My family mochitsuki has always been a staple tradition of the holiday season throughout my life. While gathering for the regular family dinner occasions is nice, making mochi together was always something unique and special to look forward to every year.
Why Do a Family Mochitsuki?
First reason: Family ties.
For my family, our typical gathering includes dinner, a dining table, dessert, and some small talk. While this provides ample opportunity to catch up, the activity is always the same. A mochituski helps to shake things up and brings the family together for a shared purpose and goal.
Even for seasoned mochi-making families, mochitsuki can be a challenging experience. Did we get the consistency of the mochi correct? Are the mochi balls the right size? Did we stagger the mochi machines properly, so the batches are coming out regularly? Even after decades of making mochi, we still have to problem solve as a family.
Second reason: kids love it.
As the cycle of life continues and more kids join the family, mochitsuki can be a great opportunity to engage the little ones. Just like play-do, or clay, the consistency of the mochi is fun to play with, the mochi-ko messy and chaotic, and the process of creating the mochi ball is something unlike anything else the kid has done all year.
In addition to the activity itself, a mochitsuki can play an important role in creating institutional memories for a kid. When they look back at their fondest memories as a childhood, making mochi can be a critical recollection that brings nostalgia and a smile.
**Final reason: culture.
Mochitsuki is something truly unique to the Japanese and Japanese American culture. Making mochi helps to ensure that important traditions and cultural activities are passed from one generation to the next.
Here's What You Need:
At its core, mochi is simply pounded, steamed rice. A simple product also means a simple item and ingredient list.
**A Mochi Machine
You can find a mochi machine at most local Japanese supermarkets (when I say a supermarket, I mean a large market. I don't think you'll find mochi machines as readily available at small hole-in-the-wall stores). You can also order them online.
Now fair warning before you purchase... you'll probably get a little bit of sticker shock when you see the price. These machines are not cheap. But think of it as an investment; the machines in my family have lasted THREE decades and counting.
This is my favorite one:
**Mochigome (Sweet Rice)
It's important to note that mochi is not made from regular Japanese rice but instead special sweet rice.
I usually use Sho Chiku Bai from Koda Farms.
**Mochiko (Rice Flour)
Mochi is sticky... very sticky. The mochiko is used to powder the table, your hands, and the mochi itself to ensure that you're not spending several hours scrubbing sticky rice off of tabletops, chairs, and clothes. Believe me when I say I've been through this experience a couple of times.
**Optional: Anko (Red Bean Paste)
Also can be found, along with the mochigome and mochiko, at your local Japanese market. Anko is sometimes placed inside the mochi ball for added taste, but it's optional.
Here's What You Do:
Step 0: Soak the Rice the Night Before
This is the most important step. No soak, no mochitsuki. Put all of your mochigome in a large bowl, submerge in water, cover. Let sit overnight.
Step 1: Pour Water in the Base Bowl
Remember that at its core, all rice is steamed; mochi rice is no different. The water in the base bowl is heated and used to steam cook the rice in the rice bowl. The exact amount of water depends on the amount of rice you intend to cook. Refer to your instruction booklet (it's in English) for the exact measurement, BUT be sure to read the instruction below to understand the difference between an American and Japanese cup measurement.
Step 2a: Place the Rice Bowl and the Turret
After installing the rice bowl, be sure to place the turret. If you forget, it's a pain to retroactively install it later.
Step 2b: Scoop the Rice
A mochi machine can hold up to 10 Japanese cups of rice. A Japanese cup is .75 an American cup. This is a very critical measurement disparity to keep in mind. I have had many, many batches of slimy mochi produced because I messed up the measurement.
Step 3: Cover and Cook
Use the included cover, press the "cook rice" button.
Step 4: Machine Pound the Rice
BUZZZZZZZZ. When you hear this noise, it means the rice has finished cooking. But when you lift the lid, you won't see mochi; you'll just see cooked rice. Press the "pound" button on the machine to engage the turret, which "pounds" the rice into a smooth mochi consistency.
Step 5: Powder the Table
Generously spread mochiko across the surface you'll be using to sculpt the mochi. Pro-tip is to use a polyester table cloth on the surface before powdering.
Step 6: Grab the Mochi
And burn your hands. I say this half-jokingly, but mochi direct from the machine is going to be very hot, but I don't recommend using gloves or utensils; I recommend using your bare hands for the best results.
The pro technique is to grab the mochi while it is still spinning so that it hasn't had a chance to stick to the rice bowl.
Step 7: Split and Sculpt
For the distributor: Powder your hands, and sprinkle mochiko on top of the mochi. Take the mochi and form the shape into something that resembles a baguette. Then burn your hands again. Use your index finger and thumb to squeeze off small pieces of the mochi to pass around to your family members around the table.
For the receiver: powder your hands. Take the mochi and pinch in the sides toward the center. Keep doing this until there aren't any creases or lines on the sides. Flip the mochi over and use your hands to sculpt the mochi into a circular shape.
Just Try It Out:
Although the myriad of steps is extensive, just try it out. Don't expect to get it right the first time, and remember that the real purpose of mochitsuki is about togetherness, family, and memory.
Give it a try. It might just be the best extended family experience you have all year.