You’ll see mooncakes in every Chinatown bakery during the days leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival. Mooncakes are notoriously rich and, much like the Western fruitcake, have indeterminate ingredients, especially if they’re imported from overseas. Nonetheless, businesspeople dutifully gift tins of high-end mooncakes to clients and families buy their favorites for their own Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations.
I recently made a batch of 10 mooncakes in my own kitchen and the results were outstanding. Compared with the store-bought alternative, the flavors in my mooncakes were cleaner and fresher. The traditional lotus seed paste filling was smooth and rich, without the cloying aftertaste left by baking fillers and preservatives. It felt great to know exactly what was in my mooncakes.
If you’re thinking about making mooncakes yourself, know this: it’s a simple process, but hard work. The steps take place over two days, but the actual preparation and baking don’t require any special skills. If you can execute directions faithfully, you’ll end up with delicious mooncakes that I promise you will be the most satisfying you’ll ever taste. You’ll love sharing them with your family and gifting them to friends around Mid-Autumn Festival time.
My advice? Take a deep breath and go for it. Biting into your first homemade mooncake is an incredibly rewarding experience.
In terms of special ingredients and tools, there are only three that require a special trip to Chinatown. First, you’ll need a bag of dried, skinned lotus seeds — make sure not to get the kind with the skins still attached. Next, you’ll need a mooncake mold from a kitchen supply store like Chanco here in Oakland. Lastly, you’ll need salted preserved egg yolks, if you want this traditional filling. I’m not a fan of preserved egg yolks, so I left them out.
Here’s how to make lotus seed mooncakes, step-by-step. The detailed tutorial with pictures and directions is at the bottom of the page.
Your turn! What tips can you share from your family’s recipe? Want to ask a question before you start cooking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Lotus Seed Mooncakes Recipe
Makes: 10 Mooncakes | Prep Time: 6 Hours, plus Overnight | Cook Time: 25 Minutes
1/2 cup Golden Syrup
2 cups flour, sifted
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking soda mixed with 1 teaspoon water
1 1/2 cups Sweet Lotus Seed Paste (see below)
10 salted preserved egg yolks (optional)
1 mooncake mold, 2 1/2 inch in diameter
1 egg yolk, beaten
Sweet Lotus Seed Paste:
2 1/2 cups (5 ounces) skinned dried lotus seeds
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon maltose syrup or honey
1. Prepare the Golden Syrup at least 2 hours before you start making mooncakes.
2. Make the Sweet Lotus Paste. Start by soaking the dried lotus seeds in warm water for 1 hour. Next, boil the lotus seeds over medium heat for another hour. When the lotus seeds are done boiling, drain and grind them into a smooth paste in a blender, adding a little water if necessary. Heat 2 1/2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir until the mixture caramelizes, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add the lotus seed paste and mix well. Stir in the remaining sugar and mix until dissolved. Gradually add the remaining oil and stir until the mixture is thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 20-30 minutes. Last, stir in the maltose syrup or honey and remove from the heat. Cool the paste overnight. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of Sweet Lotus Seed Paste.
3. The next morning, make the mooncake dough. Combine the flour and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and stir in the Golden Syrup, oil and baking soda solution, mixing well with a wooden spoon. Flour your hands and knead the mixture into a smooth, spongy dough. Cover and set aside on the counter for 3-4 hours.
4. Once the dough and Sweet Lotus Seed Paste are ready, divide each into 10 equal pieces and roll each portion into a ball between your palms. If you are using preserved egg yolks, make a depression in each lotus seed paste ball, insert the egg yolk, and then press closed. Repeat with all 10 lotus seed paste balls.
5. On a floured surface, roll a piece of dough into a 5 1/2 inch round circle that’s about 1/8 inch thick. Hold the dough circle in your palm, place a lotus seed paste ball in the center and fold the sides of the dough circle around it to completely enclose the lotus seed paste ball. Press the edges together to seal it.
6. Lightly flour the inside of the mooncake mold. Press the combined dough ball with the lotus seed paste filling into the mold, seam side up. Flatten the dough with your palm or fingers, so the mooncake conforms to the shape of the mold.
