Each year, one of the traditions of the Japanese New Year is to pound rice into a fine flour, mochi. Pounding the rice, however, is no easy task. It tasks many family members, friends, and hours to get the task done. This tradition dates back to the Heian period (794-1185).
Mochi can be sweet, or it can be savory. Traditionally, the mochi made for the New Year is rolled into round white balls and stacked two cakes on top of one another along with an orange as an offering to the gods. Placed on a family altar, it was thought to bring good luck for the coming year.
It is also believed that the kami’s power resides in kagami mochi. To obtain the power of these deities during the New Year, people usually cook it in a soup called o-zoni. Another dish in which to cook it is a dessert called o-shiruko, a kind of soup made from sweet red beans.
When preparing it for the soup, Japanese people do not use knives to cut the rice cakes but break them with wooden hammers. This procedure is called kagami biraki (“opening the mirror”)
If you want to try mochi without all of the work of the pounding, many grocery stores sell mochiko, which is the fine powder of mochi. I personally like to add pumpkin to my mochi to make a pie-like dessert for the holiday season.