Happy Belated Mid-Autumn Festival!
The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two largest festivals that is celebrated in China every year. It’s a time for people to celebrate the bountiful harvest from the summer, appreciate their loved ones, and gaze at the moon when it’s at its biggest and brightest.
It always happens on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar, which this year (2014) falls on September 8th (yesterday!). Typically, people celebrate by feasting, visiting family, and giving each other mooncakes.
What’s a mooncake? A mooncake is traditionally a pastry (shaped a bit like a hockey puck) that is filled with lotus seed paste and optionally one (or more) salted egg yolks (meant to represent the moon). In more recent times, people have gotten pretty creative with mooncakes, and all different flavors and shapes have popped up, such as green tea (matcha) ones, snow-skin “mochi” ones, and even chocolate covered ice cream filled ones!
This year I decided to try making my own mooncakes (for the very first time!). I ordered some plastic mooncake molds from Amazon [affiliate link]. Traditionally, mooncake molds are carved out of wood. Because I was a newbie, I decided to buy the plastic kind, which are easier to use because you can push out the mooncake more easily (like a push pop!).
I’ve never been a huge fan of the traditional mooncake. I find the lotus seed or red bean paste filling a bit too sweet, dense, and heavy. I do like the salty egg yolk “moon”, but usually the sweetness of the paste overwhelms the egg yolk (unless, of course, you are eating a special egg yolk mooncake, which is smaller and is mostly egg yolk inside).
This year, I was intrigued by an alternate type of mooncake called a “snow skin” or “ice skin” mooncake. These mooncakes are not baked. Instead, they are made with a glutinous rice flour skin and filled with all different types of fillings (matcha, red bean, lotus seed paste, even ice cream or chocolate!).
To me, it sounded like a dream: a mochi filled with whatever I wanted on the inside.
Because I am a masochist and wanted to try something really hard, I decided to try making these mooncakes filled with ice cream.
Please note: ice cream can be very tricky to work with because it gets soft really fast. I seriously wouldn’t recommend it for a first time mooncake maker. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I guess I was just crazy.
To try to facilitate my mooncake folding (knowing that the ice cream would get soft fast), I decided to pre-shape ice cream balls to the right size and freeze them beforehand. This is best done overnight because it takes ice cream awhile to freeze. Ideally, use premium or high density ice cream for better results.
Glutinous rice flour typically comes in these green bags in Asian supermarkets. You can also buy Mochiko brand glutinous rice flour, which is available at many normal supermarkets
There are two main ways to make ice skin mooncakes depending on the texture you want. If you want more of a mochi-like, chewy and translucent skin, you need to essentially make mochi. This involves mixing glutinous rice flour with sugar and water (or milk) and steaming it for about 30 minutes (not unlike this recipe), and then wrapping your filling with it.
If you want more of a sandy, opaque skin, you can use the no-bake method, which uses roasted glutinous rice flour (kao fen).
I searched all over my local Chinese supermarket but I could not find a bag of kaofen, so I made my own.
Under medium low heat without any oil, heat glutinous rice flour for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until it turns a bit golden and starts to smoke. You will also be able to smell the fragrant smell of the rice powder.
It’s subtle, but can you tell the difference in color?
Sift together the roasted glutinious rice flour and powdered sugar.
Mix it all together, and using your fingers (or maybe a food processor if you have one?) mix in cold butter or shortening. Traditionally this dessert is made with shortening (which does not impart any of its own flavor), but butter will work as well.
Once you’re done mixing, the resultant texture should resemble bread crumbs.
If you want to make different colored mooncakes, this is the time to divide up your flour mixture into separate parts and into different bowls. Add food coloring to your water. You could also consider using a natural source of color, such as beet juice or carrot juice. I’ve never tried this, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.
Slowly add water to the dough mixture one tablespoon at a time and mix until the dough is smooth and kneadable. Cover any portion you are not using with plastic wrap, because it can dry out quickly.
If you’re working with a normal, non-melting center (e.g., red bean paste, lotus seed paste), roll out the outer dough into a flat circular pancake, wrap it around a ball of filling, stuff the larger ball into the mooncake mold, and push it out!
If you’re afraid of the whole thing not holding together, you can shape and wrap inside the mold, and then pop it out. If it’s ice cream filled, I would freeze the whole overnight to make sure it re-freezes in a solid way.
Alas, I did not know this and I tried cutting into my mooncake only after it had sat in the freezer for an hour. Sadly, the whole thing collapsed as the soft ice cream oozed out.
Sigh, this is why there’s no photo of a cut mooncake.
At least I can show you some photos of my finished product, which still looked pretty nice.
Next time, I plan on experimenting with natural colors, like match and beet juice, and also with the steamed skin method, since I think I like that texture better.
Snow Skin Mooncakes
Makes about 2 large mooncakes or 4 smaller ones
1 cup roasted glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of shortening (or 2.5 tablespoons butter)
50 mL cold water (optionally colored with food coloring)
filling of your choice (store bought lotus seed paste, red bean paste)
Optional step day before: freeze ice cream into individual balls the size of the filling. You can use a mini-muffin tray or just try freezing balls scooped out by an ice cream scoop on a tray.
1. Make roasted glutinous rice flour by heating normal glutinous rice flour in a wok over medium low heat for about ten minutes, or until it starts smoking and turns a light golden color. Allow to cool completely before using.
2. Sift together roasted glutinous rice powder and powdered sugar.
3. Mix in shortening or butter with fingers until well incorporated. The texture of the mixture should be sort of like breadcrumbs.
4. Optionally add food coloring to the cold water. If you are making different colors, divide the flour into different bowls, one for each color.
5. Add colored water one tablespoon at a time and mix together with the flour mixture until just soft and kneadable.
6. Take the filling (e.g., lotus paste seed) and form a ball with it. Roll out a pancake shaped circle with the skin dough and wrap it around the ball. Insert into the mooncake mold and punch it out.
In the case with ice cream, form a well with the dough inside the mold and add the ice cream. Quickly close the skin around the filling and freeze overnight.
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