I don’t recall eating mochi as a child. I do remember one of my very favorite foods: Niangao—a Chinese rice cake, similar to mochi, which my mother made for Chinese New Year. She steamed it in a round cake pan. On the day she made it, it tasted so so good—pure white, sweet, sticky and chewy rectangular pieces cut from the pan. But the next day it was even better—cut into planks from the refrigerator, then fried in a bit of oil, it was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside with a lovely sweetness. As it was one of my favorite foods, and I liked cooking as a child, it pains me that I never asked her how she made it. Yet Another Example of my innate lack of curiosity and chronic self-absorption. Sigh.
I’ve certainly purchased my share of mochi from various places, usually Asian markets. Mostly I’m disappointed as the flavor and texture of these pre-packaged treats leaves much to be desired. Invariably when I buy take-out dim sum on Clement Street, I’ll buy the ‘chinese’ mochi—larger and flatter than Japanese, like a fried egg—but fresh and soft, filled with bean paste, and delicious. Minamoto Kichoan on Market St. in San Francisco is the best place I know of for mochi in the City—really beautiful “Authentic Japanese Confections” that are almost too pretty to eat.
I never thought about making mochi because we already have a Mochi Whisperer in the family—my daughter in law, who made an amazing array of mochi for another daughter’s bridal shower. She’s amazing.
My husband has many talents and cooking is not one of them. He does, however, like to make his own mixed-grain rice in his fancy Korean rice cooker. He includes brown, red, and black rice, barley, buckwheat, and a variety of dried beans. The other day in his pursuit of something keto-friendly, he cooked just beans. He came to me, crestfallen, with the beans—”they turned out terrible, it turned out really awful. What should I do?” I stuck a few beans in my mouth–they were very soft and pasty with a neutral flavor. I looked at the beans again, and realized I had several cups of cooked adzuki beans. What’s a mother to do but make red bean paste? And, I ask you, did I have a choice but to use it to make mochi?
Having never made either, I hit up the internet and looked at differing proportions of ingredients, coming up with the recipes below. This is a lot of red bean paste but it’s what I had, so unless you are opening your own mochi shop, you’ll want to cut the recipe.
Red Bean Paste:
Yield: 65 -1.5 tsp portions
2 ¼ cups dry red adzuki beans
1 ½ cup sugar
¾ tsp kosher salt or 3/8 tsp table salt
Soak adzuki beans overnight.
Cook beans in plenty of water until soft. In a fancy Korean rice cooker if you have one. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.
Using a food processor, process cooked beans to a fine paste. Transfer bean paste to a large saucepan. Add sugar and salt and mix well. Cook paste over medium low heat, thinning with reserved cooking liquid or water as needed so that it is thick and smooth but not stiff and solid. I think I added about a cup of water in total. Taste and add more sugar or salt if needed. Transfer to storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Before making mochi dough, form red bean paste balls so they are ready to wrap: Using a small cookie scoop (1.5 teaspoon size), scoop bean paste into portions and roll each into a ball. Repeat until you have enough for your purposes. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to form mochi.
Makes 12-14 mochi
I recommend making just one batch at a time if you are filling the mochi dough. If you DO double the recipe, add another minute to each microwave cooking. However, your dough may be too cool towards the end to properly wrap the mochi unless you have help.
1 cup Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour
½ cup sugar
1 cup water
Potato starch, for forming mochi
Prepare a sheet pan—line with parchment and add a pile of potato starch to one corner. Spread some of the starch lightly over the parchment.
In a large heat proof bowl, mix rice flour and sugar. Add water and mix well. The batter will be runny like thin pancake batter.
Microwave, uncovered, at full power for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. It should be forming large bubbles around the edge. Remove from microwave and stir well with a silicone spatula. The dough will be thickened. Microwave for another 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Stir well again. The dough will appear more translucent and will be stiff, thick and shiny.
Quickly scrape the dough onto the prepared sheet pan, sprinkle top of dough with more potato starch, coat your hands/fingers with potato starch, and push and pat dough into a very thick rectangle. You are not flattening the dough at all, just nudging it into a rectangle so that it is easier to cut into even portions. Keeping the dough in a thick mass helps it retain heat, as warm dough is easier to shape than cool dough, which is stiffer and makes for lumpy rather than smooth mochi.
Using a bench scraper dusted with potato starch, cut the dough in half. Cut your first half into 6 or 7 even pieces. [I know, I just asked you to cut a rectangle into 7 pieces. It’s not Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, deal with it.] Leave the other half alone, no need to cover it. Wait until you are finished with wrapping the first half of mochi dough, before cutting the second half. Because again, keeping it uncut helps to retain heat in the dough.
