Almost every component of Japanese cuisine is a well thought out, carefully crafted piece of culinary architecture as pleasing aesthetically as it is gustatory. Mochi cakes are no different. Mochi, a type of wagashi, or rice-based confection, consists of glutinous, sticky rice painstakingly pounded into a smooth, congruous paste that forms the body of toasted cakes or shells made to hold fillings such as jellies, ice cream and more. Getting sticky rice to the point you can use it as a mochi "dough" requires carefully timed, gentle steaming, not unlike the method used for sushi.
Things You'll Need
- Glutinous, sticky Japanese rice
- Food processor
- Bamboo steamer insert
- Cheesecloth or muslin
- Mortar and pestle
- Potato or rice starch
Grind dry, glutinous sticky rice in a food processor until it has the coarse texture of kosher salt. If you're a traditionalist, you can use a mortar and pestle to grind the rice.
Pour the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Soak the rice for about an hour.
Fill a pot with 3 or 4 inches of water and place a bamboo steamer basket insert in it. Place piece of cheesecloth or muslin over the steamer insert and pour the moist, ground rice in it. Place the pot on the stove and set the heat to high.
Steam the rice until translucent, or about 45 minutes. Let the rice rest in the basket for five to 10 minutes. The resting period is integral to getting the rice to the sticky stage necessary for pounding and forming the mochi.
Transfer the rice to a large mortar. If you have a small mortar, you have to work in batches when pounding the rice into a paste. Fill a small cup or bowl with warm water and keep it close to the mortar so it's ready when needed.
Pound the sticky rice with the pestle in an up-and-down motion, like a piston. Refrain from sliding the pestle around the inside of the mortar, even though it's easier. Pounding using an up-and-down motion produces the best texture for forming mochi cakes.
As needed, dip your fingers in the warm water while you pound and sprinkle the water over the rice to keep it slightly moist at all times.
Continue pounding the rice until it forms into a sticky mass, and you can't tell where one grain of rice begins and another ends, like a sticky rice dough. It usually takes about 10 to 12 minutes of pounding to congeal and combine a few cups of sticky rice.
Dry your hands and lightly dust the work surface with potato or rice starch. Moisten your hands and take the mochi out of the mortar and place it on the work surface. The mochi is now cooked and ready to knead. After kneading, you can stuff it, shape it and toast it for serving. If you have to step away from the mochi for more than a few minutes, keep it covered on the work surface with a moist towel.
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