Sakura Mochi is a chewy, light pink glutinous rice ball filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in an edible pickled cherry blossom leaf. In Japan, we enjoy this delectable salty-and-sweet confectionery for Girls’ Day and cherry blossom viewing in the springtime.
Spring is in the air and flowers are blooming. Everyone anticipates cherry blossom season. While we wait for the trees to come into full bloom, let’s make Sakura Mochi (桜餅). It’s a popular spring-themed Japanese confectionery along with Hanami Dango.
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What is Sakura Mochi?
Sakura mochi (桜餅) is a type of wagashi (Japanese confectionery) made of light pink colored glutinous rice with sweet red bean paste filling. It typically comes in an ellipsoid shape and blanketed by a salt-pickled sakura leaf.
Sakura means cherry blossoms in Japanese and both the flowers and leaves are used in Japanese confectionery and savory cooking. This delicate pink-blushed mochi is a signature treat for Girls’ Day (known as Hinamatsuri) on March 3rd, but we also enjoy it throughout the spring season in Japan.
Soft yet chewy, the flavor of the mochi balances beautifully between sweet and salty while bringing forth the fragrant note of cherry blossom.
Kanto vs. Kansai-style Sakura Mochi
You can find two styles of sakura mochi in Japan: Kanto (Tokyo)-style and Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto)-style.
People in the Kanto region use shiratamako (白玉粉)—a type of glutinous rice flour—as the main ingredient for the mochi. The presentation looks more like a tiny rolled-up pink pancake that reveals sweet red bean paste in the middle.
In the Kansai region, people use domyojiko (道明寺粉), which is made of glutinous rice that has been steamed, dried and coarsely ground. Even though it’s called “flour”, the grains are just slightly smaller than regular short-grain glutinous rice and they are visible.
How to Make Sakura Mochi
Now you know that there are two types of sakura mochi. Which one will we make today?
In this recipe, we make Kansai-style sakura mochi. Instead of using domyojiko (the coarse glutinous rice flour), we’ll use mochigome (Japanese short-grain glutinous rice), which is much easier to get outside of Japan.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Short-grain glutinous rice – Please make sure it’s Japanese short-grain glutinous rice or mochigome, NOT the long-grain type other Asian cuisines use.
- Red food coloring – I use powder kind, but you can use gel.
- Sweet red bean paste (anko) – Get “koshian“—the smooth kind. You can use chunky “tsubuan” but koshian is typically used for sakura mochi. You can purchase it or make your own.
- Salt-pickled cherry blossom leaves – Please read this ingredient below.
- Salt-pickled cherry blossoms (optional) – for decoration
Overview: Cooking Steps
- Rinse the glutinous rice, measure the water, and mix in sugar and red coloring.
- Cook the glutinous rice just like regular steamed rice.
- Partially mash the cooked rice and divide it into 8 balls.
- Stuff the rice balls with sweet red bean paste and shape them into a cylinder shape.
- Wrap the glutinous rice balls with cherry blossom leaves, and top with cherry blossom flowers.
What Are Salt-Pickled Cherry Blossom Leaves?
The salt-pickled cherry blossom leaves are essential to make sakura mochi and are not used for wrapping the mochi or for decoration purposes. They are completely edible and the aroma and flavor of the salt-pickled cherry blossom leaves contribute to the final dish.
The tender young leaves that sprout in May are hand-pickled, blanched in hot water, then pickled in salt water for a few days. Then, you can preserve the leaves for a year with a little bit of salt water.
The leaves are mildly sweet and faintly smell of cherry blossoms. The aroma is due to an organic compound called coumarin, found in cherry blossoms and plants such as cinnamon bark and tonka beans.
They are still hard to find if you don’t have a well-stocked Japanese grocery store nearby. It’s impossible to find in Asian grocery stores because other Asian cuisines don’t use these ingredients.
