I've loved mochi since the first time I tried it, which was in high school. I used to buy mochi filled with sweet bean paste at Asian grocery stores, and I enjoyed getting it for dessert at Japanese restaurants. It's pretty mainstream now, and I can get it at Trader Joe's, filled with ice cream.
It never occurred to me that I could make mochi at home, though, so I was intrigued when the New York Times published a recipe for it. It looked simple enough, and there weren't too many ingredients, although the key ingredients I wanted--glutinous rice flour and adzuki beans--were unlikely to be found in our local Safeway. Essentially, I would need to combine the glutinous rice flour with water and sugar and then cook it fairly briefly on the stove. If I wanted to fill the mochi with bean paste, I would need to make that separately. Oh, and the process of forming the bean paste-filled cakes looked like it might be a little sticky, but surely nothing I couldn't keep at bay with a dusting of corn starch.
I gathered my courage and my ingredients. I found adzuki beans at a local Thai market. I looked for the glutinous rice flour, and ultimately ordered it from Amazon.
One weekend, I decided to give it a try. I started by making the bean paste. So far, so good. I tasted a little of it, and it tasted as I had expected.
Then I started cooking the mochi itself. I was supposed to stir and watch for it to become shiny and hold its shape. That happened pretty quickly, and I poured the resulting product onto a cornstarch-dusted piece of parchment paper. So far, so good....except that the mochi was too hot and too sticky to handle. I decided to leave it for a while so it could cool down, and, with luck, become less sticky.
A while later, it had cooled down considerably, but had not gotten much less sticky. I decided to try my luck anyway. I sprinkled some more corn starch on the parchment paper, and put some on my hands. I grabbed a piece of the mochi dough and tried to form it. It stubbornly refused to be formed into anything. I put it down and washed a thick layer of sticky residue from my hands.
Several attempts later, I was no closer to forming cute little mochi balls. I suddenly got the idea that instead of making lots of little mochi balls, I could make one large mochi cake that I could cut into pieces. I put half the mochi dough in a round cake pan, spread a layer of bean paste over it, and then spread the rest of the mochi dough on top. I ended up with this,
which is a far cry from this:
I hoped it would be one of those things that looks gross, but tastes delicious. No such luck. The bean paste tasted fine, but the mochi never developed a chewy texture, and remained way too soft and sticky. I'm not sure where this experiment failed, but failed it did. I had to admit defeat and throw it away.
On top of the disappointment of a failed dessert, I had a truly impressive mess to clean up. It seemed like everything that was uncontaminated with sticky residue had a fine coating of corn starch on it. Aargh!
There is at least a partially happy ending, however. Since I had leftover glutinous rice flour that I felt motivated to use, I looked for other mochi recipes. I found one in which the mochi was baked in the oven for a longish time at a low temperature. As a bonus, the recipe incorporated coconut milk, which I like. I was too afraid of another messy failure to try to create mochi balls with my leftover bean paste, but the plain mochi from the second recipe I tried was delicious, with a delightful chewy texture. Even though I didn't make exactly what I set out to make--and my first mochi attempt bore no resemblance to anything I wanted to eat--I ultimately learned how to make something new that I would probably make again. I think I'll count it as a win.