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Local-style Mochi


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#1 skchai

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Posted 03 January 2004 - 08:46 PM

Mochi (cake made from glutinous or medium-grain rice) is a popular celebratory food in a number of East Asian countries, including much of China, Japan, and Korea. Particularly around the beginning of the year: Japanese have their "ozoni", Koreans their "tteokguk", and Cantonese their "gau", all are essential parts of a New Year's celebration. Of course, like any celebratory food, mochi can be enjoyed just about any time of the year in its simpler forms.

Given the heavy influence that East Asian has had on Hawai`i's culture, it's not surprising that local people eat a lot of mochi. However, the sweet dishes we make from rice are a far cry from anything you'll see in East Asia. You can find recipes for over a hundred local-style mochis in Jean Watanabe Hee's Hawai`i's Best Mochi Recipes (Mutual Publishing, 2000), which is locally published but available elsewhere from a variety of online bookstores (though it seems to be out of stock at Amazon).

Though Hawai`i mochi (as indicated by the name itself) is derived from primarily from Japanese origins, its ingredients often are closer to those found in Southeast Asian snacks, particularly the "kueh" of Malaysia and Singapore, neither of which has sent a significant number of emmigrants to Hawai`i. It guess this is a case where similarity of arises from climate and availability of ingredients, not from any direct cultural influence.

There are two basic categories of Hawai`i mochi: the kind you buy in a bakery or store and the kind you make at home. In general, any kind of mochi that requires pounding, rolling, or filling is going to be bought outside - we're lazy, so who's going to spend hours on something like that? The kind you make at home is usually made from rice flour and baked or steamed in a pan, butter mochi being the most popular example.

Store-bought mochis range from very traditional Japanese varieties to "only-in-Hawai`i" local adaptations. You can find mochi everywhere, from specialty shops, to bakeries, to supermarkets. The biggest local manufacturer is Fujiya, which has been in business for about half a century, while Kansai Yamato is another producer whose products get sold around the island. Some of the more popular local products include extreme variations on Japanese daifuku (a round mochi filled with sweet azuki beans) and chichidango (a rectangular-shaped mochi). Some of the more distinctive and popular Hawai`i versions of daifuku are one filled with peanut butter, another filled with strawberries and white beans, and a purple version filled with kulolo (sweetened mashed taro with coconut). Chichidango come in all sorts of flavors, including fruit flavors such as mango, banana, and blueberry, as well as haupia (coconut pudding), poi (taro paste), purple Okinawan sweet potato, coffee.

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Here are a picture of two store-brought products, a haupia chichidango from Fujiya, and a kulolo-filled taro daifuku mochi from Taro Brand Poi. The haupia chichidango is only mildly coconutty; you can still taste the mochi rice. The taro mochi, on the other hand, tastes more of taro and coconut, though the mochi provides a nice texture contrast. Its purple outside is due to food coloring (not purple rice!) but the kulolo inside is naturally a bright purple from the cooked taro.

As I mentioned, homemade mochis tend to be much simpler and made from rice flour, since only a few intrepid souls would try to pound their own. And unless you practice, it's dangerous for the guy who has to turn the mochi while the guy with the huge mallet is on the upswing!

Butter mochi is by far the most popular of the homemade types. It's basically baked in a pan and cut into squares or rectangles, like a brownie. There are lots of variations on the recipes, but most call for mochi rice flour, coconut milk and/or evaporated milk, white and/or brown cane sugar, eggs, and butter. Some people add baking powder, though it's not really necessary and makes it more "cake-like". I like to sprinkle some kind of crunchy thing on top, like shredded coconut, sesame seeds, pine nuts, or macadamia nuts. I once made a dark chocolate butter mochi with pine nuts that I thought was pretty devastating, but nobody ate it. Butter mochi is best eaten slightly warm, or else it can turn rubbery on you.

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Here's a picture of the butter mochi I made for New Year's Eve. It's a plain one made with coconut milk, white sugar, and sesame seeds. If you look carefully, you can see it has a crust, which differentiates it from almost all the mochis that you can buy in the stores. Arguably, that's the best part of the deal.

