I missed celebrating Chinese New Year in China this year because when I booked my flight, I googled “Chinese New Year 2015” instead of 2016… Mom said, “Well, at least you’ll be here for the day we eat round things.”
As consolation, I baked a big tray of these red bean and walnut sticky rice squares for a monkey-themed Chinese New Year party where we lit bananas on fire, and on Sunday, dad came and we cooked an early new year’s eve dinner. He made a new dish – diced fish with pine nuts. The pine nuts make the dish, even though they cost a whopping $12, thanks to H Mart being even more overpriced than Whole Foods.
I wasn’t sure if anyone at the party would eat these (most of them weren’t Asian), but they did! Every last one. I’m always impressed when people eat the thing first, then ask, what’s in it? I mean, there could be a slug, who knows? (Don’t worry, there isn’t!) Then my dad polished off another plateful and pestered me for the recipe, so here it is.
I’ve had this dessert every year since I came to America. A family friend always made it for Christmas or Chinese New Year, but a couple years ago she moved to California, so no more! After many reminders, my mom got the recipe for me.
It was practically illegible, but we finally managed to decipher it, and then mom started testing it. The recipe didn’t work the first two times! We found out there were some missing instructions, but I was also skeptical of the box of Mochiko flour. Turns out my instincts were right. Here’s why.
Dad gives me a short lesson on two different types of glutinous/sweet rice flour:
When I set out to test this recipe myself one weekend at dad’s house, I asked him if he had glutinous rice flour (which is gluten free by the way!). He asked, do you want shui mo fen (水磨粉) or nuo mi fen (糯米粉)? Was there a difference?? Apparently yes! The first is short for water milled glutinous rice flour, and the second is dry milled. Most packages of Chinese or Thai glutinous rice flour will be labeled water milled (水磨) in Chinese, which means the glutinous rice is soaked first, then milled. The water washes away any powder and grit, yielding a much finer and stickier flour.
Do not use Mochiko in this recipe, no matter what all the other “red bean mochi cake” recipes say.
Koda Farms, the maker of Mochiko, does not water mill their sweet rice flour. Instead, they dry the grains first, then mill it. I might be the only person telling you not to use Mochiko, but my mom and I made this recipe four times, twice with Mochiko and twice with Erawan, a Thai brand that is water milled. Erawan baked into an addictively squishy, chewy cake with a shatteringly crisp top crust fresh out of the oven. Mochiko? Not so much.
If we’ve learned anything from the Mast Brothers debacle, it’s to look beyond the pretty packaging. I’m sure there are recipes Mochiko is good for. It’s just not this one.
Why you should make your own red bean paste instead of buying it:
Because it tastes 1000x better! Similar recipes will call for a can of sweetened red bean paste. Don’t touch that stuff with a ten foot pole. Once, and only once, I found fresh, real tasting red bean paste in a small plastic bag in the refrigerated section of the Chinese supermarket, but I’ve never seen it again. Mom tried a different bag of storebought red bean paste and it tasted just like the canned stuff, so we’re going to make our own. It’s super easy, especially if you have a rice cooker. That’s how we all cook our beans, right??
Oh, and happy new year!!
See my notes above on using Erawan or another brand of water-milled sweet/glutinous rice flour instead of Mochiko.
- Wash and drain the red beans, then add to a rice cooker or medium covered pot with 2 cups of water. The lid of the pot should have a steam hole in it.
- Turn your rice cooker on, or boil then simmer the beans for 1 hour. Boil the remaining 2 cups of water close to the 1 hour mark. Add 2 cups of boiling water to the beans and stir, then cover again. If using a rice cooker, the beans should be done after 30 more minutes. You'll know by its creamy texture. If using a pot, stir frequently for the next 30 minutes so the beans don't stick to the bottom of the pot as they begin to disintegrate. They will be done when they are thick and creamy.
- Stir in the sugar and butter until melted. You can leave the bean paste chunky or puree it with an immersion blender. I pureed mine. Even though it loses its glossy red color, I prefer the texture.
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Mix together all of the ingredients except for the walnuts and red bean paste. You can use a blender or high speed mixer. Make sure there are no lumps in the batter. It should be very smooth and liquidy.
- Line a 13x9 inch pan with parchment paper and pour half the batter in. You can eyeball this. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven.
- Using your fingers, drop little bits of red bean paste all over the top. The first layer will sink a bit. Top with a second layer, followed by the chopped walnuts. Gently drizzle the rest of the cake batter over the top, submerging the red bean paste and walnuts.
- Bake for 45-50 more minutes, rotating halfway through.
- Remove from oven and let cool before lifting the cake out with the parchment paper and cutting into it bite-size squares.
- These are good warm, but firmer and easier to slice after cooling. Best eaten on the first day, but will keep at room temperature for 2 days. Store in the refrigerator after that, but zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds before eating.