With its intoxicating glow and comforting presence, the brightly lit moon carries importance to people all around the world. It’s a rare, unifying treasure that we as humans, no matter where we live, get to experience and share together. On the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, the moon gets a particularly joyous celebration. Known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, the hearts of many East and Southeast Asian cultures come alive with celebration for the brilliant orb in the night sky and what it represents—sacrifice, family, tradition, hard work, and prosperity. In China, the goddess Chang’e and the story of her husband, Hou Yi, are celebrated, as well as the coming together of family. Though this tradition first originated in China thousands of years ago, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan have also adapted their own variations to unite family and give offerings to the moon, celebrating the year’s harvest.
Amidst gifts for the moon goddess, lanterns, fireworks, and straw-based dragons, Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations have one special ritual in common: the sharing of a symbolic pastry called a mooncake on the night of the harvest moon. These beautiful mooncakes are shaped in intricate molds and are filled with an array of different fillings, such as lotus seed paste, bean paste, nuts, or even meats. One extra-special addition to the filling is the salted duck egg yolk—which is gorgeously golden and signifies the full harvest moon. The texture of the yolk is uniquely rich and crumbly, and it adds a salty-savory balance to sweet fillings. Although not all mooncakes contain salted yolks, it is said that finding one (or sometimes more!) brings fortune to the recipient.
The shape of mooncakes varies from the more traditional round—both an ode to the shape of the moon and a symbol of unity and wholeness—to square, which is said to represent the earth. Many family traditions call for slicing a single cake into eight wedges and sharing the mooncake amongst the family members, again as an act of togetherness. Varying regionally, mooncakes can be smooth or have beautiful imprints created from intricate molds. The designs often represent the Chinese characters for longevity and harmony, or they may describe the filling inside or show pictures of Chang’e, flowers, vines, and rabbits among other designs.
With Mid-Autumn Festival almost upon us—this year’s festival falling on Thursday, October 1—we’re rounding up recipes for making mooncakes at home to continue tradition and for those who may be unable to travel and reunite with family. We’ve highlighted extremely talented Asian bakers and bloggers who share with us their memories and traditions of unity, as well as their traditional and nontraditional recipes for mooncakes. As the poem by poet and essayist Su Shi goes, “May we live long and share the beauty of the moon together, even if we are thousands of miles apart.”
A special thanks to Dorothy Lim (@babycakes_365) for supplying research for this list.
If you are looking for a traditional Cantonese mooncake recipe complete with salted duck yolks, this recipe by Judy Leung from The Woks of Life fits the bill. Judy was born in Shanghai and moved to the US when she was 16 years old. She and her husband relocated to Beijing after their daughters left for school, and the blog was born to share recipes to keep tradition alive with the couple and their two daughters. The blog post includes detailed instructions, as well as step-by-step photos, for all the various stages of making mooncakes. Judy also shows how to make the golden syrup and lotus seed paste from scratch, ensuring that you have the tools to turn out successful, traditional mooncakes for Mid-Autumn.
Wei Guo, the recipe developer and photographer behind Red House Spice, is a self-taught cook from Northwest China. If you are looking for a knowledgeable tour guide with an expert knack for cooking, she is the lady to turn to for delightful culinary tours of China. In her blog post, Wei shows us how to make a relatively new version of mooncakes, originating from Beijing in the 1960s, that further expanded tradition. Snow skin mooncakes are no-bake and boast a soft, chewy exterior. This recipe is made with a creamy custard filling and has a white “snowy” outer layer, which is created using glutinous rice flour (and, as Wei notes, can easily be colored using natural ingredients). Similar to Japanese mochi, these colorful snow skin mooncakes adorn bakeries cases and are gaining popularity for their delightful taste and texture.
Maggie Zhu, blogger behind Omnivore’s Cookbook, was born and raised in Beijing, and her culinary journey became a way to connect her with her roots and the rest of the world. Maggie’s goal is to share traditional Chinese recipes and recipes that have been upgraded to be both modern and approachable. If you’re looking for an in-depth and epic mooncake tutorial, don’t miss her Ultimate Guide to Traditional Mooncake! Maggie’s recipe features a black sesame filling and plenty of details and tips for every ingredient and step of the mooncake-making process. Maggie also has recipes for snow skin mooncakes and Homemade Golden Syrup.
