Mochi Mania is sweeping the nation and since it’s almost spring you’re about to see a lot of sakura mochi everywhere! What is mochi, you ask? Mochi is a simple Japanese rice cake that has been around for centuries. Mochi is a year-round treat, but there are some seasonal specialties that are becoming popular as mochi spreads from Japan. The popularity of mochi has skyrocketed in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. In this blog post, we will explore all things mochi – where it comes from, what you can use it for, and why it has become such a trendy flavor craze!
Mochi means ‘glutinous rice cake’ in Japanese and glutinous just means the substance is very sticky and that it’s not gluten-free. Japanese mochi rice cakes are traditionally made from short-grain Japanese rice. Other ingredients that may or may not be included are water, sugar, and cornstarch. First, the rice is pounded into a sticky dough and then formed into small balls, squares, or any other desired shape.
The rice cake is then used as a creative base for a variety of fillings and flavorings depending on the occasion!
Mochi is just a rice cake, so on its own it will have a rice-like neutral flavor profile and the texture will be soft and chewy due to the gelatinous rice used to make it. Don’t be disappointed though, mochi can be used for creative fillings and other unique flavor additions which make it a treat that has a lot of variety depending on the chef and it’s also a great treat to make at home!
Like many Asian cultures that place significant cultural importance on the New Year, the Japanese New Year has a special mochi ritual with a rich history for the holiday! Kagami Mochi as it is known in Japan uses mochi as a base for traditional rituals celebrated by families with the Asian New Year holiday, starting on December 28th.
Springtime mochi is special because a red bean paste is typically used to match the blossoming cherry trees that signify the official arrival of spring in Japan. You can see mochi balls served in cherry blossom leaves and filled with other red flavorings and fillings like strawberry and cherry!
deThe traditional Japanese mochi made for celebrations of Children’s Day on May 5 and Girls’ Day on March 3 also use the special variations of sakura mochi, but in the northern hemisphere, depending on where you live, you could easily confuse the normal spring mochi with the types served on these two holidays.
Most specialty mochi machines only have one use, mochi pounding, so it’s more practical to make them with a stand mixer or improvise to avoid the two-person traditional pounding method that used to be the only way. Thanks to a few readily available modern substitutions you can make mochi at home using a rice flour mixture which turns into a sticky sweet rice dough pretty easily. Here’s how!
The only specialty ingredient you’ll need is mochiko, a sweet glutinous rice flour. You might be able to find this in a store near you if you live in a big city, but it’s also at Amazon if you’re planning ahead. I used Mochiko glutinous rice flour to experiment and it worked pretty well. You may want red bean paste if you’re going for the red spring color, but you can get by with red food coloring or a bit of strawberry jelly or other cherry-flavored concoction if you’re creative.
If you want to make a specialty version of mochi you’ll need red bean paste, but you can color and flavor it however you want. The iconic green mochi balls come from adding the essential matcha powder to the rice paste as you mix though if that’s what you’re going for.
The other common pantry ingredients you’ll need are
- cornstarch (this will prevent sticking)
First mix the mochiko a slightly sweet rice flour, water, and sugar in a 4:4:1 ratio. I used 1 cup of mochiko sweet rice flour, 1 cup of water, and 1/4 cup of sugar which made enough for 8 golf-ball-sized balls of mochi. Add more or reduce if you need to. Stir the sticky mochi dough together until it forms a sweet rice dough.
Next, heat the mixture until it’s smooth and easy to work with, either a non-stick pot on your stove on medium-low or a microwave-safe glass bowl will work. If you use a microwave heat the mixture covered in plastic wrap in 30-second increments, it needs to be hot but you still need to be able to work with it in your hands.
After the mochi mixture is ready spread some cornstarch on your work surface (adding parchment paper to your counter is a huge time saver come clean up time because the sweet rice dough is notoriously sticky) and make the mochi mixture into rice cakes. You can put them in cupcake tins and spoon scoops of ice cream inside them for cute mochi ice cream balls and store them in the freezer for a cold treat or strawberry filling for special springtime sakura mochi desserts!
And if a mochi donut is what you’re after just add an egg, a splash of milk, and 1/4 tbsp of butter to the mixture of sweet rice dough from before. Use a rolling pin to work the dough into a log and break into chunks approximately 5 – 7 inches long and work it into a donut shape before sticking into the oven to bake at about 200 F or frying it.
Mow – chee; it sounds just like cheese!
My favorite place to buy mochi ice cream is Trader Joe’s since they always have a variety of specialty products on hand. You can check out their recipe for Chewy Chocolate Mochi Cake or get some of the pre-made mochi treats for your dessert trays! If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s and the mochi craze hasn’t caught on in your town you can try Amazon for specialty mochi treats or one of your local specialty grocers.
Mochi is most delicious when it’s eaten immediately but you can freeze it for weeks and still eat it after thawing it out. You can store it in the refrigerator for a short period, but it will become hard and unusable in a few days.
The mochi craze is very popular. It’s not just the glutinous rice and mochi ice cream anymore! Mochi has been adapted to everything from rice cakes to children’s toys. While they do look like fun, I personally had more fun making the mochi ice cream balls (one of my new favorite recipes) than I think my kids would get from the toys, but that’s just me.
Thanks for following along with my mochi madness. Let me know if you find a great recipe for ice cream because there’s not much that gets me more excited than pulling some mochi balls out of the freezer and surprising my kids. I even put different flavors of ice cream into the mochi ice cream balls to keep them on their toes (mango is the winner so far) but let me know what you think!
Do you have any other questions about mochi? Leave them in the comments below or on the Mochi Madness Facebook page and I’ll do my best to answer them! Happy Mochi Making!