Friday, September 28, 2012

Mochi with Nutella Strawberry Filling

While it is on my "bucket list" in this lifetime, I have to date never been to Japan. However, the land and it's diverse cultures and traditions are a constant source of wonder for me, and the food and festivals most of all. I first became aware of the glutinous rice concoction known as mochi growing up when we had a visiting teacher from Japan in my elementary school. Along with my first taste of "real" green tea (made with full-out ceremony) and miso soup, around Easter we were introduced to these small balls of chewy-soft dough wrapped around tiny, perfect strawberries: ichigo daifuku.

With so many of us in the class, we only got one little taste apiece, but I can remember being both enthralled and a little disturbed by the blend of tastes and textures. To my Western child's palate, the chewy yet mostly flavourless "skin" reminded me of the layer on the bottom of a bowl of Jell-O, which I liked for the most part. However, the traditional filling in these confections is strawberries wrapped in a sweetened red bean paste called anko - something I neither anticipated nor particularly enjoyed in my youth.

After her term with us ended, our Japanese teacher went home - taking with her most of the Japanese cultural experience our class had. Since then, I had been fascinated by Asian culture and tradition, and it was only recently that I finally convinced myself to try making these dainty treats at home.

Notice, I said try. I wanted to make my own twist on the traditional treat - instead of messing around with trying to get the sweet / savoury anko mixture right (even though I have a good recipe from the Bean by Bean cookbook), I opted for a middle layer that would be more or less universally loved: Nutella. Mixed with some hot chocolate mix and plain cocoa powder, I got a decent "dough" to coat my strawberries. However, I should have guessed after coating myself from here to Timbuktu in sticky chocolate goo and strawberry juice that the rest of the process wouldn't be any easier or cleaner! After making the baby-pink tinted skin dough, I came to realize just how hot it gets in the microwave. We're talking liquid sugar hot - with the stickiness that causes it to cling to, and continue burning, anything it comes into contact with. Mochi makers must have hands of iron in order to knead, flatten, wrap and smooth out the dough while it's still hot and pliable - it was all I could do to avoid tossing the whole lot (bowl included) in the trash.

While I did finally get six pieces done, they were nothing like the gorgeous, silky-smooth balls I see online and in Asian groceries. They were bumpy, almost clementine-peel like in appearance, and I worried about their edibility as a whole. What if I did something wrong and they were somehow still raw? What would they taste like? I stuck them in the fridge to firm up for a few hours, crossed my fingers and took them to my massage therapist, an adventurous foodie in his own right. As you can see, the cross-section looks exactly as I hoped it would: distinct layers almost identical to models of the Earth's core, mantle and crust. The Nutella was a decadently rich element in the middle of the two lighter sweet tastes of rice dough and strawberry, and the balls held their own in the fridge (though they were also delicious after being frozen and cut into quarters).

Have you ever made (or eaten) mochi or daifuku before? What did you think of it?

Mochi with Nutella Strawberry Filling
Makes 6 large balls

Filling
120 g Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
20 g sweetened hot cocoa drink mix
6 strawberries

Mochi Dough
1 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup water
2-3 drops red food colouring (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch or potato starch, for rolling
  1. In a small bowl, beat together Nutella, salt, cocoa powder, and hot cocoa mix until thick and doughy.
  2. Form paste around each strawberry, rolling the berries between your palms to smooth.
  3. Place on a parchment or wax paper lined sheet and freeze until solid, about 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Mix sweet rice flour, water, food colouring and sugar in a large bowl until smooth.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave 3 1/2 minutes.
  6. Stir mixture and heat for another 30 seconds.
  7. Place cornstarch in a 8" square pan, evenly coating the bottom.
  8. Remove the rice dough from the microwave and scrape into the cornstarch. Dust with a little extra cornstarch and divide into 6 pieces.
  9. Roll balls from the dough and flatten each to a thin layer.
  10. Place 1 frozen Nutella-strawberry ball in the center of each, then pinch the mochi over top until the filling is completely covered.
  11. Place seam side down in paper muffin liners to prevent sticking.
  12. These are best served within 2 days of making but can be frozen in an airtight container up to 4 months.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 317.0
Total Fat: 8.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 29.5 mg
Total Carbs: 57.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.8 g
Protein: 3.8 g