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mochi experiment #1

As a lover of filled mochi, I’m lucky enough to be able to pick them up at any one of the numerous Asian supermarkets we have in San Francisco. I’ve often wondered whether they were simple enough to make at home, but have been slightly intimidated by the stories I’ve heard concerning the mochi-making process.

Traditionally, mochi is made by pounding steamed glutinous rice with a giant wooden mallet, a practice that takes a bit of patience, some skill, and a lot of hard work. These days, you can find mochi-making machines that do all the work for you. Synonymous to a bread maker, the mochi machine steams the rice, pounds, and mixes, and leaves you with sticky rice dough that is ready to be eaten or filled.

My mom learned how to make filled mochi from a friend once. It apparently required being able to handle scalding hot, sticky mochi dough with your bare hands. After a couple of attempts at making it, my mom decided that she would find an easier way to make mochi. Her new method? Boil frozen filled sweet rice dumplings (the kind that you can find at the Asian supermarkets), and then roll them in corn starch.

Ta-da! Homemade filled mochi! My mom is a resourceful one, she is.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been more than happy buying my mochi at the supermarket. That is, until recently. A couple of weeks ago, my aunt and I had a conversation about mochi. She asked me, “How is it that store-bought mochi can stay fresh and soft for more than several days?” My aunt told me that the kind of mochi she was used to making would harden after a day, even when stored in an air-tight container. It didn’t make much sense to me, either. I remembered seeing no preservatives in the list of ingredients on the packages of my previous mochi purchases. I was equally puzzled. “Auntie,” I said. “I’m going to find out for you.” And with that, I have challenged myself to some mochi experiments.

Not blessed with asbestos fingers, a fancy mochi maker, or the desire to wield a heavy wooden mallet, I searched for alternative methods for making mochi. Thankfully, the recipes available called for the use of glutinous rice flour, bypassing the need to start from sweet, sticky rice itself. The most popular recipe written about online, however, uses a microwave. Since we don’t have a microwave, that method was out of the question. After more searching, I found a strange video demonstrating mochi dough being cooked on the stove top. Strange, because a poodle is the “host” of the show, but also useful, as I was interested in the methods shown. Because I could not decipher the recipe and proportions spoken in Japanese, I relied on this informative blog for a basic recipe for mochi dough.

Let’s just say that this mochi experiment started out okay, but turned out to be a disaster when I tried cooking the mochi batter — a combination of glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and food coloring — on the stove top. Stirring and cooking over low-medium heat eventually turned the batter into a thick dough, which was fine, but it was still RAW. As in uncooked. Raw rice dough tastes like chalk. Not a good thing.

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Raw. Gooey. Ick.

Knowing that keeping the goo on low heat would burn it and not cook it very much, I decided that something needed to be done to salvage my dough. I stirred in a cup of boiled water, hoping that it would help with the cooking, but all it did was give the goo a thick pudding-like consistency. Finally, I thought of my rice cooker (which is essentially a steamer). “Well, if the rice cooker doesn’t cook rice dough, I don’t know what will!” So I added water to the bottom of the ricer cooker, scooped the dough into a big bowl, and dropped it in. Twenty minutes or so later, I opened up the rice cooker to find a more translucent dough, deepened in color. It was no longer raw. Hurrah!

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Cooked. Peachy.

I allowed the dough to cool in a shallow dish before proceeding to nip pieces of dough with corn starched-hands, forming them into disks. I then filled each disk with a pre-formed mound of red bean paste (store-bought, in a can).

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Ta-da! Homemade filled mochi!

The mochi dough that resulted from this experiment is soft and a little bit chewy. It remains soft even when stored in the fridge, which is a VERY good thing, in my opinion. Before I share the recipe and methods with you, I am experimenting some more with the texture and trying to work out some kinks in the procedure.

p.s. As for the answer to the shelf-life question, I have a feeling that it has to do with the water content. I’ve read that mochi made in the microwave hardens up rather quickly. Food cooked in the microwave tends to dry out, as microwaves heat up the water molecules and cause them to evaporate. The same thing most likely happens with mochi, too. Steaming, on the other hand, will not decrease the amount of water present in the dough. While I cannot directly test my theory with the microwave, I plan on varying the amount of water I incorporate into the dough prior to steaming.

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