Not quite like bread dough but not your standard cookie dough either, mochi is a class in itself. Made with glutinous rice flour, this paste is hydrated and heated so that the starches absorb water, swell and burst. (The traditional method involves steaming and beating cooked rice.) The result is a sticky dough that can be rolled and molded around a variety of fillings. While McKinnon grew up eating the Cantonese version known as lo mai chi, filled with red bean paste or peanut and coconut paste, here she uses the name of the popular Japanese treat. Her rendition is stuffed with a not-too-sweet blend of ground black sesame seeds, coconut cream, and dried coconut. It’s just the right balance of sweet and savory, satisfying and understated.
It turns out that making them is also a bit of a balancing act. This is the kind of recipe that requires attention but not a lot of advanced skills or equipment. I’m hesitant to call this a project because it almost sounds baffling, although you’ll want to set aside about an hour, clear the counter, and if you want to recruit a few enthusiastic helpers (dare I say kids, especially if you don’t worry about appearances). Here are some of my keys to success:
- Pay attention. Making the dough on the stovetop requires constant stirring to prevent scorching and to make sure the sticky rice flour (I bought mine from my regular supermarket) thickens evenly. It will seem like nothing happens until it does, quickly. I had the best luck with my medium-high electric cooktop, but if yours is hotter you can use medium. Adjust as needed.
- To roll the dough into the mochi balls, the dough should be hot enough to be malleable and stick to itself, but not so hot that you burn yourself or end up with an amorphous mass. If it’s too cool, it won’t form neat balls either. Let the dough cool on the counter for a few minutes, but try to work it while it is still hot enough, keeping in mind that it will continue to cool as it goes. If you are worried about speed, cut only a quarter or half of the dough at a time – small pieces will cool faster.
- Similar to temperature, you want the right balance when it comes to cornstarch. Too much on the board, dough or your hands, and the dough will dry out and not adhere to itself. Too little and it sticks like dickens. Apply an even layer to the board, a little less on top of the dough and a light dusting on your hands when shaping, reapplying as needed. It may take a mochi or two to figure it out by touch, and that’s okay. I have done my best to coach you, but nothing can replace feeling for yourself. Remember, even simple mochi will taste fantastic.
- If you’ve never made a fresh mochi and bite into one to find it’s chewy and gelatinous … you’ve nailed it! This can be a whole new sensation for anyone who has only had ice cream filled with ice cream, but know that these mochi are different. I’m a huge fan of the spongy texture, although not all of my tasters have been. The skeptics were all won over after the freeze, which you will have to do after 24 hours anyway. After a day, mochi lose their shape and elasticity.
Recipe Notes: Mochi are best eaten immediately, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 24 hours. After that, keep in the freezer and consume frozen for up to 1 month.
To make superfine sugar, process the granulated sugar (use a little more than the recipe calls for, about 190 grams) in a food processor until finely ground. Be careful not to turn it into powdered sugar.
Black sesame seeds and glutinous rice flour are available in well-stocked supermarkets, Asian markets, and online. If you find roasted seeds, skip the toasting step.
The heat gelatinizes the starches in the rice flour and makes them quite sticky, so it’s best to wash your gear in cold water. Let it soak first for easier cleaning.
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp (75 grams) black sesame seeds (can replace white sesame seeds; see top note)
- 1 tablespoon of ultra-fine sugar (see top note)
- 3 tablespoons of coconut cream (no coconut cream)
- 1 tablespoon of dried coconut
- pinch of sea salt
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 grams) glutinous rice flour (sweet rice flour, like the Mochiko brand)
- 1 1/4 cups (300 milliliters) water
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) superfine sugar (see top note)
- Cornstarch, for sprinkling
- 3 tablespoons of dried coconut, to roll
Prepare the filling: In a medium skillet over low heat, toast the sesame seeds, shaking occasionally, until aromatic, 4 to 5 minutes (they can burn in a second). Transfer to a plate or bowl and let cool. (Skip this step if you purchased roasted seeds.)
Transfer the toasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of superfine sugar to a food processor or blender and mix until finely ground and well combined. You can still see sesame seed flakes; they will not completely collapse. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Add the coconut cream, dried coconut and salt, and mix well to form a thick paste, crushing the coconut cream as you stir to make sure it is fully incorporated.
Make the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice flour and water. Pour the mixture into a fine mesh colander over a medium pot, using a flexible spatula to squeeze it through and into the pot. Incorporate the ultra-fine sugar. Place the pot over medium-high heat and, using a flexible spatula, stir constantly until you have a drop of very sticky dough, 6 to 8 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as you stir to avoid scorching. At first it will seem like nothing is happening, then it will thicken very quickly. You’ll know you’ve hit the right time when stirring feels like a real workout, with the dough offering a lot of resistance. Remove from fire.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cutting board and sprinkle with cornstarch – you want an even layer to prevent sticking, but not too much to dry the dough immediately. Pour the dough onto the paper and let cool slightly for a few minutes. Too hot and the dough will be too loose to form, but too cold and it will not be firm enough to form neat balls. It should still be warm enough to the touch. Keep in mind that it will continue to cool after cutting and as you progress through the batch.
Sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with more cornstarch. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces, ideally with a bench scraper (it may be easier to visualize if you cut the round into quarters and then divide each of these into thirds).
Sprinkle the dried coconut on a plate or shallow dish.
Sprinkle a little cornstarch on your hands before handling the sticky dough (too much will dry out the dough too much and make the balling harder). Roll a piece into a ball, then flatten into a disc 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide. The dough should be soft and pliable. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoon of the filling in the center, then pull the sides up and over the filling, pinching and twisting to seal the dough.
It may help to flip the side of the round seam down to form it into a neater ball. Roll the mochi in the coconut, pressing down a bit to help it adhere, reshaping the ball as needed. If your hands are sticky, sprinkle cornstarch again. Repeat with the rest of the dough and the filling (you may have some filling left, which can be mixed with the yogurt or oatmeal). Work as fast and confidently as possible so that the dough does not get too cold.
Nutritional analysis is per mochi, based on using 2/3 of the filling and 1 tablespoon of coconut for rolling.
Calories: 131; Total fat: 5 g; Saturated fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 17 mg; Carbohydrates: 21 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 13 g; Protein: 2 g.