Tea of the Week: Sakura Blossom Tea

Japan is brimming with cherry blossoms this time of year. Just this past week, my great friend Danielle from This Picture Book Life got a glimpse of the blooming beauties, up close and personal, on her visit to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Me, jealous? You got that right!Every spring, Japan’s meteorological agency tracks the blooming of cherry blossoms across Japan. This geographical mapping helps for people to plan for hanami, otherwise known as picnicking under cherry blossom trees…sounds splendid, doesn’t it? My only hope (at least for this year) is to sit back with a cup of sakura tea in my living room…because darn it, if I can’t enjoy springtime in Japan then at least springtime in Japan can come to me!Brewing sakura tea or sakura-yu is an exquisite experience. The pickled blossoms unravel into delicate, feathery, tutu-like blooms upon being hit with hot water. The diaphanous petals give way to a salty, floral sip that’s certainly not your everyday herbal brew. If you’ve ever had sakura tea before and found it too salty, do what my tea blogger friend Nicole from Tea for Me Please suggests and keep a spoon and bowl of the saltier first steep (used to rinse the blossoms) around. You’ll be able to easily adjust the strength of the tea to your liking.

Tasting Notes for Sakura Cherry Blossom Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Have 2 teacups ready. In one cup, steep 1 large or 2 smaller blossoms in 160 degrees F water for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, use a spoon to transfer the steeped blossoms to a new cup. Leave the cup containing the first steep aside. Fill the second cup with hot water, then enjoy this tea. Spoon more of the stronger, saltier first steep into the second steep to your taste preference.
THE TEA:  Expect the blossoms to be hot pink or bright mauve in appearance, with brown stems. They’ll be completely covered in salt, so it’s a good idea to shake some of the excess salt off before steeping.
THE SCENT:  Preserved in tons of salt and plum vinegar, the blossoms smell sweet and pungent as you would expect from something that’s been pickled.
THE STEEP:  A faint, pinkish-yellow brew that’s lightly floral and slightly salty. Subtle on the palette and best enjoyed hot to bring out the mild flavors. Expect the blossoms to lighten in color as they steep.
GET IT:  At well-stocked Japanese markets or on Amazon.com.
FOOD PAIRING:  I love to enjoy sakura tea with traditional red bean based Asian treats like steamed buns or mochi. The mild saltiness of the brew is a nice contrast to the sweet, heavier taste of adzuki bean. For a savory change, enjoy these with decorative Matcha Sushi Balls. The blossoms can also be used to decorate and cook with as long as you give them a quick rinse to remove the excess salt and then dry them with paper towels. If you end up eating the blossoms their sour flavor will be that much more pronounced.

Hazelnut Butter Mochi

Like many mochi lovers, every now and then I have to get my mochi fix in. After posting about MochiCream over the weekend, the urge to make some of these chewy, pillowy treats was more than I could resist.

What started out as a recipe to use up the last can of sweet red bean paste hiding in the back of my pantry soon took a turn for the delicious when a jar of hazelnut butter caught my eye. Could I fill my mochi with hazelnut butter? Sure I could…and the results were amazing!I ended up using Justin’s, a brand of hazelnut butter with less sugar than the more popular brand of Nutella. The consistency of this nut butter is closer to that of a red bean paste–thicker, less goopy, and better able to hold it’s shape.

If you wanted to used Nutella for this recipe, no prob: simply spoon it out in round blobs onto a sheet of parchment paper. Place them into the freezer to harden ahead of time, and when it’s time to stuff the mochi, you’ll have a neat little balls of goodness to wrap into the cooked rice dough. 
Despite my efforts to make mochi making neater, and the end of the day, it’s a truly messy affair. If you’ve ever worked with powdered sugar or cornstarch before then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

My best recommendation for making these is to wear white, from head to toe. If you are dressed in black (like I was) you’ll be looking like a hot mess post-mochi making. Luckily, nobody will care if you hand them one of these nutty, chocolately rice cakes to munch on before they can say anything! Serve them with a cup of Chocolate Pu’erh from Chambre de Sucre for a rich pairing. 

