The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in China with the consumption of a special type of pastry known as a mooncake.
Among China’s major holidays, the Mid-Autumn Festival ranks high. It’s a time for thanksgiving, family reunions, and moon worship in the hopes of a prosperous crop.
Mooncakes can be savory or sweet, and they can be made in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some (like these) can be created from flaky pastry, while others are pressed into molds with elaborate motifs.
In all my years of eating them, I had never considered making my own mooncakes, so I was rather surprised by how much better the homemade ones were. Honestly, you have no idea what you’ve been missing out on.
Alright, so let’s get going.
- 8 ounces granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup of water
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 12 ounces of dried lotus seeds
- 4 cups of water
- 1 2/3 cups of powdered sugar
- 1 1/4 cups of peanut oil or corn oil
- 1/3 cup of maltose
SALTED DUCK EGG YOLK:
- 12 pieces of salted duck egg yolks
- 1 3/4 cups of flour (more for dusting)
- 1/3 cup of peanut oil or corn oil
- 8.75 tablespoons of sugar syrup
- 1 teaspoon of lye water
ASSEMBLING AND BAKING THE MOONCAKE:
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 tablespoons of water
PREPARE THE SYRUP BY:
- Sugar and water should be heated together in a pot over medium heat. To make the sugar dissolve, stir it. When the mixture reaches a boil, add the lemon juice and immediately turn the heat down to low. Do not stir the syrup; instead, leave it to simmer uncovered for 60–70 minutes, or until it reaches a light amber color.
- Although the liquid may appear watery after 60–70 minutes, it will thicken as it cools. Overcooking will cause it to thicken up like caramel, so be careful (it should be the consistency of honey). If you accidentally overheat the syrup, just add a few drops of hot water to dilute it. Add more boiling water until the mixture thickens to the consistency of honey.
- After the sweet liquid has cooled, pour it into a heat-resistant container and place it in the fridge.
LOTUS PASTE PREPARATION:
- Cut the lotus seeds in half through the widest part at the top with a butter knife. The bitter green core must be removed and thrown away. In a large dish of water, soak them (at least 2 inches/5 cm deep) for the night after you’ve given them a good rinsing.
- After soaking overnight, rinse the lotus seeds the next day. Put the lotus seeds and 4 to 4 1/2 cups of water in a medium pot (the water level should be above the lotus seeds). Over high heat, get the liquid to a rolling boil. When the water boils, simmer for 30 minutes. When lotus seeds have softened but not lost their shape, the process is complete.
- Remove from heat, cool, and filter liquid. Save this fluid. The boiled lotus seeds should be pureed in a food processor (in two separate batches for optimal results). Gradually include part of the cooked-down liquid you set aside until you get a purée that is liquidy but not too thin (a hummus-like consistency).
- Lotus purée should be moved to a cast-iron or non-stick skillet. Adjust the stove to medium (it should never get so hot that steam or smoke is produced) or low heat. For around 30 minutes, use a silicone spatula to regularly stir, turn, or fold the puree to prevent crusting. Do this in three or four additions of oil. Then, gradually (in three to four additions), mix in the sugar. At long last, add the maltose in two separate increments. When adding materials in stages, wait two to three minutes between additions to ensure that the previous addition has been thoroughly mixed in.
- Lotus filling is complete when the paste is both firm and malleable. Take away from the heat and let cool to room temperature before putting it in an airtight container for the fridge. Because the filling is more manageable after being refrigerated, you can prepare this a day ahead of time.
EGG YOLKS FOR SALTED DUCK:
- The salted duck egg yolks can be used in a variety of ways:
- First, you may get the yolks out of salted duck eggs by buying raw duck eggs, cracking them open, and removing the salt. To remove any trace of egg white, gently rinse the yolks under a trickle of running water. Turn the oven temperature up to 175 degrees Celsius (or 350 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Spread egg yolks on a parchment-lined baking sheet after coating them in baijiu (a clear Chinese liquor). After 8-10 minutes in the oven, remove from the pan to a wire rack to cool. This is another thing that may be made ahead of time. Place them in a sealed container and refrigerate them to maintain their freshness.
