Although our Chinese American family celebrates Lunar New Year each year, we have only celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival sporadically. A few times we have purchased mooncakes from our local Asian market in the Autumn, but it has not been a regular tradition for us. However, this year, after picking up the book The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival, we were inspired to make mooncakes together and eat a meal under the Autumn moon. The Shadow in the Moon by Christina Matula is a lovely retelling of the ancient tale of Chang’e, the lady in the moon, woven into a modern family’s celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival. A young girl talks about her family gathering to celebrate and give thanks on the day of the year when the moon is brightest. She describes the foods her family eats and their traditions, including her grandmother’s telling of the story of the Chang’e.
I’ve always wanted to try making mooncakes at home, but gathering all the right ingredients and equipment felt daunting. This year, I found a recipe that seemed both manageable and one that my kids would eat. This recipe is for Honey Pistachio Mooncakes by Kristina Cho, creator of the delightful blog Eat Cho Food and the new cookbook Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries. Kristina’s blog is a must-read if you love Asian food and want recipes that are creative, adventurous, and delicious. She has a way of making complicated recipes approachable and fun and this mooncake recipe is no exception. My daughter and I had a lot of fun making these cakes (even if ours did not turn out nearly as beautifully as Kristina’s) and they were so much better tasting than the pre-packaged version we had eaten in the past. The pastry was tender and flaky and the pistachio filling was perfectly sweetened with honey. They were so good that we might have to try Kristina’s more traditional red bean and salted egg yolk version next year.
We learned a few lessons along the way that might make this project more successful for you:
- I would definitely buy alkaline water online or at an Asian market. I tried making my own at home and it did not give the pastry quite the right texture or color that I wanted.
- Buy a plastic mooncake mold set, available on Amazon. I had an old-fashioned wooden mooncake mold for a long time and, while it is beautiful, the plastic mold made this process so fun and easy.
- Play around with the amount of dough and filling to get just the right amount for your mold. We had to use some trial and error to get this just right and it was slightly different from the proportions in the recipe.
- Don’t worry if the dough cracks or crumbles as you mold it around the filling. This dough is almost like play dough and very easy to smooth out or patch up as you go along.
- Don’t use too much water in the egg wash. To get the traditional deep golden color of the mooncakes, you really need a good, thick egg wash. We watered ours down too much and it soaked into the pastry without really making the tops of the cakes golden.