Mid-autumn Festival (中秋節) or Moon Festival is the harvest festival. It comes once a year on the night of the full moon from September to early October- the 15th day of the 8th month on the Lunar calendar. It has been celebrated in China and Vietnam for centuries and is one of the four most important Chinese festivals. Everyone has the day off to spend with friends and family, eat mooncakes, and sit outside to enjoy the beauty and splendor of the full moon. The holiday has a spiritual quality that comes from the ancient love story a beautiful woman named Lady Chang’e who ascended to the moon and became a celestial being representing fortune and peace.
But, mooncakes, though.
I love most holidays that are centered around food. However, If you told me I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it’s very possible I would choose mooncakes. Thankfully, this isn’t the case because the weight gain would be unimaginable. When we were in China, we would get dozens from neighbors, students, coworkers and friends (which I happily gobbled up) .
These little 10cm pastries are filled with anything from red bean paste, to lotus seed paste, to salted duck eggs, to fresh pork to fruit fillings. They are both sweet and savory. The texture of the dough and variety of fillings differ across Asia. Traditional Chinese mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the characters for “longevity” or “harmony,” as well as the mark of the bakery where they were made and the filling inside. Imprints of the moon, the Lady Chang’e on the moon, flowers, vines, or a rabbit may surround the characters for additional decoration.
Now, I’m gonna be honest, I’ve had my mooncake press for a while now but I’ve been intimidated by the recipes I’ve seen. How could mine ever compare to the little joys that come from the kitchen of Chinese grandmas?
But, I decided to give a sweet variety a try- the simplest of fillings- my favorite red bean paste. Imagine my surprise! With some reasonable modifications to traditional ingredients these little babies are quite easy to make at home. And now that I’ve got the dough figured out, I’ve been busy brainstorming all kinds of non-traditional fillings (something with peanut butter, you say…) But, that is a recipe for another day!
Things to Note:
1. Mooncake press- Mine is 50g, meaning the largest possible size I can make is 50g. You’ll have to adjust the ratio of dough and filling to accommodate other size presses.
2. Alkaline water- Surprise! Alkaline water is simply a fancy way of saying water + baking soda.
Now, without further ado, here is the recipe adapted slightly from chinasichuanfood.
Traditional Red Bean Mooncakes
Yield: Makes 12 standard size mooncakes
1 1/2 cups of flour+ an additional tbsp for coating surfaces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
Alkaline water: 1/8 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp water
1 1/4 cups red bean paste
Egg wash: 1 medium sized egg yolk + 1 tsp egg white
1. Combine honey, vegetable oil, and alkaline water in a large mixing bowl. Sift in flour slowly until fully combined.
2. Knead dough into a ball, wrap firmly with plastic and allow it to set for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
3. Prepare the filling. I used pre-made red bean paste, but you can also make your own. Roll paste into approximately a dozen quarter sized balls and set aside.
4. Roll dough out on pastry board. Cut out circles of dough (as you would cookies or biscuits) approximately 3 inches in diameter (I found a standard size mason jar lid works well for this).
5. Press a red bean paste ball into the center of each circle, roll until the entire ball is completely covered.
6. Coat the ball with a layer of flour and coat the mooncake press with flour to prevent sticking. Press the ball into the tool and gently remove. This process should make about a dozen mooncakes.
7. In a small bowl whisk the egg yolks and whites to prepare the egg wash.
8. Preheat oven to 350°F.
If you have a thin layer of flour on the surface (like mine) spray with water to prevent large amounts of cracking.
9. Bake mooncakes for 5-8 minutes and then lightly brush surfaces with egg wash. Continue baking for another 15 minutes until mooncakes are golden brown in color. Transfer to rack and cool.
10. To store, wrap mooncakes in plastic and place in an airtight container. Wait for 1-2 days for optimal serving conditions. This process is known as 回油 (translation: process of returning the oil to the surface).
Hope you have as much fun as I did!
<3, V (K)