How to Make Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival

Impress your family by offering up homemade versions of this traditional treat.

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September 12, 2019
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If you celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival (a tradition in Chinese and Vietnamese cultures), you know that it's an event that brings families together and invites longevity and good fortune during the fall harvest. But ... you also know that it's also totally about the mooncakes.

Mooncakes are a traditional pastry filled with lotus or red bean paste and stamped with an intricate design like flowers, vines or moons. They symbolize everything the festival is about (especially family reunion), and the moon itself plays into several festival legends. Mooncakes can be a labor of love to make, so if you celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, you probably buy them from your favorite bakery.

"They're considered a delicacy, so families give them as gifts," says Vivian Chan, Food Network culinary producer and host. "Traditionally, within the pastry exterior there are salted duck yolks embedded in the lotus or red bean paste filling — a mooncake might have no duck yolks or as many as four. They're very rich — I like the double yolk versions; one yolk is too little, but four yolks are too much. Two is just enough."

"That said, I eat a whole box every year!" says Vivian. "They remind me of sitting outside with my family in early fall when there's just a nip in the air. When we were kids, we would celebrate the festival with paper lanterns, and we'd run around in the backyard. It's very nostalgic for me."

"My family orders mooncakes from the same bakery in Hong Kong every year, Wing Wah," says Vivian. "The box even comes with a QR-coded seal, so you can ensure you're getting authentic mooncakes from that particular bakery."

And today, bakeries have fun with different flavors of mooncakes. Vivian enjoys versions like strawberry, taro and green tea that are often lighter and mimic the texture of mochi. Want to make your own? Food Network Kitchen's version skips the duck yolk (which is a bit ambitious to tackle at home) and sticks to a traditional lotus paste filling, in which boiled lotus seeds emulsify with sugar to form the soft, tender center of the pastry.

The paste is rolled into balls and chilled before being wrapped in pastry dough.

Finally, the most fun part — stamping out the designs! Though traditionally you might make mooncakes with a wooden mold, we used an updated version that acts more like a cookie press. Once stamped, the pastry is brushed with egg wash and then baked until golden and ready to be shared with your family.

Get the full recipe here: Mooncakes

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