Pumpkin Mooncakes with Maple & Bacon
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Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! 中秋快乐 (zhōng qiū kuài lē)! Mooncakes 月饼 (yuè bǐng) are elaborate Chinese pastries, and the ultimate food to celebrate mid-Autumn Festival. This year, I’m breaking the traditional flavor mold to make pumpkin mooncakes with maple and bacon!
Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, falls on October 1 this year. It’s a celebration of harvest, spent with family and loved ones to enjoy the full moon 赏月 (sháng yuè) and eat mooncakes. Although they’re readily available online (Kee Wah on Amazon / Yamibuy), I generally find store-bought mooncakes to be a bit too sweet, rich, and dense for my taste.
Of course, with the arrival of fall and PSL season, pumpkin is front of mind. And at this point, bacon desserts are a modern classic. So for these mooncakes, I’m featuring classic fall flavors of pumpkin + maple, rendered bacon fat like the traditional lard, and crispy bacon bits as an homage to traditional minced pork.
They’re the ultimate combination of salty and sweet, and if I do say so myself, way better than store-bought mooncakes. And with flaky pastry and a flavorful pumpkin filling, they’re an unexpected blend of the best parts of modern and traditional.
Traditional Mooncake Crusts and Fillings
My pumpkin mooncakes with maple and bacon are a mashup of authentic 苏州 Sūzhōu-style mooncake crust with a savory-sweet-smoky filling. My process is 100% authentic, so these are really the ultimate modern, authentic mooncakes! Suzhou in 江苏 Jiāngsū province is a beautiful city known for its canals, classical architecture, and long history as a center of art and culture.
In terms of crusts, there are multiple common variations, including:
- 广式 (guáng shì) Cantonese-style: baked mooncakes with a chewy, browned crust — these are the most common in stores
- 苏式 (sū shì) Suzhou-style: baked mooncakes with a flaky, crisp crust similar to puff pastry, also popular in Shanghai
- 冰皮 (bīng pí) “snow skin”: modern, milky translucent mooncakes made with a steamed rice dough
Traditional sweet fillings often include salted duck egg yolks 咸蛋黄 (xián dàn huáng) to represent the moon:
- lotus 莲蓉 (lián róng)
- red bean 红豆沙 (hóng dòu shā)
- jujube date 枣泥 (záo ní)
Some regions of China also enjoy savory mooncakes with minced pork, ham, or duck. In particular, the specialty filling in Suzhou style mooncakes is a sweet and savory minced pork 苏式鲜肉月饼.
Pumpkin Maple Bacon Mooncake Filling
I’m replacing the traditional lard in mooncake filling with rendered bacon fat for extra savory, smoky flavor, and the traditional maltose syrup with maple syrup for a delicious fall flavor. To make the filling, separate the bacon fat from 5 strips of thick-cut bacon, and chop both the fat and lean portions. Render the bacon fat in a carbon steel wok on medium-low heat (6.0 = 320°F = 160°C on the Duxtop induction).
When all of the fat has been rendered, add in the lean bacon portion, and cook until crispy. Add one large (29 oz) can of canned pumpkin, 1/4 cup of maple syrup to taste, and cook, stirring continuously on medium-high heat (7.0 = 360°F = 180°C) until most of the moisture has cooked out of the pumpkin, about 10 minutes. Refrigerate the pumpkin maple bacon filling to firm it up. Roll the pumpkin filling into 1 Tbsp balls, and freeze for 20 minutes.
This recipe makes enough pumpkin filling for about 25 moderately-sized 2.5″ mooncakes. The extra filling would be delicious in my yeasted scallion pancakes 葱油烧饼, in lieu of the usual sesame oil, scallions, salt, and white pepper. Or feel free to scale it down for a smaller 15 oz can of pumpkin.
Suzhou-Style Crust for Pumpkin Bacon Maple Mooncakes
Suzhou-style mooncake 苏式月饼 crust is a laminated dough with alternating layers of dough and 油酥 yóusū roux. The process is almost identical to making French puff pastry, but we’re laminating individual rounds dough instead of cutting circles out of a big sheet. For these Suzhou-style Chinese mooncake version, we’re wrapping 油酥 a mixture of 2:1 flour to oil, in place of beurrage, inside 水油皮 (shuǐ yóu pí) oil and water dough, in place of détrempe.
My measurements are given by weights for accuracy. I highly recommend a high-quality kitchen scale — it makes cooking and baking faster and more replicable.
