It’s almost the new year, so in Japan it’s time to make mochi and attract luck on you and your family – so here I share the tradition and a microwave-free recipe you can easily make at home.
The end of the year and the beginning of the new one represent two recurrences of extreme importance for the Japanese. December 31 and January 1 – Ōmisoka (大晦日) and Shogatsu (正月) are characterized by a series of traditions, however celebrations don’t include just these two days. At midnight on the 31st, bells are rung 108 times in temples, symbolizing the human desires and passions that should be removed in order to live a harmonious life. From that moment on, there will be a series of “firsts”: the first visit to the temple, seeing the first sunrise, the first meal of the new year.
The tradition of mochitsuki
Mochi are among the foods that the Japanese eat in the period of transition from the old to the new year. These small Japanese confectioneries are made with steamed and pounded glutinous rice. They can be sweet or savory, to be used in soups and are also common in other seasons. In January, it’s easy to find local pastry shops organising mochi pounding (mochitsuki – 餅つき) for the neighboorhood.
The preparation is simple, the practice is more complicated. The glutinous rice is left to soak overnight. Then, one hour before preparation, the rice is steamed for 45-50 minutes. A quarter of an hour before the start, the mortar is heated with hot water to prevent the rice from cooling down too fast. The rice is then poured into the mortar and is pounded until it becomes a paste.
At this stage of mochitsuki, one person swings a mallet to hit the rice and one person turns the rice at each swing. It’s amazing to see a mochitsuki because the whole process is very fast! To get to the end of the preparation you need to have great trust in your partner and be very coordinated. The pounding continues until the rice is combined into a sticky shiny dough. This dough is then placed on a cloth dusted with rice flour and form into the well known round shape.
Easy mochi recipe you can do at home
Although you can buy mochi online, making mochi at home is completely possible, fast and easy! You may find glutinous rice flour and red beans at most oriental food shops and supermarkets. Here I share my recipe for making mochi without microwave.
Ingredients: 1 cup of glutinous rice flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of water. You can do more, but with these proportions.
Combine flour and water and stir. Put the dough in a pot and stir until the mochi becomes shiny and sticky. Add the sugar and stir again; you may want to remove the pot from direct heat and let the sugar dissolve with the residual heat. When the dough appears glossy, pour it over a shopping board dusted with corn or potato starch. Be careful because the mochi is sticky and hot, but it will cool quickly. Flour your hands and pick a small amount of mochi, create a ball and then flatten it. Place some red bean jam in the centre, close and reshape the ball. Continue until there’s no more mochi left. You can use the same molds for muffins or cupcakes to keep the shape of the mochi.
Ingredients for the red bean jam: 1 cup of beans, water at discretion and sugar to taste.
Boil at least once the beans to remove the sour taste; even better if you can repeat this for two or three times. Then, fill the pot so that the water covers the beans well (about 1/3 beans and 2/3 water): keep under control and add water if needed. Every half hour remove the foam. When you touch the beans and they are soft, add the sugar and stir. When the mixture thickens, remove from the heat and blend. Put in a container to cool.
Why mochi is considered a lucky food in Japan
There are few reasons why mochi is regarded as a lucky food in Japan. It is believed that making mochi with your family brings prosperity and strenghtens your bonds. Since the mochi is made ahead of New Year’s day as a decoration/offer, it is also said that eating it will bring you health all year round. In fact, by the time you’ll eat mochi, the buns will be hard to bite into!
Have you ever tried mochi?