Making Mochi

I first tasted mochi about a year ago when a friend who has been living in Tokyo brought me a box filled with different flavors. At the time, he didn't specify that it was mochi, referring to it only as a "box of weird Japanese candy for your family." When we opened the box the next day, we were all a bit puzzled by the dusty pastel lumps found inside. We took turns tasting the various types, alternately chewing and grimacing and spitting it out after a few seconds.

"This is gross," said my brother, never one to mince words. "Why would he bring us such weird candy?"

My parents were equally puzzled (albeit less rude) and turned away after a couple minutes, preferring the familiar sweetness of the Godiva this friend had also brought.

While I admit that I didn't love the way the candy tasted either, I was fascinated with the texture. I love chewy, squooshy things. My brother is regularly grossed out by the way that I tend to play with my food when I think that nobody is watching--hollowing out a loaf of bread and squishing the doughy mass into a tight little ball or emptying out the filling of a truffle and licking it off my finger before eating the shell. I love getting my hands dirty with food; I have no qualms about plunging my hands into raw turkeys or kneading sticky piles of flour and eggs into pasta dough. It's probably also why I love Silly Putty and Play-Doh, and why I was always getting in trouble for stealing that gummy blue putty tape that my elementary school teachers used to stick posters to the wall.

Given these proclivities, it's no wonderf I've spent the past few weeks intrigued with the idea of making my own mochi. My friend Matt is obsessed with mochi ice cream and regularly sends me e-mails and IMs that say little more than "Mochi is just so wonderful." I'd been plotting to teach myself to make it so that I can surprise him with a little tray of homemade mochi ice cream balls when he comes to visit me next month. My impromptu expedition to the Japanese grocery store last weekend proved to be the perfect way to get started on Project Homemade Mochi.

I decided to start by teaching myself to make daifuku--a round ball of mochi stuffed with Anko, a sweet red bean paste made from azuki beans. I'd never tasted it before, but had seen various pictures on the web (particularly this lovely shot from Kyoto Foodie). I love the lumpy squooshy look of it and was excited to get started. Of course, Alejandra being Alejandra, I didn't really bother to find a recipe before hitting the store. One would think that no recipe + everything in a foreign language would make for an unsuccessful trip, but not for me! Using what bits I'd read about what mochi is and my memory of the taste, I haphazardly selected ingredients that seemed like they might be right: rice flour, a package of sweetened red bean paste, confectioner's sugar, and some tapioca starch. I lucked out as this plus water and food coloring was really all I needed.

When I got home I searched online for mochi recipes. They all seemed to follow a similar pattern, but varied in amounts and ratios. Most advised using the microwave as a quick way to cook the dough, but few other instructions were clear. Bored and eager to get in the kitchen, I decided to just wing it.

In a large bowl I mixed equal parts rice flour (I used dango-ko, which is a mix of glutinous and non-glutinous rice flour and--rather fortuitously--seems to be the kind best suited for microwave preparation) and tepid water. To this I added powdered sugar, a few drops of red food coloring, and some almond extract (just because I'm obsessed). I processed with a hand blender until smooth and then poured into a Pyrex pie dish that I covered and placed in the microwave.
While the dough cooked, I rolled little balls out of chilled sweetened red bean paste and dusted everything with starch in anticipation of the sticky dough. After letting it cool a bit I dusted my hands with starch and scooped some out. Molding it was easy: I simply rolled a ball out of the mochi dough then flattened it out a bit on the floured mat. I plopped a ball of red bean paste in the center and then pulled up the sides of the mochi dough like a little bag (it reminded me of making Beggar's Purses back at school). I pinched the top and then rolled around in my hands until smooth on all sides. I repeated this about a dozen times. It was easy, but sticky and messy (my favorite!).

After shooting them, I covered them with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge. I had one for breakfast this morning and it was delicious. The gooey mochi dough had a subtle sweetness and a faint hint of almond, and the red bean paste was oozed out in a creamy contrast to the stickiness of the mochi. If you've never tried red bean paste before, it literally tastes like sweet refried beans--but it's good!

I'm not sure if it's just because I made them to my tastes or if my palate has just changed over the past year, but I can honestly say that I loved these treats. I'll be tackling the ice cream version next--possibly with my own homemade green tea ice cream!

A Few Helpful Tips:
1. Dust EVERYTHING with tapioca (or potato or corn) starch: the surface, your hands, spoons, plates. This dough is incredibly sticky and it's the only way to handle it.

2. I tend to have naturally cold hands--a huge benefit when working with chocolate and confections, but if you are naturally warm-handed, I would suggest washing with very cold water before you get started. It will keep the dough from sticking as much.