Hazelnut Butter Mochi

Makes 15 pieces.

Ingredients:

8 oz mochiko (sweet rice flour)

1 can coconut milk

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla

1-16 oz jar chocolate hazelnut butter (I used Justin’s)

katakuriko (potato starch), for dusting work surface

non-stick coconut or vegetable oil spray

Equipment:

medium bowl

whisk

rubber spatula

microwaveable 9 x 13 rectangular casserole dish

sharp knife

large work surface

1 1/2 Tbsp measure

15 mini cupcake liners

Directions:

1.) In a medium bowl, combine the mochiko, coconut milk, water, sugar, and vanilla and whisk thoroughly until you get a homogenous batter.

2.) Pour batter into a casserole dish evenly sprayed with non-stick oil spray. Distribute the batter evenly. Uncovered, microwave the batter on high for 1 minute at a time, stirring and mixing the batter in between each minute until it becomes a semi-translucent dough. When the dough is finished it should not look powdery or whitish at all. In this step you are cooking the rice flour, looking for the rice dough to be homogenous and cooked through. My dough took about 7 minutes to cook through. Spoon this blob of cooked rice flour dough on to a work surface generously dusted with katakuriko.

3.) Divide the dough into 15 equal pieces using a sharp knife. The dough will be hot, so be careful.

4.) Dust each piece with katakuriko to prevent them from sticking to one another.

5.) To make the mochi, roll one piece of the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a round disk, about 3 1/2″ across. Spoon 1 1/2 Tbsp of the hazelnut butter into the center of the disk, then pinch the opposite edges of the disk together to seal the mochi.

hazelnut butter mochi 10

6.) Flip the sealed mochi over to reveal a smooth, rounded top. Repeat this process to make 15 stuffed mochi. Place the pieces into small cupcake liners for easy serving. Mochi are best eaten within a day or two, and can be stored at room temperature. 

MochiCream in Los Angeles

Before January passes us by I wanted to share about my recent trip over to MochiCream in Los Angeles. Mochi rice cakes are a classic tea snack in Asian culture, eaten for good luck and prosperity during the New Year, so there couldn’t be a better time to showcase this little gem of a shop.You’ll find MochiCream tucked inside Mitsuwa, a Japanese Market in the South Bay area of LA. The company hails from Japan, and is known for their stuffed mochi, but this time they aren’t filled with bean paste or ice cream.

mochi cream 3These mochi are lighter and softer than the ice cream filled ones that you might have had before. They’re filled with a medium bodied whipped cream and a layer of flavorful jam or paste, in the flavor of your choosing. Double Mango, Apple Pie, Darjeeling, and Sakura are just a few of their hard-to-resist specialties.
My favorite? The Houjicha. The gentle taste of the roasted green tea brings a bitter balance to the sweetness of the mochi cake. Above all, it’s the texture that I love most about these treats…silky, pillow-like, and buttery soft.
If you want to try their mochi in a less traditional shape, try their mochido, or mochi donuts. In the display case, they only feature the fake plastic ones. For the real deal, you’ll need to place your order and then wait 10 minutes for them to thaw before enjoying. 
It’s true, good things come to those who wait. After 10 minutes, the texture of the mochi is soft and fluffy, like a cloud. If you love English scones or French macarons, I’m sure these Japanese mochi are right up your alley.
My best suggestion when it comes to MochiCream is to look over your choices before you get there. Otherwise, you’re going to be tempted to buy dozens of these babies, and then you will eat them all, so it’s a good idea have a game plan. Make sure to stop over at MochiCream in Torrance for a Japanese tea time favorite the next time you are out and about in LA. Along with Fugetsu-Do, a traditional wagashi store in Little Tokyo, MochiCream is one of my favorite places in the city to get a bite of this perfectly chewy confection.

