. There are 2 explanations for its name whereby the first one is that it was named after one of the Eight Views of Omi 'Katata no rakugan' and the second one is that it was named after nanrakukan (dried sweets that existed during the Ming Dynasty era in China) with 'nan' being dropped.
There are two methods to make rakugan.
Add starch syrup and sugar to rice flour which has been steamed and dried, transfer the mixture into molds and let it dry in a temperature controlled chamber.
Add starch syrup, like in the method above, to rice flour which has not been heat-treated, transfer the mixture into molds, steam and let it dry in a temperature controlled chamber.
The product made by the first method is what is generally referred to as rakugan, whereas, that made by the second method is referred to Hakusetsuko.
Koshi no Yuki in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture is a well-known product made by the second method. Through many modifications, however, Koshi no Yuki has come to be produced by the method substantially identical to the first method.
The recipe is based on that for nanrakukan (a sweet made by drying the kneaded mixture of wheat flour or rice flour and starch syrup and fat, which is said to have originated from the western and central Asia and to have subsequently been introduced to China in the Yuan Dynasty era) produced in the Ming Dynasty era in China; the nanrakukan was introduced to Japan in the Muromachi period through the Japan-Ming trade (the trade between Japan and the Ming Dynasty in China) and became popular along with the rise of the tea ceremony. This nanrakukan still remains in existence in China today and, in Nagasaki City, there is rakugan known as Kosako which is considered to be the nanrakukan that was reintroduced to Japan in the Edo period.
In the Edo period, the Kaga Clan implemented extensive incentive measures for the confectionery business in its domain whereby, as a result, manufacturing techniques for rakugan has much progressed in Kanazawa City, and Choseiden (celebrated rakugan presently made in Kanazawa City) is one of the achievements of the time. Additionally, some say that, since hoshi-ii (dehydrated cooked rice), the key ingredient of Choseiden, was an indispensable food in military operation, the Kaga Clan's incentive measures may have been an excuse to maintain an adequate stock level of hoshi-ii for military preparedness.
With its lord Harusato MATSUDAIRA (also known as Fumai MATSUDRAIRA) fostering the development of Japanese confectionery in conjunction with the tea ceremony, a type of rakugan referred to as Yamakawa (confectionery) was developed in the Matsue Domain, and is cited today in the List of the Top 3 Representative Japanese Confectioneries along with the above-mentioned Koshi no Yuki and Choseiden.
As mentioned earlier, since rakugan has frequently been used as sweets at a tea ceremony and also as offerings during Buddhist events, it has become an old standby confection served with usucha (thin, weak tea made from tea powder). Rakugan is also often used as offerings for Buddhist ceremonies. In view of the above, rakugan is considered to be a high-grade item among Japanese confectioneries. For the rakugan that is offered at a place of distinction as mentioned above, wasanbon (refined sugar made from sugarcane grown in Japan) or refine brown sugar with a low molasses content is used.
In China, there is a thin rakugan referred to as yunpiangao.