Mixing mooncake dough
For 水油皮 oil and water dough, combine:
- 260 grams of all-purpose flour
- 30 grams of sugar
- 65 grams of lard / neutral oil
- 130 grams of water
It’s easiest to work the oil into the dry ingredients until you get coarse crumbs, then slowly add the water. I used my favorite high-efficiency shortcut for dough, my trusty Cuisinart Custom Pro food processor.
The dough will be rather soft and wet, but it will come together into a ball. Let it rest for 30 minutes while covered, at which point it will be much easier to knead. Knead until the surface is completely smooth, about 3 minutes.
For the 油酥 yóusū roux, we’re combining 150 grams of flour with 70 grams neutral oil like canola. This can be done by hand using chopsticks or again in the food processor. Refrigerate the yóusū roux portions for at least 20 minutes to firm.
Laminating mooncake dough
With a bench scraper, divide the oil-water dough and yóusū roux into 16 equal portions. I prefer to work with 9 mooncakes at a time, dividing the dough and yóusū roux in half. Flatten each dough segment into a round disc, and wrap a chilled yóusū roux ball inside, pinching the opening to seal well. Let the pieces rest for 10 minutes while working on the others.
This is much easier to visualize by video. Please rest assured that it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds.
You should now have 15 balls of dough. Flatten a ball into a disc with the heel of your palm, and then roll it until oblong. You’ll need a small French (Chinese) rolling pin for these. Starting on one of the short ends, roll up the dough like a log. Pinch the seam, flatten the log with your palm, and then roll it into an oblong disc again. Roll into a log one more time, pinch off both ends and the seam, and set aside for 15 minutes to rest.
Repeat for the remaining 15 dough/roux balls to form 16 individual laminated Suzhou-style mooncake dough logs. Let them rest for 15 minutes before moving on.
Forming and Baking Pumpkin Mooncakes
To form the mooncakes, we’ll take a rested dough log and pinch the ends in to form a ball. Roll it the ball into a thin disc with your rolling bin, and wrap in about 2 tsp of mooncake filling like a 包子 baozi. Looks are not important here, we just need to make sure that the pumpkin filling is fully enclosed in the dough, with the seams well-sealed to prevent leakage when baking. For prettier pumpkin mooncakes, shape the sealed mooncake with your hands until round, and place seam-side down on a parchment paper or foil-lined baking sheet.
If you have some struggles along the way during the Suzhou mooncake dough making process, don’t stress! Even with some errors, these mooncakes will turn out flaky, tender, and delicious.
Traditional Suzhou mooncakes are creamy white, but I like mine very slightly golden. Bake at 375°F = 190°C for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350°F = 180°C for another 10 minutes. Then, flip the pumpkin mooncakes over and back for another 10 minutes. I would check on them at this point. If you’d like them to be more golden, flip them back over (smooth side up) and bake at 375°F = 190°C until desired color, about 5 minutes.
Serve the pumpkin-maple-bacon mooncakes warm out of the oven. They’ll keep at room temperature for a couple days, but they’re absolutely irresistible fresh!
Variations on Pumpkin Mooncakes
Kosher-friendly and vegetarian options
Although lard is traditional, you could absolutely replace the rendered bacon fat with schmaltz / rendered chicken fat. For a vegetarian option, replace with coconut oil or butter. The bacon bits that I included in the dough can be replaced with turkey bacon, pumpkin seeds + finely chopped walnuts, or omitted entirely.
This version of mooncakes relies on a bit of gluten development in the oil and water dough. I haven’t tested it with Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, but it should work well.
Alternatively, you can wrap this pumpkin maple bacon filling into a naturally gluten-free snow skin wrapper 冰皮月饼 (bīng pí yuè bǐng), like this one. You’ll need glutinous rice flour 糯米粉 and rice flour 粘米粉; replace the wheat starch in her recipe with cornstarch or potato starch.
Wine and Tea Pairings
The classic accompaniment for mooncakes is tea, but in my book wine is always appropriate for holidays. My preference would be for a dry sparkling wine, which would cut through the richness of the pastry and complement the pumpkin. A nice crémant (non-Chmapagne sparkling wine from France) is always tasty, but for a special occasional like this, I think a nice bottle of Champagne is in order!