MochiCream in Mitsuwa Marketplace

21515 Western Ave

Torrance, CA 90501

310.328.8333

Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango

It’s been a long time since my last mochi post, so I decided to experiment with making dango this week. Also known as Japanese sweet rice dumplings, these soft and chewy rice balls are often made with water or even tofu as the binding ingredient.

With an open can of pumpkin purée staring back at me every time I opened my fridge, I decided to go for it…Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango with a Black Sesame Sauce–a recipe that sounds unique and looks peculiar, but tastes amazing!

If you are craving a mochi type of snack and don’t want a lot of mess and fuss, I’m highly convinced that dango are the way to go. Dango are commonly found in the beautiful pink, white, and green variation known as Hanami Dango.

With Halloween just around the corner, I went for orange, green, and black variation where the main flavors are pumpkin, green tea, and black sesame. These natural, wholesome ingredients are complex in texture and flavor–a fall inspired version of the traditional favorite, Goma (sesame) Dango.

I’m not sure if a 2 teaspoon measure exists out there, but this amount makes a perfectly sized dango dumpling. What’s great about these dumplings is that after you shape them, you can easily freeze the round dumplings for later. Simply boil a large pot of water, drop the dumplings in, and wait for them to float to the surface. A plunge into cold water and a quick skewering and you’re almost done!

This black sesame sauce takes just a minute to make. If you can’t find black sesame powder, you can take black sesame seeds and grind them down finely in a spice grinder. The sauce has a nutty, sweet, and slightly savory flavor, and the dumplings are naked (and not nearly as delicious) without it.

Instead of serving cupcakes, cookies, or candy to celebrate Halloween this year why not celebrate with Pumpkin Dango? A cup of toasty, twiggy (lots of stems!) Japanese Hojicha would pair perfectly with these beautiful skewers. There couldn’t be a better snack to celebrate autumn’s most delicious flavors.

Pumpkin & Green Tea Dango

Makes 9 skewers.

Ingredients:

{Rice Dumplings}

1 cup +2 Tbsp glutinous rice flour

3 Tbsp sugar

3/4 cup pumpkin purée

2 tsp matcha powder, sifted

{Black Sesame Sauce}

1 cup black sesame powder

1/2 cup honey

3/4 cup hot water

Equipment:

2 large mixing bowls

tsp measure

large plate

large pot

slotted spoon

shallow medium bowl of ice water

9 skewers, 5 “or 6” is ideal

small mixing bowl

Directions:

1.)  In a large bowl combine rice flour, sugar, and pumpkin. Knead until thoroughly incorporated. Divide dough in half, then place one of the halves in another large bowl and add the sifted matcha powder to it. Knead the green tea dough until it is throughly incorporated and has an even green color.

2.)  Use tsp measure to measure out 2 tsp balls of the rice dough. Use your hands to roll each ball until it is smooth, then park them on a large plate. Repeat this process with the green tea dough. You should end up with 28 balls (14 orange, 14 green).

3.)  Fill a large pot with water and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil the rice dumplings until they completely float on the surface of the water, mixing occasionally to prevent sticking. If the dumplings are at room temperature (not frozen) this will take 5-6 minutes. When the balls are floating, remove them from the hot water using a slotted spoon, then plunge them into the medium bowl of ice water.

4.)  When the balls have cooled, use a skewer to pierce through the center of 3 of the dumplings, leaving a 1/4″ allowance at the tip of the skewer. Repeat the process with all 9 skewers, then set the dango aside.

5.)  Combine the black sesame powder, honey, and hot water together in a small bowl. Plate the dango by spooning about 2 Tbsp of the black sesame sauce on a small plate, then place the pumpkin dango on top and serve.

Mini Mochi Donuts

I’ll admit it–when it comes to what I like to watch on TV I don’t always like what’s mainstream. I’m a total enthusiast for public television and the lack of commercials that go with it, so when I came across a PBS special covering National Doughnut Day this past Tuesday, I placed the remote down at the very mention of Fresh Strawberry Donuts.  In the re-run, the late Huell Howser was driving around LA looking for unusual and historical places to have doughnuts–like a much less edgy version of something Anthony Bourdain might cover.

