Mooncake is a Chinese delicacy that is usually consumed during the Mid-Autumn festival. Learn how to prepare and make this graceful and delicious treat using our simple home recipe.
It is a culturally significant food and as such there are many variations in fillings and ways to make it. We’ve made it simple and broken down how to easily prepare this revered dessert in a few simple steps with a selection of tasty fillings to choose from.
These include tasty mooncake fillings such as lotus seed, red bean, green tea, salted egg yolk, and also mixed nuts!
If you would love to join in the tradition but don’t know the Chinese customs or culture which surrounds mooncake; don’t worry we’ve also got you covered. We hope you enjoy learning about (and eating) this little slice of mid-autumn!
What are mooncakes?
Mooncake (or yue bing) are a type of Chinese cake with a sweet or savoury filling. It is typically eaten with tea. They are usually eaten slowly while gazing at the moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
However, yue bing (as they are called in Mandarin) has also become a fairly common food throughout Asia. During September (when the festival takes place), yue bing is sold everywhere from street vendors to Starbucks. For this reason, mooncake is well-known throughout Asia.
Due to its surging popularity and the practice of buying them as gifts for friends, colleagues, and family members, their prices have skyrocketed recently.
Making mooncake at home might be more cost-effective, and is a healthier option! This is because you’ll have control over which artificial colourings and preservatives are being added to your mooncake.
The outer shell of the mooncake is traditionally made of dough consisting of golden syrup (or invert syrup), lye (alkaline) water, vegetable oil, and plain flour. Extra flour and egg wash is used for dusting and brushing.
Other, more modern mooncake recipes use cornstarch and baking soda. Our recipe is going to focus on the traditional method for making mooncakes. However, some modern additions will be included for ease of access.
There is a myriad of fillings usually used in yue bing. Some of the most common ones are white lotus seed, green tea, red bean paste, wu ren (mixed nuts), salted egg yolk, and yam. Other mooncake fillings include ground pork, ice cream, durian, chicken floss, cream cheese, and also seafood!
In our mooncake recipe today, we have included detailed procedures on how to prepare five of these many flavours. Check out the list below!
White Lotus Seed
Bai lian rong or white lotus seed paste is made of lotus seeds with the bitter green centre removed. Peeled dried lotus seeds can be easily purchased at any Asian market or online marketplace such as Amazon.
Dried Lotus Seeds - 6oz (Pack of 1)
Along with this, using dried raw ingredients is usually the more cost-effective and healthier option. Learning how to make lotus seed paste will also be useful for making Cantonese mooncakes and other delicious Chinese pastries or steamed buns.
This filling is a very popular flavour and can be found in most Chinese bakeries. If it is your first time trying mooncake, we recommend going for the lotus seed flavour.
White Lotus Seed Paste Ingredients
The following are ingredients to make 15 portions of filling.
- 100 g dried lotus seeds
- 70 g sugar
- 50 g neutral oil (sunflower, vegetable, etc)
- 20 g maltose or honey
- After soaking the lotus seeds for a few hours, break open all the seeds to remove the bitter green centre.
- Boil the beans until they become soft. Then, blend the seeds into a smooth consistent paste before sieving them to remove any excess water.
- Next, cook the oil and sugar together in a pan. Once the mixture becomes golden brown, pour in the lotus paste to cook together.
- Add in the maltose slowly and let the mixture cook together until it thoroughly combines. The white lotus seed paste is ready when you can take out the paste as one sticky whole piece.
- Store the sweet mooncake filling in an airtight container in the fridge until ready for use.
Salted Egg Yolk
Salted egg yolk is typically an egg cured in the shell to impart a delicious, rich umami flavour. As it is a popular flavour during Mid-Autumn festivals, more expensive and luxurious duck eggs are usually used.
Salted eggs can be purchased whole or raw, and salted egg yolks can be purchased in large packages specifically for use in mooncake fillings like this. Check your local Asian market or order them online.
However, in case you are not able to find them, we have included instructions in our mooncake recipe below on how to prepare them from scratch. Please note, however, that brining them can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days. It's best to start preparing the filling early if you are planning to make it the traditional way from scratch.
If you cannot purchase duck eggs, chicken eggs can be used instead, but the flavour is not at all comparable! We prefer sticking to duck eggs for our mooncake recipe.
Salted Egg Yolk Ingredients
The ingredients below are for making 4 portions.
- White lotus filling (see above)
- 4 salted duck egg yolks OR 4 raw salted duck eggs OR 4 raw duck eggs
- 1 cup Chinese baiju OR whiskey
How to make Salted Duck Eggs from Scratch
- To make salted duck eggs from scratch, wash the outside of the eggs before arranging them in the brining vessel. Cover them completely in water before pouring this water out into a pot. Set the eggs outside in the sun (during the early morning, not the late morning or afternoon) and let them sunbathe for 2-4 hours.
