Midnight Moon in a Cake

Black sesame and salted yolk mooncakes

Two weeks ago a Chowhound forum user, Gordon Wong, started a discussion thread and he questioned whether mooncake is like fruitcake: often gifted but rarely eaten. I was pleased to read that majority of the responders reported they love mooncake and do eat them. I too am a fan of mooncake. I like them so much that I often wait until after the Mid-Autumn Festival so I can buy more of them at a discount.

Mooncake is not something that one would indulge in in large quantities. At least not the Cantonese style mooncakes. Their outside is a thin pastry while the filling is dense and quite sweet. So even for a mooncake lover a little bit goes a long way. I adore the compact yet smooth texture that often reminds me of silky sweet fudge. Salted duck egg yolk is often added to the center of the filling, and the extra saltiness helps cut down on the sweetness while enhancing the overall flavor. A good mooncake filling is what makes the cake.

Two traditional types of filling I like are lotus seed paste and black sesame paste. Cakes filled with these fillings almost always include a salted yolk or two. Sometimes even three or four, which I think is really a bit excessive. There is also a version of mooncake filled with black sesame paste studded with melon seeds that I fondly remember growing up in Singapore, although I’ve not seen them here in New York. Perhaps they were a local variation only available in Singapore.

I often make mooncake at home for the Mid-Autumn Festival with the intention of creating a better filling than the commercial ones. But making the filling is laborious and time consuming. I’ve not always been successful, yet I’ve gotten better and I’m determined to slowly perfect it. This year I decided to make black sesame paste with salted yolk.

Ingredients for making Black Seasame Mooncake

Making sesame paste for mooncake

The base for black sesame paste is a red bean paste made from small red-colored beans also known as azuki beans in Japanese. To ensure a smooth texture the beans have to be soaked overnight and cooked in plenty of water until soft, then pureed and passed through a sieve. At this stage the bean paste is more like a thick soup. So the next step is to cook this soup in a wok over medium heat to let the moisture evaporate. A wok is ideal for this purpose since the wide open shape accelerates the dehydration. In order to prevent scorching the bottom of the wok, the soup has to be stirred and scraped continuously for about 30 minutes. This is where a baker’s skill and patience are tested. Still when the sesame paste turns out well, like it did for me this year, I can assure you that it is very satisfying.

Cutting through the finished cake I discovered a bright yellow moon right in the middle of a black midnight sky and knew that all time and effort I spent had paid off. My best wishes to all for a great Mid-Autumn Festival.

Wrapping mooncake

Mooncake dough in a mold

Uncooked mooncake on baking sheet

  • Black Sesame Mooncake with Egg Yolk (芝麻蛋黃月餅)

