Who here knows about mooncakes? I bet everyone who loves Asian cuisine or has Asian friends know what I am talking about—and probably wearing a big smile on their faces. That’s because mooncakes are like that! They make people happy. And it’s why I love them, apart from how amazing they taste, of course!
I was scrolling down my Instagram inbox one day and came across a fantastic suggestion. Why not try mooncakes? (Thanks again @elyselauthier!) I love trying new things, but I love it even more when I get amazing new ideas from you people. It’s like we’re a big family communicating through every bite of food we eat. And I’m so glad I followed this request because I realized that every dessert can get a nutritional makeover and be made healthier.
So what are Mooncakes?
Mooncakes are confectionaries that originate in China. They have a thick pastry exterior packed with a delicious filling, usually lotus paste, but you can fill them with sweet bean paste, jujube paste, even nuts and seeds, too.
Mooncakes are cute, bite-sized and come in many pretty patterns. The variety of fudgy or nutty filling you can have inside that flaky crust makes them even more like little presents just waiting to be devoured. And even though they are traditionally consumed during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, you can enjoy mooncakes whenever you feel like with a hot cup of oolong tea or even coffee. They’re just pure bliss.
Traditionally there are three main kinds of crusts for mooncakes. These are:
• Chewy: These are Cantonese-style mooncakes crust made from thick sugar syrup, flour, lye water, and oil. The chewy texture comes from sugar syrup.
• Tender: The tender crust is like a shortcrust pastry. It is not flaky instead is tender. It is widely used as tart shells and pie crusts in western baking. It is made by mixing flour, water, sugar, and oil.
• Flaky: The Taiwan-style mooncakes are delicious and crispy, almost like puff pastry. They are very addictive and fun to eat. Despite the puff pastry-like texture, the preparation is quite different.
There are so many types of fillings used in traditional mooncakes. Here are a few to name:
• Sweet bean paste: The most widely used filling in traditional mooncakes is the red bean filling. It is made from red or azuki beans. However, you can make black beans or white kidney bean pastes as well.
• Lotus seed paste: One of the most luxurious and authentic mooncake fillings is lotus seed paste. It is often a filing in the high-end mooncakes and is a reason behind the high price of some mooncakes.
• Jujube paste: Jujube or date is a ripe fruit that results in a sweet and tasteful paste. It has a smoky, fruity, and slightly sour flavor and beautiful dark red color. Because of its color, most people confuse it with red bean paste. However, the two are entirely different.
• Mixed nuts: The most effortless and most tasteful fillings are the mixed seeds or nuts filling. You can add sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, walnuts, watermelon seeds, or almonds. Mix these with maltose syrup, and the filling is ready. Furthermore, you can add Jinhua ham, candied winter melon, or rock sugar pieces.
There are so many different varieties of mooncakes available. Different regions of China offer various styles of mooncakes. These are Hong Kong-style mooncakes, Beijing-style mooncakes, Yunnan-style mooncakes, etc. These variations differ in the combination of crust and fillings. Whatever style you choose, it will be a combination of the crusts as mentioned above and fillings.
The nutritional profile of mooncakes:
Are (traditional) Mooncakes Gluten-Free?
Mooncakes are made with flour, so they are not gluten-free by nature.
Are Mooncakes Vegan?
Mooncake crusts are traditionally made with flour, sugar syrup, oil and water– so no animal products such as butter, milk or eggs are used. Some mooncake recipes use egg wash to add shine and enhance the golden color of the crust–which can be easily omitted from the recipe. The filling is also customizable, so you can opt to use only vegan fillings such as sweet bean paste, nuts or lotus paste without the traditional egg yolk center.
Here’s a mooncake recipe by KP Kwan you can easily convert to vegan by omitting the egg wash and egg yolk from the filling
Are Mooncakes Healthy?
Despite how delicious they are, mooncakes are not for someone who likes to keep a count on calories. For example, they’re high in refined sugar, fats, carbs and calories. Furthermore, they don’t have many nutrients, fiber, and protein in them at all.
This brings me to why I wanted to try making a healthier version of mooncakes!