- Using the ratio of ⅓ cup salt to every 1 kg of water, add salt to the water previously set aside and boil it. Once boiled, let it cool to room temperature. Let the brining vessel dry out completely.
- Add the liquor to a bowl and submerge the eggs for 1 hour. Then add the eggs to the dry brining vessel along with the liquor and the cooled salt water. Seal the vessel and let it rest for 30 days or more.
- After they have brined for a month, boil one egg in salt water. Cut them in half to check the yolk. If it is cured and hard, boil 3 other eggs and remove their yolks.
- Once cooked, they are now ready to be used to make Cantonese mooncake.
How To Use Store-bought Salted Egg Yolk
- You can buy two types of salted egg yolks from stores: cooked or raw types.
- If using cooked salted duck egg yolks, pat them with paper towels to remove excess moisture or salt.
- If using raw salted duck eggs, wash the outside of the eggs. Crack them open to remove the yolks. Wash the yolk to remove the particles of white adhering to them, and dry them with paper towels. Then, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the yolks in an oven (preheated to 180 °C or 355 °F) for 7 minutes.
How To Prepare Salted Egg Yolk Filling
- You will need to make lotus seed paste (above) if you intend to make salted egg yolk mooncakes.
- When ready, roll the paste into 4 balls and create a cavity in the middle of each one. Place a salted yolk into each ball of paste before sealing it.
- These paste balls will become the filling for your salted egg yolk mooncake recipe below.
Red bean paste (hong dou sha) is an extremely common dessert component made from adzuki beans (also called Anko). It is used in everything from soups to bread and cakes.
Traditionally, smooth red bean paste is used in yue bing filling since it more evenly and attractively fills out the shell. However, this type of paste is slightly more difficult to make at home. The Chinese version of red bean paste also usually contains oil, so preparing it is different from the Japanese recipe.
It is one of the easiest Asian foods to find at Asian markets or grocery stores. The paste may be too sweet, but this is desirable for mooncake fillings as the covering around them dampens their taste.
For those who prefer homemade or who cannot find smooth red bean paste for sale, we have included detailed ingredients to make your own below.
Red Bean Paste Ingredients
The recipe below makes 400 g of paste which would be enough for 10 mooncake fillings.
- 100 g dried red adzuki beans
- 40 g vegetable oil
- 80 g white sugar or rock sugar
- 15 g maltose
- Soak adzuki beans overnight. The next morning, drain the beans and add them to a pot, filling it halfway with water. Cook for around 2 ½ hours or until soft. Check regularly and stir the pot to ensure no beans are sticking to the bottom.
- When they are tender enough to be crushed easily, turn off the heat and drain the water. Let them cool.
- Add them to a blender along with the sugars and oil. Blend until it forms smooth, silky red bean paste. Set aside until ready to use.
Green tea mooncake can mean yue bing with a shell made of green dough which contains green tea. However, it can also mean normal yellow-shelled yue bing with a filling consisting of mung bean paste and green tea. This flavour is popular, especially in the Japanese and South-East Asian regions.
Since it would be easier to make one dough and four fillings than to prepare a unique dough, our sweet mooncake recipe uses the latter. Mung beans can be bought easily in dry bulk at any grocery store.
Green tea, on the other hand, is usually matcha powder (Japanese green tea powder). This can also be bought fairly commonly at grocery stores. Milk and glutinous rice flour is also used. All of these ingredients can be found at any Asian grocery store or ordered online.
Another popular usage of green tea in yue bing comes in the form of snow skin mooncakes.
These are not baked but are instead simply cooled, and typically are filled with ice cream, mochi, or custard. Green tea is a popular addition to the dough.
Our mooncake recipe below covers only the traditional style with a baked exterior.
Green Tea and Mung Bean Ingredients
The listed ingredients are for making 12 portions of a Sweet Matcha Mung Bean filling recipe.
- 100 g split mung beans
- 100 g sugar
- 300 ml water
- 1 tablespoon matcha powder
- 125 ml plant-based milk
- 30 g all-purpose flour or glutinous rice flour
- 3 tablespoon warm water
- First, we soak the split mung beans in water for 3 hours. Then, rinse the beans a few times before setting them in a steamer.
- Steam for 30 minutes before setting aside. Mash the beans until it becomes a consistent paste using a fork or masher.
- Dissolve the green tea powder in warm water. Then, mix thoroughly the remaining ingredients - milk, sugar, flour, green tea - with the paste.
- Pour the mixture into a pan and cook. Once the paste becomes thick, smooth and no longer sticks to the pan, then the filling is ready.
- Set aside and let cool before using in our mooncake recipe later.
