Thursday, March 4, 2010
What better way to welcome the spring cherry blossom-viewing season than with cherry blossom-scented wagashi and a cup of fragrant, newly-harvested green tea (shin-cha)? Sakura-mochi is one of my absolute favorite wagashi of all time, and I was thrilled to discover it can be easily made at home. There are two main regional variations for sakura-mochi. My preferred version uses doumyouji-ko （道明寺子粉）, granules made from mochi rice that has been soaked in water, steamed, dried, and then coarsely ground. If doumyoujiko is not available at a market near you, it can be ordered online, or you may be able to persuade a wagashi shop to sell you some from their stock.
Ingredients for 8 confections:
Koshi-an (smooth red bean an).....160 grams/6.5 oz
Doumyouji-ko (mochi granules).....100 grams/3.5 oz
sugar.....1 Tablespoon, or more to taste.
very hot water.....150 cc/5 oz
red/pink food coloring, the barest pinch
cherry leaves preserved in salt.....8
cherry blossoms preserved in salt....8 (optional)
1. Soak cherry leaves in cold water for 15 ~30 minutes to remove excess salt. Pat dry.
2. Divide the koshi-an into 8 equal lumps, and roll each into a ball. Set aside.
3. Put doumyouji-ko, sugar, and very hot water in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir it around, and add just a pinch of red food coloring so that the mixture turns a pale pink. Let this sit for 10 minutes.
4. Microwave the bowl with its contents for 2 minutes, uncovered. (My microwave oven only does 500 W, and is a bit on the weak side, so I nuked it 1/2 minute longer). Let this sit for 15 minutes.
5. Use a wooden spatula to stir the contents of the bowl, to bring out the stickiness of the mochi.
6. Moisten your hands and separate the mochi mixture into 8 equal lumps. (I moisten my hands from a bowl of slightly salty water. This adds just a hint of salt to the mochi to supplement whatever salt remains in the cherry leaves, and helps bring out the sweetness of the confection.) Gently flatten each lump into a circular patty.
7. Place a ball of an in the center of one of the mochi patties and gently stretch the patty so that it envelopes the an ball. Do this to all the mochi and an.
8. Place one of the an-wrapped mochi balls on a cherry leaf, on the half nearest to the pointy end, and bring the rounded end of the leaf over the top of the ball. Do this to all of the balls and leaves. Press gently to flatten the balls just a bit, to insure that the leaves adhere.
9. Let the sakura-mochi settle for a while before serving. The fragrance of the leaves will transfer to the mochi. The leaf is edible, but you may want to pull away the tough center vein in the middle of the leaf if you decide to eat it along with the mochi. (This is what I do).
Traditionally the mochi is wrapped so that the smooth side of the leaf (the side where the veins don't show prominently) is visible. The veiny side had a brighter green, so I tried it both ways; some with the smooth side facing out, and some with the bumpy side facing out.
Variations: You can decorate some of the mochi balls with cherry blossoms (gently rinse the salt off the blossom and blot dry) instead of wrapping them in leaves. Or try stirring minced cherry leaves into the mochi mixture before you microwave it, for another flavorful, un-wrapped version of sakura mochi. Garnish tops with cherry blossoms. The blossom is edible.
The leaves are where the cherry blossom fragrance is strongest. The blossoms are mainly for show. Click to see my recipe for Sakura Cheesecake.