For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading Victoria Abbott Riccardi’s book Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto. Ms. Riccardi spent a year in Kyoto studying kaiseki, the cerimonial tea cuisine. Kaiseki uses seasonal ingredients to create small plates intended to accompany the heart of the ceremony, tea made with matcha, finely milled Japanese green tea. The production of matcha follows a specific process (you can read the details here) and the preparation of the tea during the ceremony follows a traditional ritual.
For part of the time, Ms. Riccardi lived with a Japanese family, a fact allowed her to get a closer view of the culture, the food, the rituals that mark the passing of the seasons. When I reached the point where she gives a recipe for green tea ice cream, I decided to make this dessert. The recipe in the book is similar to the one I had used in the past, made up by myself using that for vanilla ice cream (gelato alla vaniglia) as a blueprint. After reading Riccardi's recipe, I made two adjustments to my earlier recipe:
- I mixed matcha with some water before adding it to the rest of the ingredients given by Riccardi was different.
- I used more matcha.
For the occasion, I purchased some matcha of good quality, and also the traditional bamboo scoop, called chashaku (visible in the photo below), and bamboo whisk, called chasen. Also, as mentioned previously, the quality of the ingredients is key in making gelato, so I always use organic milk and cream and fresh, pastured eggs.
- 2 (30 ml) tablespoons matcha of good quality
- 2 (30 ml) tablespoons boiling water
- 1 large of extra-large egg and 1 yolk
- 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1 and 1/4 cup (300 ml) non-fat milk
In a small bowl, mix matcha and water: the result is a dense paste. Let it cool. In a bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolk and sugar. In the meantime, heat milk and cream in a saucepan until quite hot, but not boiling. Temper the eggs with a bit of the hot liquid, then slowly add the rest, while whisking.
Whisk in the matcha: It takes a bit of patience to dissolve the matcha into the liquid. Place a tea strainer over the saucepan and slowly pour most of the liquid through it. The last half cup or so may show some undissolved matcha. I used the chasen to do a bit more whisking here; you can use your whisk. Pour the remaining liquid through the strainer. The matcha should be totally dissolved.
Put the saucepan over gentle heat, and stir the ice cream base almost constantly. You will notice a thickening. When a film forms over the back side of the stirring spoon (I use a wooden one), draw your finger across. If the line stays clear, the custard is ready. (If it overheats, it will curdle.) Remove the pan from the heat and place in a cold water bath, while stirring the custard. Once cool, cover and place in the fridge until thoroughly chilled. Churn in your ice cream maker until it reaches the consistency of gelato. Serve immediately and enjoy.
This ice cream has a bold matcha flavor and both my husband and I loved it. We obviously did not finish it, so what was left over went into a lidded container (the surface of the ice cream protected with a layer of wax paper) and then into the freezer.
My favorite chapter of the book is the one titled "Making Mochi," where the author talks about the tradition of mochitsuki, the making of mochi, which is part of the New Year's celebration (Oshogatsu). Here's a description of mochitsuki from this source:
After the [sweet glutinous] rice is cooked, it is dumped into the usu, or mortar, made from a wood stump, stone or concrete form. The hot cooked rice in the usu is pounded with a kine or wooden mallet... until the mass of rice is smooth and shiny, with no discernible individual grains of rice.
Ms. Riccardi participates to the tradition by operating the wooden mallet (a rather intense workout). The two sentences that most impressed me in this chapter are excerpted here:
The Japanese believe that pounding rice brings out its sacred power, and that mochi contains the grain's spiritual essence. [page 148]
Sadly, making mochi is a dying tradition. [page 153]
I had seen mochi, but never tasted it and had no idea of the rich tradition behind it. My interesting reading, however, would have remained without consequences had I not stumbled, the day after making green tea ice cream, on this article by Anita Chu about making daifuku mochi (stuffed mochi balls) and the related recipe. The article mentions a green tea ice cream filling. At that point, I knew I had to try the whole process. I followed the recipe halving the quantities and using agave nectar instead of corn syrup. The result was acceptable, considering that I had no experience to use as a reference. The difficult part was trying to make a dumpling using a warm wrap and softened ice cream. I needed to be better prepared.
After reading this post from Chocolate & Zucchini and watching the video it references, I felt ready for my second attempt. I used the recipe given in Clotilde's post with a couple of adjustments, and used the microwave method.
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) sweet white rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour)
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
- a pinch of matcha (I will use a bit more next time)
- 150 ml (2/3 cup) cold water
- tapioca starch for dusting (corn starch can be substituted)
The mochi felt softer and was easier to handle. I kept the green tea ice cream in the freezer until I was ready to assemble the mochi ice cream. With the help of a melon baller, I carved out small half spheres of ice cream. This time, the mochi was a bit cooler and the ice cream was very cold, which gave me enough time to form the dumpling before the melting core started to make the operation difficult. Honestly, it was fun. Though I had not replicated the traditional mochitsuki, I had made mochi from scratch and that was satisfying.
As each dumpling was done, I put it in tray in the freezer. I should specify that I made more than ten (since I wanted them smaller), though I am afraid I forgot to count them. I hope you understand from the description of the process that inserting in this tight schedule a photo op was not an option. The video is really helpful and you can see my end result. Sure, my daifuku mochi making technique will need to improve, but that will happen, as ice cream mochi has already become a household favorite.
If I ever visit Japan, I will be looking for people practicing the ancient art of marbling called suminagashi, meaning floating ink. I learned this marbling techniques several years ago from Robin Heyek, who went to Japan to research it. Making suminagashi requires concentration and attention and it is, in a sense, a ceremony. For me, it is also a meditation practice that makes me focus on the moment and on my breath. The images composed on the surface of the water are elegant and fragile. They are also of delicate colors. The artist needs to decide when it is the right moment to freeze them on paper. I have a photo of one of my creations and I placed it on a page of its own, where you can also read about this truly beautiful technique.
This post contains the roundup fo the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the gelato al tè verde e mochi con gelato audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
Update (May 27, 2011): I have submitted the recipe to the contest