Mochi has taken the world by storm. In my experience, whenever we went to a Japanese restaurant, their desserts have been almost as an afterthought. You are likely to get something fruity or something that isn’t really overly sweet (think jellies and dorayaki). I bet you any money that if you are asked about a Japanese dessert, your first instinct will most likely be mochi, and you will most certainly be absolutely correct!
Mochi is a super stretchy, gelatinous rice cake that is most likely filled with anko – a sweet filling make with red beans. Traditionally mochi is made with mochigome which is a short-grain rice. It is cooked first before it is pounded with sugar and water into a gelatinous dough. This dough is then filled with anko and served as a dessert at New Year as the stretchiness symbolises a long life.
Unfortunately, due to the stretchy and chewy nature of the mochi rice cake, several people choke each year as they take bites that are too big or they don’t take care to chew carefully. Since it is so stretchy, it is almost impossible to get the rice cake out of your airways in time. It seems like the Japanese loves living on the edge when it comes to culinary delights (think fugu and now mochi!).
To me mochi tastes a lot like starchy rice before you cook it. Have you ever just took a whiff at your bag of uncooked rice and thought: ‘well, that definitely smells like rice!’ That is what unflavoured mochi tastes like to me. It is also how it smells whilst it is being cooked.
Mochi cannot really be refrigerated. I find that it dries out very quickly, forming a thick crunchy (very unpleasant) outer layer. It then loses it’s stretchy quality and just becomes very unappealing. If you are making a tonne of mochi, just keep it in an airtight container. If you really must keep it for a bit longer, then consider freezing it. Thaw for a few hours at room temperature before consuming.
I love interesting flavours and fusing things together to keep it very interesting. One flavour I think that goes really well with the sweet milky flavour of plain mochi is that of cinnamon. South Africans are known for their love of cinnamon! We use it in so many desserts. Two of my favourite ways of consuming this warming spice is making a melktert filling and fill pancakes with it or to stir it through a warm bowl of melkkos on a cold and drizzly wintery evening. It just makes me all fuzzy and warm inside!
We went to Shaka Zulu in London quite a while back (pre-pandemic of course!) and their melktert was absolutely gorgeous!
It is so important to have all your ingredients pre-measured. Not only does it ensure that you actually have enough of everything before you start, but you are also ensuring that you are not leaving out anything! More importantly, when things really get going, you won’t have time to measure out when you are constantly stirring.
Making mochi the non-traditional way couldn’t be any simpler. I am not a big fan of using a microwave. I think I can probably count on my fingers how many times I have used my microwave (I actually use it to store some pots and pans in!). It is for that reason that I use my stovetop. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but it also means that you are in control. There shouldn’t be any lumps and it won’t make too much of a mess.
Simply dump all the ingredients in a saucepan. Set the temperature to low and start stirring like crazy.
Be careful as the thickening creeps up on you like a giant spider in the night! It will feel like you are just stirring a liquid starchy soup and suddenly it will thicken up until you can’t stir any more. Keep going though for another few minutes to ‘cook out’ the floury taste.
Take a rolling pin or wooden spoon and oil it a little (not really needed, but it will make clean up a tad easier!). Now transfer the thick, sticky dough into a metal or plastic container (careful it is super hot!) and start pounding. You will see it transform into an even stickier but much more manageable dough.
Sprinkle a clean surface liberally with cornflour, tip the dough out and divide into 12 equal pieces. Dust your hands regularly with the cornflour and roll into balls (you can even press them into little shapes if you have a mochi press). Drop them into a bowl of cinnamon sugar and roll to completely cover.
Why not do a whole Japanese-themed evening by making Gyoza for a starter and Chicken Katsu Curry as a main course? Of course you can finish off the evening with some delicious mochi!