Friday is the Mid-Autumn Festival! The Mid-Autumn festival is probably the second most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, right behind Chinese New Year. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve actually been home to celebrate with my family, but every year we would gather at my grandparents’ house, eat dinner, split some mooncakes, and go stand outside in my grandma’s garden to stare at the moon while eating taro. Despite the name Mid-Autumn Festival, it actually occurs at the beginning of Fall, when the seasons are changing and a new harvest is about to start. It you want to get technical, the Mid-Autumn Festival happens every year on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Lunar Calendar. I had to remind my mom this morning that it’s this Friday lol
My grandma grew up in a farming family in China, which you can definitely tell when you look at her garden. So I could imagine how important this tradition would be to her family and the community she grew up in. Farming families would offer things like mooncakes, fruit, and taro to the Moon to ensure a prosperous and bountiful harvest in the upcoming season. Mooncakes are typically incredibly dense. I think if you ate a whole one on your own you would get sick! You would cut up the mooncake into little wedges and split them amongst your family! I love this sweet little tradition. I also like that I can take little wedges and sample all the different flavors! My favorite flavor by far is white lotus with a salted egg yolk. It’s a classic. Some other favorites are red bean, black sesame, mixed nuts, and the ever elusive mixed nut and ham flavor! I recently tried a winter melon mooncake when I was home a few weeks ago and I was not a fan…
Chinese people almost never make their own mooncakes. Baking is not very common in traditional Chinese households and they rarely ever use their ovens. I don’t think my grandma has ever turned her’s on. Up until this year, I had only ever bought my mooncakes from the store. Then I finally mustered the energy to order some mooncake molds and try my hand at making mooncakes! The first time I made them it was sort of disaster. My filling was too loose and everything got too soft and goopy. NOT GOOD. I learned from my mistakes and pushed through. Thankfully, all my trials afterwards were actually super easy! I’ll go into detail about how I made these Honey Salted Peanut Mooncakes below! The filling is not traditional but inspired by the mixed nut variety of mooncakes. Somehow these Honey Salted Peanut Mooncakes ended up tasting like the best peanut butter cookie I’ve ever had! It made me so happy!
Before you panic, there is still plenty of time for you to go out to your local asian market to buy a fancy tin of mooncakes or to make your own!
Special Equipment for Mooncakes
I’m going to be honest with you, there are a few special ingredients and tools that you need to make mooncakes. I know it seems like a lot when this is something you’re only going to make once a year, but I think it’s worth it!
Mooncake Molds - this is the set that I bought, but you can use whatever pattern you like!
*** if you really don’t want to use a mooncake mold you could form them into little pigs like I did!
you could make your own golden syrup and alkaline water from scratch, but I really didn’t want to mess with the chemistry of these ingredients, so I just ordered everything online and made my life so much easier.
How to Make Cantonese Baked Mooncakes
Once you have all your special tools and ingredients in hand, you’re ready to make mooncakes! I just wanted to note this method is for traditional Cantonese baked mooncakes. There are a few other variety of mooncakes out there, one being more like a mochi and another that has a flakey pastry like crust.
To make the dough of the mooncake, you combine flour, golden syrup, alkaline water, and olive oil in a large bowl. Stir everything together until you have shaggy dough. Then begin kneading with your hands for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest and hydrate for at least 45 minutes. This rest period makes the dough much easier to work with.
While the dough is resting make your filling. If your peanuts are not already roasted, roasted them in the oven or in a skillet until toasty and fragrant. Watch the peanuts carefully as they have a tendency to burn easily when you’re not paying attention. Allow the peanuts to completely cool before processing them.
Place the peanuts in a food processor and blend for a few seconds until you have a coarse crumb texture. Add the honey, coconut oil, and salt. If you only have salted peanuts just taste the filling before adding any additional salt. Blend again until you have a fine crumbly texture and the filling sticks together if you apply pressure. It’s important that the mooncake filling is fairly firm so it’s easier to work with.
