It has never occurred to me to ever look up a recipe for mochi, because up until now, it has never occurred to me that I would ever make it. When I was growing up, there was an old Japanese folk tale, where an old man and an old woman give their New Year’s mochi to the statues of the forest – a lovely story, but what struck me was not the poverty of the main characters, or that the statues come alive and bring the old couple mochi, but it was that making mochi involved both people, and a half a day with a mortar. I also have a distinct memory of asking my mother, “Can we make mochi?” and her replying, “Too difficult.”
All of this makes sense. Mochi is not only Japanese, it is also a dessert, which, in my mind, is just a translation for twice a pain in the ass. Further investigation reveals that mochitsuki, the process of making mochi, is, indeed, a pain in the ass, or as Wikipedia more tactfully puts it, “labor intensive.” To quote Wikipedia:
- Polished glutinous rice is soaked overnight and cooked.
- The cooked rice is pounded with wooden mallets (kine) in a traditional mortar (usu). Two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the mochi. They must keep a steady rhythm or they may accidentally injure one another with the heavy kine.
- The sticky mass is then formed into various shapes (usually a sphere or cube).
The “accidentally injure” part gets me every time, maybe because I am nearsighted and have poor motor skills.
However, after an Internet search, it appears you not only can make mochi from rice flour (as opposed to rice), you can do it in moments, in the microwave. I thought, okay, what the hell, I can spring for a bag of sweet rice flour because let’s face it, I’m curious. It was like when I came across Maida Heatter’s quick puff pastry in which one just threw together butter, flour, and sour cream in an electric mixer. It’s too good to pass up, right?
Actually, there is something about a microwave and mochi that does make a twisted sort of sense. Mochi’s soft, jelly-like texture and its pure white hue, suggest that it is concocted not by ordinary kitchen methods, but by alchemy. What better place to do alchemy than in a microwave, a weird machine that cooks without heat. Also, a nice electrician had come by earlier, and my microwave was working for the first time in six days. At eleven PM, I stirred together a paste of rice flour, water, sugar, put it in a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and then, minutes later, it was mochi – translucent, sticky, with that elusive, nutty, vanilla floral scent. It worked. I danced, whooped, and felt like Dr. Frankenstein.
I did another batch the next day, tweaking the recipe slightly. It worked again. It also tasted pretty good, and it took me less than twenty minutes. Mochi is pliable and forgiving, so filling the mochi is easier than any dumplings or stuffed pasta. Also, while making the mochi, I suddenly remembered that I had gone through a phase of making tangyuan as a child – the Chinese soup dumplings that are made out of uncooked glutinous flour that are then boiled. It is also a little like truffles (the balls of chocolate ganache as opposed to the fungi that pigs root out of the ground). Mochi is simpler than tangyuan and less messy than truffles. My total clean up time was five minutes, and I don’t have a dishwasher.
My version uses non-stick cooking spray. I know, I sound like Sandra Lee. The fist time around, I used cornstarch to combat the stickiness, but the resulting mochi were a little too stiff for my taste; and the final product bore an uncanny resemblance to raw gnocchi. For the filling, I use a combination of crushed cocktail peanuts, sugar, and peanut butter – it’s grainy, slightly sticky, not-too-sweet, with a hint of salt. You can also use sweet bean paste, which I don’t like, or fresh strawberries with a dab of bean paste molded around the stem end, or sliced, fresh strawberries cooked with a dash of cornstarch and sugar, which is the way they make it at the Japonais bakery in Brookline, Massachusetts.
It goes without saying that this is not the most exquisite mochi, nor is this by any means authentic. This is ghetto mochi created by a Chinese American in her 5 x 4 kitchen in Dublin, Ireland. Moreover, twenty-minute mochi is never going to be as satisfying as the mochi you slaved over half a day with a heavy wooden mallet. Having said that, mochi, when it is warm, soft, and fresh, is delectable, even from a microwave, and if you were like me, once upon a time, and wished you could have mochi morning, noon, and night and all the hours in between, now is your chance. So, while I sound like Sandra, if you have access to sweet rice flour, half an hour, and a microwave, you should really, really try this. Even, in fact, if you can’t stand mochi, because the magic that occurs is just so cool.
I prefer to make this in small batches, because the mochi tastes better when very fresh, and really, it takes no time at all to make another.
(Makes ten small mochi)
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Mochiko flour (or any sweet glutinous rice flour, the important thing is that you use sweet, glutinous rice flour)
1/2 tsp cornstarch
½ cup water
Non-stick cooking spray, or cooking oil
1/3 cup skinned, roasted, salted peanuts, crushed with 2 tbsp sugar (You can do this in a food processor. I don’t have one in Dublin, so I put everything in a Ziploc bag and pound it with a bottle of Pinot Noir.)
2 tbsp chunky peanut butter
1/3 cup shredded, dessicated coconut.
Mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and the glutinous rice flour. Add the water, gradually, stirring until there are no lumps. (It will be more liquid than a paste – this is ideal.) Spray/grease a microwave safe bowl, and pour the batter in. Cover the bowl with Saran wrap and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Uncover the saran wrap, the mixture should be soft and translucent and have cohered into a mass that is springy to touch. It should be slightly sticky, but it should not stick to your fingertips or a spoon when lightly touched. If this is the case, return to the microwave and continue to microwave for another thirty seconds.
This is mochi.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl combine the crushed peanuts and the peanut butter. Prepare two plates, one spread with coconut, the other lightly greased with vegetable oil or sprayed with cooking spray.
Slide the mixture out onto the plate that you have greased/sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and let cool briefly. With lightly oiled hands, roll the hot mixture into a cylinder and, by pinching or with a wet knife, divide the mixture into ten portions.
(The mixture will still be very hot at this point. I don’t mind it, but you can let it cool somewhat. However, the colder the mochi, the less pliable.) Roll one of the portions into a ball, and flatten it into a disk. Mound a teaspoon of the filling in the center, and then fold it in half, into a half-moon shape, like you were making dumplings or angolotti. Pinch to seal, and then roll it in your hands until it becomes a ball again. Roll the mochi in the plate spread with coconut, and repeat.
Note: I made mochi with strawberries cooked briefly with a pinch of cornstarch and two tablespoons of sugar until they were thick. They were considerably sloppier to handle. I found it easier to mound the strawberries (drained of liquid) in the middle of one of the mochi disks, then covering it with another, pinching it to seal, and then rolling into a ball. This makes a larger mochi, and, as you can see from the picture, they just look more of a mess. They’re worth it though, as they taste incredible, especially in this country. Irish strawberries, are small, slightly tart, and tight skinned.