Around Baton Rouge, mooncakes signal Mid-Autumn Festival, the traditional Chinese family celebration

Stop into an Asian market in Baton Rouge this week, and there’s a good chance you’ll see boxes of mooncakes, traditional pastries given and enjoyed by families and friends during an annual Chinese celebration called Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival tracks with the lunar cycle, and this year, it will be celebrated in China and in communities worldwide on Sept. 21.

Mid-Autumn Festival is often celebrated at home among family members, prompting the preparation or purchase of mooncakes a few days before. At Saigon Hong Kong Seafood Market on North Sherwood Forest Boulevard, bright red and gold boxes from Houston’s Yen Huong Bakery hold large, squarish mooncakes. The boxes come in several different flavors, including mung bean, red bean and cashew, and each one is sold with a matching red and gold gift bag.

At Vinh Phat on Florida Boulevard, a display near the cash register showcases a couple different lines of mooncakes, including Mai’s from California. Mai’s mooncakes are also available in different flavors. Coconut, lotus seed paste, and a combination of durian and mung bean are among the options, and some cakes feature an egg yolk baked inside. “The most popular box is the variety,” Vinh Phat’s Lin Dao says.

Mooncakes filled with chopped cashew, sesame and almond, made by Yen Huong Bakery in Houston and sold at Saigon Hong Kong Seafood Market.

Mooncakes are so named because honoring the full moon is a centerpiece of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a tradition originally deployed by farmers to express gratitude for the current year’s harvest, and to help ensure a good harvest the following year.

It’s also a day for families to be together, says Jun Zou, associate professor of interior design in the LSU College of Design. Zou wrote an article on Chinese traditions in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Division of the Arts’ Louisiana Folklife website, which included the Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncakes.

“Family members gather together to share a meal, admire the moon and enjoy mooncakes,” says Zou, who is making the delicacy this year with her husband and two children.

Mung bean mooncakes with egg yolk baked inside.

Until recently, you could buy fresh, locally made mooncakes in different flavors at Golden Bakery, located next door to Saigon Hong Kong Seafood Market, but the spot recently closed.

It is possible, however, to make your own mooncakes, say Meifung Liu and Kyong Han, caterers and co-creators of the blog Two Plaid Aprons. The two, who met while training at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, worked in restaurants for several years before deciding to focus on their catering business and blog in early 2020.

Their site features a range of different artfully presented recipes, including one for snowskin mooncakes with custard filling, a sweeter, smaller mooncake than the ones found in stores. It’s covered in tender rice flour pastry, and its floral designs are formed with decorative presses.

Homemade snowskin mooncakes with custard filling. Photo courtesy Two Plaid Aprons

“Different provinces in China make their own types of mooncakes,” Liu says. “There’s no one way to make them.”

The widespread Cantonese style, like the ones commonly seen in stores, hold sweeter fillings, but mooncakes from other regions of China are filled with savory ingredients. Some modern mooncakes are even filled with ice cream and resemble mochi, Liu says.

The bloggers plan to release another mooncake recipe soon—this one will feature red bean paste and an egg yolk baked inside.

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