At the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance you can buy a Louis Vuitton bag, eat out of a meticulously composed bento box, get a makeover at the Shiseido counter, and buy Pocky in bulk from the grocery section. You can also find many iterations of Hello Kitty -- dolls, towels, bags, pencils, pencil sharpeners, pencil pouches, backpacks -- along with lovely imported miso bowls, tea sets and chopsticks.
But the real star of the place is J. Sweets, a department that literally shines, radiating sugary opulence from its display cases like the fine jewelry section at Saks. Spotless vitrines showcase gorgeous Japanese sweets produced by high-end confectioners, from seasonal fruit jellies to matcha chocolate bars to French macarons with a Japanese twist -- flavored with yuzu and salt.
Taking up a small corner the entire J. Sweets department is Mochicream, a display case filled with 30 playful variations on the traditional Japanese treat.
The treats at Mochicream are technically daifuku -- mochi stuffed with sweet fillings (daifuku literally means "great luck"). Traditional mochi is sort of off-white in color, a small cake made from pounded mochigome -- short-grain glutinous sweet rice, that can swing either savory or sweet. The Japanese even have a special group ceremony devoted to mochi-making called mochitsuki, which often rings in their New Year festivities.
Mochicream describes their confections as "specially-made cream and exquisitely flavored 'bean jam' wrapped in the lightest mochi." This is pretty spot-on. The mochi in these imported Japanese treats is indeed light, lighter than the kind you'll find wrapped around ice cream in the popular Mikawaya brand (the one with the bamboo graphics on the box that at any given Trader Joe's, or, more recently, some 7-Elevens), which is still really good stuff. Inside these feather-light rice cakes are decadent creams -- some with the texture of whipped cream and others with a richer texture like frosting, along with jellies, black sesame seeds, and bean or fruit jam.
The orange-cheese is hands-down one of the best flavors in their collection, putting a sublime twist on the traditional Creamsicle flavor combo -- an orange and whipped cream cheese concoction that's dangerously addictive. A close second is the raspberry mille-feuille, filled with raspberry, cream and flakes of crunchy pastry. These just start the long list, which also includes azuki (red bean), green tea, white chocolate, caramel macchiato, honey cranberry, darjeeling, black sesame, and blueberry yogurt. We wish we could have tried them all, but at $1.80 - $2.30 a pop, you've got to be careful -- these can really add up.
To make matters more sinful, they also carry an assortment of mochi "doughnuts," or what they've branded mochido. A set of six comes in a super-cutesy pink box with "Rings Sweets" printed on the top in a curlycue typeface, which goes for $13.80. These aren't doughnuts by definition -- they are simply daifuku shaped in the classic doughnut shape. They have a thinner layer of mochi wrapped around the filling and must be kept frozen until just before eating, or else they will melt into an amorphous blob of cream and sticky rice goo. Not pretty.
The mochido comes in chocolate banana, peach yogurt, double mango, café au lait, raspberry custard, green tea and strawberry shortcake. Most of these are cream-filled, but the peach yogurt -- a heavenly pick -- is filled solely with velvety peach jam, which is, by Western standards, more reminiscent of a viscous purée than actual jam.
The strawberry shortcake mochido is also a standout and great if you've got a penchant for eating frosting straight out of the container with a spoon (you kind of feel guilty just for enjoying it). These, like the other offerings, are quite addictive, but if you want the satisfaction of taking a nice big bite into the pillowy softness that is one of the true delights of any mochi experience, the daifuku is a better bet.
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Though none of the offerings at Mochicream are made with ice cream, they come frozen, so prepare yourself to wait 15 to 30 minutes for them to thaw (which can seem interminable, if you're a sugar fiend) before digging in. There are other outlets throughout Southern California, in Costa Mesa and San Diego, but we're proud to have one in L.A. -- and it's worth driving through all the traffic to Torrance just to sample these.
Mochicream has yet to create daifuku in the shape of Hello Kitty, but there's always hope.
Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer and a pastry cook at Lucques. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.