Sun-Ki Chai
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#2 browniebaker

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Posted 05 January 2004 - 09:20 PM

Wow. Great post. You inspire me to try different variations with my butter-mochi recipe. Sesame seeds, toasted coconut, and other crunchy additions sound good.

Until now I didn't know that Hawaii had its own butter-mochi traditions.

The butter-mochi recipe I have is from my mother, who got the recipe from another Chinese-American woman from Taiwan (who calls it "French Rice Cake"!). The recipe combines sweet rice flour, whole milk, white sugar, eggs, unsalted butter, baking powder, and vanilla extract into a batter into which scant teaspoonfuls of sweetened red-bean paste are dropped just before baking.

The recipe calls for baking in a tube pan or a 9" x 13" rectangular pan. I have baked it in both types of pans successfully, but I especially like the attractive presentation that my Nordicware "Festive" Bundt pan makes. If you bake in a tubve pan, be sure not to turn the cake out of the pan until it has totally cooled, or the cake will slump; to serve, slice before reheating slightly in the microwave.

I agree that the golden-brown crust is the best part. My mother goes as far as to pan-fry slices of butter-mochi in vegetable oil just before serving.

#3 skchai

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 02:18 PM

Browniebaker -

Thanks for the info regarding the French Rice Cake recipe. Must try it sometime soon!

A lot of questions:

Do you know if the recipe is a typical one in Taiwan, and if, so, where it came from?

Could you give me some hint of how you drop the red-bean paste? Are the dollops separated from one another so that there is one dollop per slice? Or you try to make it a continuous circle around the bundt cake so that it looks like a "filling"? Do the dollops melt to any extent into the batter as it cooks?

Thanks again!

Sun-Ki Chai
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#4 FoodZealot

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 04:22 PM

Sun-Ki, very nice overview of mochi dishes, as usual. Funnily enough, bibingka came up in conversation the other day, because it was mentioned in a Rob Schneider movie. Bibingka is a dish related to mochi - it's from the Philipines, and usually made with coconut milk and steamed in banana leaves.

#5 caroline

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 07:28 PM

This is what I love egullet for. It's fascinating to learn about butter mochi from other parts of the world. Surely it has to have been created in an attempt to use rice flour in European cake recipes. And bibingka with its Goan connections seems to me a much earlier invention and a wonderful puzzle for someone to work out,

Rachel
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#6 browniebaker

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Posted 06 January 2004 - 08:09 PM

Browniebaker -

Thanks for the info regarding the French Rice Cake recipe.  Must try it sometime soon! 

A lot of questions:

Do you know if the recipe is a typical one in Taiwan, and if, so, where it came from?

Could you give me some hint of how you drop the red-bean paste?  Are the dollops separated from one another so that there is one dollop per slice?  Or you try to make it a continuous circle around the bundt cake so that it looks like a "filling"?  Do the dollops melt to any extent into the batter as it cooks?

Thanks again!

Skchai, I don't know whether the French Rice Cake (which I have posted in the eGullet recipe forum as "Butter Mochi Cake" because it is neither French nor the crunchy dry dietetic puck I think of when I say "rice cake") is part of Taiwanese culinary tradition. Until I read this thread and learned that Hawaii had a tradition of butter mochi, I had thought it was just a westernized form of mochi or kueh.

I do remember my grandmother in Taiwan serving us kids sweet kueh as a treat: rectangles of cake made with sweet-rice flour, sugar, and water, and pan-fried with a crisp crust. Sweet kueh is a traditional Tawianese sweet; that's for sure.

I also know that my mother had never had butter mochi like this in Taiwan. She first learned of this when a Taiwanese-American woman taught this recipe to the doctors' wives at a wives' seminar at one of the annual reunions (about twenty years ago, in Chicago or D.C. -- I can't recall) of the United States branch of the alumni association of my father's medical school, National Taiwan Univeristy.

The dropping of the red-bean paste: I drop it by scant teaspoonfuls all over the top of the batter, in no particular pattern, just aiming for even distribution as I work around and around the cake. I go around the cake maybe three or four times. I work quickly and do not delay in getting the cake into the oven, to prevent too much sinkage. Preventing sinkage is also the reason for tiny dollops. I end up with multiple dollops in each slice. The earlier-dropped dollops end up a little lower than the dollops dropped later, meaning just before I put it in the oven. After baking, you find that the red-bean paste stays in discrete dollops and does not blend into the batter at all. (Goodness, I am getting a craving for this cake just about now!)