Mixed Nuts (Wu Ren)
Wu Ren is an old favourite mooncake flavour. It is made of mixed nuts and ham, and it originates from the Guangdong region of Canton in China. Unlike the other cakes, Wu Ren is favoured by those who prefer a savoury treat!
Five different types of nuts are used in this filling. These are walnuts, bitter almonds, normal almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Ham and lard are also added for some savoury kick. Dried fruit is also added.
This filling is customizable and as such, you do not need to adhere so strictly to our ingredients below.
Wu Ren Ingredients
The ingredients below are to make filling enough for 4 mooncake servings.
- 15 g walnuts
- 15 g bitter almonds OR normal almonds
- 12 g pumpkin seeds
- 15 g normal almonds OR cashews
- 13 g sesame seeds
- 22 g Chinese hard ham
- ½ teaspoon five-spice powder
- 11 g dried/candied ginger
- 16 g peanut oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 31 g granulated sugar
- 27 g water
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
- Steam the hard ham for 15 minutes. Save the liquid in the steaming vessel for later. Finely dice the ham.
- Toast the nuts and seeds by spreading them on a baking sheet and baking for 8 minutes at 160 C (325 F). If using pre-toasted nuts and seeds, skip this step.
- Toast the rice flour in a dry pan over medium-low heat for around 20 minutes until it is light brown. Stir constantly. Heat the oil for ten minutes in a separate pan and then turn off the heat to let it cool.
- Chop the nuts and seeds. In a large bowl, mix them with the ham, sugar, salt, dried or candied fruit, and spices. Mix well.
- Add the steamed ham juice, 27 g water, the liquor, and the oil. Stir well until combined.
- Finally, add in the sweet rice flour and mix until dry and crumbly in texture. Add extra oil if necessary. Set aside for use in mooncakes.
If using bitter almonds, use normal almonds with them. If substituting normal almonds for bitter almonds, use cashews. Try not to use bitter almonds and cashews, or normal almonds both times.
Some of the other mooncake flavours include chicken floss, ground pork, ice cream, cream cheese, fish, and black sesame. These are less common and therefore we’ve decided not to include them in our mooncake recipe.
Please take note that you can mix and match the fillings included in the recipe below.
The recipe makes 20 mooncakes and there are 5 fillings, so each filling is enough for 4 yue bing. If you are not looking to make so many different fillings, please scale the recipes accordingly.
How do you eat a Mooncake?
These sweet Cantonese treats are eaten after dinner on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The fillings are usually superbly sweet, or at the very least sweet and savoury. Therefore, they are usually had with tea to undercut and complement some of these flavours.
It is not uncommon to eat them as a snack in the days following the festival. This is because there are typically so many of them which are shared around by well-wishers as gifts.
A single mooncake typically sold in stores has around 700 calories (if not more, depending on the filling). That is half the recommended daily intake for an average Asian lady! Therefore, they are by no means a low-calorie food.
Of these calories, 12 grams is typically protein and the rest is carbohydrates. Be careful of how many you eat!
However, the bottom line is that they are special festival treats. Hence, it is fine to celebrate and let yourself party for the occasion! So, please enjoy them guilt-free!
How to Make Mooncake
Yue bing has a special shape, texture and taste that make them distinct from other treats. This is mainly because of the tools and ingredients that are used to make the dough of the yue bing.
The most important and unfamiliar tool for making these sweet treats is, of course, the mould.
It can be purchased without much difficulty online or found at speciality baking shops or Asian grocers around festival time. Our recommendation for moulds is this multi-patterned mooncake mould.
Flower Press Molds for Mid Autumn Festival Sweet Cakes
Other important equipment includes a food processor and a kitchen scale. Typically, each piece of mooncake would have about 40g to 45g of filling. A silicone brush is good to have but you can use any clean brush instead.
Golden syrup or inverted sugar syrup is also used while making the dough. It is less sweet than table sugar, and desserts prepared using it do not crystallize and remain hard. It is commonly found in major supermarkets and can be purchased online.
Another major mooncake ingredient that is difficult to find is lye water or Kansui. This is a commonly used ingredient in restaurants in China, but almost unheard of to most Western households.
It is alkali in nature to neutralize the acidity of the golden syrup, and it gives the dough its traditional yellow colour without using eggs or cornflour.
Lye Water (Kansui) for making Yue Bing - 16.9fl oz (Pack of 1)
This is more difficult to purchase than golden syrup, so check your local Asian market or online from Amazon. If you can't find it, we have included a substitute version in our mooncake recipe below.
As the sweet mooncake recipe can be complicated to make, there are some common problems that people encounter.
What flour to use? How much lye water to use?
Cake flour is the best flour to use as the level of gluten in it will form a consistency that is not too hard, not too soft for the pastry. We recommend mixing ⅓ teaspoon of lye water with every 250g of cake flour.
