Colorful lanterns light up the streets across China during the mid-autumn Moon Festival, which takes place every year on the night of the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. This year it falls on September 15, and for most Chinese people around the globe, that means a mooncake binge. Mooncakes are small pastries stuffed with lotus, dates or red bean and sometimes complemented with salted duck egg yolk. They’re the Chinese equivalent of a fruitcake – you never actually eat them yourself; you buy them to gift to people. But they’re fun to make and nearly all Chinese bakeries around the world will have them in stock weeks before the holiday.
Historically, the mid-autumn festivities have been a time to worship the moon and to celebrate the fall harvest. It’s a practice that dates back to at least the Tang dynasty, although mooncakes didn’t surface until the Yuan dynasty.
One legend says that the pastries were actually used by the Han Chinese to overthrow the Mongol government. The Han rebel leader had distributed the mooncakes to thousands of Chinese citizens. Inside, they contained a note instructing them to kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month (in the Chinese calendar, which corresponds to September in the Gregorian calendar). Grotesque, sure, but since then, these confections have been an emblem of thanksgiving.
Indeed, mooncakes are quite amazing vessels.
"Mooncakes are small pastries stuffed with lotus, dates or red bean and sometimes complemented with salted duck egg yolk."
Just as there are many different types of fruitcakes, there are many different sorts of mooncakes. They can be stuffed with lotus seeds, sweet beans, nuts, egg yolks or jujube pastes. There are also many regional varieties of the cake. The Cantonese version is often square and has symbols imprinted on it. I learned how to make the Jiangsu-style variety, which has a flaky crust and is round, to reflect the shape of the moon. Round mooncakes symbolize family unity; it’s an extremely auspicious present to receive and give.
I got this recipe in January 2016 while in Hangzhou, the capital of the Zhejiang province of China. It was a cold winter and, because it snowed for a whole week, I didn’t feel like doing much and instead opted to hang out at a local coffee shop. While there, I stumbled across a baking school that specialized in Western pastries and cakes. The mooncake was the only confection that was Chinese in origin and I immediately jumped on it.
I’ve been holding on to this recipe ever since.
"Round mooncakes symbolize family unity; it’s an extremely auspicious present to receive and give."
It’s an easy dessert to put together and the salted duck egg is completely optional. Just days after taking the course, I made another batch of mooncakes at my friend’s apartment in Hangzhou to gift to our friends. It was a hit; people, especially Chinese people, are thoroughly impressed by homemade mooncakes. It’s cheaper and easier to buy them, so it’s rare to receive homemade ones.
Wrap them up however you like. In Hangzhou, we got mooncake boxes and individually packaged them. In the United States, a DIY approach is probably the best.
Preparation time: 1.5 hours
Shelf life: 5-7 daysIngredients:
Two- part skin:
Part A – Soft Dough
Part B – Pastry Dough