I have contemplated piping a thick ring of bean paste in the middle of the batter, but I think it would sink and have not tried that.

Another idea I have had is to pour in about a third of the batter, bake until it has set, at least up against the pan, then pipe in the paste or drop in dollops of paste, pour in the rest of the batter, and bake until done. But I don't know whether the bottom section that was pre-baked would end up too dry. Too scared to try it.

If you try either of these ideas or come up with a good method, would you please let me know?

Mother sometimes brings this butter mochi to potlucks, and it is always a hit. She was incensed when her friend asked for the recipe and later showed up at a potluck with a pan of butter mochi -- problem was, this friend had stirred the red bean paste into the batter and was crediting my mother for the resultant vomit-colored mess! Mother still rants about this, fifteen years later.

I hope you do try the recipe, as it is delicious!

Edited by browniebaker, 06 January 2004 - 08:20 PM.


#7 skchai

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Posted 07 January 2004 - 12:44 AM

Browniebaker, I will definitely try to make Taiwanese Butter Mochi one of these days, and I promise not to stir the red bean paste into the batter! Also too scared to try the baking-layers-in-sequence technique, though ironically that's the way that they make Goanese bebinca, which Rachel just mentioned above (though it doesn't have any filling). Thanks for the detailed instructions.

Rachel and Tad, thanks for bringing up the issue of bibingka / bebinca. This is (at least for me) one of the mystery dishes of the mysterious East. And no, I haven't been able to meet Rachel's challenge of figuring out the puzzle behind it.

Given the geographical distribution, it seems reasonable to conclude that it's of Iberian origin, but I've yet to locate a "proper" Portuguese or Spanish recipe for it. . .

Bebinca is common to Goa, Macau, and East Timor; all former Portuguese colonies. Goanese and Timorese bebinca seem pretty similar; they usually made with wheat flour and coconut milk, and are made up of multiple layers. One layer is cooked, then the next layer is poured on top and cooked. Though I haven't seen a recipe with rice flour, Goanese do use rice flour in a number of other dishes (e.g. sanna). Possible the layers wouldn't separate as well with rice flour, though that's just a guess. . .

Macanese are known for "bebinca de leite", which is a kind of coconut milk custard, not a cake. . .

I've come across some Portuguese recipes for bebinca, but they all refer back to one of the aforementioned former colonies. . .

Bibingka (at least with that spelling) seems to be unique to the Philippines. It is made from rice flour or cassava and coconut or cow's milk, and, as Tad mentioned, is baked in a banana leaf. Often Manila-style bibingka will have cheese sprinkled on top before being put under a broiler, which again suggests Iberian origins. . .

In Singapore and Malaysia, there is a kind of "nonya kueh" called "kueh lapis", which is made with coconut milk and cooked in layers, like the Goanese and Timorese bebinca. . .

So can anyone put all this together for me?

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#8 caroline

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Posted 07 January 2004 - 07:28 PM

Browniebaker, I second Sun-Ki in thanking you for filling us in on Taiwanese butter mochi. You know, I'm beginng to think that maybe bibingka really is a south Asian creation inspired by Iberian techniques. And I suspect the Dutch (whose cuisine when they went to Asia was after all an outpost of Iberian cuisines) also had a role. But I agree, Sun-Ki, bibingka is one of the outstanding culinary mysteries,

Rachel
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#9 skchai

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Posted 08 January 2004 - 07:54 PM

Rachel, your hypothesis about the origin of bebinca was confirmed by Miguel Cardoso in the Spain / Portugal group after I posted an inquiry there:

Bebinca / Bibingka

Miguel also provided a lot very interesting details about bebinca and its relation to Portugal's empire.





. . .

And now, for something completely different:

As Chinese New Year's rolls around, one item makes its ominous appearance on local shelves: Gao. The Cantonese equivalent of the family fruitcake, gao is a weighty, durable amalgamation of mochi rice and brown sugar. It can be delicious if freshly prepared, but as it sometimes serves as part of a holiday centerpiece for days on end, it often ends up being useful primarily as a tablecloth anchor.

