Mooncakes, the banner dessert of the Mid-Autumn Festival, are by far my favorite Asian treat. Like a Chinese cheesecake, they're rich, decadent, and altogether too indulgent. This homemade version is a little lighter but just as delicious, so you can have your (moon)cake and eat it, too. —Cynthia Chen McTernan
12 to 14 miniature mooncakes
golden syrup (like Lyle's)
alkaline water (also called kansui, or potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate solution)
cake flour (alternatively, omit cake flour and use 1 cup of all-purpose)
filling of your choice (see recipes for lotus paste filling or red bean filling, on this account)
Gather the mixture together and gently knead it just until it comes together into one mass -- take care not to knead vigorously. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 45 minutes to an hour.
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Divide the filling into 12 equal pieces and shape each of them into a ball. Each ball of filling should be about 2 tablespoons to 2 1/2 tablespoons -- roughly the size of a golf ball. If you have a kitchen scale, each ball should weigh about 33 to 34 grams.
For each mooncake, scoop about a tablespoon of dough and roll it out between two pieces of parchment so that it’s about 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter.
For this next step, you may want to flour your hands lightly, though I didn’t and it was generally fine. Place a ball of filling in the center and fold up the dough around the ball. It likely will not cover the whole ball at once, nor should it. Gently push, press, and squeeze the dough, holding the ball securely in your palm, until the dough gradually covers the filling ball. The firmer your filling, the easier this will be. If it really won’t squeeze over the filling, don’t worry -- just pinch off another small piece of dough, roll it out, and use it to patch the ball. I did this a few times and the results were just as good. (To make things even easier, you can even just roll out two small balls of dough -- about a teaspoon each -- and fold one around each end of the filling so that you cover all of the lotus paste without needing to stretch or squeeze.)
Place the mooncake ball into your mold and turn it upright on your surface. Press the plunger down until you feel resistance. Lift the mooncake mold off the table and use the plunger to push the mooncake out. Place on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet while you make the rest of the cakes. If it’s a hot day, you may want to place these in the fridge to keep their form while you finish folding.
When you’re finished forming the mooncakes, bake them at 350° F for 8 minutes.
Remove the mooncakes from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Brush on the egg wash, then bake the cakes for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top and fragrant.
Let cool completely. Store the mooncakes in an airtight container for 2 days to “release oil” -- the mooncake skins will become shiny, soft and supple, and it’s at this point that they’re meant to be enjoyed. (But I won’t tell if you sneak one fresh.) Gift them to friends, or enjoy!