happy moon festival! may your moon be bright and your mooncakes glow even brighter! ::::
The day is today. Every year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the moon is the brightest it will shine for the year. This time marks the Moon Festival (or Mid-Autumn Festival) in Chinese and other Asian cultures, often celebrating with food and dance. The mooncake is specifically connected to this holiday, often filled with lotus seed paste, red beans, and the traditional salty egg yolk. I have enjoyed mooncakes with my in-laws, Asian friends, and so it was clear I had to try to make them myself. (That’s par for the course for me: I like it, so I want to make it!)
We are a Chinese-American family, with roots in Taiwan. And Illinois. And Maine. And Europe. And we are definitely not traditional. Our interethnic and biracial family is becoming more the norm in our generation, but Eat and I are a mix of very different experiences than our parents had. And our children are having a totally different experience than we had. Just by nature, our biracial mix is what makes us unique, whether growing up in the United States or in Taiwan or in Europe.
So why not celebrate the Moon Festival with something a little unique doused in tradition? When I looked for recipes for mooncakes, I decided to go for the spiral mooncake. While I love the browned mooncakes made with lotus seed paste and using a mold, I wanted to make something without need of a mold. The spiral mooncake seemed the perfect choice. Plus, when I was looking for the recipe, there are few from which to choose. When I found the pandan spiral mooncake recipe at the House of Annie food blog with very detailed instructions and the very helpful you tube slideshow on assembly, it was a no-brainer. This was the recipe I had to try.
Before this recipe, pandan, the brilliantly-colored green flavoring often used in various Asian cuisines, was a new thing for me. Knowing my friend Wendy had worked with pandan before (see her pandan chiffon cake recipe, also adapted from Annie’s website!), I asked her how I could find pandan in small quantities. She was generous enough to buy a new bottle for me as a gift, but with the request that she receive some of the finished mooncakes.
While this is a fairly labor intensive recipe, it is worth it. I am naive to preparing Asian pastries, so my first attempt was legitimate and honest, basically nothing fancy.
The pastry was a bit thick on the bottom. My taro was a little mushy, so the filling had some air pockets. My oil dough may have been a little loose. I had some cracking on top after baking, giving me the inadvertant Monsters, Inc. Mike Wazowski character sitting on my serving plate. But lesson learned, the process worked out pretty well and I know what to do to improve next time. Wendy gave me the thumbs’ up after tasting, as did her Chinese nanny — I’ve got a good start and a team of encouragement.
For your edification, please look at Annie’s website for hints in addition to mine. Her youtube slideshow on assembly is very helpful — even just one viewing will help you. I set up the laptop in the kitchen just above my work table so I could put the slideshow on loop to watch to make sure I was doing everything in the right order. And I had no distractions, one of the benefits of a day off from work and the kids at school.
Happy Moon Festival! May the pull of the moon guide you to your perfect mooncake making!
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 400-500g taro root (the large Chinese taro, not the small Japanese kind)*
- pinch salt
- FOR THE MOON CAKE DOUGH:
- Water Dough: 200g bleached cake flour (AP flour doesn't work well -- the dough cracks)
- 28g confectioners' sugar
- pinch of salt
- 80g cold unsalted butter
- 80g water
- Oil Dough: 180g bleached cake flour
- pinch of salt
- 90g oil (I used canola)
- ½ teaspoon pandan essence
- Wash and peel taro. Cut into 1-2-inch cubes to equal 300g.
- Boil pot of water with pinch of salt, and add taro pieces. Boil until fork tender (mine took about 25 minutes).
- Remove from water and mash taro with ¼ cup sugar to make a thick paste, one that you can roll into balls. If it seems dry (or if you use purple yam), add a small amount of butter or milk. Taste and add more sugar if you want more sweetness. My taro was fairly wet and sticky when hot. As it cooled, it was more manageable and firmer, but not easy to roll into true balls.
- Roll into 20 balls and set aside.
- For the WATER DOUGH, sift 200g flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in large bowl.
- Cut 80g cold butter into flour mixture using fingertips or pastry blender until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add in 80g water and mix to form a soft, non-sticky dough. If it is sticky, you will need to add a bit (just a little!) more flour to get it to the right texture. You should be able to form a soft ball that won’t stick to your hands. Cover and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
- For the OIL DOUGH, sift 180g flour and salt.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and add in 90g oil and pandan essence.
- Draw in the flour from the sides and mix to form a soft even colored dough. If it’s too sticky, add more flour until you form a soft ball that doesn’t stick to your hands. Mine was very soft but moldable into squishy balls. Do not over-mix. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes.
- TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE:** Preheat oven to 185 degrees C or 350 degrees F.
- If you haven't reviewed Annie's You Tube video on her pandan spiral mooncake assembly slideshow on her website (www.houseofannie.com), I recommend that you do for a good visual teaching on how to roll the pastries.
- Divide WATER DOUGH (white dough) and OIL DOUGH (green dough) into 10 equal balls.
- Taking one piece of WATER DOUGH, flatten and wrap OIL DOUGH in it. Pinch to seal edges.
- With the sealed side facing up, roll into a rectangle. (Did you see her website?)
- Roll up like a snail to form a cigar shape, turn the cigar 90 degrees, with the end facing up. (See the slideshow yet? Go!)
- Roll again into a long thin strip. Roll this up into another cigar shape.
- Using a sharp knife or a pastry cutter, cut the cylinder in the middle into two pieces.
- With the cut side facing down, flatten the dough, making the edges slightly thinner than the center. Annie recommends leaving a little hump in the center so that when the filling is wrapped around the pastry, the dough will be evenly thick all around (reminiscent of a Mexican sombrero). I did this for some of mine. Even with the "hump' trick, I had some taro leakage on the top (see photos above - they are my unintentional creation of Monsters, Inc. character Mike Wazowski). Lesson learned: be very gentle with the dough and make the middle much thicker than the edges.
- Wrap the filling and pinch to seal. Try not to tug too hard, otherwise the layers will tear. It's best to flatten the dough so it's larger than smaller so it’s easier to pinch. And when you pinch, you will find that the bottom looks ugly—don’t worry about it.
- Place sealed side down on lined baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes until the tops and bottoms are a light golden brown.