In China and Vietnam, these charming little cakes are made for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which celebrates the harvest moon and the maturing of the rice — it’s a time to come together with friends and family and to express gratitude for the harvest. The festival is held on the full moon of the 8th month in the lunar calendar, which translates to mid-September on Gregorian calendars.
We made these mooncakes by wrapping circles of pastry dough or “skin” around very cold, very firm balls of aduki bean paste. We pressed the balls into our rather ornate mooncake mold press, and then baked them. It was just that easy, so imagine our delight when a dozen golden mooncakes came out of the oven looking like a full-blown pastry miracle. They were too pretty to eat. Almost.
The mooncake’s crust was surprisingly thin and delicate — we loved how it broke, tender and crispy, over the soft filling. In the oven, the bean paste had become delectably thick and smooth. It had a wonderful flavor: lightly sweet, nutty, and reminiscent of a sweet potato. In other words, it tasted just like the real deal.
As you’ll see in the instructions, mooncakes are meant to rest for a few days before serving. Perhaps we’re just impatient, but we thought they tasted lovely fresh, too. So don’t be afraid to dig in!
Mooncakes are perfect for a small afternoon tea party with your besties, your folks, or your favorite sibling. They’re so pleasing, your guests will feel like they’re receiving a gift. In fact, traditionally, mooncakes are given away as gifts, so you may want to make a double batch and leave a few on your neighbors’ porches — otherwise, it can be so hard to part with a mooncake.
Our tip: We like to serve them with a pot of jasmine tea: all those flowers seem to mellow the sweet mooncake. If that’s too fragrant for you, try an oolong — it’ll bring out the mooncake’s nutty flavors.
2 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp water
1 cup cooked aduki beans
⅔ to ¾ cup sugar, to taste
Pinch of salt, optional
6 Tbsp coconut oil
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup, plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
A splash of water
Special equipment: mooncake mold
To make alkaline water: Preheat the oven to 250º, wrap a sheet pan in tinfoil, and bake the baking soda on it for 1 hour. Do not touch the baked baking soda, as it can irritate sensitive skin. Once it has cooled, dissolve ¾ teaspoon of baked baking soda in 1 tablespoon of water. Set the alkaline water aside, and discard the extra baking soda.
To make the filling: Drain and rinse the aduki beans, and then combine them with the sugar and a small pinch of salt in a food processor and blend until the beans are about the consistency of hummus.
Transfer the bean paste to a small saucepan and stir in the coconut oil over medium heat. Cook, stirring continuously, until the paste is thick and glossy. It should look like very soft cookie dough. Chill the filling in the refrigerator until it’s firm and cold, about 30 minutes.
To make the skin dough: In a small bowl, sift together the two flours.
In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, ½ teaspoon of the alkaline water, and the vegetable oil, until blended. The mixture will not fully combine, but do the best you can to emulsify it.
Add in the two flours and stir until it forms a pebbly dough. Gather the mixture together and gently knead it just until it comes together into one mass. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 45 minutes to an hour.
Preheat your oven to 350º, and line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.
To make a mooncake: Divide the filling into 12 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each, and shape each of them into a ball.
Scoop up about a tablespoon of the dough and roll it out between two pieces of parchment, to about 3 to 3 ½ inches in diameter. Note: if the dough is too sticky, use more flour.
Place a ball of filling in the center of the rolled-out dough and gently push, press, and squeeze the dough, holding the ball securely in your palm, until the dough gradually covers the ball. Note: the firmer your filling, the easier this will be. If the dough won’t stretch over the filling, pinch off another small piece of dough, roll it out, and use it to patch the ball.
Place the mooncake ball into your mold, turn it upright on your surface, and press the plunger down until you feel resistance. Then, use the plunger to release the mooncake. If the dough is sticky, it helps to sprinkle a little flour on the mooncake ball before putting it in the mold.
Place the mooncake on the baking sheet, and repeat steps 9 to 11 until all of the filling is gone. If it’s a hot day, you may want to put the finished mooncakes in the fridge while you make the rest.
Bake the mooncakes in the oven for 8 minutes.
While the mooncakes are baking, whisk together the egg with a splash of water until smooth. Set the egg wash aside.
Remove the mooncakes from the oven and let them rest for about 10 minutes, or until cool. Brush on the egg wash and bake the mooncakes for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until fragrant and golden brown on top.
Let the mooncakes cool completely, and then transfer them to an airtight container for two days to release their oils. When the mooncakes are shiny and supple, they’re ready to be enjoyed.
Recipe adapted from: Two Red Bowls