There is an enormous variety in the world of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery), but many of the recipes for wonderful shapes, flavours and textures are created from a base of a simple white bean paste known as shiro-an. It’s not quite as easy as it looks, but being able to make a good shiro-an is a necessary skill for anyone wanting to get started in wagashi.






Skill level

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  • 500 g dried haricot or white butter beans
  • 250 g caster sugar

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Soaking time 12 hours

You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.

Wash the beans in cold water and remove any that are discoloured or broken. Soak in plenty of cold water for at least 12 hours.

Discard the soaking water and transfer beans to a large saucepan. Cover with fresh cold water. (If using butter beans, you can remove the skins from the soaked beans at this point by squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger.) Bring the water to the boil and skim off any scum rising to the surface. Working quickly, pour off the boiled water and cover the beans with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil again, skim and repeat the process, until the beans have been boiled three times. (You want to work quickly at this point so that the beans are not left to dry for any long period.)

Return the beans to the pan and cover with fresh cold water, to about 2 cm above the surface of the beans. Bring to a simmer, cover with a drop lid, and simmer for 1½ hours or until the beans are very tender.

Pour the beans and the cooking water through a very fine sieve, pushing through with a pestle, leaving behind any skins. Discard the skins and wash the sieve. Sieve the “bean water” a further three times, without pushing the residue through the sieve. Discard the residue and pour the filtered bean water into a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Gently squeeze out excess water until the paste becomes firm but not crumbly.

Place the paste in a clean saucepan and add the sugar. Stir the sugar and bean paste until it liquefies (you may need to add a very small amount of water), and then heat over medium, stirring constantly with a back and forth motion, for about 10-15 minutes or until the mixture dries to the desired consistency.

Line a tray with plastic wrap and place small portions of the paste on the tray to cool. Once cooled to room temperature, mould the paste into a large block within the plastic wrap.