Mooncakes are special traditional treats which are found only when the Mid-Autumn festival is around the corner. Just like most auspicious symbols, the mooncake signifies full moon which also refers to prosperity. The roundness of the mooncake represents family togetherness and completeness.
These baked Chinese pastries are generally quite pricey. Even though the ingredients needed for a basic mooncake are inexpensive, the high price is usually due to the skills and workmanship besides the fact that it is also a seasonal treat. Therefore, it would definitely cost less when you make them yourself. Just be equipped with these important tips to make mooncakes anytime, anywhere.
How do mooncakes taste like?
Sweet or/and savoury, depending on the filling. Mooncakes are normally sweet with plain fillings like lotus paste and red bean paste. There is a variant where a salted egg yolk is added to the lotus paste to balance the sweetness.
Another traditional baked mooncake flavour is that with five types of kernel (walnut, peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds and water melon seeds) and roast pork. However, today there is a huge variety of fruit flavours or even trendy fillings like custard lava, durian or chocolate mooncakes in the market.
It is also possible to make mooncakes biscuits using only the dough meant for the skin. It may have a thin layer of sweet paste in the biscuits. These would be a great option if you love mooncakes but find that there is too much filling for your liking.
What are mooncakes made of?
Only four simple ingredients to make the mooncake skin and a sweet paste of your choice. Oil and cake flour are easily available. The other two special ingredients are lye water and golden syrup. Golden syrup or invert sugar can be bought at most supermarkets or easily made at home. As for lye water, it can be bought either online or at Asian grocers. It can be made at home as well.
Role of ingredients and substitutes
Each of these ingredients play an important role to making these traditional Cantonese mooncakes.
|Golden syrup||To provide a nice shade of golden brown||Honey|
|Peanut oil||For its fragrance||Any other colourless and flavourless oil|
|Lye water||For an even shade of colour, to balance pH from golden syrup and soften skin texture||Refer to ‘lye water below‘|
|Cake flour||Provide structure||Refer to ‘Cake flour or all-purpose flour‘ below|
Lye water or alkaline water may be the most confusing ingredient when it comes to making baked mooncakes. As an ingredient, the pH level helps to provide colour to baked goods such as bagels and give a better mouthfeel in noodles. Lye water contributes colour to the skin of mooncakes and also balances the acidity in the golden syrup.
To make lye water, you need to make soda ash. Spread some baking soda on a parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes at 95 degrees Celsius. Wait until it cooled to room temperature. Mix 10g of soda ash and 30g of water. I tried making the lye water but the result is not as good as those which I bought from the store. The colour of the mooncake skin is more even too when using the latter.
Do not add too much lye water as it will cause the mooncake to shrink at the sides during baking and also shorten the shelf life.
Vegan and gluten-free mooncakes
This recipe for the mooncake skin is perfect for vegans. Avoid salted egg yolk or other filling with animal product if you are on a vegan diet.
If you are on a gluten-free diet, why not try snowskin mooncakes. They are traditionally made using gluten-free ingredients. For a reasonable substitute of cake flour in this recipe, try gluten-free cake mixes for a 1:1 replacement.
Cake flour or all-purpose flour?
Traditionally, cake flour is used to achieve the soft skin texture of the mooncake. This is because of the low protein content (ca. 8%). I tried using all purpose flour which has about 10% protein but the skin turned out pretty hard.
To make your own cake flour, mix in 200g of all-purpose flour and 40g of cornstarch. Sieve the mixture for at least 3 times to ensure that it is evenly mixed.
How to choose lotus paste filling and why is it oily?
Traditional mooncakes love using lotus paste as its filling. The paste is made using lotus seeds which are boil, pureed and mixed with sugar. The sweetened paste is then cooked in oil. High quality lotus paste should have a nutty fragrance and have a semi transparent shine to it.
When shaping the filling or adding melon seeds, avoid over working or kneading the filling because there is a risk where the oil will split from the paste.
All about salted egg yolks
Mooncakes with salted egg yolks are loved by many because it helps to balance the sweetness from the sweet filling. Salted egg are sold in cartons too, just like the fresh ones. You may even find frozen salted egg yolks. They are made available in local markets or Asian grocers. Check the information on the packaging as you wouldn‘t want to buy cooked salted eggs.
To remove separate egg yolks. During the salting process, egg yolks turn solid. This makes it easy to remove all egg whites around the yolk. You may even rinse the yolks under water to remove all whites.
Wrapping the raw yolks directly with the sweet paste may result in the eggy odour which is off putting for some. Steaming the eggs with the fragrant peanut oil will help to get rid of the unpleasant smell and taste.
Important tips when wrapping
It is crucial to wrap the egg yolk or filling tightly. Leaving some space during wrapping will create air pockets which will expand when baking. Flatten the sweet paste or dough to wrap the rounded ingredient. Gently push the wrapper up to cover the surface of the egg yolk or paste.
Buy mooncake moulds online or at baking speciality stores. The mould used in this recipe measures 6 cm in diameter. 4 cm in height and it is meant for mooncakes up to 120 g. The total weight for the dough and filling is 115 g.
Can I double or triple the recipe?
Sure, simple increase the amount of all the ingredients accordingly.
The baked mooncakes look really dry
Just after baking, the mooncakes may look dry, hard and pale in colour. You must let it sit for 3 days to allow them to develop the beautiful colour and shine. This happens when some of the oil from the sweet paste is absorbed by the skin. They will then achieve the ideal soft aromatic texture just like those from the stores.
Mooncakes crack during baking or doesn‘t turn soft
In this case, the oven‘s temperature may be set too high or the mooncakes may have been baked for too long. Either reduce the temperature or the time by 5-10 minutes during the next round of baking. Another tip is to spray some water on the mooncakes before the first round of baking. That may avoid cracking.
Extending the baking time may result in the perfect colour immediately after baking but very dark coloured mooncakes 3 days later. Just bake until it‘s golden brown in color. Let the the colour of the mooncakes darken 3 days after baking.