I love my mini mooncake molds. Seriously love them. They’re probably my favorite decorative kitchen gadget, beating out the letter stamps for shortbread, the nori punch that makes tiny faces to put on food, and all the cookie cutters. Lately I’ve been using them to cover petit fours in molded fondant, but before that I actually used them to make mooncakes, and I’ll be doing a variation on that in this post. After all, the Autumn Moon Festival is coming up, so everyone else is making mooncakes too, right? Right???
Anyway, I never much liked traditional mooncake filling– bean paste, nuts, salted egg yolks– so I spent some time trying to figure out what to use instead. It had to be firm and hold its shape while baking, so cake batter and most cookie doughs were right out. Same with fresh fruit and any creamy centers. Finally, I hit upon the idea of using cake pops– not the kind you bake into shape, but the original kind, where you mix crumbled cake with something liquid or gooey and form it into a ball. I figured the moisture from the liquid would prevent overbaking, and the structure of the cake would hold its shape well enough to keep the molded outside from collapsing or exploding.
And what do you know, it worked! Since then I’ve made a few different types, my favorite being yellow cake and cream cheese with candied pineapple, coconut, and maraschino cherries, all wrapped up in a shortbread crust. However, for this version I wanted to try something different– chocolate. Chocolate crust, chocolate filling, chocolate EVERYTHING. I decided to use my small (35g) round mold to make these as bonbon-like as possible.
For the filling I used a basic chocolate cake (my favorite one-bowl cake recipe), studded with mini chocolate chips, with a sour cherry in the center of each cake. I’d found some sour cherries packed in cherry juice and rum in my local gourmet store, and thought they’d be perfect for this application. Anyway, I drained off the cherry juice/rum mixture and used it as the liquid to bind together my cake crumbs. Then I reduced the rest of the juice to make a syrup to soak the cherries in to enhance their flavor– in retrospect I might have wanted to make all the juice into syrup and then used the syrup to moisten the cake crumbs, or even just used chocolate frosting or syrup for added fudginess, but I didn’t think of it until it was too late.
The crust is based on a traditional baked mooncake recipe, just adding cocoa to give it the right flavor– it holds its shape well when baked, and really shows up the details on the mooncake mold (see Note 4 for further thoughts on this).
All in all these make adorable little desserts, and they’d be perfect for any sweet buffet or afternoon tea table.
Chocolate Cherry Mooncakes
One-Bowl Chocolate Cake (otherwise known as Wacky Cake)
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbs. vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups cold water
2 tsp. coffee powder
6. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
1 recipe chocolate cake
1/2 to 3/4 cup cherry juice
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Crumble your cooled cake until it forms fine crumbs.
2. Stir in chocolate chips until evenly distributed.
3. Pour 1/4 cup of the cherry juice and mix into the crumbs, squeezing the mixture to see if it holds together. Keep adding juice, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough forms a ball when you squeeze it.
1 1/2 cups pitted cherries (canned or jarred– fresh probably won’t work for this unless you make bigger cakes and cook the cherries longer to “wilt” them down a little)
1 cup cherry juice
1/3 cup sugar
1. Bring all ingredients to a boil (either in a small saucepan on the stovetop, or in a glass measuring cup in the microwave) and cook for 3-5 minutes so cherries release more of their juices.
2. Drain cherries and return the juices to heat. Continue to boil until syrup reduces to 1/4 cup and gets thick and bubbly.
3. Pour syrup over the cherries and cool completely.
(makes enough for about 5-6 dozen 35g mooncakes, or one cake recipe’s worth)
72g cocoa powder (I used Hershey Special Dark for that nice almost-black color)
340g golden syrup
100g vegetable oil
2 tsp. alkaline water (available in Asian grocery stores)
1. Determine the desired weight of your filling portions. Depending on the size of your mold, this step may be different. For a 50g mold, you’ll want 35g of filling. For a 35g mold (like my round one here), go with 22g filling.
2. Check the weight of your cherries– mine weighed about 3g each. Weigh out enough cake mixture to bring the total weight to your desired amount, wrap each cherry in the filling, then roll into a ball.
