A couple of weeks ago, I re-watched Chef, a movie about a prominent chef who loses his job and is forced to reinvent himself. As someone who's been struggling with underemployment for the duration of the pandemic, the movie's theme hit close to home, and the lovingly styled dishes reminded me of why I fell in love with writing about restaurants.
But what stuck with me the most from the movie is the moment when the main character introduces his son to andouille sausage and starts raving to him about New Orleans cuisine. His son doesn't get what the big deal is, because you can get an andouille sausage anywhere. "Not the same," the chef explains. "When you have it here it's good because it reminds you of, like, a whole world of memories you have about being there."
That's what this butter mochi is about.
In November 2019, I first tried butter mochi at the Hilo Farmers Market, and it became one of my favorite foods of that year. In Hawaii, the bouncy, cake-like dessert has the sort of ubiquity that brownies do in the Midwest: you can find it at farmer's markets, bakeries, the grocery store, and on restaurant menus. For me, butter mochi is evocative of a very particular time and place, one that has become especially poignant since that vacation to Hawaii was my last major pre-pandemic trip.
When I bit into a piece of butter mochi I made for myself at home, it was good in the way that this particular dessert is—sweet, buttery, a hint of coconut, the unique texture that I love. But mostly, my homemade butter mochi was good because it reminded me of warm, humid days, and a giant banyan tree, and piles of technicolor tropical fruit, and ocean views, and the specific sort of joy I only feel when I'm experiencing someplace new.
Butter mochi is influenced by Japanese cuisine: the key ingredient is the mochiko flour. Made from short grain sweet rice, the flour is what gives butter mochi its distinctive bouncy, chewy texture. I tracked down a box of Koda Farms mochiko flour at United Noodles—that's the brand recommended by the butter mochi recipe I used, and it's widely available at Asian supermarkets, online, and in the international foods aisle at some grocery stores.
While my favorite thing about butter mochi is the texture, I also love the rich blend of vanilla (make sure you use the real stuff instead of imitation) and butter. The coconut milk is mostly used to provide liquid and fat; the coconut flavor isn't very pronounced.
Since butter mochi is much denser than a cake made with wheat flour, I cut it into smaller slices—18 versus the typical 12 I get out of a 9x13 inch pan.
Adapted from Onolicious Hawai'i and Hawaii's Best Desserts by Jean Hee
Yield: one 9x13 inch cake
- (16-ounce) box of mochiko sweet rice flour
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- (13.5) ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 5 eggs
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix with a spoon until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread to an even thickness.
Bake for one hour, or until cake is golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool completely before slicing. Store tightly covered at room temperature.
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