Where to Get Online
- Salt-pickled cherry blossom leaves – Nihon Ichiban
- Salt-pickled cherry blossoms – Nihon Ichiban / Amazon
Sakura Mochi Cooking Tips
Tip 1: Gradually add color
My biggest mistake when I first made sakura mochi was that I added the food coloring powder directly to the pre-measured rice water while the glutinous rice was soaking. I added a little too much and it was too late to dilute it.
Since then, I have done two things. First, I prepared a small bowl of red water by adding a tiny drop of red coloring powder to the water. Then, using a small spoon, I gradually added the red water to the rice water until the color turned into a pale, pastel pink.
This way, I don’t accidentally make the rice water too red. The amount is so little that I can’t measure it for you, so you have to figure it out on your own and I hope my tips are helpful.
Tip 2: Wet your hands with the syrup
I used to use just water for this process, but I found the sugar-water syrup makes it easier and keeps the food safe. This syrupy water is called temizu (手水)—literally “hand water” in Japanese—and it’s typically made with one part of sugar and one part of water. I use a 1:5 ratio, by weight: 1 Tbsp of sugar (12 g) and 4 Tbsp of water (60 g).
Spread the temizu on your palms and fingers before you start rolling the sweet red bean paste or glutinous rice into balls. Also, if the plastic wrap sticks to the rice, sprinkle a tiny amount of the syrup on the rice before you touch it with the plastic.
Tip 3: Accurate measurement helps make a good sakura mochi
It’s important to spread the glutinous rice into a nice oval shape so it would be easier to stuff the red bean ball later. Pre-measuring both the rice and red bean filling helps you with the perfect shaping of the mochi.
I already calculated a good balance of the rice-to-red bean ratio and a good oval size to wrap the red bean ball:
- 38-40 grams of cooked glutinous rice (1/8 of cooked rice using 1 rice cooker cup)
- 15 grams of red bean paste ball
The oval shape should be 4⅓ inches (11 cm) in length and 2¾ inches (7 cm) in width.
Tip 4: Smooth out the surface of the mochi
If you look at the final dish of sakura mochi, the only visible pink “mochi” part is the sides. To make the mochi look pretty, use plastic wrap to smooth out the surface of the mochi. I dab a little bit of the syrup onto the rice and pinch any wrinkled or uneven surface of the mochi through the plastic to smooth it out. If you want to use your fingers, make sure to dip in the syrup before touching it. Otherwise, the rice will stick to your fingers and it’ll be very hard to fix the shape.
Tip 5: Face the back of the leaf outside (with more visible veins)
The above picture shows the difference between the front and back of cherry blossom leaves. As you can see, the one on the right (which is the back of the leaf) has more visible veins. We’ll use this as the presentation side for wrapping the mochi.
How to Serve Sakura Mochi
Serve sakura mochi with some delicious Japanese drinks:
More Delicious Japanese Sweets
If you are interested in learning about wagashi, check out Wagashi Guide: History of Japanese Confectioneries.
For the Glutinous Rice
- 1 rice cooker cup sweet rice/glutinous rice (mochigome) (¾ cup, 180 ml for 8 sakura mochi)
- ¾ cup water (for cooking the glutinous rice)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
For the Red Water
- 2 tsp water (no need to increase the amount if you double or triple the recipe)
- red food coloring (I use powder, which is more concentrated than gel or paste; add more if you double or triple the recipe)
For the Syrup
- 1 Tbsp sugar (sugar-to-water ratio is 1 to 5 by weight; use this syrup for rolling the filling and shaping the mochi)
- 4 Tbsp water (sugar-to-water ratio of 1 to 5 by weight; use for rolling the filling and shaping the mochi)
For the Filling and Wrapping
- 4¼ oz sweet red bean paste (anko) (7 Tbsp for 8 sakura mochi; 15 g, 2½ tsp per mochi; use koshian smooth paste (not tsubuan chunky paste); get store-bought or make my Homemade Red Bean Paste recipe)
- 8 salt-pickled cherry blossom leaves (you can purchase them in a vacuum-sealed package in Japanese grocery stores or buy online)
- 8 salt-pickled cherry blossoms (optional; for decoration; buy online)
- water (for soaking the salted leaves and blossoms)
Before We Start…
- Please note: If you liked my previous microwave method, please read the instructions at the end of this recipe.
