These sweet treats are called 'Snow Skin' mooncakes, and are a Chinese delicacy gifted in fancy boxes to all and sundry as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Legend has it that it all began with a woman imprisoned on the moon, separated from her lover... and other contemporary stories talk of how conspiratorial notes were exchanged hidden in traditional moon cakes for some revolution or other... But these days the traditional (baked crust) moon cakes share the same dry door-stop reputation as the dry fruit-cakes that make their re-gifting rounds in the west.
This contemporary no-bake version replaces the hard baked crust with a soft fondant-ish rice-flour skin, delicate and translucent. The filling is usually a sweet lotus paste or red bean paste, but restaurants now sell these with an infinite variety of exotic and increasingly decadent flavours: chocolate cream, champagne truffle, yuzu (orange) cream - you name it.
How easy is easy? If you can roll Play-doh into a ball and stuff it in a plastic mould, you can make this. We did this at a company social recently, and even the most hesitant participants ended up having a whale of a time.
This is more of a how-to guide than a fixed recipe - fill the snow skin with whatever favourite fillings you like, and mould it with whatever you have on hand, to make your own custom version!
Step 1: Gift Boxes
Gifting is as much part of the fun as eating. I also designed some simple gift boxes to be cut out of A3 (11x17") cardstock. I used my desktop (4W) laser cutter to cut and score them, but you could use my templates and cut them by hand easily. That instructable can be found here
Step 2: Basic Recipe & Variations
Quantities are for 12-15 mini mooncakes (depends on the size of your mould)
For the Snow Skin
100g roasted glutinous rice flour
100g icing sugar
80g cold water
Food coloring/flavouring - optional
For the Filling*
300g White Lotus Paste/Mung Bean Paste/Red Bean Paste/Yam Paste etc
Nuts to taste (traditionally melon seeds, but I like chopped macadamias
For the Centre*
6 salted duck egg yolks, steamed
*I know these ingredients could be quite exotic if you don't live near an asian grocery store. Only the glutinous rice flour is a must. Everything else can be substituted to taste! The only requirement is that your filling must have the consistency of play-doh to withstand the handling.
Examples of modern flavour combinations:
- Chocolate ganache filling with a chocolate truffle centre
- Fruit Cream filling with a frozen fruit centre
- Champagne ganache with boozy truffle centre
Step 3: Equipment
For the Mould
The most traditional moulds were hand-carved out of a deep wooden paddle, but modern versions are injection moulded plastic (in kitschy colours!)
The one I bought has the added feature of a piston handle to help eject the finished moon cake, as well as an array of interchangeable designs.
If you can't find an actual moon cake mould, you can just use any old jello moulds you have.
Digital weighing scale (1g accuracy is good, 0.1g accuracy is better)
Step 4: Optional Step: Customising the Mould With a Calligraphic Pattern
I scanned the face of my mooncake mould on my flat-bed scanner and traced the outline in vector software to create my custom mooncake pattern here. The pattern is my family name in ancient chinese calligraphic script, which I managed to find with the help of Google image search. This is similar to the kind of script you find carved onto chinese marble seals.
I used my desktop laser cutter for this (4W Emblaser), cutting out 3 pieces of 2mm black acrylic and sticking them together with tape.
Why? Because I can. You could always try 3D printing (with food-safe materials please!) or carving it by hand out of a balsa wood sheet.
Step 5: Prep the Ingredients
These mooncakes require a lot of handling and are eaten raw, so please wear gloves!
Making Snow Skin
Mix the ingredients for the snow skin dough in a bowl and work it for 10 minutes with your gloved hands until it holds together and is slightly elastic.
You can add in food colouring or flavouring into the dough. I used cocoa powder for one batch, and they came out a gorgeous charcoal-black but the dough was slightly crumbly and hard to work with.
Weigh out the dough into exact portions. You want the combined dough plus filling to exactly fill your mooncake mould to the brim - no more, no less. For mine this worked out to 21g portions.
Prep the Filling
If you are using pre-made asian bean paste fillings, simply knead in the nuts or seeds into your paste with gloved hands.
Weigh out the filling into exact portions. For my mould this worked out to 31g portions. About a 1:1.5 ratio of skin to filling for mine.
If you are using a softer cream or ganache filling, you will have to put it in the fridge or freezer before portioning so that it has the consistency of play-doh.
Step 6: Assemble the Layers
Flatten a ball of filling, and wrap it around your 'centre': a salted duck egg yolk (for the mini moon cakes half a yolk is enough). Form this into a ball again with the egg yolk completely on the inside.
Roll out the snow skin dough ball with a small rolling pin, with lots of cornflour to prevent sticking.
It should be elastic and roll into a smooth round, not as jagged as mine - a longer kneading time would make the dough much more workable than the batch I photographed.
Ideally the centre would be the thickest (2-3mm), tapering to thin edges (1mm).
Wrap the filling in the snow skin entirely, making a 'blank' mooncake ball. Seal the skin of the ball by pinching and rolling between your hands. There should not be any gaps or the moulding process will not work.
Step 7: Moulding the Mooncake
Dust the mooncake ball with cornflour to prevent sticking.
Pop the mooncake ball into your mould, and pack it in with your palm. It should come up to the brim of the mould and fill it exactly. For the traditional moulds you turn the mould upside down and 'whack' the cake out with a tap against the table.
The piston type of mould is more forgiving as it adjusts to fit the size of your mooncake ball! And you simply eject the mooncake like using a syringe.
Step 8: Enjoy!
My first batch was lotus paste with macadamias and salted egg yolk. This was just the traditional recipe with a macadamia upgrade. It tastes awesome fresh, and can last up to a week in the fridge.
I also made some with green-tea (matcha) flavoured lotus paste, and some with coffee-flavoured snow skins and a Bailey's truffle centre. Yum!
I know this sounds quite involved, but it really was quite easy and fun. Vote for me in the cake contest if you like it!
Continue to my moon cake gift box instructable here.