7. Turn the mold over and tap it on the side of your work surface to dislodge the cake. Place the mooncake on a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat steps 5-7 with each piece of dough and lotus seed paste ball.
8. Once all 10 mooncakes are arranged on a baking sheet, place them in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove and brush the top of the mooncakes with the beaten egg. Return the mooncakes to the oven to bake for another 8 minutes, or until golden brown.
9. To allow the mooncakes to mellow and taste better, leave them to rest uncovered in a well ventilated space overnight before eating.
Get started by gathering your ingredients. Aside from dried lotus seeds and the optional salted preserved egg yolks, all the necessary ingredients should be available from a Western grocery store. Basically, the recipe is built from flour, sugar and oil. All the good stuff.
Set aside two hours before you get started for two pieces of prep work. First, soak the dried lotus seeds in warm water for an hour. Meanwhile, make a batch of Golden Syrup — the directions are included in my Picture Pastries recipe.
After the dried lotus seeds are done soaking, boil them for an hour over medium heat. With these two prep steps complete, it’s time to get to work.
The first priority is to make the sweet lotus seed paste. Grind the cooked lotus seeds into a smooth paste. Make sure to get all the lumps out! It helps with your blending to add a few drops of water to your mixture.
Next, caramelize 2 tablespoons of sugar in 2 1/2 tablespoons of oil over high heat.
Add the lotus seed paste and mix until combined. Add the remaining sugar and watch the paste begin to turn a darker brown as the ingredients are mixed together!
Gradually add the remaining oil to the pan until the mixture glistens. Continue stirring and cooking over medium heat. The mixture will thicken and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan after about 20 minutes.
Here’s what the sweet lotus seed paste looks like when it’s done cooking. Note how the paste doesn’t stick to the pan at all.
The final step is to add a teaspoon of maltose syrup, which is easily found in any Chinatown grocer. Alternatively, you can substitute honey at this step.
That’s it! The sweet lotus seed paste for the mooncake filling is done. Go ahead and dip you finger in to try it. What does it taste like? You got it, a mooncake!
Remove the sweet lotus seed paste from the pan and place in a bowl. Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. At this juncture, you’re done for Day 1.
On the morning of Day 2, get up in the morning to make the mooncake dough. Combine the flour, baking soda, oil, Golden Syrup and baking soda solution in a bowl. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Flour your hands and knead the dough into a soft ball. It should feel very pliable and oily. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside on the counter for 3 hours.
Once the dough is done sitting, it’s time to make mooncakes! Here’s the key tool you’ll need — a mooncake mold. It’s pretty much a solid block of wood with a decorative pattern cut into the center. As I noted above, you can pick one up for about $10-$15 at any Chinatown kitchen supply store.
To get started making your mooncakes, turn both your dough and filling out onto a cutting board.
Divide the dough and filling into 10 equally-sized pieces of each. A kitchen scale really helps with this step, as you really do want 10 pieces of filling and 10 pieces of dough that are each exactly 1/10 of the total.
To make a mooncake, roll a dough ball into a circle that’s 1/8 inch thick and 5 1/2 inches wide. The dough should be soft and at room temperature. You shouldn’t notice any cracking or splitting.
Place a sweet lotus seed paste ball in the center of the dough circle.
Wrap the dough around the lotus seed paste filling, taking care to seal the seam at the top of the package.
Press the mooncake ball into the mold with the seam side up. Start by pushing down at the center of the ball to spread the package out to the sides of the mold and then use your fingers to make the ball conform to the mold’s edges.
Gently tap the mold on the side of your work table until the completed mooncake drops out. Place the mooncake on a lightly oiled cookie sheet.
Repeat making mooncake balls and using the mold until all 10 mooncakes are complete. Once all 10 mooncakes are arranged on a baking sheet, bake them in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove and brush the tops with the beaten egg and then return them to the oven to bake for another 8 minutes, or until golden brown.
To allow the mooncakes to mellow and taste better, leave them to rest uncovered in a well ventilated space overnight before eating.
Enjoy your mooncakes by cutting them into quarters and then eating them accompanied by a favorite green or oolong tea.
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