Is there any food happier and cuter than mochi? A gentler incarnation of a marshmallow, it is subtly sweet and powdery pastel, with a hint of coconut and a pillowy-soft chew.
Mochi is traditionally eaten around the Lunar New Year (in fact, the Chinese version, nian gao, literally translates as “year cake”), and that means it’s currently mochi high season. There’s no better time to learn how to make mochi yourself.
Traditionally, making mochi actually sounds pretty labor-intensive. It’s made, more or less, by taking gigantic mallets to a pile of cooked sweet rice and pounding the crap out of it until it forms the chewy, tender consistency that we know and love. So violent for such a cute dessert!
We're not going that route. Instead, armed with some flour made from that same sweet rice, you can make your own mochi with a recipe that’s practically foolproof and not nearly as much of a workout.
This is only a basic mochi recipe, waiting to be dressed up however you like. Add about a teaspoon of matcha powder to the dry ingredients to make green tea mochi, or a flavored extract to the wet ingredients to flavor it to your liking.
I’ve often seen the plain version colored with a few drops of red food coloring, too, to turn it a dainty pink. Finally, you can use it to wrap around fillings, like red bean paste or ice cream. Go to town–and happy Lunar New Year! —Cynthia Chen McTernan
Test Kitchen Notes
A chewy, marshmallow-y snack, mochi is made with short-grain glutinous rice. Though in recent years its popularity has grown so that it's served year-round (it’s so desired in the United States these days that large American grocery store chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods even offer prepared mochi snacks or desserts), mochi is traditionally eaten during the celebration of the Lunar New Year. Numerous cultures make mochi-like treats, many of which have their own unique name and incorporate a distinct take on the recipe’s base ingredients, as well as flavors and fillings.
Though the classic technique involves pounding cooked glutinous rice over and over until it forms that delightful chewy texture, here, recipe developer Cynthia Chen McTernan outlines a shortcut for a “quick mochi”: using a base of sweet glutinous rice flour. This mochi’s flavor profile is quite simple, being that the additional ingredients are just sugar, baking powder, water, and coconut milk. Still, mochi can be flavored with ingredients such as matcha powder or various extracts (try fruity ones like strawberry or mango, or nutty taro). From there, you can even wrap mochi around various fillings, like bean and nut pastes, or the particularly popular filling in the US, ice cream.
Though plain mochi will be creamy-white in color, you can also add a few drops of food coloring—packaged natural food dyes, as well as homemade dyes like turmeric, beet juice, and spirulina will work here to tint the confection: pink, green, yellow, and blue are most common, but the sky’s really the limit. Some ingredients work as mochi coloring as well as flavoring: Matcha yields a very pastel green mochi; black sesame paste will color the treat light gray. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 10 minutes
- Makes about 2 cups of small pieces
sweet rice (mochiko) flour
full-fat coconut milk, or about half of a 13.5-ounce can
Sweet potato starch or regular cornstarch for dusting
- Preheat oven to 275° F. Line a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with parchment paper. (Note: A 9- by 13-inch dish will yield a thin layer of mochi, only about 1/4-inch thick. For thicker mochi, use a 9- by 9-inch glass dish and bake for longer, about 90 minutes.)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the mochiko, sugar, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water and coconut milk. (Note: Be sure to use full-fat coconut milk. You can usually find it in cans, and it should be quite thick.) Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until the mixture is smooth and no lumps remain. Unlike most baking, you don’t need to worry about over-mixing the ingredients, since mochi is dense and chewy to begin with. So whisk away! Some recipes even call for mixing all the ingredients, dry and wet, in a food processor all at once, and call it a day.
- Pour the mixture into your lined baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 60 minutes. The mochi is done when it is soft and gelatinous but holds its shape when touched. (NOTE: A few people have reported that their mochi did not set. A few notes on softer mochi -- using low-fat coconut milk may result in a softer consistency. You may also want to check your oven to make sure it's at the right temperature. Also, if you want extra insurance, you can add another 1/4 cup mochiko flour to the dry ingredients, which should result in significantly firmer mochi, but in my opinion, is a bit more "floury" or "pasty" in flavor. If you've already baked it for an hour and it doesn't appear to be set, raise the temperature to 300° F and remove the foil. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, uncovered. Also, note that even if it's soft and gel-like when it first comes out of the oven, the mochi will set as it cools.)
- Let cool completely or overnight. Dust a surface with your starch (alternatively, you can simply use more mochiko flour) and turn the mochi onto the surface. Sprinkle starch over the mochi. Wrap a knife in Saran wrap to prevent the mochi sticking. Using the wrapped knife, cut the mochi into small pieces, then dust again with starch or flour, and serve!