For those who celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, there’s a lot to love. The celebration is something like a Chinese Thanksgiving -- a time for family, celebration, and good food. We previously wrote about the meaning of Tet Trung Thu festival and the ubiquitous and delicious moon cakes but never thought of making them ourselves. We thought it was too complicated to make at home, but fortunately we were proven wrong. It’s also the time when we eat one of the treats I love best in all the world: moon cakes. They get their name from the full moon that marks the date of the festival, and they’re about as rich and decadent as Chinese desserts get. A supple, golden-brown crust hides impossibly smooth, dense fillings like white lotus paste or chocolate red bean, and my favorite varieties have a salty, savory duck yolk (or two, or more!) nestled in the center. They’re so indulgent that my family used to cut just one into eight tiny slivers and share them between the four of us, but in my metabolic heyday, I could have put away several of these calorie bombs in one sitting.In Hong Kong and mainland China, moon cakes are everywhere this time of year. Stateside, they’re a little less plentiful, so this year I decided to try my hand at making my own. As it turns out, learning how to make these gems was surprisingly easy, a ton of fun, and immensely rewarding.
It didn’t matter if Tet Trung Thu always falls in September/October of each year, we all wanted to learn. Flour was tossed, eggs beaten and moon cakes we knocked out, literally. There’s always a pent up craving for moon cakes each year as they’re only made during the weeks leading up to the mid-autumn moon festival. Moon cake stands will pop up at street corners of Vietnam to satisfy the masses. Typically baked, this wheat dough pastry resemble a hockey puck, albiet one that’s much more pleasing to the mouth. They are often filled with lotus seed or bean paste with or without various nuts, dried candied fruits (mứt), salty yolks, and other savories such as sausage, chicken or pork.
Baking moon cakes at home isn’t terribly hard, you just need a bit of preparation and special moon cake modes which is often the hardest part to find. Traditional modes are carved from a single block of wood and we’ve only seen them in Vietnam and other parts of Asia. Plastic modes however can occasionally be found in Asian markets, particularly in large China towns so keep an eye out for them the next time you go. It’s a great activity to have family and friends over, catching up on lost times and pounding out moon cakes. Plus, it’s tons of fun trying to see who makes the best impressions using the mode as it does take a combination of confidence and skill to strike the mode the right spots to knock out the perfect moon cake.