SOMERVILLE — It was during the stormiest winter in 20 years that Erino Tezuka Wade made her first batch of mochi, the delicate, lightly sweetened Japanese confection based on sticky rice. She was a new arrival to Somerville after more than a dozen years in San Francisco. Wade longed for kagami mochi served at New Year’s in Japan, but didn’t know where to find it. “Unlike in San Francisco, there is no Japan Town,” she says.
Far from the masters of the mochi craft, she hoped for a close approximation. Her results had the qualities of professional confections. “It was such a comforting feeling,” says Wade, who turned out to have a skill for creating intricate designs that match complimentary ingredients.
Today, the Japan-born furniture and product designer is the proprietor of Mochi Kitchen, operated from her own kitchen. She takes orders for large events and individuals. A New Year’s party at the Children’s Museum that she catered marked her first year in business. More recently her mochi was served at the Harumatsuri Japanese Spring Festival.
Made of sticky sweet rice, water, and a bit of sugar, Wade’s mochi are formed into squares, cubes, spheres, and rectangles. Her style of adding flavored tea leaves, candied ginger, and various New England ingredients is what makes her mochi distinctive. Often mochi have multiple layers of flavors and textures. Wrapped in seaweed paper or bean paste, the confections serve a function similar to wafer cookies and petits fours, and they can be finger food for breakfast or lunch.
She now uses New England ingredients and a sketchbook contains pages of mochi designs with playful additions. “Mochi is a white canvas you can make into anything you want,” she says.
Among her Far East-meets-Northeast flavors are squares with cocoa drizzle, cranberries, and cayenne. In another, she dusts cubes with toasted soy bean powder with maple syrup sauce. “Soy is an all-purpose food in Japan,” Wade says. “In mochi, it can be a powder, a paste, or even whole beans.”
Wade makes a soy and brown-sugar style mitarashi sauce that her husband, David, began ladling over vanilla ice cream, and thus began the Japanese sundae. Other treats are strictly seasonal, like cherry blossom tea-flavored mochi, and soon, green tea mochi crepes for summer.
Wade went to San Francisco from Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, to work as an au pair. “My dad traveled all over the world as an architect. It felt natural to want to go overseas,” she says. After college, she worked for 10 years as a designer at San Francisco-based McGuire Furniture Co. “As the recession started, fewer people had their own apartments or homes and fewer businesses were started, so less furniture was sold. I survived many layoffs but then it was my turn.”
She met her husband, who teaches the Japanese martial art of Aikido part time, when she went to take lessons in San Francisco. Being laid off allowed her to join him in Somerville after more than a year of transcontinental commuting. He works for the federal government in Boston.
Now the mochi business is doing well.
Often referred to as a snack, mochi can also be wagashi, meaning “sweets” in Japanese. But the sweetness is usually subtle. “Mochi are good sweets for children,” says Wade. “There’s little refined sugar added. Most of the sweetness comes from the rice and other ingredients.” Wade says that runners sometimes eat mochi instead of pasta the night before a marathon.
Still, because of its sweet profile, mochi is considered something that more women than men prefer.
“There’s a stereotype in Japan that women like sweets and men like a drink. That’s changing. Boys are turning unisexual. They like cute stuff.”
That, she says, holds promise for more off-beat combinations.
For more information about Mochi Kitchen, go to www.mo