When wrapping, if dough gets sticky, dip it or your fingers in potato starch.
Take a piece of dough. It will be a chunky soft cube. Make an indentation with your thumb and place a ball of bean paste in the dough, then pull the dough up and over the sides of the bean paste, pinching to seal. This is very easy to do as long as your dough is warm. Turn so the smooth side is up, form into a ball and gently flatten. Brush excess potato starch off and place on your serving dish.
Repeat with the rest of your dough and bean paste.
Cover with plastic wrap until serving. Best eaten the same day.
So, how did the mochi making go?
Red Bean Paste: Having eaten red bean paste-filled sweets my whole life, it was a bit shocking how easy it was to make. Really? Just throw it in the food processor? Then cook it with sugar and salt for a little while on the stovetop? Wow. Easier than any other dumpling filling I’ve made thus far. [Which brings up the existential question I know you’ve been asking – is mochi a dumpling? Does it warrant admission to a dumpling blog? I haven’t slept all week pondering this.]
Mochi dough: Well, this is just a bit ridiculous how easy it was to make. This is Yet Another Thing (YAT) that I am sad I haven’t been making for the last 40 years, given how much my family and I love mochi. Prepare the parchment lined, potato starch lined sheet pan before you start making, because it goes fast. Initially I made 18 mochi from the recipe, and my critics determined the ratio of filling to mochi dough was off. They were much happier when I made bigger mochi—12-14 per recipe, which also made them easier to wrap.
Critique: EVERYONE LOVED IT and it and they disappeared right away.
Emboldened by my success, I came up with what I thought was an original (it’s not) idea: Peanut Butter and Jelly Mochi. I was supremely confident, even smug, that these would be equally easy and wonderful. What could go wrong?
My vision: a tidy button of jelly wrapped in a ball of peanut butter filling, wrapped in mochi dough.
Research and execution: Unadulterated peanut butter is too soft to wrap as a filling, so I refrigerated it to see if it would be firm enough to wrap. Still too soft. So I looked at recipes for peanut butter balls, an apparently popular homemade candy treat that I had never heard of. They are often dipped in chocolate, but for my purposes I just needed something to make the peanut butter tasty and firm enough to wrap. They are made of peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar. To me, this did not sound like something that would be firm enough to wrap. I looked at 10 recipes, with widely varying ratios of the 3 components. I settled on a 2:1:2 ratio of Peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar. Some recipes added crushed graham crackers or rice krispies. I decided to try both with and without the rice krispies.
For the jelly, I melted it in a casserole dish in the microwave, then put it in the freezer, thinking I would cut half inch cubes of frozen jelly around which I could wrap the peanut butter paste. HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA wishful thinking.
I then made the peanut butter balls, dividing the mixture in half and adding crushed rice krispies to one portion. I was thinking I would have a nice firm well-behaved mixture that I could wrap around jelly cubes, and which could then be wrapped in mochi dough. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAA wishful thinking.
The frozen jelly was still very soft and impossible to work with as a solid substance because it was, well, liquid. The peanut butter paste was SO soft that it was challenging to form into balls. I did the best I could with my trusty scoop, and draped hopeful but disconsolate blobs of jelly over the peanut butter non-spheres, then stuck them in the freezer and uttered a prayer. Next I made a double batch of mochi dough (didn’t I just warn above about NOT making a double batch?).
Once frozen, it was possible to wrap the pbj filling in the mochi. I turned the jelly side down because it was still liquid-ish, to contain the jelly as I pulled the mochi dough up and over to wrap. As I wrapped the last few, the mochi dough had completely cooled to room temp. You can see that the uncooperative and recalcitrant cooled dough resulted in these partially wrapped, dejected looking mochi.
I didn’t like these at all. The crunchy PBJ with rice krispies were objectionable to me, they felt gritty. The peanut butter mix tasted like peanut butter and–surprise!– the jelly tasted like jelly. I like PBJ, but decided I prefer mine on a sandwich or toast. The creamy ones were better but I wasn’t crazy about the taste.
My husband liked these, especially the crunchy ones, a lot. He felt the peanut butter was a bit intense. “I don’t mind you making this again—but less peanut. It’s SO GOOD.”
My daughter loved them, even more than red bean mochi. In fact, 4 family members liked them, both crunchy and creamy. I’m outnumbered.
Final mochi verdict: Easy to make, so delicious with plush and chewy texture. It’s a winner.
My husband keeps asking “do you want me to make more red beans?”