One of the culinary highlights of my year living in China was the mooncake, a treat traditionally enjoyed during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Because the Chinese calendar follows the lunar calendar, this festival usually falls during late September or early October. But as far as the North American calendar is concerned, I’d say mid-autumn is right about now. Because I said so. And because I only just came up with the idea for homemade mooncakes just now.
A traditional mooncake might look something like this:
Typical mooncakes are round or rectangular pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. A thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste is surrounded by a relatively thin (2-3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea. (Source)
So “indispensible a delicacy” are these cakes that the Mid-Autumn Festival (one of the three most important annual Chinese holidays) is often referred to as the Mooncake Festival. It’s traditional to enjoy these labor-intensive, expensive treats under the light of a full moon with family members (as companions, not snacks).
Now, words such as labor-intensive, expensive and salted duck eggs are generally not welcome in my vocabulary, so whatever I was to attempt in my own kitchen was going to need to invoke none of those descriptions. I never encountered a mooncake with an egg yolk in the center anyway, so I will just have to take Wikipedia’s word for it on that one.
With that said, a homemade mooncake might look something like this:
I will thank you not to think less of me for forgoing the attempt to stamp the symbol for “longevity” onto the surface of my mooncakes.
Considering that even Chinese people don’t generally attempt making these cakes at home, I knew that I’d have to have to use my imagination when recreating them myself, so I was aiming more for taste (and good ingredients) more than texture or appearance. And on that front I’d say I succeeded to some extent. Here’s the recipe:
Easy Vegan Moon Cakes
- 1 cup almond meal/flour (ground almonds)
- 3 medjool dates, pitted and cut into a few pieces
- 1 cup cooked adzuki beans
- 2 tbsp agave syrup
- Pulse/blend almond meal with dates in your food processor (or high speed blender) until you have a sticky, crumbly mixture. Empty food processor’s contents into a bowl.
- Pulse/blend beans and agave in your food processor until you have a fairly smooth paste, stopping a couple times to scrape down the sides and stir a little so the agave gets well incorporated. Empty bean mixture into a small bowl.
- Scoop bean paste by the tablespoon-ful and drop into the pile of almond meal. Coat the bean ball in the crumbs, gently pressing into a small pattie until thickly coated in the almond mixture. Pick up extra coating as needed so that none of the bean filling shows.
Yields 6-7 mooncakes
I couldn’t quite decide what to do once I’d finished forming all the cakes, so I froze half and baked the rest at a very low heat (“warm”) for about an hour and a half.
The baked cake is on the left, the frozen one is on the right:
Here is the cross-section of the frozen cake:
And the baked version:
After a very hasty taste test, I’d say they taste good! Obviously a very, ahem, alternative take on the traditional dessert. But more importantly, I think I would recommend the freezer method over the oven method, at least after this first attempt. Furthermore, allow the cakes to thaw a bit before eating. They should be soft and bean-pastey and room temperature, but I initially felt the need to either freeze or bake in order to get the almond coating to stick and solidify a bit. Because the baked cakes turned out a bit on the dry side and remained crumbly, I’m thinking the freezer (or at least the fridge) is the better bet.
And now you are equipped with an easy approximation of the traditional mooncake so that you can properly celebrate the very important Chinese holiday that you didn’t know you wanted to celebrate in the first place and which has in fact already passed.
Thank me later.