You may also use all-purpose flour as a substitute, however, the consistency of the cake will turn out slightly different. In this case, the ratio would be about 1 gram of lye water to 40-45 grams of all-purpose flour.
How to make lye water substitute?
If you do not have lye water to make mooncake dough, you can make a substitute alkaline water at home.
Bake one part of baking soda in the oven at 175 °C / 350 °F for 30 minutes. Then add 4 parts water and stir until dissolved. Use this as a substitute for lye water.
Why use invert syrup? What is a good substitute?
Yue bing recipes use invert syrup as it prevents the baked treat from becoming too hard. It adds to the delicate texture of the snack.
Invert syrup is a form of sugar that contains a higher ratio of fructose and glucose to sucrose. Therefore, this keeps the syrup in a liquid state rather than forming crystal sugars.
Golden syrup is a type of invert sugar syrup and is also suitable for making mooncakes.
Honey can also be used as a substitute. However, you need to be careful as honey makes the dough tear more easily.
How to avoid pastry cracking in mould?
One of the most common problems encountered by home bakers is the yue bing dough sticking to the mould and tearing the pastry's surface.
To fix this, patch the hole with a little dough, dust the cake and the mould liberally, and press the cake again. If this problem persists, try dusting the mould a bit more.
How to get clear and sharp mould pattern lines?
Another issue is the sharp lines of the mooncake moulding being obscured after baking. The solution to this problem is to remove excess egg wash from the gaps between the lines after baking.
Egg wash is important for producing the desirable golden shine on your baked pastries. However, too much of it will make the mould patterns become less visible.
Additionally, try not to press or smudge the mould lines at all.
How to get a shiny exterior
Cantonese mooncakes are often advertised to have shiny surfaces. The shiny exterior makes the snack look more presentable and perfect for a festive setting.
After baking, the yue bing will usually look dull and hard. After resting them in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days, the surface will become softer and shiny and look similar to the commercial ones you might be familiar with. This process is called Hui you (回油) which means ‘returning of oil’ in Mandarin.
If ingredients cannot be found, substitutes and instructions to make them from scratch are available. The most important thing is to have fun while making these festive foods! Include your family and make it an event.
How to Store
Mooncakes can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge for up to two weeks after cooking.
As mentioned above, we recommend resting the cakes in the fridge for at least a few days before eating them. This process helps to soften the pastry as well as make the surface shine golden.
Mooncake Recipe (White Lotus, Red Bean, Mixed Nut & Green Tea Fillings)
- 150 g golden syrup
- ⅓ teaspoon lye water
- 60 g vegetable oil
- 250 g cake flour
- additional flour for dusting
- 2 pcs egg yolk beaten, for egg wash
- 4 tablespoon milk
- Combine golden syrup and lye water in a large bowl and mix until emulsified.
- Add oil and mix well.
- Using a sieve, add all the flour at once to the mixture. Fold until combined. Rest for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 20 equal portions. You can use the kitchen scale to make this easier. Roll each portion into a ball.
- Cover one ball with plastic wrap or dust with flour and roll it out into a thin circle. Flour might make the texture gritty, so try to use plastic wrap. You can reuse the same one for each dough ball. Preheat the oven to 180 °C (or 355 °F).
- For Salted Egg Yolk Filling Mooncake: Roll the lotus paste into as many balls as there are egg yolks (4 in this case). The paste balls should be smaller than the dough balls. Poke a hole in each one and insert a salted egg yolk (or 2 yolk halves). Seal the lotus paste in the dough disc.
- For White Lotus, Red Bean, Green Tea and Wu Ren Fillings: Roll the filling paste into a long tube. Cut it so that it matches the desired number of mooncakes. Roll each piece into a ball. Seal each ball in a dough disc.
- Oil and flour your mould. Place the filling-sealed-in-dough ball inside it. Press the handle lightly, then remove the pressed pastry. Place on a lined baking sheet.
- After moulding all 20 yue bing, mix the milk and egg yolks to make an egg wash. Brush each pastry with this mixture. If desired, brush them again delicately with a dry brush to remove excess and preserve the moulding.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes. After removing from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes and then brush again with remaining egg wash. Let cool on a wire rack and then store in an airtight container for 1-2 days before consuming.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
Excited to try making it at home but worried about the process? Midnight Cooking Club has a great video recipe that shows the whole preparation and cooking process for making mooncake.
We hope you have enjoyed this extremely detailed recipe on how to prepare mooncakes and five of their most popular fillings!
Although making yue bing at home is rare in China, it is slowly becoming more popular as a family bonding activity. Is there anything more special than giving family and friends the dessert you made yourself?
We hope you have a happy Mid-Autumn Festival. 中秋節快樂!
Did you try making your own mooncake at home? Do share with us a photo of them on Instagram and tag us @honestfoodtalks! We would love to see them!