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Here's How To Make The Most Magical Food Ever

The food that is the perfect excuse to celebrate your period.

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This is a mooncake:

boo lee CC BY-NC / Via Flickr: 71284893@N00

It's typically made to worship the harvest moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese cultures.

Plus, if you've ever been amazed by how menstrual cycles can sync up with the lunar calendar, this festival celebrates exactly that. Menstruation (known as women's "monthly water" in ancient times) is connected to the full moon.

You eat it while watching the moon, which will be exceptionally rad this year because it will coincide with a total lunar eclipse.

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Get ready for a BLOOD MOON!!!

Mooncakes come in many varieties, but the most traditional kind is filled with lotus paste and salted duck egg yolk.

Different fillings include red bean paste, mung bean paste, date paste, and a nuts/seeds pastiche. There are also varieties in crust: chewy and golden-brown (traditional), flaky (Taiwan-style), and chewy-sticky ("snow-skin" with rice flour).

They're sold at most Asian grocery stores, which, depending on where you live, might be hard to find.

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Also, store-bought versions are usually too sweet, too greasy, and overprocessed.

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Here's everything you need to make the traditional kind:

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A mooncake mold,* honey, vegetable oil, alkalized or lye water,* red bean paste (lotus seed or black bean paste works too), dried lotus seeds (or red beans), vegetable shortening (lard/coconut oil), sugar, fresh salted duck eggs,* and regular eggs.

*You can also purchase a mold here. I found my wooden paddle while wandering the streets of Chinatown in Manhattan, but thankfully Amazon makes it easier. If you're lazy and don't want to buy one of these, you can make them in a muffin tin and they'll turn out just as yummy.

*The other ingredient that seems difficult to find is alkalized or lye water. Most health stores sell it and Asian grocery stores sell a version that's called potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate solution It's what gives the mooncakes their golden-brown color. You can also easily make it for cheap using baking soda and lemons.

*Fresh salted duck eggs are optional; they're sold at most Asian grocery stores but may be hard to find elsewhere.

Note: flour and regular eggs are not pictured.

And here's a step-by-step guide. The full recipe is at the bottom of this post.

1. Choose whether you want to buy your filling or if you want to make it from scratch.

It's typically easier and cheaper to buy the red bean paste in stores (or online here).

If you want to make them with white lotus paste, you'll probably have to make it yourself using dried lotus seeds, which you can buy here.

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2. To make the lotus paste, you need to soak the seeds in water for at least six hours.

Afterward, make sure to take our the green sprouts from the centers before cooking the seeds. Boil them for at least 1–2 hours until they are soft.

4. Transfer the blended mixture into a pan and cook it over medium heat. Then add in the vegetable shortening.

You'll need about 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, but gradually add and continue to mix until the paste has a slightly glossy look.

Once done, transfer to a container and set aside to chill.

5. To make the dough, mix together the honey, the alkalized water, and the vegetable oil in a large mixing bowl.

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Depending on your molds, the amount of dough you'll need will be different. My mold was about 2.5 inches in diameter, and this recipe yielded four large mooncakes.

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6. Pour in the flour and incorporate until a loose, crumbly mixture forms. Then, knead the dough (not too rigorously) into the shape of a ball.

The ideal dough shouldn't be crumbly or too oily, so because of the differences in mold, it's better to start with conservative amounts of oil (you can always add more if the mixture is still too crumbly).

Once done, cover it in plastic wrap and set aside for 1–2 hours.

8. To make the filling, start by scooping a small ball of whichever paste you buy/make into your palm and flatten it out.

Left: store-bought red bean paste

Right: homemade white lotus paste

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Preheat the oven to 355 degrees and then pop the mooncakes in for 5–8 minutes.

14. After 5–8 minutes, take the mooncakes out and brush them with the egg wash, carefully.

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This accentuates the beautiful designs on top of the mooncakes. If you don't have a brush, you can use your finger — but just be extra careful you don't distort the design.

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15. Bake them for another 12–15 minutes until golden-brown.

After they cool down, wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in an air-tight container. It's traditional to let them rest for one or two days before eating, but they are also extremely delicious right out of the oven.

The Recipe: Traditional Mooncakes

Makes about 4 mooncakes

Recipe adapted from Food52 and Chinese Sichuan Food

INGREDIENTS:

1 (2-inch-diameter) mooncake mold

For the filling:

Store-bought: 1 (16-18 ounce) can red bean paste (lotus seed or black bean paste works too)

Homemade: 1 cup dried lotus seeds (or red beans)

1/2–2/3 cup sugar, according to your taste

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (or lard or coconut oil)

For the dough:

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon alkalized or lye water

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

Optional: 1 package fresh salted duck eggs

For the egg wash:

1 regular egg beaten with a splash of water

PREPARATION:

Filling preparation:

If you're using store-bought paste, skip to prepping the dough.

1. Soak the lotus seeds for 6–8 hours.

2. Rinse, remove the green sprouts, and boil for about 2 hours until soft.

3. Blend in a food processor with the sugar and a few spoonfuls water until it has the consistency of hummus.

4. Put the lotus paste in a skillet over medium heat and stir in the shortening; cook until it's glossy, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Dough preparation:

1. Mix together the honey, alkalized water, and vegetable oil in a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the flour and mix with your hands until a crumbly dough forms.

3. Knead lightly into a ball (but don't overwork the dough). Wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside for 2 hours at room temperature.

Mooncake assembly:

1. Flatten a small portion of lotus or red bean paste onto the palm of your hand.

2. If you're using the salted duck egg yolks, add a salted egg yolk to the center.

3. Fold the filling around the yolk to cover it entirely and form a ball.

4. Pinch off a handful of the dough. Flatten it into a circle* that's about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter.

5. Put the ball of filling in the center of the dough circle and fold the edges of the dough up around the filling.

6. Pinch off a small piece of dough and flatten it into a piece that is big enough to cover the remaining exposed filling. Put the smaller piece of dough over the exposed filling and mold until the dough completely covers the filling and you have an even sphere.

7. Flour the mold and press the ball into the mold firmly. Clean up the bottom edges if necessary.

8. Pop the mooncake out and put it on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filling and dough to make about 3 more mooncakes.

9. Just before baking, brush the mooncakes' edges with a little water.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 355 degrees and bake the mooncakes for 5-8 minutes.

2. Take them out, and brush the tops and sides lightly with the egg wash using a pastry brush if you have one.

3. Bake for another 12-15 minutes.

4. Let the mooncakes cool then wrap them in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container for 1-2 days before serving.

*Remember to make the dough circle according to your mold. A good way to estimate is to make the flattened dough circle slightly bigger than the size of the mold.