I have a serious weakness when it comes to doughnuts.  The ironic (and wise) thing is, I almost never eat them.  The last time I had a doughnut was when I visited Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle a few years ago.  I was attending my very first food photography workshop with Helene Dujardin and two days into my trip I realized that Top Pot Doughnuts was a few doors down from my hotel.  Other than telling you that you must order the unassuming yet incredibly delicious plain cake doughnut when you get there (they spice them with mace!), I will say that Top Pot is a place that shouldn’t be missed if you are a doughnut lover and can remind yourself to have self-control before stepping through the doors.

On none other than National Doughnut Day today, I’d like to share with you a simple recipe for Mini Mochi Doughnuts, a specialty that’s perfect for the mochi lover who wants to celebrate this unique day on a smaller, healthier scale.  Mini Mochi Doughnuts start with a gluten-free rice flour batter that’s made with rice milk, and is later baked off in the oven.  Lightening up the texture of the mochi batter itself sets the stage for highlighting the shiny chocolate ganache glaze, which can be scattered with all kinds of yummy sprinkles and toppings.

As I like variety in color and flavor, I typically divide the prepared batter into 4 portions when I make these doughnuts.  I like to flavor each of the 1/4 portions of liquid batter with different flavorings like cocoa powder, freeze-dried strawberry powder, vanilla bean, and of course my favorite…green tea matcha powder!  These flavorings give a vibrant, natural boost of color, which is always nice when you are making a food item as fun as doughnuts are.

It’s important to remember that there is some baking powder in these Mini Mochi Doughnuts, so it’s best to work with at least two mini doughnut baking pans when making these.  If you let the batter sit around too long before baking, the doughnuts won’t rise in the oven as they ideally should.

Another thing to pay careful attention to is to make sure the mini doughnut baking pans are thoroughly sprayed with non-stick spray before using them.  Mochi batter likes to stick to the pan even after having been baked off, so please don’t skimp on the spray.  And if you don’t have spray, use some vegetable oil and a pastry brush to create an evenly greased layer on your pans.

Cool the mochi doughnuts completely before removing them from the pans, otherwise they will warp under the pressure from your fingers.  You can speed up the cooling process by placing them in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes after they have already cooled for 15 minutes at room temperature.  When they have cooled completely, run a toothpick around the inner and outer edges of the molds, then use your fingers to gently tug the doughnuts as they release them from the pan.

I love that I didn’t have to resort to deep fat frying to make these cuties.  Even if you decide to pass up on the chocolate glaze, the naturally colored plain mochi donuts are just as enticing as the decorated ones are.  The plain donuts make a less sweet snacking cake that’s perfect with a cup of unsweetened Asian tea.  I like to think of these adorable Mini Mochi Donuts as wagashi turned rouge–a traditional treat that’s taken on Western-style individuality and charm.

Mini Mochi Donuts

Makes 18 mini donuts.

Ingredients:

{Donuts}

4 oz. mochiko (sweet rice flour)

3/4 cup rice or almond milk

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp baking powder

Non-stick vegetable or coconut oil spray

sprinkles, for decorating

{Chocolate Ganache}

2 Tbsp heavy cream

1/4 cup chocolate chips

{Variations}

***add one of these options to every 1/4 cup of batter or 1/4 of full recipe***

For chocolate donuts:  1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder, sifted

For green tea donuts:  1 tsp matcha powder, sifted

For strawberry donuts:  1 1/2 tsp freeze-dried strawberry powder (pulverize the strawberries in a spice grinder)

For vanilla bean donuts:  1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Equipment:

large mixing bowl

wire whisk

4 small bowls

1 Tbsp measure

2 mini doughnut pans (I used Wilton)

toothpicks

cooling rack

Directions:

1.)    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously spray the mini doughnut pans with non-stick oil spray.  Using wire whisk, mix sweet rice flour, milk, sugar, vanilla, and baking powder together in a large bowl and mix evenly.