3. Play around with extracts or food colors--I don't think that it's exactly traditional, but it gives the final treats a great look and taste. I started out with just a few drops of red, but then decided I wanted them to be hot pink so I threw in a bit more and loved the final look. I'm excited to try out other color combinations.

4. Blow off the extra starch before eating--you'll want to keep it nice and dusty for storing, but as it's tasteless, it takes away from the experience.
Daifuku--Anko-stuffed Mochi
Daifuku literally means "great luck" in Japanese. Apparently, the word fuku means both "belly" and "luck." It seems that the original meaning of big belly, which referred to the filling nature of the confection, evolved over the years to mean a bringer of good fortune. When I first read this, I instantly thought that the belly part referred to the fact that the daifuku actually look like little bellies. I've taken to calling them "chubby belly cakes" in my head--but that's just me... ;)

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup Dango-ko rice flour
1 1/2 cup tepid water
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar (feel free to adjust according to personal preference)
1 package or can of sweetened Anko (red bean paste), refrigerated to keep firm.
food coloring (optional)
almond extract (optional)
tapioca, potato, or corn starch for dusting and controlling the sticky dough

You will also need a microwave and a flat microwavable dish such as a deep-dish pie plate.

1. In a large bowl, mix the rice flour, sugar, and water until smooth. You may need to use a hand blender or mixer to make sure there aren't any lumps.

2. If desired, add drops of food coloring and/or extract and mix in thoroughly. Note that the batter will be quite thin--very similar to pancake batter in consistency.

3. Pour batter into a shallow microwavable dish and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 4 minutes. Remove dish and pull off plastic to release steam. Stir the mix until smooth again (it will be cooked in some parts and not in others so don't worry if it looks uneven). Microwave again for another 3 to 5 minutes until the top is dry.

4. While mix cooks, take out the refrigerated bean paste and roll into small balls about the size of a chocolate truffle. Dust your hands with starch or confectioner's sugar to keep from sticking.

5. Remove mochi dough from microwave and let cool for several minutes. You can speed this up by pounding it with a flour-covered pestle until shiny and smooth.

6. To Mold: taking one heaping tablespoon of dough out of the dish and place in your starch-covered hands. Work into a circle and then flatten on the floured board. Drop a ball of red bean paste inside and the pull mochi around the edges like a little purse. Pinch the top shut and then use your hand to smooth into a soft round shape. Dust with additional starch and set aside. Repeat this process until you use up all the mochi.

Cover finished Daifuku tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate to store (or freeze). Serve and enjoy much the way you would any other cookie or small cake.


21 comments:

  1. Ah...mochi! The stuff that reminds me so much of home! Suffice to say that it is just ONE of the foodstuffs that I'm glad japanese immigrants brought over to the islands. To be able to witness the making of it in the traditional way (just google mochitsuki) is something else entirely. (Love the pink color, my favorite right after yellow).

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  2. Yum! I'm going to give myself a 'Project Mochi' this weekend as well! How long did the whole process take?

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  3. Thanks for the tips! I tried making macha mochi over the holidays, and it was a messy disaster. Maybe I put too much green tea powder becaue they didn't taste very good. Yours turned out beautiful! I'm looking forward to trying again :)

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  4. Rowena: It is yummy! I love the pink color too. I've been planning to make green tea ice cream for the ice cream stuffed version and will likely use pink mochi for that one too. It'll be like preppy Lily Pullitzer mochi. lol

    Cakewardrobe: Awesome! It's so much fun to make (although very messy). I'd say about 40 minutes (not including clean-up time). The trick is to use the starch generously--it makes it go much quicker when it isn't sticking everywhere.

    Sushtopia: Thank you! I was really happy with how they turned out. I think that matcha is probably going to be my next try, although I probably won't wing that one quite so much as the matcha is so strong flavored. I hope the tips are helpful, good luck with your next try!

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  5. Your pictures look beautiful. However, do I understand correctly that you have never tried mochi, and made up your own recipe? I admire your braveness, but how do you know that they actually taste like mochi?

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  6. My Japanese friends would make mochi with their grandmothers and I have always wanted to try it. I love the color of yours and I must say, how nice it is too see a non-asian make a dessert with beans!

    I'm sorry if I missed this in your post, but where did you read about microwaving the dough?

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  7. What a lovely post, Alejandra! Great story and a very intriguing recipe. One of the things I love about cooking is how the most random thing--seeing a bacon marmalade pumpernickel sandwich listed on a restaurant's online menu, for instance--can send us off on a culinary adventure.

