When we were in 5th grade, my best friend Kristine went to visit her family in Japan. Despite the agony of her being gone for two whole weeks (even though this was the year we were in separate classes, separate lunches, and separate recesses, and only saw each other long enough for a two-second wave in the hallway every day), it was well worth it when she brought back tons of photos, presents, and botan rice candy.
The main thing I remember about botan rice candy was that it was wrapped in a piece of plastic, like most candy, but underneath that, it was wrapped in edible rice paper. I’m pretty sure I ate the rice paper more for the novelty than for the taste, because it became a slimy mess in about half a second. But the candy underneath that rice paper was delectable.
It’s been several years since I had a piece of botan rice candy, but when I moved to Boston and got caught up in the tart frozen yogurt craze, I stumbled upon something called mochi, a Japanese rice cake with a sticky, candy-like texture similar to botan. All the frozen yogurt joints offered tiny pieces of mochi as a topping, and I fell in love after my first taste. I soon found myself going to Red Mango less for the yogurt and more for the mochi, but I couldn’t figure out where I could buy some to snack on. After searching for a while with no success, I decided to go out on a limb and try to make some myself.
I started out with a trip to C-mart, an Asian grocery on the edge of Chinatown. This was easily the most fun part of the process; I spent a good hour in there just gawking at the pretty dishes, endless varieties of frozen dumplings, and stacks and stacks of tea, including this particular treasure:
“Jasmince” tea is delectable with mochi, by the way.
I feel like I say this about every recipe, but mochi is really easy to make with a little bit of effort. These are the only two ingredients that you might have trouble finding: mochiko (glutinous rice flour) and katakuriko (potato starch). As you can see, they’re available on amazon, but if you have an Asian grocery in the area, just go check it out! It’ll almost certainly be cheaper, and even if the associates don’t understand you, just chalk it up to a fun multicultural adventure.
To make the mochi batter, you’ll whisk together sifted mochiko, sugar, coconut milk, and water. Apparently mochi traditionally comes in several colors, but I prefer to leave mine plain (that’s the way it comes at Red Mango, and I don’t argue with Red Mango).
Next, you’ll line a baking pan with foil, and—this step is crucial—spray the heck out of it with Pam. Learn from my mistakes, all ye would-be mochi makers; if you forget to spray the foil with Pam, pour the batter back into the mixing bowl, toss the foil, and start over. Does this seem like a hassle? It’s nothing compared to the hassle of trying to peel un-sprayed foil off a sticky mochi cake. Truuuuust me. You’ll also want to put another piece of Pam’d foil on top of the mochi (and I mean directly on—make sure it’s all in contact with the mochi batter.
After the mochi sits in the oven for an hour, and cools for another hour, you’ll peel back the top layer of foil, and dust the mochi with potato starch. And when I say dust, I really mean smother. You’re going to invert the whole thing onto a potato starched surface, but it’s really sticky (had you picked up on that?), so the more potato starch, the better off you’ll be.
Once the mochi is de-foiled, you’ll cut it into small cubes, and toss them in a bowl of potato starch. Use a fine-mesh sieve to shake off the excess potato starch, leaving just enough on the mochi to keep them from sticking together.
Be warned: mochi is not only highly delicious, but also highly addictive, and this recipe makes a ton. Invite some friends over, and you’ll polish a batch off in no time… or just chow down on the entire batch with your roommate and a Nora Ephron flick. You know, whatever works.
1 lb Mochiko (glutinous rice flour)
2 1/2 cups sugar
12oz. canned coconut milk
1 3/4 cups of water
Katakuriko (potato starch) (cornstarch is also a substitute or variation)
Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Sift the mochiko into a large mixing bowl, and add the cups of sugar. Add the coconut milk and water, and stir with a whisk until there are no lumps in the batter.
Line a baking pan with foil and spray the foil generously with cooking spray. Cover the mochi with another piece of cooking spray-coated foil, making sure the foil is touching the batter.
Bake for 1 hour in the middle of the oven; after cooking, allow mochi to cool for at least one hour, then carefully remove the top layer of foil.
Dust a work surface with potato starch, and invert the mochi onto the work surface. Carefully remove the remaining foil from the mochi, working slowly, as the foil will likely try to stick.
Cut off the dried bits from the edges, then cut the mochi into small cubes. Toss the cubes in a bowl of potato starch, then shake them in a sieve to remove excess starch.