3. Determine the desired weight of your crust portions. (for my 35g mold I used 13g of crust). Portion out your crust and roll it into balls.
4. Using a small rolling pin on a lightly floured board, flatten out your crust dough into a rough circle. It doesn’t have to be quite big enough to completely cover the filling ball, but it should go at least 3/4 of the way around.
5. Place the filling ball in the middle and wrap up the sides. Then, put the wrapped ball into the palm of your hand, seam side up, and use your other hand to ease the skin over the top, rotating as you go. The warmth of your hand and the rotation will help get the dough all the way around, thinning as it goes. This may take a little practice, and if it’s too hard, feel free to increase the crust-to-filling ratio to give you some more room to work. (don’t worry if the dough doesn’t come 100% around to meet at the center– a tiny hole in the bottom won’t make any difference to the finished product, since the filling doesn’t get runny)
6. Place the dough ball seam side up into your well-floured mooncake mold. Use your fingertips to pack it down tightly and into all the corners.
7. Flip the mold over onto your baking sheet. While holding it tightly against the sheet, press the plunger down so the dough is trapped between the sheet and the plunger. Do not let the plunger push the dough out of the mold yet! Press firmly to get the best imprint. Then slowly lift the mold, letting the plunger push the shaped dough out on the sheet. If you push too hard before lifting high enough you risk squishing your dough out the sides of the mold opening, so go slowly. If necessary use your fingers to help the dough release from the mold. Here’s a video I made for my molded fondant petit fours— ignore the wrapping process, but the plunger action is shown later on.
8. Bake at preheated oven 170C for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and rest mooncakes to cool for about 15 minutes. Then bake the chocolate mooncakes again for another 3-5 minutes (7 minutes for a 50g cake). Let cool on the baking sheet.
9. These freeze really well, so feel free to store them in the freezer and either let them thaw or eat them frozen. Otherwise, they’ll keep in the fridge or at room temperature for a week or so, though the crust will definitely soften over time. Do not stack them while storing them or they’ll stick to each other and ruin the design!
- Like I said above, I think I would have liked to use chocolate syrup, ganache, or frosting in place of the cherry juice to moisten the cake crumbs and bind them together. The cake center didn’t really have a smack-you-in-the-face chocolate flavor, which was a bit disappointing for a chocolate lover like me. Next time I’ll probably try something like refrigerated hot fudge, or dark chocolate ganache, to up the ante.
- Another idea for the future (when kids won’t be eating these) would be to bind the cake with Kahlua or kirsch– it would give a nice kick of alcohol to the mooncakes, since there’s not enough oven time for it to bake off much at all.
- The cherries will continue to release juice for as long as you store them, so don’t expect your cherry syrup to stay thick and sticky if you don’t use your cherries right away. It’s fine, they still taste good in the finished cake.
- The detail on these is really nice– while the crust did puff up a tiny bit in the oven you could probably fix that by lowering the oven temperature by about 25 degrees and cooking maybe 5-10 minutes longer. Either that, or the puffing (which admittedly did not occur the last time I used this recipe) is due to my inadvertently leaving out some of the oil in the crust dough when I made it this time, making it less supple and more prone to cracking in the oven. So measure your oil carefully if you’re (like me) striving for perfection.
- If you want a firmer crust texture, almost cookie-like (though slightly tougher), increase the baking time on the second bake for a few more minutes. It makes for a bigger contrast between the outside and the soft center.
- I think these would be great with other centers as well– maybe half of a candied kumquat, or a Junior Mint candy, or a ball of sweetened cream cheese (maybe frozen for ease of use) or really anything else. SInce the insides really never get all that hot due to the short baking time, you can get creative.
- Like I said, these taste great frozen– the outside actually softens a little and the inside gets extra-fudgy. I eat them straight from the freezer. However, if you want to freeze and then re-thaw completely, thaw them uncovered at room temperature. The outside will feel sticky at first as the moisture condenses, but it’ll dry out once the mooncake is fully thawed out.