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Friday, September 30, 2016

Monster Mochi Mess

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.

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