Sometimes the best treats are the ones that are familiar but have their own unique twist. Mochi ice cream is a small scoop of ice cream surrounded by chewy mochi. It’s ice cream you can eat with you fingers, and it’s also a fun twist on a beloved treat. Mochi ice cream is a delicious ice cream treat created in the United States in 1993. Its uniqueness is part of why it so quickly gained in popularity, and why it so quickly captured such a large share of the market.
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What is Mochi?
Mochi is a traditional Japanese sweet dish made from mochigome, a Japanese short-grain glutinous rice. Other common ingredients added to the rice to make delicious confections include cornstarch, water, and sugar. Mochi itself is made of lipids, protein, water, and polysaccharides, and is mashed and molded into particular shapes in a ceremony called mochitsuki. Mochi is similar to dango, which is made of rice flour.
Mochi is higher in protein than dishes made with short-grain rice, and it is definitely higher in protein than many traditional American desserts. It is sticky and chewy, and people in Japan first started eating mochi during the Heian period, which lasted from 794-1185. The process originated in China and was used by Aboriginal Chinese tribes in their traditions. Mochi can be many different flavors such as red bean, green tea, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and mango. There are many possible popular fillings, like anko (red bean paste), shio an (white bean paste), strawberry, and more.
Mochi is simple to make, but doesn’t last long after it is prepared. The best way to keep it safe is by freezing it. Modern Japanese people still use mochi for many traditions, and it is one of the traditional foods eaten around the celebration of the New Year. Hishi Mochi is a traditional dish presented during the rituals on Girls’ Day, or Hinamatsuri, in Japan.
Other Mochi Treats
Because it is easy to make and easy to adapt, there are many popular treats made with mochi. The mochi itself can be used as a base, flavored, and added to other dishes which are sweet or savory.
More than just a pastry, daifuku has its own history and backstory. Originally called habutai mochi because of its filling, daifuku, or daifuku mochi, comes from the early Edo period of Japan, during the period from 1603 and 1868: a time of economic growth and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. Originally called uzumomochi, daifuku mochi’s name changed through the years as it remained popular but its presentation changed. For instance, by the end of the 18th century, daifuku fans were starting to eat it as a toasted treat. The current name means great luck rice cake, and it is looked at as a dish that brings the consumer good luck.
There are many varieties, but the mochi is usually white, pale pink, or pale green, and filled with anko, which is a sweet paste made from akuzi beans that are boiled, mixed with sugar and beaten into a thick paste. The treats look like filled cookies.
Sakuramochi is another traditional Japanese sweet made of rice, and is a pink-colored cake with Anko in the middle. There are different styles of Sakuramochi in different areas of Japan, and the Kanto-style version uses rice flour to make the dish instead of mochi. The rice cake is covered with a pickled cherry blossom leaf, which is decorative, though some people choose to eat it. This delicious and attractive treat is most commonly eaten during the spring, and is one of the dishes which is popular during Girl’s Day or hinamatruri, which occurs every year on March 3. It’s also a popular treat during flower viewing parties, or hanami, a tradition that is many centuries old.
Mochi Isn’t Always Sweet
While many of the dishes using mochi are sweet, mochi is often added to savory dishes, such as chikara udon, a popular udon noodle soup dish. This dish has thick, chewy noodles, and rich soup stock, and it is served in many restaurants and can even be cooked in the microwave. Yaki mochi is a grilled rice cake, and mitarashi dango are sweet and savory mochi dumplings eaten as snacks and desserts.
Other countries offer an even wider variety of mochi selections, such as the muah chee dish from Singapore, wuch is made with crushed peanuts or black sesame seeds. Tangyuan, a Chinese dessert, is also used in several different kinds of soup, such as red bean soup and black sesame soup.
Mochi Fun Fact
The moon rabbit is a traditional character from Asian folklore who lives on the moon. The original story comes from the markings which can be seen on the moon which resemble a rabbit or hare. The story started in China and spread to other Asian nations, such as Japan. The markings make it look as though the rabbit is using a mortar and pestle, and different cultures have different beliefs about what the rabbit is preparing. While the Chinese tradition has the rabbit working with the elixir of life, the Japanese version has the rabbit making the ingredients for rice cake.
Specifically, the rabbit on the moon is pounding Mochi, and became a big part of other traditional celebrations and festivities. Young children can look into the sky and believe that the moon rabbit is helping to prepare their dishes.
