I could really get addicted to these. They’re like little sweet potato pies with a slightly salty, eggy reward in the center. I’ve come to the conclusion that mooncakes are best when they aren’t too sweet. Canned adzuki bean paste tends to be extremely sweet, so I urge you to try making your own. You’ll be far more satisfied with the taste of your cakes. Also, since the key to a successful mooncake is getting your component textures right, you’ll have far more control.
Start by gathering your components. To make the dough for the outer crust, combine your syrup, oil, soda and alkaline water in a bowl.
Stir. It’ll get a bit lumpy as the soda reacts with the acidic syrup and makes bubbles. Not to worry.
Sift on the cake flour…
…and stir gently with a fork to incorporate it.
Bring it all together into a thick dough. The consistency will remind you of a chewy caramel. Let it sit in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight. It will keep for up to three days.
Next, cook your salted yolks. The easiest way to do these is to steam them for about ten minutes. You can also bake them in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven for 10-15 minutes. Just be careful not to dry them out.
Cooked! Set these aside (in the fridge if you like) until you’re ready to use them.
So then, the shaping. You’ll need a small bowl of vegetable oil and a small plate of flour, so get those ready. Since each mooncake mold is a little different, you’ll need to experiment a bit at the beginning. My larger one will hold about 3.75 ounces of filling plus a salted yolk. This ball is a little light. More bean paste, dink!
So once I’ve got my adzuki paste ball weighed out, I’ll enclose a cooked yolk in it…
…like so. Maybe smooth those holes over.
Now for the skin. As a general rule the weight of the crust should be about a third of the total filling weight. A salted yolk weighs about half an ounce added to 3.75 ounces of filling. That’s 4.25 ounces divided by four…so I need an ounce of crust dough for each cake.
Begin the shaping process by making the dough ball into a disk. Pinch the outer rim of the disk so it’s quite a bit thinner than the center. This is important since the disk will stretch from the center outward as you shape. The dough should just barely hold its shape as you do this. If it’s too slack, work in some more flour until it stiffens a bit but is still very plastic.
Plop the filling ball in the middle. Plop.
Now flip it over into the opposite hand, filling down. Dip your fingers in the vegetable oil and rub it over the dough.
Flip the ball back over into the oily hand. You’re worried now that you’re going to screw this whole thing up. So take a deep breath and have a good laugh at your own expense. Next, start rotating the ball in your hand, clockwise or counter clockwise is up to you, just play a little. As you do that you’ll notice that dough is magically creeping up the sides of the ball.
Help it along by gently pulling with the fingers of the other hand. You can see the progress I’m making here, looking at the ball from the side. Imagine you’re throwing a pot on a wheel. That’s sort of what this process is like. (Other hand not shown because it’s busy snapping pictures).
Pull the dough some and pinch the top edges as you rotate the ball with the oily hand.
Before you know it the ball is enclosed. If there are any torn spots in it, just squeeze them together since this dough is as you’ve seen quite stretchy. My seams are still a little messy, but then I’m a newbie.
Now wipe your hands on a nearby towel. Dab them in flour…
…and pat it lightly all over the ball. This will prevent sticking during the final shaping step.
So then. Seizing the nearest available mooncake mold…
…press the cake into it, seam-side up. Press it in firmly.
To turn it out, gently tap the mold on the counter until you see a little gap as the cake releases. Do this on all sides…
…then up-end the mold onto a sheet pan or into your hand.
There. Ready to bake! Repeat with the remaining filling and dough. You can pre-make filling and dough balls to speed the process along if you like and keep them refrigerated, though you want to bring them up to room temperature before you shape. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let the finished cakes sit for at least half and hour and up to an hour before baking to relax any activated gluten, which would cause shrinking and a loss of your lovely pattern. Spritz a little water on the cakes to prevent drying and cracking.
Now here’s where I made my mistake. I baked them too long. I let these go for 12 minutes, which was just about perfect, however I failed to apply my egg wash along the way. Here I’m painting it on at the 12 minute mark.
I baked about 8 minutes more and that was my error. Why? Because as the interior filling gets hot it generates steam. That steam causes the dough to stretch and “erases” the delicate pattern on the top.
This need not be the case. The interior is already cooked, so it doesn’t need to heat all the way through. All you need to do is brown the outer crust and you’re done for all intents and purposes. Here’s what happened after a further 8 minutes:
Not terrible, but I should have stopped earlier. Next time I’ll bake them for six minutes, apply egg wash and bake another six or so until they’re golden. You can see from this cross-section that the crust is overdone. Too brown, too brittle.
Still, not bad for a lo fan from Kentucky, eh? There’s the harvest moon in my evening sky…and is it ever delicious! I see why people make double and triple yolkers. They really are excellent. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all!