Monday, September 21, 2015

Bite-sized delights for the Moon Festival

In the previous three posts, we've looked at how to make the traditionally sized moon cakes that are about three inches across.

But there is one other variety that has become popular, perhaps because you don't have to share it: little one-inch pastries that are just right for snacking. Basically, this is the same recipe as the main one, but here are a few tips that will help you make these successfully the first time around.

Small wooden molds that are about 1-inch square are typically used for mini moon cakes. Clean and prepare them as directed below, making sure that they are completely dry before you use them. Like the large ones, they should be dusted with flour before making your pastries and then often during the process to keep the cakes from sticking.
Me-sized moon cakes


Divide the dough into 30 pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. Be sure and cover any dough you are not immediately working on.

The next step is to roll the filling into 30 small balls. Finally, have the glaze mixed, and your baking sheets lined and ready, and the oven heated to 325°F; this gets everything ready so that you will put these moon cakes together very quickly.

Lightly dust your board with flour, and then pat a ball of dough into a circle that is about 3 inches wide; leave a small hump in the center, since you will be wrapping the dough rather thickly at the bottom, and this helps to even the pastry out. Use a dough scraper as shown on the right to lift up the pastry circle, as it will probably stick to the board. 
Use your scraper to lift these up


Place a ball of filling in the center and then bring the dough up and around the filling; it might tear or break, but that's all right because the dough is soft enough that you can just patch it up.

The next step is really important for this and the regular-sized moon cakes:

Lightly roll the ball between the palms of your hands to smooth it and even out the dough. The warmth of your palms will be just enough to melt the caramel and oil so that the dough slides evenly over the filling. If you are working with an especially soft filling, like the date paste, some of the dough might poke through, but that's not a problem, as it won't leak or melt in the oven.
Wrap the dough around the filling


Press the still slightly warmed ball into some flour on one side and then pat the ball into your mold. Use your fingertips to press the dough all the way down to the bottom of the mold and along the sides so that there are no air pockets. Turn the mold over and whack it on your counter. (Use a towel to protect it if it is tile or some other breakable material). The moon cake will fall out after a whack or two. Dust off most of the flour with a soft brush and place the moon cake on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush the glaze all over the pastry. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling until you are done.

Bake the mini moon cakes for about 25 minutes, turning the sheet halfway through the cooking to ensure even browning. The moon cakes are done when they are golden brown (with the dark glaze) or a honey color (with the lightglaze).
Make this a double layer ball


Caring for your moon cake molds


You can purchase moon cake molds online or in some Chinese cookware stores, especially in cities with large Chinese populations like San Francisco. Most are carved wood, and they are beautiful to have on your kitchen shelves even if you never bake a single moon cake in your life.

In addition to the traditional wooden ones, plastic molds are now available in some online stores. Use whatever you fancy and in whatever size you like.

Assorted wooden molds
Select wooden molds that have no cracks or insect damage. Check to see that the carved areas are even, have no rough edges, and look clean.

Once you get a wooden mold home, wash it thoroughly inside and out with a brush, dish soap, and hot water. Rinse the mold carefully, towel it off, and turn it upside-down to air dry.

A good way to keep your molds crack free in dry climates is to coat the wood with mineral oil. Other oils can turn rancid, especially if you don't use the utensil often, so mineral oil is what I use to coat my molds, as well as my wooden chopping blocks, salad bowls, and so forth.

After the oil has had a chance to soak into the wood (overnight is plenty enough), wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel. (Beware of trying to fill your molds with the oil, as there is always a hole in the side to allow air to enter under the dough and eliminate a possible vacuum - very clever, imho.) Store the molds out of the sunlight, which might dry and bleach them.

Not-so-guilty pleasures
Before you use the molds, rinse and dry them if they are at all dusty. Then, coat the insides of the molds with flour and knock off the excess.

As you form your moon cakes, dust the insides of the molds whenever the cakes start to stick.

Once you are finished with the molds, wash and dry them immediately so that the dough doesn't harden inside of the crevices.

If you are a lover of antiques, keep your eye open for antique moon cake molds, especially if you travel in China. Some are intensely beautiful!


Illustration from All Under Heaven (McSweeney's + Ten Speed Press, Spring 2016)
Copyright (c) 2015, Carolyn Phillips

No comments:

Post a Comment