One thing I look forward to when summer ends is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which is on September 27 for those of you who don’t know! When I was a child, my parents would uphold the same traditions each Mid-Autumn Festival that are now ingrained in my memory. We would light candles and carefully place them in the middle of these colourful paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes. Then, we would have a walk around the neighbourhood, taking care to shield the lanterns from the strong winds (now that I think back, holy dog doo doos, they were quite the fire hazard!). We had orange, yellow, pink, red and flower patterned lanterns, to this day I remember their delicate paper structures and vibrant colors.
Another Mid-Autumn Festival tradition we repeated was eating mooncake. My mother would slice through that decorative mooncake top and divide it into 8 even pieces. I would pick the prettiest slice and bite into the soft pastry crust filled with sweet and dense lotus seed paste, tempered by moist salted egg yolks. For a while, I refused to eat the salted egg yolk and only ate the lotus paste slices, but like my obsession with Korean boybands, this too was a passing phase.
Currently there are mooncakes of many creative filling flavours (such as coffee, durian, taro, green tea) made with different ingredients and even no-bake mooncakes meant to be served cold (Bing Pai/literally translated as Ice Skin). Over the years, the number of flavours, packaging ideas and brands diversified but I still think original lotus seed paste with salted egg tastes the best.
Mooncakes are expensive and vary in price depending on the brand and the number of yolks used. In Toronto, a box of 4 regular sized lotus seed paste mooncakes with two yolks each (185 gram/mooncake) from a popular brand, e.g. Wing Wah, averages about $40 CDN + tax. Increase that number to 4 yolks per mooncake and you’re looking at $50 CDN + tax per box. I never understood why they are so expensive until I tried to make them. There are many reasons: they are imported from Asia, good quality lotus seeds/salty egg yolks are pricey, they are a lot of work to make at home and packaging gets more extravagant each year.
In my quest to make mooncakes, I attempted to create lotus seed paste from lotus seeds, but something went horribly wrong that shouldn’t have—I’ll save this story for next year. In the end my aunt helped me find a lotus seed paste wholesaler in Scarborough. If you’re interested, they sell lotus seed paste for $5 CDN / pound (with and without peanut oil), amongst other things (update Sept 2016: they also sell raw salted egg yolk!). The company name is Kar Heung Yuen and their phone number is 416-332-0075. I would call before going to give them a headsup—they’re not open to public and you’ll need to ring a doorbell to get in (which they don’t always hear due to the heavy machinery churning out lotus seed paste).
The following recipe is loosely based on Christine’s Recipes Traditional Mooncakes (廣式月餅). There are A LOT of excellent mooncake recipe sources out there and another source worthy of mentioning is Back To Basics–Baked Traditional Mooncake (传统粤式月饼) by Guai Shu Shu. Since it was my first time making mooncakes, I encountered much trial and error and digging through the techniques to see which ones would work best. I chose to use the spring loaded mooncake mold because it would allow me to make the mooncakes at different heights (if I ran out of material), you can buy the 50 gram Square Mooncake Mold here. I tried to find the wording that really simplified the process of putting together a mooncake for beginners like me and put it down in the recipe below. Have patience, making mooncakes takes time! And most importantly, have fun and share your results with your loved ones!
Traditional Lotus Seed Paste Mooncake (月饼)
YIELD: 12 Mooncakes (50g each)
ACTIVE TIME: 1 hour 30minutes
TOTAL TIME (active + inactive time): 2 hours
CREDITS: Inspired by Christine’s Recipes Traditional Mooncakes (廣式月餅)
- 70 g golden syrup (I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
- 4 g (or 0.6 tsp) alkaline water (梘水 or kan sui)
- 33 g vegetable oil
- 120 g all-purpose flour
- 420 g pre-made lotus seed paste (divided into 12 balls, 35 g each)
- 6 raw salted egg yolks
- 1 tbsp rose cooking wine (玫瑰露酒 or mei kuei lu chiew)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp water
- 50 gram Mooncake Mold (you can buy one of your own here: Square Mooncake Mold)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the golden syrup, oil, and alkaline water. Sift in the flour and mix until it looks like a scraggly pile of loose crumbs. Knead the crust dough with your hands just until the flour is incorporated and it’s a smooth texture and mocha colour throughout. Flatten into a circular disk shape and wrap with plastic wrap. Let it to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour (or preferably overnight).
