Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes 中秋月饼, commonly just called ‘Mooncakes’月饼 are traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Shared with friends and family while celebrating the abundance of harvest, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important Chinese festivals and falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the lunar calendar. These round-shaped cakes symbolise unity and harmony, although modern day mooncakes come in a variety of shapes. The 2 most common types of mooncakes are a Teochew style mooncake with flaky crust, and a Cantonese style doughier style that is probably more commonly seen outside of Asia. The latter is what I’m making here.
Stories abound regarding the origin of the mooncake. The account I grew up with tells of notes hidden in the sweet cakes that Han Chinese rebels, led by General Zhu Yuan Zhang 朱元璋, used to coordinate against the Mongols. The rebellion ended the Yuan Dynasty in 1368.
Mooncake moulds come in wooden and plastic versions. Wooden moulds must first be ‘seasoned’ by air-drying well to ensure there is no moisture trapped in the wood, then soaking completely in oil for 1-2 days and air-dried again. Peanut oil is traditionally preferred but other types of vegetable oils could be substituted. Thereafter, the mould should not be washed or rinsed in water. Just wipe after use and wrap in newspapers and store in a cool, dry place.
After experimenting with proportions and ingredients, I found this one to give the right amount of chewiness, sweetness and oiliness. It makes about 10 regular-sized mooncakes, 3″ (8cm) in diameter, depending on how thinly you care to roll the dough out. The dough is actually quite stretchy and with some care, can easily make 10-12 mooncakes. Preparation may appear laborious, but fear not, the recipe is broken down into sections that can be prepared independently.
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Makes 10 regular-sized mooncakes
MAKING THE DOUGH
Ingredients – Dough
- 300 g plain flour, sifted
- 180 g golden syrup (I like Lyle’s Golden Syrup, available at Cost Plus World Market, or you can make it yourself from various recipes easily found online)
- 2 tsp alkaline water (lye water)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 16 tsp (75g) olive or vegetable oil
Preparation – Dough
- Mix syrup, water and oil together in a bowl.
- Fold in sifted flour to form a soft dough. Knead it a couple of times but do not over-knead. The dough should be quite stretchy.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let dough ‘rest’ in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or even overnight (醒面). This helps the dough harden slightly and become more elastic, making it more stretchable and less likely to tear later on.
- When ready to assemble, divide the dough into 45g pieces. Shape into balls. (Note: The dough will be very thin when rolled out, which is desirable to some. You will have excess dough, which can be used to make Traditional Mooncake Piglets (LY’s Kitchen Ventures) if you have the mould. Alternatively, you can divide the dough into 50g pieces with marginally thicker dough which some people prefer.)
MAKING THE FILLING
Ingredients – Filling
- 700 g ready-made mooncake filling paste (eg. lotus seed paste, red bean paste, black sesame seed paste, etc)
- 40 g melon seeds or pine nuts (optional)
- 8-10 salted egg yolks, cooked, whites removed, 1 per mooncake (optional)
Preparation – Filling
- Divide the filling paste into 70g pieces. Shape into balls.
If using melon seeds or pine nuts, use only 650g of paste. Mix the seeds/nuts into the paste and divide into 70g pieces.
If adding salted egg yolks, adjust weight of the paste so that the total weight of yolk and paste is 70g. Wrap filling paste around the yolk and shape into a ball.
- Plain flour for dusting work surface, rolling pin, hands and dough
- Egg wash (1 egg yolk, 1 Tbsp of milk or water, a few drops of cooking oil, beat and sieve to get rid of bubbles)
- Mooncake mould (100g mould, 3″/8cm diameter)
ASSEMBLING THE MOONCAKES
- Roll the dough over some flour. Dust rolling pin with flour. Flatten each carefully into a thin circular piece.
- Place a piece of filling within a disc of dough (skin) and wrap, forming a smooth ball.
- Lightly dust the wrapped mooncake ball with some flour. Place it in the mooncake mould and press firmly. Invert the mould and tap a few times to eject the mooncake. Tip: Place the smoothest side downwards into the mould so that the pattern is imprinted on that side.
- Place mooncake on a floured baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Repeat until all the dough is used up.
- Spray some water on the mooncakes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Bake for 10 mins.
- Remove from oven and leave to cool for 20 minutes.
- Brush mooncakes evenly with egg wash, including the sides. Remove any bubbles that might have formed during the brushing process. Bubbles tend to ruin the appearance of the final product.*
- Return to oven and continue to bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden
- Leave the mooncake to cool completely. Wrap in parchment paper and store in air-tight containers. Allow 1-2 days for the oil to seep back out (回油), resulting in a softer and shiner skin. Resist the urge to eat mooncakes right away. This is an important step!
*Tip: I recommend using a fine painting brush to do this instead of a basting brush as I did. The bristles of the latter were not fine enough to remove all the bubbles, and also caused some unevenness of the egg wash. The end result was not as pretty as I would have liked. Live and learn!
In closing, I’m sharing this poem by Li Bai (李白), often read during this festival. Chinese poets lean melancholic but this is what we grew up with and no Mid-Autumn Festival goes by without someone reciting it in the house:
床 前 明 月 光
疑 是 地 上 霜
举 头 望 明 月
低 头 思 故 乡
Moonlight shining through the window
Makes me wonder if there is frost on the ground
Looking up to see the moon
Looking down I miss my hometown
(updated September 11, 2016)
- Traditional Mooncake (mini) at Happy Home Baking
- Taiwanese Taro Swirl Mooncakes at The Cooking of Joy
- Teochew Spiral Mooncake(千层芋泥酥） at Guai Shu Shu
- Piglets Mooncake (Baked) at LY’s Kitchen Ventures