Mastering the art of Japanese desserts

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
04 April, 2016

From ramen bars to Michelin-starred restaurants, this Japanese dessert is taking menus by storm. We spoke to Vivien Wong, co-founder of Little Moons mochi ice cream, about the surge in popularity in the UK, and got a little mochi-making masterclass along the way.



Little Moons mochi ice cream is a pairing of Italian gelato wrapped in a jacket of Japanese mochi. Together they create a moreish mouthful of fine gelato and soft, velvety mochi. Mochi is a Japanese dough made from rice flour that is steamed for around 30 minutes before being shaped or used to enrobe different fillings.


Traditionally this filling would be a sweet bean paste, but now it can be everything from chocolate ganache and ice cream to fruit and nuts. Mochi was traditionally eaten during Japanese New Year, although it is now enjoyed all year round. Over new year there is a ceremony called Mochitsuki during which mochi is pounded with a wooden mallet (kine) in a mortar (usu). The Japanese have a legend that when you look at the moon, you can see a rabbit busy making mochi. Making mochi has an almost sacramental dimension to it. The Japanese believe pounding rice brings out its sacred power and that mochi represents perfection and purity which are imbued to the eater.


The fascinating thing about the mochi texture is that there are no adequate words in the English language to describe it. I would describe mochi as initially soft and velvety and then almost melts in your mouth. I had eaten mochi when travelling in Japan, but couldn’t find anything like it in the UK, so my brother and I saw the opportunity to give people something new. The idea of combining mochi with products such as ice cream and frozen yoghurt came from the United States where it is often served as a secret topping at places like Pinkberry. We've created a more sophisticated European twist by pairing mochi with really high quality Italian style gelato made in small batches so the filling does justice to the mochi.


There is definitely a craft to making good mochi. The ingredients are simple - flour, sugar and water - but it can be tricky to get the dough to the right consistency, and time consuming, so that’s why a lot of restaurants buy it in. I had to teach myself how to get it just right, with a lot of trial and error.


It’s hard to pick my favourite flavour as it depends on what I’m in the mood for. Our Sumatran coconut flavour is great if you feel like something creamy and indulgent, while our Alphonso mango version is an intense yet refreshing and zingy. Supplying restaurants such as Nobu, Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu has allowed us to be more experimental with flavours - my favourite is the dulce de leche with miso salt. Caramelised white chocolate is also pretty great.  


How to make your own mochi... 


First, Vivien helped us make a basic mochi dough following these instructions:

150ml water 
200g glutinous rice flour
50g granulated sugar


Mix the flour and water together, adding a little more of each if you need to help bring it together, then knead to a smooth dough, then once this is mixed, steam the dough in a bamboo or metal steamer for 20 minutes.

Once well kneaded, we put the dough in a steamer. Here's a before (on the left) and an after shot.



When it came to rolling out the dough, around 15cm diameter, and 2mm thick. We then put a scoop of ice cream straight into the middle then pinched the dough up around it, which ended in a squidgy mess not worthy of a photograph. Learn from our mistakes and put individual small scoops of ice cream or sorbet on a baking sheet then refreeze so there's a better chance of it holding its shape; on our second attempt, we found that fruit-based fillings held well. Roll in icing sugar, then refreeze as fast as you can. If you're a fan of making your own gyoza or dim sum, this recipe is for you. 


Find out more about Little Moons here





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