- If you haven’t done so already, divide the lotus seed paste into 12 balls, 35 g each. Divide the crust dough into 12 balls, 15 g each. Separate the yolks from the salted eggs, taking care to keep them whole.
- Soak the yolks in the rose cooking wine for 15 minutes and carefully drain the excess liquid. Slice each yolk in half.
- Use your fingers to make a hole in of each lotus seed paste ball and place the halved yolk inside. Pinch the lotus seed paste around the yolk to seal it in the center and gently roll between your palms to smooth into a ball shape.
- Sandwich a portion of the crust dough between plastic wrap and roll into a flat circle with a rolling pin, just large enough to encase the ball of lotus seed paste. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and place the crust on the palm of your hand with the bottom plastic wrap facing downwards. Now you’ll wrap the lotus seed paste with the crust—Place the lotus seed paste ball in the center of the crust and fold the overhanging left, right, top and bottom sides over the ball, peeling away the plastic wrap as the crust adheres to the lotus seed paste. Pinch together any holes in the crust dough and make sure it covers the entire ball. Gently roll between your palms to smooth out the dough.
- Dust the mooncake ball and insides of the mold with flour. Place the ball into the mold, brace the bottom against a flat surface and firmly press down on the handle. Remove the mooncake from the mold and voila! Your first mooncake molded! Repeat with the rest of the lotus seed paste and crust.
Baking The Mooncake
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line your baking pan with parchment paper before placing the mooncakes on it. Meanwhile, mix your eggwash ingredients together and run through a sieve to make sure it is smooth.
- Bake the mooncakes for 8 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them sit for 10 minutes (but keep the oven running at 350°F!). During this time, carefully paint the mooncake with egg wash. To prevent smudging the decorative pattern, make sure your brush is clean so that eggwash residue doesn’t gather in the grooves of the pattern. Another method is using a food-safe spray bottle to distribute your eggwash. This way, you can coat the mooncakes quickly and evenly.
- Return the mooncakes to the oven for 10-15 minutes, monitoring closely to prevent burning and over-browning. The colour that you want to aim for is golden honey brown, which is a typical mooncake colour.
- Don’t eat them yet! After baking, your mooncakes will be more like cookies due to the crunchy crust, which is not what we want. Allow them to cool completely before placing the mooncakes in an airtight container for three (3) days. During this time, the crust will become soft and shiny through the release of oil. The mooncakes will last for about 3 weeks stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.
- Giving the crust dough time to rest in the fridge will relax any gluten bonds formed during the handling of the dough, which causes toughness in the crust.
- Raw salted egg yolks should hold their shape fairly well, the texture would be similar to a medium boiled egg yolk which is still shiny, runny and almost solid. Despite this, I find that salted yolk sacs break easier than non-salted yolks because they stick firmly to the side of the shells. If you pour them out too quickly, the sac might rip and some of the yolk will escape. If you find that the yolks you are using are very runny (after you’ve removed them from the shells and marinated with rose cooking wine), pop them in the microwave for about 10 or 15 seconds.
- I used the Kin Tam brand of salted duck eggs, which has a dark brown soil like paste on the outside of it. Don’t worry, rub this paste off and the egg is white/light blue inside.
- You can buy lotus seed paste for $5 CDN / pound at a company called ‘Kar Heung Yuen’ in Scarborough (23 Milliken Blvd). They also sell raw salted egg yolks. Their phone number is 416-332-0075. I found Lyle’s golden syrup at the value-mart nearby, apparently lots of places carry them, call ahead to check. Raw salted eggs, alkaline water (梘水 or kan sui) and rose cooking wine (玫瑰露酒 or mei kuei lu chiew ) can be found at your local Chinese supermarket such as TnT and Foodie.