Before working for Dana Cree, I knew mochi to be a chewy topping for frozen yogurt or a thin veil wrapped around adzuki bean paste. The Blackbird pastry kitchen offered a primer on microwave mochi, as I watched chef Cree apply flavored pieces to her legendary bubblegum dessert and sous-chef Krystle roll out sheets of it for an impromptu mignardise. It wasn’t until staging in Asia, though, that I really dove down the rabbit hole and discovered the seemingly endless variations of pounded rice products.
Alright, lets talk mochi.
Traditionally (as in, 100 A.D. traditionally) mochi was made by soaking glutinous rice in water overnight, steaming it, and then vigorously pounding the rice into a sticky mass that could be shaped. To avoid confusion, I think it’s important to point out that no, glutinous rice (short-grain rice) does not contain gluten. The name comes from the glue-y, adhesive quality the rice has when cooked.
A quick science break. All starch is made up of a combination of amylose and amylopectin. Medium- and long-grain rice mostly contain amylose, whereas short-grain rice is almost entirely amylopectin. Amylopectin is much more hygroscopic than amylose (it holds onto water), so, when cooked, the grains are able to swell more and create the chewy, elastic product necessary to make mochi.
In the nearly two thousand years since mochi’s birth (which may have been in Korea, Japan, or China, the jury is still out on that one) the process has stemmed dozens of variants. Most are still made with rice, but with one important caveat—with the advent of milling, rice can now be processed into a flour that eliminates the many hours of kneading and mashing the cooked grains. Whether mochiko (glutinous rice flour) or shiratamako (a finer flour than mochiko that creates a more elastic, stretchy mochi), rice mochi can now be made in minutes. As the technique developed popularity other Asian countries like Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia, other base ingredients were used that contained a similarly high ratio of amylopectin to amylose. Potato starch, tapioca starch, arrowroot flour and sago starch (extracted from palm trees) are all suitable alternatives.
In its most basic form, mochi is a starch gel comprised of nothing more than fully hydrated amylopectin and air bubbles. Rice and water. That’s it. Given a few millennia, though, it was bound to become more delicious. Sugar is now a common ingredient, whether in the form of sucrose, sweetened condensed milk, or palm sugar. The liquid used to swell the powdered starch can be anything with a high water content and low viscosity: tea, beer, liquor, milk (mammal, nut, soy), fruit juice. The most recent additions have been fats like vegetable oil and Crisco, which increase the elasticity of the mochi and greatly improve its shelf life. Any extract, essential oil, or ground spice can also be used to impart flavor.
There are surely dozens and dozens of different mochi making techniques, here are a few of the variations I saw while staging.
-The raw dough is portioned, indented, filled, shaped and boiled.
-10% of the raw dough is boiled and kneaded back into the raw dough before being portioned, indented, filled, shaped and boiled.
-The raw dough is portioned, indented, filled, shaped and steamed.
-The raw dough is portioned, intended, filled, shaped and baked.
-The ball of dough is steamed, chilled, rolled out, cut into circles and stuffed.
-The ball of dough is cooked in a pot, chilled, rolled out, cut into circles and stuffed.
-The ball of dough is cooked, transferred while warm to a bowl, kneaded with fat, chilled, rolled out, cut, and stuffed.
As a Garnish
-The ball of dough is cooked in a pot, chilled, rolled out and cut into pieces.
-The ball of dough is steamed, rolled out, cut and deep fried.
-The dough is microwaved briefly, stirred, and microwaved again, rolled out and cut
*Microwaving for too long overheats the starch and results in an inedible hockey puck.
-The dough is cooked, portioned and grilled over charcoal.
-The dough is cooked, rolled out, and cooked again in a waffle maker.
Below are a few basic recipes I picked up while staging, each calling for a different cooking method.
65 g milk
50 g mochiko
40 g granulated sugar
2 g baking powder*
*Only in the microwave method does mochi require a leavener like baking powder. When reducing the cooking time down to a mere two minutes, we need to artificially create the air bubbles that would naturally occur over a longer time if steamed or boiled.
-Mix all of the ingredients in a plastic container into a smooth paste.
-Cook for 1 minute in the microwave, stir, and cook for 1 more minute.
-Immediately transfer the contents onto a cutting board dusted with cornstarch and roll to your desired thickness.
-Allow to cool before cutting.
-Use within one day.
Steamed Fruit Mochi
15 g all-purpose flour
30 g mochiko
30 g rice flour
30 g granulated sugar
135 g fruit juice or puree
2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
30 g butter
-Knead all of the ingredients into a soft dough.
-Steam for 8 minutes.
-Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
-Knead on an oiled surface until smooth and shiny.
-Roll out to desired thickness before cutting.
15 g mochiko
35 g rice flour
40 g granulated sugar
80 g water
-Mix all ingredients in a small pot and cook over low heat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.
-Transfer to a cutting board coated in cornstarch and immediately roll to desired thickness.
40 g mochiko
45 g tea
15 g granulated sugar
5 g potato starch
10 g all-purpose flour
10 g Crisco
-Paddle all of the ingredients together on low speed.
-Let rest for 15 minutes.
-Divide into 10 g portions.
-Flatten each in your palm, fill with desired mixture, wrap and seal.
-Boil the mochi dumplings until they float (about 5 minutes).
Now go make some mochi!