Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chinese red bean moon cakes (紅豆沙月餅)

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When I was younger, I did not fully appreciate being Asian. What it meant to me at the time were the dreaded 3 hour Chinese School classes on Sunday afternoons, constant jokes involving my last name, other juvenile comments and actions by my peers. Not exactly a cakewalk, in my opinion.

The one thing that I have always enjoyed about being Asian is our love affair for food. Our culture revolves around food, and I believe I have been a big foodie since the moment I grew teeth. One of my favorite times of the year was in September around the Mid-Autumn Festival, or 中秋節. Each year around this time, Asian grocery stores (and talented "aunties" and friends) would offer up moon cakes. These sweet treats are usually baked into a circular shape to signify the unity of families.

I have always wanted to try and make my own moon cakes, but they always looked impossible to create. My mom bought me a moon cake mold on her last trip to Taiwan, so I was dying to try it out. I originally did not want to have to buy any special ingredients for my moon cakes, so I found a recipe online that used regular honey. However, those moon cakes were dense and extremely difficult to shape and turned out more like dense cookies than moon cakes. So, I finally caved and bought some alkaline water (potassium carbonate) at my Asian grocery store. I had to ask a worker where to find it, and it was right next to the soy sauce. I also broke down and purchased a bottle of Lyle's golden syrup at my grocery store.

Although I wasn't able to make my moon cakes turn out as beautifully as I wanted, they were beyond awesome. The sign of a good moon cake is having an extremely thin moon cake skin but having a plentiful filling. Expert moon cake makers can do this quite easily. Since this was my first attempt at making moon cakes, let's just say that I am still very much a novice. My moon cake was exactly how I wanted it to be (minus the aesthetics). The skin was thin with a slightly syrupy taste yet contained a nice chew. The insides were nice and sweet and reminded me of my childhood.

My dear Addie ate two moon cakes as soon as they were made, and my husband liked them too. Moon cakes actually taste better after 1-2 days after baking, but we weren't able to wait that long. Now that I know how to make these, I'll try to make this an annual tradition so I can get back to my Asian roots.

Chinese red bean moon cakes (紅豆沙月餅)
  • 60 grams golden syrup (I used Lyle's golden syrup)
  • ½ teaspoon alkaline/lye water, available at Asian grocers (it is also called potassium carbonate - this is the kind I bought); in Chinese it's called 梘水
  • 28 grams vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 100 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 can of sweetened red bean paste (you can also use lotus paste or salted egg yolks)
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)
Directions
In a large bowl, mix together the golden syrup, alkaline water and oil. Using a spatula, fold in the flour in as few strokes as possible. Do not over mix the dough. Using your hands, knead the dough for about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to sit for at least 40 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

On a clean working surface covered with plastic wrap, parchment paper or waxed paper, roll the dough into a long cylinder. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each portion into a ball.

Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll the ball into a circle about 2-3 inches wide in diameter. Do not make the centers too thin or else the moon cake will tear in the middle.

Using a spoon, add about a spoonful of sweetened red bean paste into the center of each dough disc. Wrap the filling completely with the dough and pinch the seams to seal it. Roll it into a ball and set aside. Repeat with the 11 remaining dough pieces.

Transfer the ball into the moon cake mold and make sure that the non-seamed side is facing up (so the mold can stamp the surface). Press down on the mold, lift and remove the moon cake. Transfer the moon cake to a lined baking pan. Repeat with the 11 remaining balls.

Bake the moon cakes in your preheated oven for about 7 minutes. Then remove them from the oven and brush with the egg wash and place them back into the oven for another 5 minutes. The moon cakes will turn golden brown when they are done.

Moon cakes can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for about a week. They will taste better after 1-2 days and should be served then, if you can wait that long. 

Yield: 12 moon cakes

Source: Christine's Recipes

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