19 April 2020

Dango! Warabi Mochi! More Mochi!

If I were choose my favourite food texture, it would be chewy. Not chewy in the way we describe an overcooked steak, but chewy in the way we describe the wonderful elasticity and pillowy-ness of mochi and other food items made with glutinous rice flour. I will never say no to tteok-bokki (stir-fried Korean rice cakes), nian gao (savoury Chinese rice cake or sweetened new year cake), mochi (Japanese rice cake), or boba pearls. I know this chewy texture can be quite divisive, and I acknowledge that fact my love for this texture is probably due to the fact I ate it lots while growing up. Sometimes I find it very difficult to describe the texture of mochi and other glutinous rice flour-based food items to those who are not familiar with it — there are many more words in Chinese vocabulary to describe food textures than there are in English. The best word that embodies my favourite texture would be the Taiwanese term, 'Q.' Q (or QQ) is often used to describe the pleasant squishy, springy, gumminess of food items (in a positive way). The QQ-ness of Asian desserts is probably why I would choose Asian desserts over non-Asian 90% of the time.

Much like how Taiwan has the term Q, Japan has its own term to describe this springy texture: mochi-mochi (モチモチしてる) or mocchiri (モッチリしている) is used even if the food item is not made out of mochi. Today, we are going to talk about a few different sweet treats that have this mochi-mochi texture:
  1. Hanami Dango: sweetened dumplings served on a skewer that is made with a mixture of rice flour and glutinous rice flour. Traditionally the flours used are Joshinko and Shiratamako (but we will be using Mochiko today because it is much easier to find). Because dango is a mixture of these two types of rice flours, it is less chewy than mochi made with 100% glutinous rice flour, but will be a bit more tender.
  2. Warabi Mochi: a jelly-like confection made from Bracken starch and covered in kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour). Unlike traditionally mochi made from glutinous rice flour, warabi mochi has more of a jelly-like consistency. It is still chewy but the chewy properties are a bit different, Warabi mochi is often served chilled and with a brown sugar syrup.
  3. Baked Sakura Mochi: a simple, glutinous rice flour-based confection that is what we would consider a true mochi. It is made with 100% glutinous rice flour. I like using Mochiko!

All these recipes are inspired by the beautiful cherry blossoms that are in full bloom in Vancouver right now. Hanami dango, the three-coloured dumplings on a skewer, is actually a treat enjoyed during cherry blossom viewing season in Japan. Hanami (花見) means flower viewing (of cherry blossom) and the pink dumpling on the skewer represents these delicate blossoms. Warabi mochi is more of a summertime treat, but I think it just as enjoyable any time of the year.

All three of these mochi or mochi-like treats call for different types of flours and starches. I found all the ingredients needed for these treats at my local Asian grocery store and they are all pretty affordable, about $1.50 - 3 per bag of flour. If you cannot find glutinous rice flour, do not be tempted to substitute regular rice flour for it — it will not produce the same type of texture we are looking for! I know this all sounds very finicky but I promise once you get the right flours, it is very straightforward afterwards! Today, I am sharing the recipes for hanami dango and warabi mochi. The baked sakura mochi is a recipe that is in my upcoming cookbook which comes out in less than two weeks (!!). Last thing — I highly recommend using a kitchen scale for these treats because the amount of rice flour added can drastically impact the texture of these mochi treats.

Hanami Dango
Yields 8 - 10 skewers of dango (each dumping is about 1-inch wide)
140g mochiko (glutinous/sweet rice flour)
100g joshinko (Japanese rice flour)
150g granulated sugar
175 ml (3/4 cup) hot water
1 tsp cherry blossom powder (or use two drops of red food colouring)
1 tsp matcha powder
*Note: You can play around of your ratio of glutinous rice flour to regular rice flour until you reach the consistency and texture that you like. Traditionally, hanami dango is made with mostly joshinko/regular rice flour, but I like to use a bit more of the glutinous rice flour than regular rice flour so the dumplings are more tender yet still chewy. If you use 100% glutinous rice flour, the dumplings will be much more tender and will resemble Chinese tang yuan and they will have difficulty holding their shape on the skewer. Sometimes there are recipes for dango on the back the bags of joshinko flour. You can follow those steps too!

In a large bowl, whisk together flours and sugar. Slowly and in small increments, add the hot water while stirring with a spoon or rubber spatula. Mix until it is evenly combined. Divide the dough evenly into three smaller bowls.

In a small bowl or cup, whisk together cherry blossom powder with approximately half a tablespoon of hot water until it has fully dissolved. In another bowl, do the same with the matcha powder.

Add the cherry blossom liquid to one of the reserved portions of dough. Add the matcha liquid to another. Mix well with a spoon until there are no more streaks of the cherry blossom and matcha.

Wet your hands with a little bit of water (to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands) and roll out little dumplings. You want to get about 8 - 10 dumplings per colour. Place rolled dumplings on a plate.

In a medium-sized pot, bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn down the heat to medium and drop in the white dumplings. Stirring occasionally, cook until the dumplings float to the top of the water, about 10 minutes. It is important that you keep stirring right when you add the dumplings or else they will stick to the bottom of the pot. 

While the dumplings are cooking, fill a large bowl with cold water. Once the dumplings are floating and fully cooked, remove the dumplings from the water and immediately let them cool in iced water for a minute. After a minute, transfer the dumplings onto a plate.

Next, repeat the same steps for the pink dumplings and then the green dumplings. Do not be tempted to cook all the coloured dumplings at once because the colours may transfer to the white dumplings.

Once the dumplings have cooled, put one dumpling of each colour onto a skewer, in the order of green, white, and pink.  Serve the day they are made and at room temperature. 

Warabi Mochi 
67g cup warabi mochiko (bracken starch)
70g sugar (increase by 1 - 2 tablespoons if serving without syrup)
300ml water
50g kinako (soybean flour)
**Note: Or follow the instructions on the back of your bag of warabi mochiko flour!

Dust half of kinako over a small baking sheet. Set aside.

In a medium-sized pot, combine warabi mochiko, sugar, and water.

Heat the mixture over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil. Using a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, stir the mixture vigorously for 10 minutes. The mixture will start off opaque but will slowly become translucent. The mixture should be very thick at this point.

Transfer the mixture onto the kinako-dusted baking sheet and try to spread it out as evenly as possible. The slab of mochi should be roughly 1-inch thick.

Dust the remaining half of kinako on top of the mochi slab. 

Transfer the mochi to the fridge and let it cool for 30 - 45 minutes, until the mochi is lightly chilled. The mochi will be much easier to cut when it has cooled.

Once cooled, cut the mochi into 1-inch cubes. Serve immediately.

Happy baking!

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