Introduction: Mooncakes

Mooncakes are a type of Chinese pastry traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn festival, but can be enjoyed any time in the year. I decided to make some this past Chinese New Year. Mooncakes have a thin pastry crust that surrounds some type of filling that is sweet and dense, such as red bean or lotus seed paste. There is also an imprint on the top consisting of Chinese characters or other designs.

Mooncakes are not difficult to make, however, they may have some uncommon ingredients that could be harder to find, such as golden syrup and lye water. These are both easy and cheaper to make yourself at home though, so I have included brief instructions to do so in this recipe.

If you already have golden syrup, lye water, and filling, skip to Step 4.

Step 1: Make the Golden Syrup

Golden syrup is a form of inverted sugar that can be used in a number of baking dishes.

The mooncake recipe will require 75 g of golden syrup.

For the golden syrup you will need:
- 1 medium stainless steel pot
- 200 g granulated sugar
- 60 g water
- 25 g of lemon juice, approximately 1 quarter of a lemon
- 1 jar

Add the granulated sugar and water into the pot and stir to dissolve the sugar. Heat over medium heat until it begins to boil.

Once the syrup begins to caramelize and change colour, add the lemon juice and the remaining lemon peel. The acid from the lemon stops the caramelization and also reacts with the solution to turn it into an inverted syrup. From here, you do not need to stir the solution. Bring to a simmer for approximately 30-40 minutes.

After 30 minutes, check with a wooden spoon the consistency of the syrup by dipping the spoon into the solution and letting a couple drops fall onto a plate. If the syrup spreads for a second but holds its shape, it is ready. If it spreads out but does not hold its shape, it needs to be cooked longer. If the syrup solidifies and does not spread at all, it is overcooked. This could happen if the heat is too high and the water evaporated too quickly. Simply add more hot water to the pot a couple tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Once the desired consistency is reached, remove the pot from the heat and let cool. Once cooled, the syrup should be slightly thicker and can be ladled into an airtight jar to be stored.

Step 2: Make the Lye Water

Lye water is a type of alkaline solution that is essentially baking soda and water.

This mooncake recipe requires 2 g of lye water.

For the lye water you will need:
- 1 baking pan / tray
- Aluminum foil
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 4 tsp. water

Preheat the oven to 250 F/120 C.

Cover the baking pan or tray with the aluminum foil and spread the baking soda on top. Bake the baking soda for 1 hour. Once done, remove and store in an airtight container. This will prevent it from absorbing more moisture. You can bake more to save and store for future use as well.

To make the solution, mix 1 tsp of the baked baking soda with 4 tsp. water. This will make approximately 2 g of lye water.

Step 3: Make the Mooncake Fillings (Red Bean)

The ethnic food section or your local Asian grocery store most likely sells ready made fillings you could buy. I have seen red bean, lotus seed, black sesame, and taro pasta available. Alternatively, some fillings could be made at home if you cannot find ready-made paste.

For red bean paste you will need:
- 1 pot
- 200 g red/adzuki beans
- 80 g sugar (more to taste)
- Water

Add the dried beans into the pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, strain the water and add cold water to the beans. Bring back to a boil on the stove and keep simmering until it is soft. Add more water if it evaporates before the beans are done.

Once the beans are soft and most of the water is done, mash the beans and combine with the sugar, or combine in a food processor or a blender with a splash of water until a paste is formed. If using a blender, you may find the paste too watery after. Just add the paste back to the pot and heat on the stove for a couple minutes for the water to evaporate.

Store the filling in an airtight container in the fridge.

Step 4: Make the Dough

The dough will be the outer skin of the mooncake.

This will make 12-14 mooncakes.

For the dough you will need:
- 2 medium bowls
- 115 g pastry flour + more for dusting
- 28 g vegetable oil
- 75 g golden syrup
- 2 g lye water
- 1 egg + 1 tsp water for egg wash

Sift the flour in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the other bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and whisk together. Add the liquids into the flour and knead 10-15 times until smooth.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hour.

Step 5: Form the Mooncakes

I'm using a mix of the homemade red bean filling and store bough red bean and black sesame paste. The total weight of the dough and filling in each mooncake should be equal to the mooncake mold. I used 50 g molds, so each mooncake will be 50 g. You want the outer layer to be thin, about a 3:7 ratio of dough to filling.

Roll the filling into 35 g balls, and the dough into 15 g balls.

Flatten out the dough ball into a flat disc, and place the ball of filling in the centre.

Working from the bottom, begin to fold up the disc around the filling, rotating the filling while you push it down with your thumb, and using your other hand to pinch and close the dough around the filling.

Lightly dust with some flour to avoid the ball sticking and place on a parchment or silicone lined baking tray.

Step 6: Mold the Dough

Once all of the balls have been formed, preheat your oven to 355 F/ 180 C.

Lightly dust your mooncake mold with flour.

Insert the ball into the mold and turn onto the baking tray. Press the rod of the mold down until there is resistance, and then lift the mold while continuing to press the rod to push the mooncake out.

Step 7: Bake

Using a spray bottle, lightly spray the mooncakes with a thin layer of water on the top of the surface to prevent cracking.

Bake the mooncakes for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk one egg and 1 tsp of water to make an egg wash.

Once the mooncakes have been baked for 5 minutes, remove from the oven and brush the egg wash on top. Make sure it is a thin layer so that the design can still be seen once baked.

Continue to bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the mooncakes are well browned.

Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

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