2.)  If you prefer, divide the batter into 1/4 cup portions into smaller bowls, then add one of the {Variations} to each bowl to create flavored doughnuts.  If you don’t, your doughnuts will just be a plain vanilla flavor.  Mix in the powder or paste until each batter is evenly colored.

3.)  Spoon 1 Tbsp of the batter into each mini doughnut mold, making sure to keep the middle hole portion of the mold clean and free of batter.  When you are finished spooning out the batter, lightly jiggle the pan so that the batter distributes itself evenly in each mold.

4.)  Bake the doughnuts for 17-20 minutes.  When a toothpick inserted in a doughnut comes out completely clean, remove the doughnuts from the oven and place on cooling rack to cool completely (after the doughnuts have cooled at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, you can then place the pan in the fridge to speed up the cooling process).

5.)  Run a toothpick all along the inner and outer edges of each mold, then gently use your fingers to unmold the doughnuts from the pan.

6.)  Prepare the ganache by bringing the cream to almost boiling either on a stovetop or in the microwave.  Place chocolate chips in a bowl and pour the hot cream over them.  Gradually stir the chocolate until it becomes thick and glossy.  Dunk the top of each mini doughnut in the ganache, then lightly shake off any excess.  Top each doughnut with sprinkles, allow the chocolate to set for a few minutes, and serve.  After the ganache has set, Mini Mochi Donuts can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 days.

Matcha Mango Mochi Rolls

Microwave and mochi may not seem like they belong in the same sentence, but yet here it is…Microwave Matcha Mango Mochi Rolls!  Could there be any more m’s in a recipe?

Traditional Japanese sweet rice cake is made from steamed glutinous rice, which is pounded into a paste and shaped to create the chewy, sticky mouthful referred to as mochi.  As authentic as it is to use a steamer to make mochi, there are many other more convenient methods you can use to make mochi, including the stove top, the oven, and even the microwave!  The microwave an ideal place to cook this treat, as any slight degree of overcooking is masked by the fact that mochi already has a characteristic chewiness about it.

These mochi rolls are the not-as-cold and not-as-sweet version of mochi ice cream.  What’s great about them is that don’t require any fancy filling techniques like those needed when making traditional filled mochi.  I make the Matcha Mango Mochi Rolls as I would cinnamon rolls–just spread a cooked mochi sheet with a layer of mango cream, then roll up, chill, and cut with a sharp serrated knife.  If you’ve allowed the roll a proper amount of time to set up in the fridge, you’ll end up with beautiful mochi slices with specks of fresh mango studded throughout.

I love that something as traditional as mochi can be made so simply in the microwave, within minutes.  For the whipped cream filling, feel free to substitute any fruit that you love…strawberries, peaches, or even bananas will work well.  And if you can’t find the freeze-dried fruit, just add more of the fresh fruit.  The filling can also easily be replaced with canned smooth red bean paste, which results in a much more traditional tasting mochi roll.

Matcha Mango Mochi Rolls

Makes 12 pieces.

Ingredients:

{Mochi Sheet}

4 oz. sweet rice flour (mochiko)

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp matcha powder, sifted

non-stick vegetable oil spray

1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut

{Mango Cream}

1/2 cup cream

2 Tbsp sugar

1/4 cup freeze-dried mango, ground to a powder in spice grinder

1/4 cup fresh, firm mango, peeled and diced into pea-size bits

Equipment:

microwaveable 9 x 13 rectangular casserole dish

2 medium mixing bowls

rubber spatula

hand-held mixer or whisk

spice grinder

peeler

work surface

large rectangular dish or baking sheet

serrated knife

Directions:

1.)  In a medium bowl, combine mochiko, baking powder, and matcha powder.  Add in water, sugar, and vanilla and mix in thoroughly until you get a homogenous batter.

