Berry-Stuffed Mochi, Baking for Japan, and a Tea Party Takeover

This post is for charity – times two!

First, I’m thrilled to be working with Lillian from Sweets by Sillianah and Sarah from Fritos and Foie Gras – and a host of other generous-spirited NYC blogger-baker-volunteers – to put together an April 2nd inter-city Bake Sale for Japan.  Proceeds from this effort, conceived by Samin Nosrat , will go to New York Times-suggested charity Peace Winds Japan.  If you’re in the city, you should stop by our table at Brooklyn Flea!  You might be able to snap up some of these:

The situation in Japan is serious, but this is a sweets post, so today we’ll focus on sugar and on sweet hopes that week after next we’ll raise a lot of support for people in need.

In addition, Foodbuzz is hosting a “Tea Party Top 9 Takeover”: Friday’s Top 9 will be entirely tea party-centric, and for every recipe that joins the party by March 23rd, Foodbuzz will be donating $50 towards Ovarian Cancer research! To find out more, or to help raise even more funds, please visit the Kelly Confidential website.

These strawberry-stuffed treats are actually one of many varieties of Japanese mochi rice cakes; this particular type us called ichigo daifukuDaifuku are usually served with green tea: try them out and have a Japanese tea party to celebrate spring – you could even have friends over and make it into a mini-bake sale or benefit. Not only are these cakes delicious, they’re also both vegan and gluten-free!

My recipe, set out below, is an amalgam of several: amounts from Chocolate & Zucchini, and techniques from the 1980 classic Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art and this set of instructions.  I don’t have a copy of Japanese Cooking, but I grew up thumbing through my mom’s.  It’s a pretty remarkable volume: it’s thorough, elegantly and clearly illustrated, and prefaced by M.F.K. Fisher.  The author, Shizuo Tsuji, trained in both Japanese and French technique, and founded one of Japan’s premier culinary schools.  His skill as a teacher is evident in the clarity of his book.

To start with, we make our koshi-an (pureed sweet red-bean paste).  Rinse, hull, and dry the strawberries, coat them with bean paste, and store these little balls in the fridge.

Then get started on the mochi dough.  I was unable to find shiratamako flour – the optimal rice flour for mochi – so I am using mochiko with a little added cornstarch.  Electrical work in my building also destroyed my microwave recently, so I’m doing this old school and steaming my dough instead of nuking it as Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini recommends.  My steamer setup:

I put a French-style steamer under my silicone bundt pan (which keeps the dough from sticking too much); I really need to get my act together to get a bamboo one.  Anyway, I mixed my rice flour, water, and sugar in my bundt pan, covered it with a cloth, and steamed the mixture for 12-15 minutes (stirring a couple of times) until glutinous and sort of translucent.

When it’s done, turn it onto a high-sided pan generously dusted with potato or corn starch.  Dust the top of the dough with more starch, and pat or roll the dough into a rectangle: be careful, it’s hot and sticky.

Now, cut the dough into 10 evenly sized rectangles.

To make each cake, place a strawberry ball in the middle of one of the rectangles, pull the sides of the dough together and brush excess starch off the edges, and pinch the edges together. 

Place the newly-formed daifuku seam-side down on a plate dusted with starch and let it cool.  Then enjoy a fruity, sweet, chewy explosion of flavor and texture.  Swoon.

1 c. azuki beans
1 1/2 c. sugar
pinch salt

1. Wash the red beans.  Place in a pot, just covered with water, bring the water to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low and simmer until the beans are soft and their skins break.**  Drain them. (Note: At this point, if you want chunky bean paste – or tsubishi-an – you may return the beans to the cooking pot and mash them into a pulp.)
3. To make bean paste puree, place the beans in a sieve whose bottom is sumberged in reserved cooking water.  Mash beans through the sieve with the palm of your hand or the back of a wooden spoon. Swirl the sieve in the cooking water so the remainder of the beans are washed out, but the skins remain.  Place the resulting watery pulp in cheesecloth and squeeze out the water.
4. Return the bean paste (chunky or smooth) to the saucepan, add the sugar, and cook slowly over a low heat to remove excess water and cook into a thick paste.  Mix the salt in before removing from heat.
**If you use canned beans which are already cooked, place them in a colander and rinse before proceeding.

Daifuku (Makes 10)
10 small strawberries (if your strawberries are large, you can cut them in half)
1 c. bean paste
1 c. glutinous rice flour (shiratamako or moshiko)
1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. cold water

Follow the (gorgeously illustrated) directions above to steam and assemble.  If you want to use your microwave, check out Clotilde’s directions here.  When they’re done, enjoy right away or wrap them up individually!