- Two, I use salted duck egg yolks that have already been boiled and removed from the egg. These are a little drier than I would like, but they are convenient. Put on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 8 minutes at 350°F/175°C. They can be used after they have cooled to room temperature.
- The yolk of a salted duck egg can be purchased separately from the egg itself. Everything you need to start using these has already been provided. No baking required.
- This is something more that can be made in advance…
- Seal and refrigerate them.
MAKING THE DOUGH:
- First, combine the sugar syrup, oil, and lye water. Incorporate the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula. Try not to overuse it. This process ought to take no more than two minutes at most.
- The dough can be stored in an airtight container or under an inverted plate. Put it in the fridge and give it an hour to chill out. Dough that has been chilled prior to handling benefits greatly from this.
CONSTRUCTING THE MOON CAKES:
- While the dough is resting, put together the filling. My mooncake mold has a measurement in grams, thus once they’re assembled they should weigh roughly 100 grams. In total, you’ll get 18 mooncakes from this recipe, 12 with salted duck egg yolks and 6 without.
- The filling for the lotus paste dumplings should be divided into six 70-gram scoops and twelve 58-gram scoops. Form little balls from the filling. Step 2: Carve out a deep hollow in the center of one of the 58-gram lotus balls and place one salted duck egg yolk inside. Then, reseal the opening and roll it back into a ball. The same procedure must be followed for the remaining 11 parts. Classifying eggs as “with yolks” or “without” is helpful. Cover and refrigerate until assembling the remaining mooncakes.
- After the dough has rested, you may begin to set up the mooncake pan. My mold has four pattern plates, one of which needs to be permanently fastened to the mold itself. Another will be wrapped in clear plastic so that it may be used as a bottom press while shaping the mooncake. Use a lot of flour to coat the interior of the mold, then shake off the excess. Every single mooncake will require this procedure before being pressed.
- Weigh out eighteen pieces of dough, each weighing 25 grams, plus one smaller ball for use in repairing any dough that didn’t quite make it. Roll each dough ball in flour.
- On a lightly floured surface, spread out one ball of dough into a circle about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in diameter. Fill the middle with a single piece of filling. Lift it carefully, flip it upside down, and gently press out the air bubbles around the lotus ball without breaking the dough. Keeping the dough’s distribution as uniform as possible, flip the opening up and push the dough together slowly to seal the entrance. Do your best to seal the dough around the filling without letting any air in.
- Finally, lightly coat the completed ball in flour. Drop it into the mooncake form, opening side up. You should now push the bottom part in (with the clear plastic-wrapped plate that you prepared).
- Press it inward until it stops yielding to gentle pressure. In a flash, place the mold on a flat surface and use the top pressure bar to release the mooncake. The base should release easily, but you’ll need to use your other hand to VERY GENTLY lift the mooncake from the mold.
- If a little dough gets stuck and won’t budge, you can use some of the leftover “scrap” or “mending” dough to fix it. The mold must be dusted with flour once again after being cleaned (a toothpick can be used to remove dough from crevices). The mooncake must first be gently flattened on all sides to reduce its size before it can be placed back into the mooncake form. If this keeps happening, dust the mooncakes with a little extra flour and set them on a baking pan. Carry on until all 18 mooncakes have been made.
CREATING THE MOON CAKES:
- Once you are nearly done putting together the mooncakes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). After preheating the oven, lightly spritz the mooncakes with water using a food-safe spray bottle. Alternatively, you can wet your fingers in a bowl of water and flick the water off your fingers onto the mooncakes a few times. The dough won’t crack if you do this.
- The mooncakes should be baked for exactly 5 minutes from now. (Don’t forget to activate the timer!) Blend the egg yolk with the water in a bowl using a whisk. When the mooncakes have been in the oven for 5 minutes, remove them and immediately reduce the heat to 150 degrees Celsius.
- Apply an egg wash to each mooncake and return them to the oven. Put back in the oven for another 15 minutes.
- When freshly baked mooncakes are removed from the oven, the dough will have the appearance of dry bread rather than the oily texture that one is used to seeing when opening store-bought mooncakes. This is to be expected.
- When the mooncakes have cooled completely, place them in an airtight container and let them be there for two days; this will give the exterior the familiar sheen.