- Gather all the ingredients. Please note that 1 rice cooker cup is ¾ US cup (180 ml). Overfill a plastic rice cooker cup with uncooked short-grain glutinous rice and level it off. If you don‘t have a rice cooker cup, you can use a ¾ US cup measure instead.
To Wash the Glutinous Rice
- Put 1 rice cooker cup sweet rice/glutinous rice (mochigome) in a large bowl. Add just enough water to the bowl to submerge all the rice. Then, discard the water immediately. Repeat one more time. Tip: Rice absorbs water very quickly when you start rinsing, so this step helps remove impurities from the rice and prevent it from absorbing the first few rounds of milky water.
- Next, use your fingers to gently agitate the wet rice grains in a circular motion for 10–15 seconds. Add water and immediately discard the cloudy water; add more water and repeat. Tip: Using very little water allows the grains to rub against each other. It also reduces the absorption of impurities from the milky water.
- Repeat wash and rinse two more times. When the water is almost clear, drain the rice very well. Tip: Use a fine-mesh sieve to drain and shake off any excess water.
To Prepare the Red Water
- Add 2 tsp water for the red water to a small bowl. Using a toothpick, scoop a tiny bit of red food coloring. I use coloring powder, which is more concentrated than food coloring gel or paste; you can see from the image how little I scooped. Now, add it to the water and mix well. Tip: Don’t add too much food coloring or else the mochi color will be too strong and intense; you want the mochi to be a soft, pale, pastel pink.
To Cook the Glutinous Rice
- Transfer the well-drained rice to the inner pot of a rice cooker (I use the Zojirushi IH). Add ¾ cup water of room-temperature water to the pot. The water must not be warm or hot.
- Add 1 Tbsp sugar to the inner pot and mix well together.
- Gradually add ¼ tsp of the prepared red water to the rice water. Mix really well and check the color of the rice water before you add another ¼ tsp scoop. The color of the rice water should be the color you want in the finished mochi rice—a soft, pastel pink. I did not add all the red water, leaving about ⅛ tsp.
- Level the rice with your fingers so that it‘s evenly submerged in the water. Select your menu setting (I use the Regular program) and press Start. Note: This Zojirushi rice cooker takes 55 minutes to cook the rice; the program includes 10 minutes of soaking time and 10 minutes of steaming time. If your rice cooker does not include soaking/steaming time, please include these times in your cooking. While the rice is cooking, prepare the syrup, red bean balls, and cherry blossom leaves.
To Make the Syrup
- Combine 1 Tbsp sugar and 4 Tbsp water for the syrup in a small bowl and mix well until the sugar is completely dissolved (I use a flat whisk). Tip: I use a sugar-to-water ratio of 1:5 (by weight), but many people use 1:1 or 1:2.
To Prepare the Filling
- From 4¼ oz sweet red bean paste (anko), measure 15 grams of sweet red bean paste with a kitchen scale. Place on a tray or plate. Repeat with the rest of the filling. Tip: If you don‘t have a kitchen scale, measure 2½ tsp of the paste. I use an OXO small cookie scoop that easily scoops and releases the red bean paste.
- Wet your hands with the syrup. Roll each red bean ball between your hands to make a nice, smooth ball. Make sure to wet your hands before you work on the next ball. Cover the balls of filling and keep them in the refrigerator to firm up until you‘re ready to use them. Tip: I use the same syrup later for shaping the mochi rice balls. Try to keep the syrup as clean as possible. If the red bean paste gets into the syrup, you can make another fresh, clean batch to use for shaping the mochi.
To Desalt the Sakura Leaves and Flowers
- Prepare a large bowl of water and soak 8 salt-pickled cherry blossom leaves and 8 salt-pickled cherry blossoms in water for 20–30 minutes (or up to 60 minutes). Tip: Salt is used to preserve the sakura leaves and flowers, but it‘s too salty to consume them as is, so we always need to soak them in water to remove the excess salt.