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Here are some gao that we spied in a market in Honolulu Chinatown the other day. The larger ones are apparently more popular, but beware of trying to eat one if your teeth, gums, and jaws are not in the finest fighting condition!

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#10 caroline

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Posted 11 January 2004 - 06:22 PM

Ah, gau. Good stuff. But as Sun-Ki says, hell on the dental work.

Rachel
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#11 The Little Blue House

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Posted 11 January 2004 - 07:42 PM

A few months ago my family ordered some incredible mochi from the mochilady The Mochi Lady

We got the big platter which had an awesome assortment of flavors, everything tasing extremely fresh. You just call her to order a few days ahead and then go by her house to pick it up. She even asks what time you're coming by so that she knows when to have it ready.

I tried to order some for Christmas but when I called in early December I got a recording that said she was completely booked for the month and the first two weeks of January.

-chris

#12 Shiewie

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Posted 11 January 2004 - 07:55 PM

skchai / rachel,

How do you eat the nien gao (neen go in Cantonese)?

The traditional Malaysianised / Singaporeanised ones are cooked in tins lined with banana leaves - the banana leaves act as a container once they're cooked (guess they wouldn't have been cooked in banana leaves in Guangzhou originally :smile:).

We eat them fresh and soft, and once they're hard, they are stored by cutting them into slices and sunning them so that they don't get moldy. You don't eat them all hard though :raz: - the slices are steamed and rolled in freshly grated coconut; dipped in eggy batter and fried; or sandwiched between slices of taro and sweet potato, dipped in eggy batter and fried.

#13 skchai

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Posted 12 January 2004 - 03:05 AM

Chris - Thanks for the Mochi Lady link. Pretty amazing - especially the one with a whole strawberry in the center. Other stuff I've never seen before as well. Must check it out one of these days, though it doesn't seem like she takes anything less than party-size orders!

Shiewie - I'm not of Chinese descent so I probably don't know all the protocols, but many people I know just eat it as one of the essential New Year's foods, along with Jai, "Monk's Food", regardless of ethnicity.

Here, sorry to say it's usually steamed in cellophane wrap or aluminum foil rather than banana leaves. Makes it almost impossible to peel off. . .

As for what we do with the hard ones - we sit around and argue about who's to blame for letting it get dry, then we use it as a paperweight. Your ideas sound MUCH better! I'd like to try them out. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

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#14 melonpan

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Posted 08 November 2006 - 07:21 PM

Posted Image

Here's a picture of the butter mochi I made for New Year's Eve.  It's a plain one made with coconut milk, white sugar, and sesame seeds.  If you look carefully, you can see it has a crust, which differentiates it from almost all the mochis that you can buy in the stores.  Arguably, that's the best part of the deal.

butter mochi

must

try
"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo

#15 LB Howes

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Posted 13 November 2006 - 05:59 PM

Glad to see someone revived this thread about mochi :wub: .

Does anyoneone know if it's true that the poi mochi that was made by the poi company is no longer being made? I heard this from a store here in Seattle, and last month I was in Honolulu and poi mochi was not in any of the markets.

#16 Luckylies

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Posted 13 November 2006 - 06:17 PM

I love butter mochi. The one I had, had the flavor of the finest pound cake and the texture of mochi. yum.
I googled, and was able to find a wealth of recipes.
does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

#17 Ono Loa

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 01:34 PM

WOW what a great topic... so many of the local stores have someone that makes it for them. i had some yesterday from the store near me and it was so meltingly good i went back for more later.
they sell it warm out of the oven in the morning.... mmmm
just another reason to live here in this wonderful place... YUM!

#18 JumblyJu

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Posted 18 December 2006 - 12:49 AM

Does anyoneone know if it's true that the poi mochi that was made by the poi company is no longer being made?  I heard this from a store here in Seattle, and last month I was in Honolulu and poi mochi was not in any of the markets.

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I have seen it in stores locally. I haven't looked recently but I'm sure it was being sold at the time of your post. I love love love the Taro Brand taro mochi! The best part is the kulolo in the middle! Unfortunately it spoils quickly so it's best eaten the day you get it.