The Dish: Mochi muffins
The Place: Third Culture Bakery, California
The Chefs: Wenter Shyu and Sam Butarbutar
What? We’ve previously mentioned Japan’s uniquely shaped pon de ring mochi doughnuts, but there’s a lot more you can do with the sweet rice flour mochiko. Traditionally, it is used to make mochi, a rice dumpling often stuffed with red bean paste that is particularly popular as a celebratory New Year eat.
In the ‘90s, mochi were reinvented as a frozen treat by Frances Hashimoto, who came up with the idea to put balls of ice cream inside the dough and sell the result to Americans. Since then, the concept has migrated to the UK, with restaurants like Nobu dishing it up for diners, while brand Little Moons sells its version through several channels, including Ocado, in flavours like matcha green tea, mango, coconut and toasted sesame.
More recently, mochi waffles, aka moffles, have been springing up in various iterations – one of the contestants on The Great Australian Bake Off even made them on this year’s competition. Specially made waffle irons are sold online for home cooks, while street food operation Moffle Bar in New York City has taken advantage of the unicorn fad to create moffles on a stick covered with rainbow-hued cereal.
American favourite chicken and waffles is also getting a mochi upgrade at Pa’ina Café in Hawaii as well as appearing on a new brunch menu at San Francisco’s Outer Orbit.
But the most buzzy way to use mochi at the moment is in muffins and Western-style doughnuts.
Where? Third Culture Bakery was founded last year by Wenter Shyu and Sam Butarbutar. At first, they supplied their baked goods through shops and cafes in California’s Bay Area, but opened their own retail space in June thanks to the huge demand for their mochi muffins.
Since they’re made from mochiko, these babies are gluten-free, with Third Culture Bakery making them in trendy Asian flavours like matcha, Thai tea and ube.
The company also recently started experimenting with Western-style mochi doughnuts – something Alimama in New York is already doing. Opened at the beginning of 2018, the NYC Asian dessert shop sells caramel, dark chocolate and matcha mochi doughnuts alongside cold-brewed teas.
Since mochi hail from Japan, it’s not surprising that Singapore’s Brother Bird got in a little earlier on the mochi doughnut action. Opened in 2015, the brand's big seller is a mochi doughnut topped with a scoop of soft serve ice cream. The item's success has led the brand to expand to two locations in addition to a pop-up, as well as to experiment with mochi croissants and cruffins.
Why? Aside from the naturally gluten-free aspect, the fact that mochi flour is made from sticky rice means that it can impart more bounce to baked items (if you’re not sure what we mean, Instagram has a series of videos of people squeezing baked goods made with mochiko to demonstrate the elasticity). It also lends a signature chewy texture that offers a novel sensation compared to traditional British baked goods.