Now that the filling and dough has been made, it’s time to form the mooncakes! Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll the dough portion into a ball and then flatten the dough with the palm of your hand. Roll out the dough into 3.5”ish circle. Scoop out 1.5 tablespoons of the peanut filling and roll it into a ball, pressing firmly so it stays together. Place the filling in the center of the dough round. Fold the dough around the filling. The dough won’t initially cover all of the filling. Just pinch the dough until it completely wraps the filling. Lightly dust the round mooncake in flour and place in a mooncake mold. Apply pressure to your mooncake mold using the plunger to form the mooncake into the desired pattern. Gently release and place mooncake on a baking tray lined with parchment or a silpat. Then repeat with the remaining mooncakes. Place the mooncakes so that there is about 1.5” in between them.
Bake mooncakes for 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven and remove from the oven to cool for 10 minutes. Mix together egg wash and brush the mooncakes with egg wash, making sure to brush all edges. Using a bristled pastry brush works best. The silicone brushes take on too much egg wash and messes up the mooncake patterns. Bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the mooncakes to completely cool. Once cooled, place in an airtight container for 1-2 day to allow the exterior dough to soften. Then they are ready to enjoy!
How to Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival
The idea of making mooncakes at home might seem daunting, but I swear that once you get the hang of the mooncake press it’s actually pretty easy! The filling literally couldn’t be easier if you have access to a food processor. Again, these tastes like the best peanut butter cookies on the plant. The exterior of the mooncakes soften after a few days and the filling stays soft and gooey - almost candy bar like - after baking. My mom gave me the great of idea of using pistachios next year!!!!! It sounds soooooooo good, I might not be able to wait until next year to try making one.
I hope you give making your own mooncakes a try! It’s so satisfying to bake them and share them with your family. No shame in buying the ones out of the fancy tins though. The important thing this weekend is spending time with your loved ones over some good food, splitting a mooncake cake, and admiring the moon.
So do these things for me on Friday night:
Invite your family and/or friends over for dinner. If your family is far away, give them a call!
Cook a feast or order a feast from your favorite Chinese restaurant.
Cut your mooncakes into little wedges and savor them.
Step outside and admire the beauty of the full moon.
Feel hopefully for a great new season!
Honey Salted Peanut Mooncakes
makes 12 small mooncakes
1/2 cup golden syrup
1 tsp alkaline water
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups all purpose flour
honey salted peanut filling:
1 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
egg wash - 1 egg + 2 tbsp water
Add all the dough materials into a large bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon or spatula until you have a shaggy dough. Begin kneading with your hands. Knead for a 2-3 minutes, until you have a smooth and cohesive dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 45 minutes.
While the dough is resting, make your filling. Add peanuts to a food processor and blend for a few seconds until you have a course chopped texture. Add honey, coconut oil, and salt. Blend again for 10-15 more. The peanut filling should be able to stick together when pressed together. Set filling aside until ready to form moon cakes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Unwrap the dough and divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Use a digital scale if necessary. Roll out 1 piece of dough into a 3.5” diameter circle. Roll up 1.5 tbsp of peanut into a ball and place in the center of the dough round. Fold the dough around the filling. The dough won’t initially cover all of the filling. Just pinch the dough until it completely wraps the filling.
Lightly dust the round mooncake in flour and place in a mooncake mold. Apply pressure to your mooncake mold to form the mooncake into the desired pattern. Gently release and place mooncake on a baking tray lined with parchment or a silpat. Repeat steps 3-4 for remaining mooncakes.
Bake mooncakes for 8 minutes and remove from the oven to cool for 10 minutes. Mix together egg wash and brush the mooncakes with egg wash, making sure to brush all edges. Bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the mooncakes to completely cool. Once cooled, place in an airtight container for 1-2 day to allow the exterior dough to soften.
the mooncake dough recipe was adapted from this recipe from Two Red Bowls!