Highchair Travelers: American Mooncakes

Mooncakes featured copyThis weekend is one of our favorite Chinese holidays, the Mid-Autumn Festival. This festival is celebrated on the eighth full moon of the Chinese calendar. It’s popularly known as the Moon Festival, and is a celebration of family togetherness and gratitude. During the Moon Festival, it’s very important to give and receive Mooncakes, small, elaborately molded cakes that symbolize the completed circle of family love and unity.

Traditional Chinese Mooncakes

Our kids loved getting these little cakes from Ayi, neighbors, and friends, and giving them in return. I wanted to continue this tradition after we returned to the states, especially because I have compiled quite a collection of antique and new mooncake molds, the wooden forms used to create mooncakes.

Some of my mooncake molds

Some of my favorite mooncake molds

The problem? Mooncakes are hard to make. And also, frankly, a little gross. Sure, the coconut and mandarin orange ones our Ayi brought us from her local baker were very good, but the most common mooncake recipe involves red bean paste, tasteless hard pastry shell and the occasional whole egg yolk. Not very appetizing for the American neighbors with whom you might want to share. I was contemplating several variations that would give me something that looked traditional but tasted American. Finally, Cletus gave an inspired suggestion. Pumpkin Pie Mooncakes. Genius!

So I set out to make these (hopefully) delicious and (hopefully) adorable western versions of their Chinese counterparts. If you are looking for a new way to celebrate the Moon Festival, or just a good excuse to make pumpkin pies two months early, this recipe is your Man. Pie. Whatever.

Start out with your favorite recipes for piecrust and pumpkin filling (if you don’t have one, I’m partial to this one here). Using a standard cupcake pan, pat the dough over and up the sides of each cup. Extend the dough about half an inch over the top of each cup, so you’ll have dough to attach the top to after filling.

Next, use your mooncake molds to form the tops. Roll a small ball of dough in flour, and then press it into your mold. Flip the mold over and bang it on the counter to release the dough. If it’s stuck, use a fork to carefully dislodge it from the mold.

Molding mooncake tops.

Molding mooncake tops.

If you don’t have any mooncake molds (what? who doesn’t have mooncake molds?) you can find lots of great ones here, or use cookie molds, textured pans, paper crafting supplies, anything you have that would make a cool imprint. Or you can just roll out the dough and cut plain circles, of course, but where’s the fun in that?

When your mooncake tops are all ready, pour the filling into each cup, filling each only about halfway. Carefully fold the piecrust over the edges of the filling, making sure you don’t cause the filling to overflow. Brush the edges of each cake with egg, and carefully place the top on the egg-brushed cakes. Gently pinch and smooth the tops to seal them together, being very careful not to let the filling ooze out of the edges. Brush the tops with egg to get them golden brown and to bring out the designs.

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Mooncakes ready to go in the oven.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, watching carefully for the last few minutes to avoid over-browning. If they aren’t brown enough, brush with a little more egg for the last few minutes in the oven.

There you are! Delicious, authentic (kinda) looking Mooncakes for your family’s Moon Festival.   Order in some good Chinese takeout (or make authentic dumplings with our Ayi’s recipe) and spend some time enjoying your family.

2014 Update! We tried some authentic coconut mooncakes this year and they were delicious! And easy! Give them a try too.

ManMan Chi! (Chew Slowly)


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Zhù nǐ hé nǐ de jiārén zhōngqiū kuàilè!

Wishing you and your family
a happy Mid-Autumn Festival!


Looking for more Chinese fun? Check out all our China posts here. And there are lots of great ideas to be had at the Highchair Travelers Pinterest Page.


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