Mix, roll, fry, glaze and bake
to turn out your own arare

Homemade crunch

1) A soft dough mixed of mochiko, flour, water and black sesame seeds is rolled very thin and cut into squares.
2) The raw dough is fried in vegetable oil, turning golden and light, but not quite crunchy.
3) A glaze of soy sauce, sugar and corn syrup is baked onto the crackers, making them dark and crisp.
For details, see complete recipe.

Arare has always come into my house ready-made. Just like, say, shoes. I understand it is theoretically possible to make your own shoes, but how? And why?

Same for arare -- also known as mochi crunch or kaki mochi -- that slightly salty, ever crunchy Japanese rice cracker. This snack food is certainly cheap enough to buy in large quantity, and its quality, mass-production aside, rarely seems an issue.

But one thing about food: For every edible substance there is a person who wants to make it from scratch. And somewhere, there is a recipe.

In this case, the request came from Jessica Ichinose. "Can arare be made in a home kitchen?"

The answer came after Ichinose's request was printed here, from two dear readers who sent in similar recipes from different cookbooks. A combination and adaptation of the three follows.

The arare process turns out to be pretty simple, although a bit tedious. But the ingredients are cheap -- mochiko, sugar, sesame seeds, soy sauce, corn syrup -- so if you have the time, it's a worthy adventure.

Why? Well, because you can. But if that isn't good enough, how about Boy's Day? That's in two weeks and a little homemade arare would be a distinctive treat. Or, if there are no boys in your life, how about Mother's Day? That's 2-1/2 weeks away. Show her you can do this and she'll know she raised you right.

Besides, its kind of magical, making arare. Examine a handful -- the specific culinary process is not clear. Unlike a cookie, which is obviously baked, or a potato chip, which is obviously fried, arare seems the product of some other process -- mechanization, perhaps.

Turns out it is both fried and baked, first to get it light and puffy, second to bake on a sweet-salty glaze and crisp it up.

First, though, you have to form the pieces, by rolling out a simple dough and cutting it. This is a critical step in the recipe: Roll the dough out paper thin and cut into half-inch pieces. My first batch was too thick. The dog enjoyed it, though.

This recipe calls for cutting out simple squares using a knife, which maximizes the dough. You could make fancier shapes such as flowers using canapé cutters, but it's probably best in the beginning if you don't get too cocky.

I thought the real tricky part was going to be frying, but as long as you get the oil to the right temperature (375 degrees), the dough does just what it's supposed to -- rises to the surface, puffs up and turns golden. It won't be crisp yet, so don't think that anything's wrong.

The part where judgment and technique come in is in the glazing. You need to cook a mixture of soy sauce, corn syrup and sugar on the stovetop just enough to thicken slightly. Cook too long and it'll be too thick to coat evenly.

The coated arare goes in the oven, and again, only experience will get you to the point where you can declare success. If you rush, your arare will be sticky and not quite crunchy. Bake too long and it'll taste burnt. It's hard to eyeball the process because the glaze makes it very dark from the start. You need to check an individual piece for that elusive state of "almost done." The glaze will be set, but the arare won't be quite crunchy -- that comes when it completely cools.

Best solution: Glaze and bake in small batches until you have the baking time right for your oven. The good news is, even when burnt this arare tastes pretty good. Did I mention I made several batches?

Ready? Good luck.


Japanese Rice Crackers

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup mochiko
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup water
Vegetable oil for frying
>> Glaze
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce

Combine flour, mochiko, sugar, sesame seeds, baking powder and water to make a smooth dough. Add a little more water if dough is too dry.

Flour work surface lightly with mochiko. Roll out dough in small batches. Dough must be very thin, almost paper-thin. Use a knife to cut into 1/2-inch squares.

Heat oil to 375 degrees.

Fry crackers in batches until golden brown on both sides. This will take just a few seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer, tapping the sides of the fryer to remove excess oil. Drain on paper towels.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place cooled rice crackers on a cookie sheet.

To make glaze: Combine corn syrup, sugar and soy sauce in a pan and bring to boil over medium heat. Cook until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to thicken, about a minute. Do not overcook or the glaze will be difficult to spread.

Pour glaze over rice crackers and mix to coat evenly. Work quickly, as glaze will harden as it cools. Spread crackers into a single layer and separate pieces. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until glaze is set and crackers are dry but not quite crisp. They will harden and get crispy as they cool. Do not overbake or glaze will burn. Makes about 100 rice crackers.

Nutritional information unavailable.


Win a cookbook

Mary Wong and Sylvia Mitsui will receive cookbooks in return for their recipes for Japanese Rice Crackers. Our next mystery is Buttercups -- little custard-filled cakes once sold at the now-defunct 9th Avenue Bakery. If you have a similar recipe, there's a cookbook in it for you.

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