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.


{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


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


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.

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.


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


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.


12 cavity standard non-stick muffin or tart pan

wire mesh sieve

rounded teaspoon measure or other similar utensil


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.