Much of my time at Aunty Lily’s was spent trying not to step on hyper dogs, hunting for Easter eggs and watching my aunts and uncles scream in laughter after seeing the newest, most outrageous entry into the annual White Elephant game. Despite how busy I ended up being, I always found time to accept a piece of butter mochi from my Aunty Lily.
Aunty Lily was technically my great aunt, but unofficially the grandma I never had.
Don’t get me wrong. Grandma Junie, my dad’s mother, is always lovely. She smiles so brightly when I see her, and she would always make me my favorite spareribs when I was little. She also brags about me incessantly (which is pretty nice). The language barrier is a bit of an obstacle (she speaks Cantonese, I speak English, a minuscule amount of French and dim sum), but we still enjoy each other’s company. I never met my mom’s mother, unfortunately, but my step-grandma is always quick to give me loquats, dried apricots, and compliments on my desserts (even when I made cream puffs that never puffed). She speaks more English than Grandma Junie, but it’s still hard for us to communicate.
Aunty Lily, on the other hand, spoke English. She’d take my boy cousins to the arcade, and me and my girl cousins out to lunch . She was always travelling and ready to take on a new adventure. And she always had a pan of butter mochi lying around. It’s best on the day it’s made, but even I couldn’t turn away a warmed up (just enough to soften) day-old piece.
Her cancer diagnosis was a huge blow to the family. She was the glue that kept us together and happy, and we all loved her immensely. She didn’t slow down until the last week, and passed away peacefully in her sleep.
I’ll always miss her. Having butter mochi makes me feel like I’m with her again. When I get lonely, I drive to the nearby Asian market and buy a box of mochiko. An hour later, I’m greeted by the warm, luscious scent of butter melting and mingling in all the best ways. It’s like she’s giving me a hug.
Notice the milk? The original recipe Aunty Lily gave me didn’t have the milk. So, on one of the days when I was craving butter mochi, I made it. I was so anxious when it came out of the oven. I could feel the taut chewiness between my teeth, the crispy then soft texture on my tongue. I tried to cut into it.
My knife never made it past the top layer. The mochi was hard as a rock, and seemed to grow impossibly more unyielding as time passed. Aunty Lily later laughed as I relayed the story to her, and lovingly added a note that reads “+ 3 cups milk (:” on my copy of the recipe. And if you don’t know what mochiko is, it’s a sweet rice flour, so it’s gluten-free. It’s what gives the mochi its characteristic elasticity and chew.
Butter mochi is, unfortunately, one of those things that doesn’t taste good hot, or even warm. One’s patience can get sorely tested while waiting for a batch to cool (which takes a while; many a time, I’ve had to hold the pan in a sturdy, thick cardboard box while transporting it to a party because the mochi was still hot). But once it’s ready to be consumed, nothing can stop me from cutting a huge rectangle and chowing down.
Now, why did I make a batch today? For one of the members in my group for a physics project. You see, I brought over cream cheese brownies the other day for my group to enjoy. Except I didn’t know that she was gluten-free. I know it wasn’t my fault, so I still felt bad, and vowed to make her mochi. I eventually did during one of our meetings, because I’d rather bake than engineer an upside down loop out of duct tape and foam tubing. I almost forgot the milk, but thankfully remembered to stir it in at the last moment.
I forgot that my oven runs a bit cold, so I baked the mochi at 325F (normally, one would bake a Pyrex at 25F lower than usual). It wasn’t as brown on top as before at the one hour mark, so I turned off the oven and left the mochi in there while I picked up a pizza for dinner. While the resulting mochi wasn’t as crispy on the top as I’ve had it in the past (this can easily be remedied with a couple more minutes of baking time), it was shockingly supple the next day. I’ve always had to heat day-old mochi to help soften the edges, but this one didn’t need any such assistance. Next time, I’d bake it for 65-70 minutes at 325F. That way you can enjoy as much mochi as you want, whenever you want.
I’ve also included a recipe for custard mochi. It has more milk, and the resulting mochi is creamier. It tends to separate into two layers: a creamy, buttery, unctuous top with a more modest, chewy bottom. Some people may not like it, but I think it’s pretty superb.
Also: When I say 1 package of mochiko, I’m talking about the Koda Farms mochiko. One package is the perfect amount for these recipes, and you don’t need to measure out the mochiko. That being said, you can definitely use another brand of mochiko, so long as you use 1 lb of it when you make these mochis.
from Aunty Lily (there are a bunch of very similar ones that you can Google as well; not sure where Aunty originally got the recipe from)
***During my most recent batches, the butter (which rises to the surface of the mochi during baking) has bubbled over a bit in a 9×13″ pan, so I suggest either using an 11×15″ pan or using a 9×13″ pan with a baking sheet on the rack below the pan to catch any drips. Another thing to keep in mind: an 11×15″ pan yields mochi with a higher crispy crunchy top to chewy mochi ratio, whereas a 9×13″ pan yields mochi with a thicker middle and less of the topping. Your choice, but I love more top (chances are, if you’re into muffin tops, you’d like the thinner, crispier mochi, too).
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 (1 lb) box mochiko
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
5 eggs, room temperature and beaten
3 cups milk, room temperature (I like to use whole milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a 11×15″*** dish. Bake at 350F for 1 hour; the top will bubbly, golden brown and poofy. Cool completely (it will deflate) before slicing (it’s easiest with a plastic knife so that the mochi doesn’t stick to the knife) and serving. You can store leftovers at room temperature or in the fridge; if you refrigerate it, however, the mochi gets a little hard and requires reheating (I prefer toasting or microwaving).
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
4 cups milk, room temperature (I like using whole milk)
1 (1 lb) box mochiko
1 T baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the rest of ingredients and mix until well blended. Pour into a 11×15″*** pan and bake at 350F for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until center is firm.