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  8. Hi Anonymous: I have actually tried mochi since that first time. In fact, during my trip to the grocery store (when i bought the ingredients to make this) I also bought a premade daifuku filled with Anko. I ate that one right away and subconciously used it as a guide in terms of the correct size and consistency. The results were pretty close actually, save for the brighter color and slight almond flavor in mine. Not bad for a mochi novice! :)

    Christine: It's my first time making a bean dessert, but seeing as how I am Latina, I'd say that we use our fare share of beans too! :) I really loved the texture and taste of the bean paste and am excited to try it out in other ways. Next time I think I'll actually make it from scratch so that I can control the sugar content in it.

    I found the microwave info by googling "homemade mochi" and then just browsing through all the forums and links. It showed up in several results. There was a recipe on about.com, another on ehow, and several on various food blogs. The recipes were all different, but most used abuot equal parts water and rice flour. Also, the English-languaged tokyo magazine "Metropolis" (which my friend in Tokyo is always linking me to) had an article about the various ways to make mochi. I'll add a link to it if I can find it again!

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  9. Hi Alejandra,
    It is anonymous again (Chris)- I admire your kitchen fortitude - there are a number of foods I have tried in Japan and elsewhere that I would love to try making, but was always a little too scared to wing it. You have inspired me to get more adventuresome when cooking.

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  10. Hi Anonymous Chris: Oh you must definitely try to be adventurous with food! I've never been one for sticking to the rules (in cooking or in anything, really). I think that I've been lucky to get by on creativity. Usually people are too shocked by what I come up with to point out that it's not what it was supposed to be. I admit that sometimes there are some serious disasters, but remember that it's just food! Nothing that some soap, a wet rag, and the number for your local pizza place can't fix in an instant should things go awry! Feel free to email me if you have any questions or are looking for ideas. I'm always happy to help! xxA

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  11. I thought I was the only crazy one to eat the inside of a truffle first---I love playing with food too! I also love mochi. I always hit up the asian market when I have a craving...I think I may have to take your lead and make it myself! thanks for the idea!

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  12. As if I wasn't excited enough for our mid-March meet-up! I can't wait to indulge in your ice cream mochi.

    By the way, your food photography is starting to verge beyond the mediocre... you better stop improving before you have to change your description!

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  13. Wow. That is quite a challenge! I'm impressed. I love the texture too but it took me a while to get used to the red bean paste.

    I love the way Japanese package their sweets. They can make it look so beautiful.

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  14. How cool! I took a Mochi making class some time ago and it was a lot of fun...just never got around to doing a post about it.

    I definitely think it's an acquired taste and as I made more and tasted more, I like them better :) Try some with chocolate, coffee, or matcha...they all come out really nice.

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  15. Ay que rico!! I used to buy these all the time! Now I can learn how to make them!! Yay!!!

    T'encontre through our blog friend Ben! I'm so happy to have found you. I've bookmarked you...

    Si quieres, visita mi pagina para otras recetas Latinas!

    Ciao!

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  16. Girl, you rule!

    You made daifuku... from scratch... in a barbarian country -- too amazingu!

    Tis the season for wonderful daifuku here in Kyoto. And sake, we are making sake now! Come see!

    'Given these proclivities'... you should enter the nizakana contest.

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  17. Thanks Peko! That's real praise from a Kyoto native like you! Nizakana contest! Definitely...how do I enter?! Playing with fish is fun!

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  18. Hi Alejandra,

    I stumbled upon your blog via a Google search and I am so glad that I did!

    When I lived in Paris I used to get these delicious little treats at Asian restaurants called coconut pearls. I never knew what they actually were, but just recently figured out that they are mochi filled with coconut custard. I found your recipe here and decided to try to make them myself. The turned out GREAT! Thanks so much for posting this. I think I'll have to try more of your recipes!

    If you want to try it out, I used a prepackaged vanilla cook and serve pudding (I couldn't find coconut). I didn't follow the directions- instead I cooked the powder with a cup of coconut milk, some shredded coconut and a teaspoon of coconut extract. This made enough to fill two batches of your recipe.

    Thanks again- I am so excited! :)

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  19. sadly i tried making mochi once with glutinous rice flour and water and stuff...all i can remember of it other than being ridiculously sticky and a pain in the butt was that mine tasted unfortunately like rubber. and i mean taste not texture. the flavour was akin to sweetened bicycle inner tube. i still have a bag and a half of glutinous rice flour that i have no idea what to do with :(

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  20. Very nice post, thanks for the tips. I have 2 cans of red bean paste sitting in the cupboard, time to roll up my sleeves and give a try. b4 reading your post i was also thinking to prepare the red bean balls and keep in the fridge first. you proved me right : )

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  21. This is a great post!
    I've been trying to make my own mochi ice cream, and everything's been going pretty well, excepting that i can't get the dough to wrap around the ice cream and actually stick!! it keeps falling apart. do you have any tips?

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