Besides being the first day of Fall, yesterday was also the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, a festival of harvest and lunar worship. One tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival is to give mooncakes to friends, family and business associates (think, American Christmas fruitcake).
I discovered mooncakes while visiting The Wok Shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. FoodieReflections and I were both in San Francisco for last year’sBlogher Food and sought out The Wok Shop on the recommendation of In Erikas Kitchen. The Wok Shop is sensory overload — a narrow, small shop packed with woks, cookware, serving pieces and a very friendly owner, Tane Chan.
I saw a basket of wooden mooncake cookie molds and thought, I don’t know what those are but they are going to be my San Francisco souvenir. They were different, authentic and had beautiful detail. A little piece of culinary art — so much more interesting than an “I escaped Alcatraz” t-shirt or a set of chop sticks.
Traditional mooncakes have a thin pastry skin with a sweet, dense filling and sometimes contain a whole egg yolk in its center to symbolize the full moon. An alternative to a mooncake is a mooncake cookie often filled with lotus paste or red bean paste. One Americanized version of mooncake cookies I’ve seen substitutes strawberry jam for red bean paste. Traditional? No, but probably quite tasty.
Tane offered two recipes for mooncake cookies. One a bit more traditional, Chinese Mooncake Cookies. The second recipe, Cinnamon Buddha Cookies, is, according to Tane, better suited to the American palate. Taine’s recipe is based on Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Tart Dough recipe. The finished cookie is cinnamoney and not to sweet, it’s perfect dipped into a glass of milk or a cup of hot tea. I also think these cookies would be a fun garnish for a bowl of ice cream.
Cinnamon Buddha Cookie
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 stick plus 1 Tbs (9 Tbs total) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Put flour, sugar and ground cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until it resembles a course meal. Stir in the yolk and pulse again until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and very lightly knead just to incorporate dry ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare baking sheet by lining with sheet of parchment paper.
Press small pieces of the dough inside the cookie mold then pound the mold on the kitchen counter to release the cookies from their mold.
Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover cookies with a second piece of parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove top sheet of paper and bake for another 5 minutes. Cool cookies on rack.
- To make mooncake cookies without a mold roll the dough flat to your thickness of choice and use your choice of cookie cutter.
- Mooncake cookie molds can also be used as butter molds.
- The first cookie out of your mold may be cracked, by the 2nd or 3rd cookie the mold will “season”, your cookies will not have cracks and will come out of the mold with 1 whack.
Chinese Moon Cake Cookies
1 pound “wong tong” slabs – brown sugar slabs*
1 cup water
lemon zest or lemon peel
Boil wong tong sugar slabs with 1 cup water and lemon zest or peel. Strain to measure 2 cups liquid.
2 cups sugar-water liquid (see above for recipe)
6 cups flour
1 1/2 cups oil
Add flour and oil to 2 cups sugar-water liquid. Mix well and refrigerate dough to firm.
Press dough into wooden molds, tap out cookies. Brush cookies with beaten egg white.
Bake cookies for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Tips for Chinese Mooncake Cookies
- Brush wooden molds with oil and flour lightly to help release cookies.
- Wooden molds will “season” so tapping out cookies will become easier with each cookie.
- *Wong Tong can be found in Asian food markets, if unavailable you can substitute 2 cups of brown sugar.