To Pound the Glutinous Rice
- When the glutinous rice is done cooking, transfer the inner pot of the rice cooker to the countertop. Soak a wooden surikogi (Japanese wooden pestle) or rice paddle in the syrup so the rice will not stick to it. Tip: Make sure to use a tool that does not scratch the nonstick coating of the rice cooker bowl. You can always transfer the rice to another bowl if you're worried.
- Use the wooden pestle or rice paddle to pound the glutinous rice until it is very sticky, just for a minute or so. Keep some shape of the rice grains, and don‘t mash all the rice.
- Level the pounded glutinous rice in the pot and divide it into 8 equal portions.
To Shape the Glutinous Rice
- Moisten your palms with the syrup and put one portion of the glutinous rice in your hands.
- Shape the rice into a cylinder shape. Make sure to wet your hands with the syrup before you work on the next portion of glutinous rice. Repeat until you‘re done with the rice. Keep the rice balls covered with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel.
To Make the Sakura Mochi
- Prepare a sheet of plastic wrap (12 x 12 inches, 30 x 30 cm) on the countertop. Splash a little bit of the syrup on the plastic wrap and place one rice ball in the center.
- Fold the plastic over the rice ball, leaving some space around the rice ball. Flatten the rice ball with your palm.
- Pressing with your palm or the heel of your hand, spread the glutinous rice outward to make an oval shape. Make sure the middle area is slightly thicker than the edges.
- Using the plastic wrap (otherwise, your hands will get very sticky), form the glutinous rice into a nice oval shape. Your oval shape should be 4⅓ inches (11 cm) in length and 2¾ inches (7 cm) in width. If the plastic sticks to the rice, sprinkle a tiny bit of the syrup on the rice before you touch it with the plastic.
- Peel back the plastic and place a ball of the sweet red bean paste in the center. Roll the glutinous rice over it to cover the ball.
- Seal the edges by pressing the two edges of the glutinous rice through the plastic wrap. Tighten the plastic wrap to seal nicely and make a nice oval shape.
- As you see here, the plastic sometimes creates wrinkle marks. From the outside of the plastic, try to pinch the wrinkled area and make a smooth surface. Tip: The only visible area of the sakura mochi is actually the sides since the cherry blossom leaf covers most of the mochi. Therefore, work on smoothing out the sides of the mochi. Keep the mochi covered with plastic and repeat this process with the rest of glutinous rice balls.
To Wrap with the Cherry Blossom Leaves
- Blot the leaves dry with a paper towel. Tip: Do not dry them too much. While you‘re working on the sakura mochi, the leaves will continue to dry and you don‘t want them to be too dry in the end.
- Place the back of the leaf (with more visible veins) facing down on the working surface. Cut off and discard the stem. Place the mochi rice ball on the bottom half of the leaf closest to the stem end, leaving ¼ inch (6 mm) at the edge of the leaf. Tip: Why do we show the back of the leaf for presentation? The light green veins add a nice pattern to the darker leaf.
- Wrap the top half of the leaf over the mochi rice ball. Place a cherry blossom on top, if you‘d like.
- Rice gets hard when refrigerated; therefore, keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store it in a cool place in the house. It's best to enjoy the Sakura Mochi on the same day it‘s made. If you add more sugar when you cook the glutinous rice, it could last for 2 days. To store for a longer time, keep in the freezer for up to a month. Defrost the sakura mochi on the countertop and then microwave it a little to soften it.
The Previous Microwave Method
- In my previous recipe, I cooked the rice in the microwave instead of the rice cooker. If you'd like to follow this method, be sure to make the syrup, prepare the filling, and desalt the sakura leaves and flowers before cooking the rice. You'll need everything else ready when the rice is done cooking.
- Add the rice and water to a large glass bowl, along with the sugar and red food coloring. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic and microwave for 6 minutes (W1100). Then, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it steam for 5 minutes. Then, please follow with the rest of the instructions above.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 7, 2014. It’s been republished on February 22, 2023 with the revised recipe and new blog content and images.