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.
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.
Black Sesame Mooncake with Egg Yolk (芝麻蛋黃月餅)
- 1 3/4 cups all pupose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup golden corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- 10 ounces dried red beans Japanese azuki beans, soaked overnight in 2 quarts of water
- 2 quarts water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 cup black sesame powder
- 8 cooked salted duck egg yolks
- 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water for egg wash
- 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. Add one quart cold water to the red bean and cool for about 15 minutes.
- In batches blend the red beans with the liquid in a blender or food processor until it is smooth in texture.
- 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.
- In a wok combine the rest of the filling ingredients with the bean paste and cook over medium heat. 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.)
- In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda and sugar. 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.
- Divide the sesame filling into eight portions of about 3 ounces each and roll into balls.
- Divide the wrapper dough into eight portions of about 2 ounces each and roll into balls.
- Press a salted duck egg yolk into the center of each of the sesame paste balls. Be sure to cover the yolk completely.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Roll the mooncake ball in flour then place it in the mold with the seam of the wrapper dough facing up. 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.
- Place the mooncake design-side up onto a greased baking sheet. Repeat until all eight mooncakes are molded.
- Bake the mooncakes in preheated 400 degree F oven for about 7 minutes. Take the mooncakes out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 degreed F. Brush all the surfaces of the mooncakes with the egg wash. Return the mooncakes to the oven and bake for about 7 minutes. Brush all the surfaces of the mooncake with the egg wash again. Return the mooncakes to the oven and bake for about another 7 minutes or until golden brown.
- Take out of the oven and let cool. Wrap the mooncakes with plastic wrap and set them out unrefrigerated for 24 hours before serving.