Monday, September 12, 2011

China cooking: Mooncakes

Mooncakes are the food at the heart of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  They are gifted between friends, families and colleagues. There are huge installations set up in the malls with restaurants, bakeries and hotels selling their own versions.  Haagen-Dazs even makes there own ice cream mooncake.

There are snowskin mooncakes, which have aren't cooked and have a "shell" made of glutinous flour.  They are filled with a wide variety of different flavors, including durian, green tea, and champagne truffle. 

photo from

The traditional mooncake is filled with lotus paste, with an optional single or double salted duck egg yolk.  Different auspicious characters are imprinted, or the name of the store that made it.  Here's what it looks like:

photo from Wikipedia

We opted to make the baked version and here's what our homemade version looked like:

To make the imprint and shape, you need a mold, which we found at Singaporean baking shop. (I have no idea what it says!).  Once the mooncake dough and filling are assembled, you put it inside, press it down and then bang it as hard as you can to get the mooncake out.  This may scare small children, as it did The Whirl Girl.  You don't have to have one for the recipe we used.  And as you can see, there wasn't much of an imprint or shape once ours came out of the oven.  Still, I'm glad we did used it.  It's what made it a mooncake, and not a cookie.

WARNING: this is a project and a half.  We spent most of our Saturday morning making and baking them.  The good part was there were lots of things The Whirl Girl could help with - mixing, measuring, and playing with ingredients. I initially thought about halving the recipe because it made 20 large mooncakes, but after all of the effort we put in, I was glad we had some to share with friends.  The recipe we used is more cookie-like than traditional mooncakes, but it used more familiar ingredients and I knew it would be a bigger hit in our house.

We adapted a recipe from one of my favorite resources of the month - a book called Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragons: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes.  Its authors are from the Children's Museum in Boston and it is a treasury indeed!  Lots of crafts and cooking projects, with associated stories and cultural backgrounds.  If only there was a book like this for every country!  The recipe follows.

mixing the filling

post-imprint pounding, pre-baking

our very own mooncakes


for crust:
4 cups flour
3/4 cup dried milk powder
1 TBS baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (oops! we didn't have any, so we omitted)

for filling:
1 12-oz jar apricot jam
1 cup chopped dried pineapple
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup raisins

for glaze:
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 TBS water

Make the crust.  Sift together flour, milk powder, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the sugar.  Beat with an electric beater until the mixture "ribbons" off the beaters, about five minutes.  Add butter and vanilla extract.  Then fold in dry ingredients.  Mix into a rough dough and put on a lightly floured surface.  Cut it into 20 pieces.

Make the filling.  Mix all of the ingredients together.  Divide into 20 pieces.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease two baking sheets.  Using your fingers, press each dough piece into a three-inch circle.  Put a filling piece in the center and wrap the dough edges around the filling.  Roll the cake into a ball and flatten to a three-inch round.  Press into a lightly-floured moon cake mold or carve a design into the top.  (If using a mold, unmold each cake - ie bang it on the counter - and arrange the cakes design side up on a cookie sheet.  Chill for one to two hours to set design).

Arrange the cakes about one inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Brush the surface of the cake with the glaze.  Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Especially yummy with tea or milk!

1 comment:

  1. That sounds much tastier than the salted duck yolk. ick. Not the best taste memory from Singapore. I wonder how the pros get their cakes to come out so crisp. Perhaps they use silicone molds these days. I can imagine you beating the crap out of the counter with the cricket bat shaped mold. :)