2.)  Pour batter into casserole dish evenly sprayed with non-stick vegetable oil spray, distributing the batter evenly.  Microwave on high for 5 minutes, or until the mochi sheet is set and a toothpick comes out clean.

3.)  Let the mochi sheet dry to room temperature, then carefully ease out of casserole dish using a rubber spatula.  If it is easier, loosen one half of the mochi sheet, then the other half.

4.)  On top of a work surface, scatter 1 cup of desiccated coconut.  Distribute the coconut evenly into a 9 x 13 rectangle so that the mochi sheet will lay on top of it without making contact with the work surface.  Lay the sticky side of the mochi sheet on top of the coconut. The stickiness of the mochi will cause the coconut to adhere, creating the outer covering for the mochi rolls.

5.)  Make the mango cream by first whipping the heavy cream.  Add the sugar and whip until you get stiff peaks.  Fold in the dried mango powder and the fresh mango bits.

6.)  On the dry side of the mochi sheet, use a rubber spatula to apply an even 1/4″ thick layer of the whipped cream atop the entire sheet of mochi.

7.)  Like you would making cinnamon rolls, take one long side of the mochi sheet, then gradually and tightly roll up until you get a finished, long mochi roll.  Set the roll on a large rectangular dish or baking sheet seam side down, then cover with plastic wrap and set in fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.

8.)  After the roll is properly chilled, remove from the fridge and use a serrated knife to cut out 12 equally-sized pieces of mochi.  Store airtight in the fridge, where the mochi will last 2-3 days.

Neapolitan Mochi Cake

I can’t believe we’re already in the midst of February!  With Valentine’s Day arriving in a few short days, I’m sure you might be thinking of something a little decadent to give to your sweetie this year.  Why not make a heart-shaped Neapolitan Mochi Cake for both you and your love to snack on instead of the same old box of chocolates?

Strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate are one of the most yummy flavor combinations around.  So if your Valentine loves Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches, then they’ll also love this Japanese-style sweet rice cake.  It’s as if the classic frozen treat from Naples, Italy has traveled East!

Back in November, I made Pumpkin Butter Mochi, a type of Japanese wagashi that is generally eaten as a tea snack.  Those individually-sized mochi were made with a base of light coconut milk, the type found in the refrigerator section of your market with a consistency much like regular milk.  This recipe uses real coconut milk, the thicker kind you find in a can.  I figured that since this mochi isn’t stuffed with any filling, full-on extra richness and flavor was the way to go.

For the chocolate layer of this cake, use the best baking cocoa you can find.  The darker and better quality your cocoa powder is, the more brownie-like the chocolate layer of this mochi cake will be.  And for the pink layer, I’ve added a bit of strawberry syrup, the kind they use in Italian sodas.  It’s the best way to get some bright strawberry flavor and pinky color into the top layer of the cake.

Enjoy some freshly baked mochi cake with your sweetheart this V-day!  Diced into little bits scattered over ice cream, or cut into thick slices for snacking, this popular Asian treat is made even more delicious and charming with classic Neapolitan flavors mixed in.

Neapolitan Mochi Cake

Makes 1- 6” mochi cake.

Ingredients:

8 oz. mochiko (sweet rice flour)

1 cup coconut milk (the kind from a can)

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

1 Tbsp strawberry syrup (I used Torani brand)

Non-stick spray

chocolate sprinkles, for decorating (optional)

Equipment:

large mixing bowl

wire whisk

3 small bowls

scale

6” heart-shaped cake pan (I used Wilton)

piece of foil to cover cake pan

cooling rack

Directions:

1.)    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Using wire whisk, mix sweet rice flour, coconut milk, water, sugar, vanilla, and baking powder together in a large bowl and mix evenly.

2.)    Using the scale, weigh the mixed mochi batter (minus the mixing bowl).  Divide the number by 3, then place each amount of that measure into 3 separate smaller bowls.  One bowl will be for the chocolate batter, one bowl will be for the strawberry batter, and one bowl will be for the plain white batter.

