Black Sesame Mochi Dango
Paula and I are back from our Seoul + Japan adventure!
Although from my perspective, it wasn’t so much an adventure as a nostalgia-fueled eating tour + a chance to introduce Paula to friends who hadn’t been able to travel all the way to California for our wedding.
Paula had never been to S. Korea or Japan before, so for her the trip had all of the elements of a good adventure: new countries, new languages, new cultures, new foods…
And some experiences were new to both of us, including going to a toshirak (lunchbox) market in Seoul, where you buy an empty bento-style container and get coins to trade in for street food along an alley. That and making the mistake of riding the Tokyo subway during morning rush hour (with luggage… oops!). And at the opposite end of the country, on a little island out west, enjoying freshly caught squid, dipped in ponzu, and miso soup made from a friend’s homemade miso paste!
In no particular order: it was great to be back there, catch up with old friends, and do a lot of eating.
But even before the food photos — a quick and easy recipe. Yes, it is actually easy to make sweet, sticky, chewy mochi dumplings, as long as you’re not doing it the traditional way, where you endlessly pound the mochi rice (mochigome) yourself.
The first shortcut here is using mochi flour (mochiko), also called “sweet rice flour” or “glutinous rice flour” despite the fact that it is not sweet and does not contain gluten. It does, however, behave in a way that resembles gluten, to give you that sticky, delightful texture, which — for me — is what makes mochi so enjoyable and addictive.
The second shortcut is baking it in the oven (rather than steaming it), based on this technique (thank you, Cynthia!).
With texture out of the way, let’s talk flavor: this is not plain rice mochi, but dango (dumplings) sweetened up with plenty of sugar, but then mellowed out again with plenty of nutty toasted black sesame (and a hint of sea salt).
Few flavors excite me more than black sesame, especially in a dessert-y context: it’s my weakness. And these mochi dango are definitely sweet enough to be considered a dessert. But they’re also filling enough to be a very satisfying snack.
If you leave out the black sesame (and/or substitute a different flavor… matcha? cocoa?) you’ll end up with the mochi that’s often served as a topping in frozen yogurt shops in the U.S.
This type of mochi dango is similar to kibidango, which is the type of sweet mochi famously (in Japan) featured in the story of Momotaro and produced in Okayama, where I used to live. Kibidango differs from other mochi in not being skewered on a stick, so the outside is lightly coated with starch or flour, to keep it from sticking to your fingers when you pick it up to eat it.
The only real differences between this homemade mochi and kibidango are that most kinds of kibidango contain several types of flours, not just mochiko, and that — as with most dango — kibidango are rounded balls rather than sliced rectangles (i.e., they’re skillfully/miraculously shaped while the steamed mochi is still hot).
Kibidango from Okayama has become my go-to souvenir to bring home to a few lucky friends/professors/co-workers every time I visit Japan. Some of the most popular flavors are white peach and muscat (since Okayama is famous for those, too), and kinako (soy bean powder), which is used on lots of types of sweet mochi dango, including warabimochi. But my favorite flavors of kibidango are brown sugar, sea salt, and black sesame.
Now that I’ve gotten the hang of making them myself at home (although with bake-and-slice corners, rather than shaped into smooth little balls), I won’t have to fly all the way to Okayama just to satisfy my nostalgic kibidango cravings! (Next time I’ll fly there just for the sushi.)
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Black Sesame Mochi Dango
Adapted from Plain Mochi by Cynthia of Two Red Bowls (on Food 52).
(Makes about two cups of little square dumplings)
Active time: 15 min. before baking & 15 min. after; Total time: 1 hour 35 min., plus cooling time.
~ ¼ cup toasted black sesame seeds (often sold pre-toasted)
~ ⅔ cup mochiko (“sweet rice flour”)
~ ⅔ cup sugar
~ ⅜ tsp. baking powder
~ pinch of sea salt (fine, not coarse)
~ ½ cup coconut milk (full fat, not light)
~ ⅔ cup water
~ ½ tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
~ cornstarch or potato starch, for dusting the sticky surfaces of the dango (about ¼ cup)
How to make it:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees. Line an 8×8 glass or ceramic baking dish with parchment paper.
2. Grind the black sesame seeds by pulsing them in a coffee grinder (or in something else that works — the pulse setting on my Blendtec blender worked great, and a small food processor might work, too, but a large food processor will leave too many of the sesame seeds whole; the whole seeds will float to the top of the mochi when baking and form a crust… it will still taste good, though!). You want to pulse them until there are very few, if any, whole seeds left, but not so much that they form large clumps or a paste. In other words: stop before you make tahini.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mochiko, sugar, baking powder, sea salt, and ground black sesame seeds.
4. In a small bowl, stir together the coconut milk, water, and vanilla. [Or keep your small bowl clean, and pour the vanilla into the measured-out water or coconut milk, then pour each of those over the dry ingredients.] Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and whisk until completely smooth.
5. Pour into parchment-lined baking dish, cover the dish with tinfoil, tightly crimping the edges, and bake for 65-70 minutes, or until the mochi is “set” (solidified into a gel). You can test this by carefully touching the top and/or lifting one edge of the parchment out of the dish to look at the side.
6. Let cool completely. (You can eat it while it’s still warm, but it would be a mess to try to cut + coat with starch until it’s cool.) Then if the top of the mochi is sticky, dust it with cornstarch or potato starch — although usually I can skip this step because the top is far less sticky than the sides and bottom from drying out in the oven — then flip upside-down onto a cutting board, peel off the parchment paper, and dust the reverse side with starch as well. Use a sharp knife or a plastic knife to slice the mochi into strips, using a pinch or two of starch to coat the sticky edges of each strip. Then finally, cut each strip into small squares or rectangles, “dipping” each of the two remaining sticky sides into some starch, then wiping off the excess starch.
Serve right away, or keep at room temperature, lightly covered (not in a sealed container) and out of direct sunlight, for up to two days, and/or refrigerate for up to a few more days (but refrigeration will dry it out slightly, and condensation inside a sealed container in the fridge means some of the pieces will start to stick together a bit, and might need an extra dusting of starch). Try it in/on ice cream, or by itself as a dessert or snack.
Print this recipe! (PDF)
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