Ohagi (Japanese Sweet Rice Balls)
Ohagi, also known as Botamochi, is a Japanese sweet rice ball wrapped in red bean paste. Traditional Japanese sweets or wagashi can be complicated and time-consuming, but Ohagi is a homely sweet that can be made with a limited amount of effort. The relatively easy preparation and auspicious symbolism of red beans make Ohagi a popular treat to celebrate Ohigan (お彼岸), a Buddhist holiday that coincides with the spring and autumn equinox.
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Why This Recipe Works?
- Mochi rice is traditionally steamed in a basket, but for Ohagi, it is much easier to make it in a pot, similar to how regular rice is cooked. This results in softer rice which works perfectly for making this dish.
- I recommend following my recipe for making anko which gives you control over the sweetness and viscosity of the red bean paste.
- Using saltwater to keep the rice and anko from sticking to your hands adds a light kiss of contrasting salt to the outside of your Ohagi. This gives it depth and amplifies its natural umami without making it taste salty.
Ingredients for Ohagi
- Mochi rice – Mochi rice (もち米 – mochigome) refers glutinous short-grain rice. The extremely sticky texture is due to the fact that the starch content of mochi rice is almost 100% amylopectin. This is a branching form of starch that gives foods a stretchy texture. Glutinous rice is typically pounded into a paste to make mochi, but for Ohagi, the grains are left mostly intact. Some recipes call for a mix of regular Japanese rice and mochi rice because there used to be a time when mochi rice was quite expensive, but I prefer using 100% mochi rice for Ohagi.
- Anko – Anko (あんこ) is a sweet red bean paste made from adzuki beans and sugar. Ohagi can be made with either smooth anko (こしあん – koshian) or chunky anko (粒あん – tsubuan), but it needs to be firm enough to hold its shape.
- Sugar – Although there is sugar in the anko, I recommend adding a small amount of sugar to the rice as well. This helps bridge the taste of the rice and anko together.
- Salt – Just as a bit of salt added to cookies or cakes adds depth to baked goods, a small amount of salt is often used in traditional Japanese sweets for contrast. For Ohagi, I like to dissolve the salt in water and use the saltwater to keep the rice and anko from sticking to my hands. This applies a subtle amount of salt to the surface of the Ohagi without making it obviously salty.
How to Make Ohagi
To prepare the mochi rice, put it in a strainer and wash it with cold water until it runs mostly clear.
Add the rice to a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan and then measure in the water and sugar. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let the rice soak for at least thirty minutes or preferably one hour. You can also soak and cook the rice in a rice cooker.
Once the rice is done soaking, turn the heat on to high and bring the water to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and set a timer for ten minutes. Do not open the lid at any point until the rice is done steaming, or your rice will not cook properly.
After the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let the rice continue steaming for another ten minutes.
While you wait for the rice, dissolve the salt in a cup of warm water, prepare a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap to put your Ohagi on, and put some food-safe gloves on.
When the rice has finished steaming, transfer it to a bowl and use a spatula or rice paddle to smash it against the sides of the bowl until it forms one sticky mass, but you can still see the individual grains of rice.
To shape the Ohagi, you first want to divide the mochi rice into eight to ten balls and roll them between your hands to press out any air pockets and make them round. Keep dipping your hands in the saltwater to keep the rice from sticking.
Next, you want to wrap the rice balls with anko by scooping about 1/4 cup of red bean paste onto your hand and then using your thumbs and fingers to press it out into a disk.
Put a ball of mochi rice into the center of the anko and use the fingers of your dominant hand to gently press the rice into the anko. Cup and rotate your other hand around the Ohagi to press the anko up the sides of the rice.
Finish the Botamochi off by sealing the flaps of anko over the exposed rice on top. Then you can toss the sweet rice ball between your hands to shape it into an oval.
Other Japanese Sweets Recipes
Ohagi, which is also commonly known as Botamochi, is a type of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet) made with sweet red bean paste and mochi rice. Unlike other types of mochi, the rice grains are left partially or fully intact, which lends it a unique texture. Variations include the kind of red bean paste used and whether the rice is used as a filling or a wrapper. Ohagi can also be dusted with various coatings, including kinako (roasted soybean flour), ground black sesame seeds, matcha powder, or aonori (green nori).
Ohagi is a 3-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
o like order
ha like honk
gi like gear
While there are historical and regional differences, the terms are largely interchangeable these days. The most commonly stated difference is that the name Ohagi (おはぎ) is used to describe the dish in autumn, while Botamochi (ぼたもち) is the name used in spring, but here in Tokyo, the dish is called Ohagi year-round. This is because hagi (萩) is the flower of the bush clover plant that blooms in fall, and botan (牡丹) means “peony” which blooms in spring.
There are also theories about the difference arising from a difference in the ratio of mochi rice to regular rice being used for the filling. Another hypothesis centers around the difference in the coatings dusted on the outside of the treat.
Assuming the sugar you use for the rice and anko is plant-based, Ohagi is a vegan and vegetarian friendly dessert.
I like to plate Ohagi on a green leaf, like bamboo, for a splash of color. Unlike daifuku mochi, it is not usually picked up with the hands and can be eaten with a small fork, spoon, or chopsticks. Because it’s relatively sweet, I like to serve Ohagi with green tea or matcha.
Like any mochi, keeping Ohagi in the refrigerator will make the rice hard. That’s why it’s best to keep it at room temperature. That being said, if your room is very warm or you don’t plan to eat it within the day, it’s probably best to refrigerate it to be safe. You can warm it up in a microwave oven for a bit to soften the rice again.
- 160 grams mochi rice (3/4 US cup)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon evaporated cane sugar
- 450 grams anko
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Put the rice in a strainer and wash it until the water is mostly clear.
- Add the rice, water, and sugar to a medium saucepan with a lid and let the rice soak for at least 30 minutes, or preferably 1 hour.
- When the rice is done soaking, bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to low and set a timer for 10 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let the rice continue to steam without opening the lid for another 10 minutes.
- Dissolve the salt in 1 cup of warm water and set this aside.
- Transfer the rice to a bowl and use a spatula to partially mash the rice until it forms a sticky mass (you should still be able to make out individual grains of rice).
- Put some food-safe gloves on and dip your hands in the saltwater to keep the rice from sticking. Pinch off pieces of rice about the size of a ping pong ball, and then roll them between your hands to press out any air pockets. Place the balls onto a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap.
- To wrap the rice balls, scoop about 1/4 cup of anko into your hand and use your fingers and thumbs to press it out into a round disk.
- Place a rice ball in the center of the anko and then gently press the rice into the anko with the fingers of one hand while cupping and rotating the Ohagi in the palm of your other hand.
- Seal the flaps of anko together around the rice and shape the Botamochi into an oval patty.