3.)    Into a 1/3 portion of the full amount of batter, add the sifted cocoa powder and mix in well.  Spray cake pan with an even spray of non-stick spray.  Pour the cocoa batter mixture into the pan and shake gently to even out.  Cover loosely with foil and bake in oven for about 10 minutes until lightly set.  When it is lightly set, you should be able to touch the center without any residual batter getting on your finger (I’m going to refer to this as the “finger touch test.”  The edges of the cake will also have slightly pulled away from the pan.

4.)    When the cocoa layer is set, pour the plain vanilla portion atop the set cocoa layer, and lightly shake to even out the layer.  Cover with foil loosely, and bake for about 20 minutes until lightly set.

5.)    When white vanilla layer has set (use finger touch test) make the strawberry batter.  Mix 1 Tbsp of strawberry syrup into last portion of batter and stir in well.  Pour atop middle vanilla layer, and gently shake to even out in the baking pan.  Loosely cover with foil and bake for about 35-40 minutes until fully set (use finger touch test).  The cake will also have slightly puffed up and pulled away from sides of pan.

6.)    After removing baked mochi from oven, place on cooking rack to cool completely.  When completely cooled, slide knife between edge of cake and inside of baking pan to help remove it from the pan.  Flip the cake out and enjoy!  To store mochi, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.  Mochi is best eaten fresh, within a few days of baking.

Pumpkin Butter Mochi

My trip over to Little Tokyo a few weeks back inspired this Pumpkin Butter Mochi recipe.  As the leaves are turning and fall is officially in full swing, this sweet rice cake pairs a traditional Japanese tea snack with a classic autumn fruit…pumpkin!

I’ve chosen to use pumpkin butter in this recipe, but a spiced canned pumpkin pie filling will work just as well.  Pumpkin butter is a bit thinner and more acidic than pumpkin pie filling, although both typically have the same spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg) mixed in.  Because pumpkin butter has more acidic liquids like lemon or apple juice added in, it’s less starchy and less sweet than its counterpart.  I actually find the “fruit butter” idea confusing, because fruit butters like pumpkin butter generally don’t contain fat.

Enjoy these pumpkin butter mochi with a cup of clean, grassy sencha or a toasty cup of houjicha–a roasted green tea.  It’s really important not to overbrew Japanese green tea, so 2-3 minutes at 175 degrees is ideal.  Overbrewing green tea will result in a bitter, harsh tasting liquor, so if you enjoy green teas it’s a good idea to invest in a temperature controlled electric kettle or even just an instant thermometer.  You’ll be able to keep those subtle, umami notes of Japanese green teas that will pair harmoniously with these chewy, lightly sweet pumpkin butter mochi.

Pumpkin Butter Mochi

Makes 12 cakes.

Ingredients:

8 oz sweet rice flour (mochiko)

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

2/3 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla

1/3 cup pumpkin butter or spiced pumpkin purée

katakuriko (potato starch) or cornstarch

non-stick spray

Directions:

1.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium mixing bowl, mix together rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla, and mix rigorously with a spoon or wire whisk until the mixture is homogenous.

2.)  Give the muffin pan a thorough, even coating of non-stick spray.  Spoon 1 1/2 Tbsp of the mochi batter into each cavity, and place in oven to bake for 10 minutes.

3.)  After 10 minutes, remove the muffin pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Use the back of a teaspoon or other utensil to indent a small, shallow “ditch” into each of the mochi cakes (I used the handle of a jam spreader).

4.)  Spoon 1 tsp of pumpkin butter or spiced pumpkin purée into each shallow mochi cake “ditch,” then cover the filling with 1 Tablespoon of the remaining mochi batter.  Spoon this remaining batter on carefully so that the pumpkin butter or purée is fully covered.

