One awesome thing about Japanese supermarkets is that they hand out free samples all the time, especially around dinner time and on weekends. People devote a lot of time to the office in Japan, so quick and easy meals are in demand, whether that means a ready-made bento or a bibimbap (because Korean food is popular there) tray you can take home and throw in a fry pan. One of the things our local supermarket regularly passed out was a sausage pancake ball made with a takoyaki plate, set up in front of display of both pancake mix and mini spicy sausages.
Takoyaki (octopus balls) are a popular street food in Osaka, but you can find variants of them in the ready-made food sections of grocery stores throughout Japan. You can find a good recipe for them here, and if you don’t like octopus, you can make all kinds of substitutions. There’s also a lot of simplifications, such as simple pancake batter and a piece of sausage. One of my favorite things to make is “desert takoyaki” (dezaatoyaki?). You need a takoyaki pan (either one to go over a gas stove or an electric model) and a skewer of some kind to rotate the balls as their cooking. The recipe is very adaptable, too, so feel free to experiment with both sweet and savory.
Bisquick Ultimate Pancake batter (if you want to keep it quick and simple):
2 cups Original Bisquick™ mix
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Obviously, you can use your own pancake batter recipe, make it from scratch, or just add cocoa powder or different flavorings. If you’re making something savory (like sausage balls), you might want to use a batter that doesn’t have sugar.
Fillings can also be whatever you want, but I personally like to have something that will be melty and gooey on the inside (such as chocolate or gummy candies), or to have a condiment like ketchup or takoyaki sauce in the case of savory varieties. Here are some desert fillings I’ve tried:
Strawberries and chocolate pieces
S’mores (chocolate and mini marshmallows with graham cracker crumbs on the outside)
Peanut Butter M&Ms
To make them, simply mix up your preferred batter and set aside some fillings in a separate bowl. You need them to be pretty small (not much larger than M&Ms), so if it’s something bigger, chop it up. Heat up your takoyaki pan and grease it if necessary. It’ll smoke a little when it’s hot enough. Use a small scoop (like a coffee scoop) to spoon batter into the little circles. You want them filled to near the top (I think the takoyaki recipe I posted says they can overflow, but I wouldn’t put that much batter in; it’s going to overflow once you drop your fillings in). I’d start out doing just a few at a time, because rotating them takes a little practice.
Immediately drop a little bit of your fillings in. As I said, it’ll kind of puff up above the hole at this point.
When the edges start to brown, use your skewer (or toothpick, even, just be careful not to burn yourself) to rotate each ball about 90 degrees. When you’ve gotten each one, go back to the first one and start rotating the rest of the way so that it’s flipped entirely upside down. From there, you an keep rotating them until they’re browned on all sides. You’re pan might heat unevenly, so it’s worth moving them from spot to spot sometimes, too.
As you pull each batch out of the pan, you can coat them in powdered sugar, cocoa powder, etc. or drizzle them in a chocolate sauce, whatever makes you happy. Word of warning, though: any sort of takoyaki has a tendency to be deceptively cooler on the outside, so make sure you poke a hole and let it vent for a minute or two if you value your taste buds.
As you get the hang of it, you can work on filling and flipping more at a time, so it doesn’t take up too much time. Just be aware that that two-cup Bisquick recipe made four or five dozen, so if you don’t have anyone to share with, you might consider halving it. Or, you know, you could be a total fatty. I won’t tell.