    • Wrapper
    • 270 grams (1 3/4 cup) all pupose flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1/3 cup golden corn syrup
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • Sesame Filling
    • 10 ounces dried red beans (Japanese azuki beans), soaked overnight in 2 quarts of water
    • 2 quarts water, separated
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
    • 1/4 cup black sesame powder
    • Other Ingredients
    • 8 cooked salted duck egg yolks
    • 1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water for egg wash
    1. Drain off water from the red beans after soaking. Combine red beans and 1 quart water in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for about one hour or until completely soft.
    2. Add one quart cold water to the red bean and cool for about 15 minutes.
    3. In batches blend the red beans with the liquid in a blender or food processor until it is smooth in texture.
    4. Strain the resulting bean paste through a sturdy strainer. Use a rubber spatula to push the bean paste through. Discard any course remnants of the beans.
    5. In a wok combine the rest of the filling ingredients with the bean paste and cook over medium heat.
    6. Cook the paste stirring and scrapping the side of the wok continuously. Be sure not to burn the paste. Cook for about 30 minutes until the paste is very thick. Remove from heat and let cool. (Note that as the paste cools down it will further dry to a point where it will keep its shape when formed into a ball by hand.)
    7. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda and sugar.
    8. Add the oil and corn syrup to the flour mixture and mix together with your hands. Initially it will feel dry and crumbly but continue to knead it until the dough comes together.
    9. Divide the sesame filling into eight portions of about 3 ounces each and roll into balls.
    10. Divide the wrapper dough into eight portions of about 2 ounces each and roll into balls.
    11. Press a salted duck egg yolk into the center of each of the sesame paste balls. Be sure to cover the yolk completely.
    12. Hold one ball of wrapper dough in the palm of your hand. Use both thumbs to make an indentation in the dough ball. Continue to press down and gently enlarge the hole until the dough is shaped like a “bowl.”
    13. Insert the sesame paste filling into the center of the dough bowl. The dough bowl should cover half of the sesame paste ball. Gently push up on the sides of the “bowl” until the filling is completely covered.
    14. Roll the mooncake ball in flour then place it in the mold with the seam of the wrapper dough facing up.
    15. Gently press down on the mooncake ball until all the spaces in the mold are filled. Holding the mold at a 20 degree angle to the countertop gently tap it on the counter until the mooncake separates from the mold.
    16. Place the mooncake design-side up onto a greased baking sheet.v
    17. Repeat until all eight mooncakes are molded.
    18. Bake the mooncakes in preheated 400 degree F oven for 7 minutes.
    19. Take the mooncakes out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 degreed F.
    20. Brush all the surfaces of the mooncakes with the egg wash.
    21. Return the mooncakes to the oven and bake for 7 minutes.
    22. Brush all the surfaces of the mooncake with the egg wash again.
    23. Return the mooncakes to the oven and bake for another 7 minutes.
    24. Take out of the oven and let cool.
    25. Wrap the mooncakes with plastic wrap and set them out unrefrigerated for 24 hours before serving.
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6 Comments

  1. Laura
    Posted September 3, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    These look great! I have a question about where you buy golden corn syrup (is that the British golden syrup?) and the brand that you use. Also, is the black sesame powder just ground up black sesame seeds? I have a wooden mooncake mold that has three different shapes that are smaller than yours. I’m looking forward to giving it a try. Thanks!

    • Posted September 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Hi Laura,

      Yes, you can use the British golden syrup. Black sesame powder is available in most Asian market or natural food store, including those in U.K. It is indeed finely ground black sesame seeds. My mold is about 3 inches in diameter, so do adjust according to the size of yours. Experiment with one cake first recording the weight you portioned. Then repeat with the same weight portion. Enjoy!

      Kian

  2. Stephanie
    Posted September 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Kian,
    I tried your receipe this holiday weekend. Although they turned out ugly, they actually tasted really good :) I didn’t invest the mold, thinking it’s not necessary for family. The skin separated from the filling, probably because I didn’t use the mold? Also, how do you make the filling as balls? My filling was SO STICKY and I couldn’t shape them by hands. I end up with using a spoon and wrapped in the way like making dumplings :p

    • Posted September 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for writing about your experience making this mooncake recipe. First of all the filling should not be sticky after cooling. So you want to make sure that the filling is cooked to the point that a small wooden spoon would slowly drop when left standing in the paste. When done cooking the paste should be left to cool at room temperature for about an hour or so. Then you can use your hand to gather up the paste. At this point it should be quite dry and can be handled with your hand. Secondly the dough is actually quite tricky. I use volume measure for the recipe but it is actually more accurate if we use weight measure for the flour. I am going to change the recipe to include the weight measure. The wrapper dough should not be too moist. Although I think you should be able to bake the mooncake without molding it does help to compact the entire cake if you use it.

      Kian

      • Stephanie
        Posted September 5, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        Thank you, Kian! I’ll try again. If I don’t report back, that means it turns out so good and I’m busy at eating :D

  3. Laura
    Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Hi Kian,
    Thanks for your help with my questions! I recently found your site and really enjoy it. Thanks again!

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