Growing up in Ohio, Kristina Cho spent a good slice of her childhood in her family’s Chinese restaurant. In her pun-tastic blog Eat Cho Food, she creates Asian-inspired food art to share with the world. Fair warning: her recipes are absolutely crave-worthy and drool-inducing. Although using a nontraditional filling, Kristina has developed a mooncake recipe that speaks to those looking for something approachable. Combining family tradition with Kristina’s love for baking, these Honey Salted Peanut Mooncakes were inspired by the mixed nut variety of mooncakes. Kristina also dives into how to make traditional mooncakes and how to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival.
Melly is eating her way through the world with her artistic mastery in pastry, and she is now also eating her way through the moon with this recipe for custard-filled mooncakes. With step-by-step photos, making them yourself just became a whole lot easier (insert celebratory moonwalk). First turning salted egg yolks into a decadent custard, Melly then incorporates salted egg yolks into the dough, recreating a famous 1986 recipe from Spring Moon, a restaurant in the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel. Take a look at the Instagram highlight titled “Custard Mooncakes” for the original recipe and Melly’s modifications and tutorial.
Who other than Amy Ho, the blogger behind Constellation Inspiration, would be the resident expert to teach celestial cakes? Pastel-hued and glowingly gorgeous, these mooncakes created by Amy are pure galaxy-inspired art. These gems are filled with a kabocha squash and salted egg yolk filling and are topped them with the ultimate offering to the moon—gold leaf. Amy also has recipes on her blog for traditional-style Taro and Salted Egg Yolk Mooncakes and Taro Coconut Snowy Mooncakes.
Growing up in the Sichuan Provence, Elaine was inspired by her mother’s and maternal grandmother’s cooking, as well as her travels around China. As a bonus, she was actually born on Mid-Autumn Festival and enjoys mooncakes as a special treat for her birthday every year. Not always able to be with her loved ones on this special day, she developed this gorgeous snow skin mooncake recipe with a creamy, homemade custard filling to feel connected to her loved ones even when they were far apart. Elaine includes a clear step-by-step video showing how to make these snowy treats. For even more mooncakes, take a look at Mooncakes with Nuts and Traditional Chinese Mooncakes with salted egg yolk on the China Sichuan Food blog.
Marvellina grew up in a Chinese family based in Indonesian, and her blog, What to Cook Today, is full of Southeast Asian and Asian fusion recipes that will delight your senses. Among the recipes, you’ll find a traditional mooncake with two tasty variations—a sweet paste filling and a savory-sweet pork option. In this recipe, you can use either lotus seed paste or your preference of bean paste and then also add the meat if you choose. Marvellina’s blog also includes Mung Bean Paste Mooncakes, beautifully dyed Butterfly Pea Flower Agar Agar Mooncakes, Easy Pandan Snow Skin Mooncakes, and even a durian paste-filled mooncake for the most adventurous at heart. If you’re looking for recipes for homemade golden syrup, lotus seed paste, and homemade salted egg yolks, she’s got you covered there, too.
Hannah Che currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan, and she spent time traveling in China and training as a chef at the Guangzhou Vegetarian Culinary School. She started her blog, The Plant-Based Wok, while she was in graduate school as a way to flex her creative muscles while sharing her passion for responsible and sustainable food. Hannah shows how to make vegan snow skin mooncakes—dyed with beautiful plant-based colors—with three delicious filling options. She has a traditional lotus seed filling, a unique white bean paste filling with matcha, and a purple sweet potato filling, plus instructions on how to tint the color of the mooncake wrappers and other tips and tricks for successful mooncakes.
We hope we have given you some tools and recipes to tackle mooncake recipes at home, but if you are still feeling timid, don’t worry! Many people still prefer to purchase mooncakes from Asian bakeries in order to sidestep the complexity of the craft and rarity of ingredients in some locations. In addition to that, it’s always nice to support your local small businesses. When selecting mooncakes for purchase, we recommend looking for high-quality ingredients and responsible packaging.