碧螺春 Bì Luó Chūn (Dongting, Suzhou green tea), steep at 80°C / 175°F for 15s & add 10-15s to each steep, up to 5 times
大红袍 Dà Hóng Páo (Wuyi, Fujian oolong tea), steep at 100°C / 212°F for 5s & add 10s to each steep, up to 12 times
High-quality Chinese tea is the classic pairing for mooncakes and moon-gazing. In the spirit of terroir-based pairing, 碧螺春 Bì Luó Chūn “Green Spring Snail” is a wonderful green tea that’s also from Jiangsu, specifically the 洞庭 Dòngtíng Mountains. Along with 龙井 (lóng jǐng) “Dragon Well” from neighboring 杭州 Hángzhōu, Bi Luo Chun is one of the most famous green teas in all of China. Delicate, fragrant Jiangsu green tea with flaky Jiangsu mooncakes would be a lovely pair.
For a slightly darker tea, a nice 乌龙 (wū lóng) Oolong tea pairs perfectly with this savory-sweet pumpkin-maple-bacon filling. My absolute favorite tea is the world-famous 大红袍 (dà hóng páo) Big Red Robe from the 武夷 Wǔyī Mountains. The very best Da Hong Pao is propagated from 3 original trees that are over 350 years old, and the best are (in)famously expensive. But there are moderately priced options whose warm, roasty, woodsy aroma would be the perfect complement to mooncakes. Plus Da Hong Pao is particularly suited to repeated steeping in the traditional 功夫茶 “kungfu tea” method, perfect for a long and leisurely evening of moon gazing!
Did you try this recipe?
These Suzhou mooncakes with pumpkin, maple, and bacon filling are best enjoyed under a full moon and shared with family and friends. This year, Mid-Autumn Festival looks different from years past, but I hope these mooncakes inspire you to share the holiday with loved ones in whatever way you can.
Suzhou-Style Mooncakes with Pumpkin, Maple, Bacon Filling
- Food processor
- Sheet tray
- Parchment paper or Silpat
Pumpkin – Maple – Bacon Filling
- 29 oz canned pumpkin 罐头南瓜，1大罐（29盎司）
- 5 strips thick-cup bacon 培根，5条
- ¼ cup maple syrup 枫叶糖浆，80克
油酥 yóusū beurrage / roux
- 150 grams all purpose flour 中筋面粉，150克
- 70 grams neutral oil like canola / 花生油，70克
水油皮 oil and water dough
- 260 grams all purpose flour 中筋面粉，260克
- 30 grams sugar 白糖，30克
- 1 pinch salt 食用盐，少许
- 65 grams neutral oil like canola / 花生油，65克
- 130 grams water 白水，130克
Prepare the Pumpkin Filling
- Separate the bacon fat and dice. Fully render the bacon fat on medium-low heat (320°F / 160°C)
- Dice the lean bacon and add it to the rendered bacon fat. Cook until both the lean and fatty bacon bits are crispy.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high (360°F / 180°C), and add the pumpkin. Cook off the excess moistures, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes
- Let the pumpkin filling cool, then shape into 1 Tbsp round pucks and freeze for 20 minutes to solidify.
Prepare the Yousu Roux
- Combine the flour and oil in a food processor, and process until the mixture forms fine crumbs
- Press the crumbs together until they form a smooth ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes
Prepare the Oil and Water Dough
- Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and oil in a food processor, and process until the mixture forms fine crumbs
- With the food processor running, slowly add the water through the feed tube. Process until the dough forms a ball. Let the dough rest, covered for 30 minutes
- Knead the oil and water dough until it's completely smooth, about 3 minutes. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Divide the dough into two halves, and set one aside. Working with only one half, roll it into a strip and cut the strip into 8 equal pieces.
- Repeat with the yousu roux: keep half refrigerated, and divide the other half into 8 equal pieces.
- Flatten one piece of oil and water dough, and place one piece of yousu roux in the center. Pinch the edges of the dough to fully wrap in the yousux roux. Make sure the yousu is fully sealed inside the dough.
- Using a small rolling pin, roll out the wrapped yousu and dough ball into an oblong shape, about 1-2mm thick
- Starting at one end of the sheet, tightly roll into a log. Pinch the seams and ends to seal
- Fold the log in half, and pinch the sides to form a ball. Flatten the ball and roll lightly to seal. Let the laminated dough pieces rest for about 10 minutes while repeating the process with the remaining 7 pieces.
Stuff with pumpkin filling and bake
- Roll out a piece of laminated dough into a round, about 2-3mm thick. Place a frozen puck of pumpkin filling into the center, and pinch the edges to seal the filling into the wrapper
- Once the pumpkin filling defrosts, gently shape the mooncake into a round with your hands. Place the mooncakes smooth side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet
- Bake in a preheated oven 375°F = 190°C for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350°F = 180°C for an additional 10 minutes. Flip the mooncakes over (seam-side up) and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
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