My Thought Process on Making Healthier Mooncakes
So, just like what I did with my Best Mochi Donut Experiment Post (here), I started this project by setting a few goals and ground rules on what I wanted in my healthier mooncakes recipes. Here’s what I had in mind:
I wanted my healthier mooncakes to be:
- Gluten-Free & Vegan
- Made with at least one veggie, fruit or nut
- Lower in carbs than the original
- Higher in fiber
- Takes less than 30 minutes to make
- Under ten ingredients
The main highlight of mooncakes is their beautiful engraved patterns and shapes. Here are a few things you need to know about the mooncake molds:
• Patterns: These molds come in different designs, i.e., flowers, characters, scripts, etc.
• Shapes: You also get different shapes like circles, squares, semi-circles, etc. Furthermore, you also get animal shapes like fish, etc.
• Material: In the good old days, people used wooden molds to make mooncakes. The patterns in these molds had to be hand-carved, which meant that they tended to be pricey. However, today you can get both wooden and silicone molds. These molds are high quality, easy to find, heat resistant, and long-lasting.
Where can you buy mooncake molds?
What’s great is that these molds are readily available at different Chinese grocery stores. Furthermore, you can also look them up online, especially on amazon. They are of premium quality and quite affordable as well. Plus, these are a one-time investment. You can get your favorite molds either from the grocery store or online. I got the 50g mooncake molds here
Healthier Mooncakes – Method
I started out with 3 different experimental recipes (with some failures I won’t mention here!) That fit the requirements I had for a healthy, vegan mooncake recipe. These three featured different main ingredients:
• Sweet Potato
• Nut Butter
Now onto the Recipes!
Sweet Potato Mooncakes (gluten-free, vegan, can even be paleo and low-carb)
These sweet potato mooncakes had a toothsome, chewy exterior and fudgy inside. Since it’s made from almond flour, it had a nutty flavor and thicker texture than the traditional mooncakes that made it seem extra hearty. The other great thing about this recipe is that you can use any fruit or veggie puree of your choice to use for binding the dough together (such as applesauce, mashed sweet potato or pumpkin puree)
- 1/2 c almond flour
- 2-3 T coconut flour
- 1 – 3 tsp granulated sugar of choice ( use 1 tsp if you’re using a store-bought sweet bean or lotus paste since they tend to be very sweet)
- 2 T mashed sweet potato, or other mashed fruit/veggies
- 1 T melted coconut oil
- About 200 g of the filling (like lotus paste or sweet bean paste) –> sweetened mashed sweet potato could be used for a paleo option
Full Recipe for Sweet Potato Mooncakes here
Here’s a purple sweet potato version (paleo, too, since I use a sweet potato filling to replace the sweet bean paste)
Full Recipe for Purple Sweet Potato Mooncakes here
2-Ingredient Cashew Butter Mooncakes (vegan, gluten-free)
this was a ridiculously easy-to-make recipe. Just 2 ingredients were all I needed (minus the filling). The golden color and fine texture of these mooncakes turned out remarkably similar to the original pastry mooncakes, minus that nutty cashew flavor. If you do not like have cashew butter on hand, peanut butter worked just as well. Just be sure to use the creamy kind!
- 2 T smooth cashew or smooth peanut butter
- 3 to 4 Tbsp coconut flour
- About 200 g of the filling (like lotus paste or bean paste)
Full step-by-step recipe for Cashew Vegan Mooncakes here
By the way, there’s also a chocolate version:
Recipe for 3 ingredient nutella / chocolate mooncakes here
Chickpea Mooncakes (vegan, gluten-free, high in protein)
you know how much I love my blender/food processor recipes! All you have to do for this is blend all ingredients together in a food processor until they combine into a smooth, pliable dough. While this one was the most unique out of the other mooncake recipes (I mean, have you ever heard of mooncakes being made with chickpeas?) The texture was a little on the tougher side and least like the original.
- 1 can of chickpeas, washed, drained
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- 1/4 cup coconut flour
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- About 400 g of the filling (like lotus paste or bean paste)
Full step-by-step recipe for vegan chickpea mooncakes here
Even though mooncakes are visually appealing and utterly delicious, some people (myself included) stay away from them because of their high sugar content and low nutritional profile. That’s why I think this post will be helpful for anyone (even those who aren’t on a low carb, vegan, gluten-free diet) who enjoy a healthy lifestyle and looking for ways to indulge in these treats without the guilt.
That said, it’s important to note that while these are “healthier mooncakes,” these treats can still be high in sugar and carbs–especially if you choose to use storebought fillings.
The good news is that you can customize these recipes according to your diet preferences and liking and find the ones you like best.
Hope these recipes make your mid-autumn festival (September is so close!) with your family a little sweeter 🙂