5.)  Bake the filled mochi cakes in the oven for an additional 15 minutes or until cakes are very slightly puffed and surface is dry to the touch.  Let mochi cakes cool completely in pan before removing.

6.)  After cooled and removed from the pan, generously coat the mochi with katakuriko or cornstarch on a dry work surface, then use a wire mesh sieve to shake excess starch off of the cakes.  Mochi cakes are best eaten within a day or two of baking them.  You can store them in the fridge for a slightly longer shelf life, but this will result in a slightly stiffer textured mochi cake.

Equipment:

12 cavity standard non-stick muffin or tart pan

wire mesh sieve

rounded teaspoon measure or other similar utensil

Step-By-Step:

Use a lightened coconut milk for a lighter textured mochi cake

Mix the rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla together

You will get a thinned pancake batter consistency

After the first 10 minute bake you will see the edges slightly part from the muffin tin, but the centers won’t be fully set yet

Create some “ditches”

1 tsp of pumpkin butter only…resist the temptation to over-fill

Cover the filling with the mochi batter completely for a fully sealed mochi cake

Potato starch, similar to cornstarch and equally messy

Potato starch is like cornstarch and equally messy

Shake off the excess!

Shake off the excess

Autumn, Japanese style.

Love these Japanese mochi cakes?  Check out my post on Japanese tea and wagashi here.

Japanese Tea & Wagashi, A Match Made in Little Tokyo

A few weeks ago I made my way over to the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo for the Los Angeles International Tea Festival.  In its third year, the festival showcases the best and most unique finds in LA’s ever-growing tea scene.  There were a host of vendors this year, including the Chado Tea Room, Ito En, and Harney and Sons.  The festival is a great place to learn about brewing tea, cooking with tea, tea and health, and even how tea is grown.  It’s also a great place to learn more about tea in the context of Asian and Japanese culture.  You can even watch Chanoyu in practicethe ritualistic and fascinating art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Tea, modern in practice and steeped in Asian tradition

These gift shop finds at the Japanese American Museum make me happy

You can find these “Generational Teas” at the Japanese American Museum in LA.  Each tea blend honors a specific generation of Japanese Americans, from Issei (1st generation) to Gosei (5th generation)

On my way out of the tea festival, I decided to do a some shopping (and food-seeking) on 1st Street and walked straight over to Fugetsu-Do, a Japanese confectionary that specializes in wagashi.  This unassuming, quaint shop has stood the test of time.  In fact, it’s considered the oldest shop in LA’s Little Tokyo.

Wagashi are sweet, dense artful little Japanese cakes created specifically to be paired with Japanese green teas.  These creations are rarely served as desserts in Japan.  Instead, they are enjoyed as a light snack or refreshment or during a tea ceremony.  Literally translated, “wa” refers to “Japan” and “gashi” refers “sweets.”  Many wagashi reflect natural themes like birds, plants, and fruits, taking inspiration from classical poetry or art. These beautiful small cakes are typically made with ingredients like rice flour, agar-agar, or bean paste, and rarely contain dairy.

An unassuming storefront on 1st Street in Little Tokyo

Artfully crafted wagashi in many shapes and colors

Since 1903 this historic little shop has made all kinds of wagashi like mochi (japanese rice cake), manju (flour cakes with sweet red bean paste), and dango (little sweet rice ball dumplings).  Even after being sent to internment camps during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the owners of this family owned business–the Kito Family–ventured back to Los Angeles to reestablish their business.

Fugetsu-Do is a must-go if you are ever passing through Little Tokyo.  Like a sip of tea, a bite of one of these beauties is like a step back in time.  The shop owner, Brian Kito, is always resisting the idea of renovating the store as he strives to preserve the shop’s historic charm and timeless Japanese style.  Christmas and New Year’s are busy times for Fugetsu-Do, so if you want to try some of their beautiful and unique treats, fall might be just the time to do that!

And if you want to make your own mochi at home, here is my recipe for Pumpkin Butter Mochi, a recipe that pays homage to the seasonal wagashi of autumn.