Hello all! I’ve decided to start a little section called Washoku Wednesday to get myself cooking more, and to explore Japanese culture through the plate. Washoku is the word for traditional Japanese cuisine. Since coming here I’ve found myself enjoying an entirely new range of foods and flavours that, three years ago, were foreign and more than a little uncomfortable for me to eat.
My first post will be about my favourite Japanese sweet: ichigo daifuku!
(The recipe is at the bottom of this post, if you’d like to skip ahead!)
What is ichigo daifuku?
Ichigo is the Japanese word for strawberry. Our local grocery store’s produce section is largely seasonal when it comes to fruits, so I only see strawberries around February (for Valentine’s Day) through the summer. I can’t even find frozen strawberries in the winter!
Daifuku is a rice cake (mochi) stuffed with sweet red bean paste. The kanji for daifuku is 大福; the two characters translate to “large” and “fortune” – so it’s good luck! It’s eaten around New Year’s and also around other holidays or at ceremonies (I usually get at least one or two at the end of the school year when the sixth graders graduate). You can find daifuku at sweet shops, or, if not, you can definitely find some version of daifuku at the local combini (convenience store).
There are many, many different kinds of daifuku! Some of my favourites (besides ichigo daifuku) are:
- sakura daifuku – sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom. This daifuku is popular in the spring, along with a slew of other cherry-blossom flavoured treats (Starbucks has a field day with sakura every spring!) It’s a delicate pink colour, made with sakura petals and wrapped in a leaf.
- daifuku aisu – aisu (meant to sound like “ice”) is the Japanese name for ice cream. It’s the most wonderful thing to eat in the summer – a scoop of ice cream wrapped in mochi!
- mame daifuku – mame is the Japanese word for beans. Instead of having just a sweet paste inside the mochi, you have whole anko beans!
Daifuku can be soft, toasted, or fried; it can be rolled in plain cornstarch (to keep it from sticking together) or rolled in kinako, a roasted soybean flour that tastes sweet and can be found on many Japanese desserts; it can be flavoured with matcha, yuzu (Japanese lemon), or yomogi (Japanese mugwort); the possibilities are endless!
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve a bit of an obsession with mochi. I’ve been trying many different methods, and, I’ll be honest, for every successful batch I’ve made I’ve had twice as many failures. Finally, though, I think I’ve found the best recipe from Japanese Cooking 101 – it’s a recipe by two Japanese women, and it’s simple, fast, and delicious!
Strawberries and sugar are both familiar ingredients we can easily find, but there are two essential parts of ichigo daifuku that might be a little more mysterious to those of us outside of Asia.
Mochiko is flour ground from mochigome, glutinous rice. Mochi can be made from either the rice or the flour. Traditional mochi is made by pounding the cooked rice with a mallet, and it has a chewier texture; other types of mochi, such as mochi ice ream, are made from mochiko, which gives the mochi a softer texture and lets it freeze without becoming hard.
Anko, also known as sweet red bean paste, is made from azuki beans and sugar. It can be eaten in daifuku, taiyaki, buns, dumplings, or even soup! If you choose to buy anko paste at the store like I did, you might see different types –
- tsubu an – whole red beans, boiled in sugar
- tsubushi an – whole red beans, boiled in sugar, and mashed
- koshi an – whole red beans, boiled in sugar, mashed, and pushed through a sieve to remove the skins
I prefer koshi an. I love the smoothe texture!
Last weekend my Australian friend Katie, who shares my love of mochi, came over. We decided to try to make ichigo daifuku, and boy…was it a disaster! The first batch of mochi came out of the steamer lumpy and inedible; the second batch didn’t even make it in because the mochiko-water mix was more like batter than dough; and our third attempt looked good, and we managed to bully it into several balls, but the texture was all wrong, and we ended up taking pictures just for the hell of it, then threw out the ruined mochi and ate the strawberries on their own.
The best thing about this day was that the failure was not a disappointment – with a friend, it was simply an adventure! To quote Katie, “I’ve never failed so beautifully!”
The next day Paul, my husband, went out to hang out with a friend, and in the quiet of the empty apartment I decided to tackle the recipe one last time. A guess what? This time, it worked!
I ground the rice into mochiko, mixed it with some water, and steamed it for 20 minutes…
I put it back in the pot on the stove and added sugar…
…And when I poured it out on the cornstarch-dusted parchment paper, it was a beautiful, soft sheet of mochi!
If it weren’t so sticky beneath the cornstarch, I’d want to sleep on a mochi pillow.
I coated the strawberries in anko paste and wrapped them up into soft, malleable balls.
At last! Months of experimenting (on and off) in the kitchen has finally yielded some delicious results!
Makes around 16 balls, depending on the size of the strawberries.
Mochi recipe from Japanese Cooking 101’s Sweet Mochi Recipe.
- 1 cup mochiko (rice flour)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- cornstarch, for dusting
- anko (sweet red bean paste)
- Mix the mochiko and the water together in a heat-proof bowl. If it’s too dry, add more water by the teaspoon. Place in a steamer and steam for 20 minutes.
- Place the mochi dough in a saucepan over medium heat. Gradually mix in the sugar. Be careful not to let it burn!
- On a clean surface, spread out a layer of cornstarch. Pour out the mochi onto the cornstarch. (It will be hot, but it will cool quickly!) Liberally dust your hands with more cornstarch and flatten out the mochi.
- Rinse and cut off the green ends of the strawberries. Pat dry and coat with anko paste. Wrap in mochi and roll in cornstarch.
Japanese Cooking 101: Sweet Mochi Recipe
Paul – thanks babe!