How to make mochi

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MOCHI MAGIC: 50 TRADITIONAL AND MODERN RECIPES FOR THE JAPANESE TREAT

By Kaori Becker (North Adams, Mass.: Storey Publishing, 2020, 192 pp., $16.95, paperback)

“Mochi Magic” is a fun, cute — in fact downright adorable — and incredibly useful book of recipes for making, you guessed it, mochi.

The diminutive volume is just 6-and-a-half inches by 7-and-a-half inches and yet it offers a treasure trove of information, eye-catching and hunger-inducing photographs, easy-to-scan graphics and layout and easy-to-follow recipes.

Author Kaori Becker, who learned to appreciate and make mochi from her mother, is so into the many variations of sticky rice that she makes her living teaching cooking classes. Her book is a well-written, well-organized primer to making mochi at home, instead of going to your neighborhood Japanese grocery store for everything from the hard mochi you fry up during New Year’s season and slather with shoyu and sugar, to the soft, heavenly daifuku mochi or manju filled with anko (red bean paste).

The beauty and usefulness of the book comes from Becker’s instinctual understanding of how you might make mochi for yourself. Because she came up with the recipes on her own, with trial-and-error taste tests by family members, she’s open to using alternative ingredients and experimenting. She urges people to be creative. There’s no hard-and-fast right way to make these edible treasures.

That doesn’t mean that rules aren’t important. Becker is clear about the basics, and is precise about how long each step takes. If there’s some wiggle room, she lets you know. For instance, if the red beans for the anko haven’t broken their skin after simmering for an hour and then half an hour on high heat, she writes that you should boil for another 30 minutes on high, by feel.

Her ability to explain each step with clarity, even the extra details about what to do if the beans aren’t quite done, makes this a terrific cookbook for novice cooks.

She gives helpful tips throughout in call-out bubbles in the margins, like this tip for daifuku mochi fillings: You can freeze or refrigerate the softer fillings (like peanut butter or Nutella) to make handling easier, and pre-form them into balls or — this is great — use ice cube trays to pre-portion the fillings. She wants to make your cooking easier and more fun.

Becker’s writing is conversational throughout. Reading her instructions is like having your mom guide you over the phone while you’re in the kitchen.

She also puts mochi, especially the traditional forms like daifuku, in historical and cultural context. She writes about the ancient history of mochi, and the importance of mochi in Oshogatsu New Year celebrations. She offers recipes for ozoni and zenzai (the sweet anko soup that I grew up with for New Year’s, which my mom called oshiruko). She also gives props to a Sansei friend who adapted a Shiro-an (white lima bean filling) recipe from a cookbook published by the Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose’s Japantown. Japanese American churches and community organizations have a long tradition of publishing cookbooks, so it’s nice to offer the hat tip to one for a recipe.

Becker also covers how to make cute decorations for mochi, flavored mochi and fillings, variations on fruit mochi, doughnuts and other baked goods made with mochiko (mochi flour). I know I’ll be making her Coconut Mochi with Haupia filling, a Hawaiian take on daifuku that sounds delicious.

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