Normally, I’m all about the Super Bowl finger foods. Carbs wrapped in cheese wrapped in carbs, usually mini, often involving some combination of “Panko-crusted” and “stuffed” and “pizza”? It is my thing. (Football, not so much.) But, either because Bowl #2 and I both had somewhat hectic weeks, or just because January has felt very long and very January, I just felt like a gentler, quieter dessert was in order. One that you can stuff yourself full of and just feel comforted, instead of immobilized. And maybe that you ate two days’ worth of calories in 30 minutes… instead of four. So I made these red bean mochi balls. (I know, even though I just made these. Does that mean it’s topical? Sorry for being a one-note these days — I promise I’m moving on to non-mochi edibles and potables after this.)
Out of curiosity, I tried a few different methods for the mochi wrappers. The first was just baking it as per the recipe I posted last week, but in two separate pans so that the layer would be thinner, and for less time (about 35-40 minutes). The second was the method I’ve seen almost universally for mochi balls elsewhere — by microwaving the mochi on high for a few minutes, giving it a stir, and going to town with it. Maangchi and use real butter both post great tutorials and recipes for this method. And last, just because I was curious whether you could do the microwave method by steaming the mochi instead of microwaving, I used that recipe, but baked it in a bowl covered in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then stirred and prepared it as per the rest of the instructions.
My findings were that all more or less work. Mochi is just that agreeable! More specifically, though: (1) The coconut milk (baked)recipe: Taste-wise, the best. Texture-wise, perhaps the worst. Because it contains almost twice the amount of liquid that the other recipes do, it’s very soft, so wrapped around red bean filling, it tastes more like a Chinese red bean soup dumpling (tangyuan) than the mochi balls I’ve had from the store. It was also the most difficult to get the mochi to hold its shape around the red bean filling. (2) The microwave recipe: Taste-wise, the worst. Texture-wise, the best, and prep-wise, the ease of prep was unbeatable. That stuff comes together in literally 5 minutes. Literally. Two, if you’re fast. (3) And the steamed version was somewhere in between — likely the easiest to work with, but softer in texture than the microwaved version (which may be preferable, the microwave version could be a bit too tough/chewy for some folks) and still lacking in taste compared to the regular coconut milk version.
So for ease of preparation alone, I’d probably go with the microwave method, unless you don’t have a microwave, in which case, feel free to experiment between baking on low heat for a long period of time or steaming on high heat for shorter. (I’m also curious as to what would happen if you prepared the microwave recipe with half coconut milk and half water? I didn’t test enough after all! Drat!)
Lastly, note that my recipe is for half green tea mochi and half plain — combine the two sets of ingredients for mochi below if you just want to make one batch (and double the matcha powder if you want all green tea). And in terms of time, the red bean filling will need overnight prep (soaking the beans) and several hours to come together, as well as an additional few hours for freezing if you want the red bean balls to be easier to work with when wrapping them. Enjoy.
- for the red bean filling:
- 1/2 cup red beans or azuki beans, dry
- 1/3 cup sugar (or more, if you'd like it sweeter)
- optional oil, for frying
- for plain mochi wrappers:
- 1/2 cup sweet rice (mochiko) flour (if buying in stores, look for Koda Farms brand)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 6 tbsp (3/8 cup) water
- 3-4 tbsp potato starch or cornstarch for dusting
- for green tea mochi wrappers:
- 1/2 cup sweet rice (mochiko) flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp matcha powder
- 6 tbsp water
- 3-4 tbsp potato starch or cornstarch
- For the red bean filling: Soak the red beans in plenty of water for at least 2-3 hours, if not overnight. Rinse and drain. Next, briefly blanch the beans to clean them. Place the beans in a large pot and fill with enough water to submerge the beans by an inch or so. Bring the water just to a boil, then drain and rinse again.
- Replacing the beans in the pot, fill with just enough water to cover the beans and bring it back to a simmer. For the next hour or two, you will need to let the beans simmer consistently, adding about 1/2 cup of water each time the water boils down to keep the beans submerged. You don’t need to stir, just keep the water just covering the beans.
- After an hour, test a bean by mashing it with a spoon or your fingers. If it splits as halves, keep cooking. If it smushes easily, it’s done simmering.
- Now, you can drain the beans, then add it to a food processor with the sugar and process on high until smooth. If you don't have a food processor or blender, just drain the water, add the sugar directly to the pot, and keep cooking over low heat, mashing as you would mashed potatoes.
- You can use it if you like at this point, but I find mine is generally a bit too liquid after this step. If you do too, warm one to two tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Pour the paste into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the paste thickens into a firm, mold-able paste. Also, taste-test to make sure it's at the sweetness you prefer.
- When you're happy with the paste, let cool, then scoop it and roll it into small balls, about 3/4-inch in diameter or less. Place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, then set aside. (Note: You can freeze these if you like, which will make wrapping them easier, but if you do, you will need to let the mochi balls rest for about 20-30 minutes before eating, to let the red bean paste thaw.)
- For the mochi wrappers: For the plain mochi, sift together 1/2 cup mochiko flour and 2 tbsp sugar, then pour in the water and stir until combined. Microwave on high for 1 minute, covered. Most recipes suggest covering with plastic wrap, but something about microwaving plastic wrap skeezes me out. I just covered the bowl with a plate. After microwaving, stir vigorously for about 1-2 minutes to develop chewiness. The paste will likely be a big glob and somewhat hard to work with -- just stir it as best you can. (*Note:* If you don't have a microwave, bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. If the dough doesn't come together when stirred, steam it for 5-10 minutes longer.)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread a generous amount of cornstarch (I used about 3-4 tablespoons) over it. Scrape the ball of mochi dough onto it and flatten with your fingers. I wet my hands beforehand so that the dough didn't burn me and didn't stick. Once you've spread it into about a 6x6 square, sprinkle cornstarch over both sides and cut into 9 pieces. Stretch one square, then take one ball of red bean filling and place it in the middle. (*Note:* For mochi ice cream instead of red bean mochi balls, see Notes!) Stretch edges gently to meet on the underside of the ball and pinch or pleat together as best you can until it holds together. Dust with extra cornstarch and set aside, covered. Repeat until you're out of mochi.
- For the other batch, whisk 1/2 tsp of matcha powder into the flour and sugar, and otherwise repeat steps 9 and 10. If you've frozen the red bean filling, let the mochi balls rest and thaw for about 20-30 minutes -- otherwise, enjoy immediately.
For the red bean paste, you can choose to strain out the biggest pieces of bean skin if you want to. Do so by pushing the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. I did one batch straining the skin and one batch with skin intact -- the taste difference was negligible, if discernible at all.
For mochi ice cream, omit the red bean paste and use ice cream balls instead! Scoop ice cream into 1-tbsp balls and space evenly on a baking sheet. Replace in freezer and let chill until hard. Use in place of the red bean paste balls. Return to freezer after forming the mochi balls or enjoy immediately!