Chewy, sticky black sesame and coconut mochi are a joy to make and a treat to eat

Becky Krystal

THE WASHINGTON POST – To say I am persistent would be an understatement. Stubborn is more like it, which is not a bad thing when it comes to mastering a recipe, especially one I plan on sharing with you.

So when my first batch of Black Sesame and Coconut Mochi from Hetty McKinnon’s new book To Asia, With Love wasn’t quite as pretty as the little snowballs on the page, I went back to it. Again and again.

Not quite like bread dough but not your standard cookie dough either, mochi is a class in itself.

Made with glutinous rice flour, this dough is hydrated and heated so that the starches absorb water, swell and burst. (The traditional method involves steaming and pounding cooked rice.)

The result is a sticky dough that can be rolled and molded around a variety of fillings.

While McKinnon grew up eating the Cantonese version known as lo mai chi, filled with red bean paste or peanut and coconut, here she uses the name for the popular Japanese treat. Her rendition is stuffed with a not-too-sweet mix of ground black sesame seeds, coconut cream and desiccated coconut. It’s just the right balance of sweet and savoury, satisfying and restrained.

Black Sesame and Coconut Mochi. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

BLACK SESAME AND COCONUT MOCHI

If you’re already a fan of the delightfully soft and squishy treat, you’ll love this not-too-sweet rendition of mochi.

If not, it will win you over.

Pro tip: Heat gelatinises the starches in the rice flour and turns them quite gluey, so it’s preferable to wash your equipment with cold water. Let soak first for easier cleaning.

Storage: The mochi are best eaten immediately, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 24 hours. After that, store in the freezer and eat frozen for up to a month.

Where to Buy: Black sesame seeds and glutinous rice flour are available at well stocked supermarkets, Asian markets and online. If you find roasted seeds, skip the toasting step.

INGREDIENTS

For the filling

Half cup plus two tablespoons black sesame seeds (may substitute white sesame seeds)

One tablespoon superfine sugar

Three tablespoons coconut cream (not cream of coconut)

One tablespoon desiccated coconut

A pinch of sea salt

For the dough

Three-quarter cup plus two tablespoons glutinous rice flour (sweet rice flour, such as Mochiko brand)

One-and-three-quarter cups water

Three-quarter cup superfine sugar

Cornstarch, for dusting

Three tablespoons desiccated coconut, for rolling

DIRECTIONS

Make the filling: In a medium skillet over low heat, toast the sesame seeds, shaking occasionally, just until aromatic, four to five minutes (they can burn in a second). Transfer to a plate or bowl and let cool. (Skip this step if you’ve bought roasted seeds)

Transfer the toasted sesame seeds and one tablespoon of the superfine sugar to a food processor or blender and process until finely ground and well combined. You may still see some flakes of the sesame seeds; they won’t break down all the way. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Add the coconut cream, desiccated coconut and salt, and stir well to form a thick paste, mashing the coconut cream as you stir to ensure it’s fully incorporated.

Make the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice flour and water. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium saucepan, using a flexible spatula to press it through and into the pan. Stir in the superfine sugar. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and, using a flexible spatula, stir constantly until you have a very sticky blob of dough, six to eight minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pot as you stir to prevent scorching. At first it will look like nothing is happening, and then it will thicken very quickly. You’ll know you’ve reached the right point when stirring feels like a real workout, with the dough putting up lots of resistance. Remove from the heat.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cutting board and sprinkle with cornstarch – you want an even layer to prevent sticking but not so much you dry out the dough immediately. Tip the dough onto the paper and allow to cool slightly for a few minutes. Too hot and the dough will be too loose to shape, but too cool and it won’t be firm enough to form into neat balls. It should still be fairly warm to the touch. Keep in mind it will continue to cool after cutting and as you work your way through the batch.

Sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with more cornstarch. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces, ideally with a bench scraper (it can be easier to visualise if you cut the round into fourths and then divide each of those into thirds).

Sprinkle the desiccated coconut onto a plate or shallow dish.

Dust your hands with a little cornstarch before handling the sticky dough (an excessive amount will dry out the dough too much and make forming the balls harder). Roll a piece into a ball, then flatten into a disc two-and-a-half to three inches wide. The dough should be soft and malleable. Place about one-and-a-half teaspoons of the filling in the centre, then pull the sides up and over the filling, pinching and twisting to seal the dough.

It can help to flip the round seam side down to form it into a neater ball. Roll the mochi in the coconut, pressing a little to help it adhere, reshaping the ball as needed. If your hands are feeling sticky, just dust again with cornstarch. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Work as quickly and confidently as you can so the dough doesn’t get too cold.

Serve immediately.