"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 MochiDaifuku 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... ;)
Ingredients1 1/2 cup Dango-ko rice flour1 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.