The Introduction of Ice Cream
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Frances Hashimoto originally invented Mochi ice cream. Frances Hashimoto was a Japanese-American businesswoman, activist, and a key figure of the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Los Angeles. Hashimoto’s parents owned a traditional Japanese confectionary in Los Angeles. It had opened in 1910 and closed at the outbreak of World War II when they were forced into Japenese internment camps along with thousands of others. The parents opened their confectionery again at the end of the war, and Frances joined the family business, called Mikawaya, to help her widowed mother.
After thinking about it seriously, Frances left her teaching career behind and became the CEO of her family business. Frances expanded the business from one location to several others, with locations in Los Angeles, Torrance, California, Gardena, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii. Her husband came up with the original idea of wrapping bits of ice cream in Mochi, but it was Frances brought the idea to fruition. She sold the mochi ice cream at Mikawaya, which offered seven flavors of the delicious treat. The original flavors were vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, plum wine, Kona coffee, red bean, and green tea.
All the original flavors are still available today, with quite a few new additions, to boot. You can buy Mikawaya mochi ice cream at the Mikawaya confectioneries, but if you don’t have one near you, it can also be found at Whole Foods, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and Albertsons. These fun desserts make up the majority of Mikawaya’s sales.
How to Make Mochi Ice Cream At Home
While it may seem impossible to make mochi ice cream at home, you can actually do it. It is a bit tricky due to how quickly ice cream melts, but if you’re confident in the kitchen, it’s definitely worth a shot.
- 50g sticky/sweet rice flour
- 75g sugar
- 100ml water
- 1tsp Mizuame
- Potato or corn starch (about 100g)
- 1 carton of your favorite ice cream (you can also use homemade ice cream made with an ice cream maker)
- 1 tbsp your favorite jam (optional)
- Ice cream scoop
- Sieve (optional)
- 2 baking trays
- Foil cupcake liners
- Microwave-safe bowl
- A small dish (optional)
- Bag clips (optional)
Making mochi ice cream can be a long process, so I’ve decided to break it down into more bite-sized steps. The most involved process is the making of the mochi, but don’t be intimidated by it. It may seem like a lot, but it’s all very intuitive.
Preparing the Ice Cream
- Prepare a baking tray by placing cupcake liners on it.
- Take your ice cream and make small, uniform scoops. Place one in each cupcake liner.
- Place the baking tray in the freezer (or mini freezer) to let the ice cream firm up.
Making the Mochi
- (Optional) For flavored mochi, force jam through a fine sieve to remove lumps and seeds.
- Cover the second baking sheet in a thick layer of corn starch.
- Combine rice flour and sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Slowly add water and continue stirring until there are no more pockets of dry flour.
- (Optional) Add jam to the mixture. Mix until combined.
- Add mizuame. Don’t stir.
- Loosely cover bowl in plastic wrap and microwave at 600 watts for two minutes.
- Remove plastic wrap and mix until smooth.
- Loosely cover bowl again and microwave for 40 more seconds.
- Stir until glossy. Use a spatula to move the mochi onto the tray covered in corn starch.
- Add another thick layer of corn starch on top of the mochi.
- Use your hands to spread the mochi and create a 6″x12″ rectangle. Let cool and place in your refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preparing the Mochi for the Ice Cream
- Remove the mochi from the refrigerator. Cut into eight even squares. Remove the extra starch from each piece.
- Place each piece of mochi onto a plate with a layer between each one so they can’t touch.
- Place in freezer for 30-60 minutes.
Making the Mochi Ice Cream
- Remove one ice cream scoop from the freezer at a time.
- Remove cupcake liner and place scoop onto a mochi square.
- Gather the mochi around the ice cream and pinch it together until it sticks to itself. You can use a small bowl to hold the ice cream if you are having trouble.
- Use the plastic wrap from the plate of mochi to wrap the mochi ice cream. (Optional) You can use a bag clip for extra security.
- Immediately return mochi ice cream to the freezer when complete. Work on only one piece of mochi ice cream at a time.
- Allow to sit in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before serving.
If you want a clear visual for how to complete any of these steps, watch this video hosted by a dog who is coincidentally also named Frances.
Mochi ice cream is one of the most fun ways to eat ice cream. While it’s already delicious, the mochi adds a new layer (pun intended) to the ice cream and turns it into something truly special. If you have the opportunity to try mochi ice cream, I sincerely recommend giving it a try. After all, what’s the worst that could happen when ice cream is involved?