Happy Belated Zhong Qio Jie (中秋節)
Even though it’s weeks past Zhong Qio Jie (中秋節) also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, I still want to share these delicious date and red bean moon cakes that my Yi-Po Po and I made to celebrate one of my favorite Chinese holidays. Mid-Autumn Festival is a popular holiday celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar, this year it fell on September 12th. Traditionally, families and friends will gather and eat moon cakes, enjoy the beautiful bright full moon, and celebrate the bountiful harvest. Cities in China are decorated with floating sky lanterns, and the buildings and towers are also lit with lanterns and festive lights. There are huge festivals with Fire Dragon performances and parades of people carrying beautifully crafted lit lanterns.
To the Chinese, the full moon symbolizes family reunion which is why moon cakes are the official food of the Mid-Autumn festival. People eat moon cakes to show their homesickness, love for their family, hope for a bountiful harvest and a happy life. The traditional moon cake has a sweet cakey crust with a lotus seed paste filling and preserved salty egg yolk at the center. However, moon cakes vary in flavor and recipe in various parts of China. In terms of taste, they can be sweet, salty, spicy, or sweet and salty. Some common fillings are sweet red bean paste, sweet green bean paste, and taro paste. Finally, you have a choice between a sweet cakey crust, or a sweet flakey thin crust. There are just so many combinations of moon cakes to choose from, thankfully they are sold in Asian markets during the holiday so I usually I end up buying one of each of all the flavors.
One of my fondest memories as a kid growing up in Taiwan is going to the Mid-Autumn festival carrying my rabbit lantern to watch the fireworks and fire dragon performances, then staying up late and eating my Yi Po Po’s home made moon cake with the rest of the family. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Chinese desserts especially the traditional moon cake, I find them too rich and densely packed with overly sweet fillings. However, my Yi Po Po’s dates and red bean paste moon cake with a sweet flaky thin crusts is the exception.
For years, I actually refused to learn how to make my Yi Po Po’s moon cakes because I wanted them to remain my once a year treat; it’s something that I looked forward to every year and only good if it’s made by my Yi Po Po. It’s not that I didn’t grow up watching her make hundreds of these or that I didn’t attempt to learn how to make them. It’s just that every time I TRY to make them they are never as good as the ones she makes. This year, I decided to give my Yi Po Po’s ever so delicious moon cakes another go.
First things first, Yi Po Po’s moon cakes are a labor of love. It’s time consuming but the end result is so worth the time and energy. What makes these moon cakes different from the traditional ones is that the crust is flakey much like a philo-dough, the filling is made with rehydrated red dates cooked down to the consistency of a preserve, added into the sweet red bean paste and shaped into small rounds the size of golf balls. It’s then wrapped with the dough, brushed with the egg wash and baked. The flakey crust adds a great contrasting texture and bite to the soft filling which is sweet from the red bean but also a little sour from the red dates. These bite size moon cakes are perfect for any time of the day as a breakfast item, mid day snack, or dessert.
Cheers & until next time,
Happy Zhong Qio Jie!
Date & Red Bean Moon Cakes
1 cup dried red dates
2 cups red bean paste, store bought
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups All purpose flour
4 tbsp vegetable oil
8 tbsp water
½ tbsp sugar
⅓ tbsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg yolk (beaten)
For the Date and Red Bean Filling
1. In a small saucepan, put in dried red dates and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes until the dates are fully re-hydrated.
2. Drain the dates and let it fully cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, peel the skin off of the dates and discard the pits. Reserve only the meaty part of the dates in a small bowl.
3. In a sauté pan, add 1 tbsp vegetable oil and turn the heat to medium. Add 2 cups of red bean paste and your reserved dates. Fold the dates into the red bean paste with a spatula and cook for 10 minutes, add water 1 tbsp at a time if it begins to thicken up too quickly. Once it is done cooking, reserve in a bowl and let cool.
4. Once it is cool enough to handle, roll into 20 round balls.
*This can be done a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Let the filling come up to room temperature before using.
For the Skin
1. Dough Ball A: In a large bowl, mix together the 2 cups all purpose flour, 4 tbsp oil, 1/2 tbsp sugar, 1/3 tbsp salt and 8 tbsp water. Knead briefly until it forms a smooth dough, roll into a long roll and cut into 20 pieces.
2. Dough Ball B: In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup all purpose flour and 4 tbsp vegetable oil until it forms a smooth dough. Roll into a long roll and cut into 20 pieces.
3. Flatten Dough Ball A, place Dough Ball B in the center of Dough Ball A and wrap edges to enclose Dough Ball B, then lightly flatten. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Beginning at the top edge, roll up the rectangle to a thing, baton shape, turn the baton piece vertically and roll out to a 1/4 inch rectangle. Roll up one more time to form a square shape. Roll each piece of square skin into a ball and roll into a 2 inch circle. Repeat for all pieces.
Making the Moon Cakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare an ungreased cookie sheet.
2. Place 1 ball of filling in the center of each dough circle and gather edges to completely enclose, press edges to seal. Lightly press down each piece with the palm of your hand to form a 2 inch circle and place each finished cake on the cookie sheet.
3. Brush the tops of the cakes with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes until dough is flaky; remove and serve.