It started out as a way to reduce food waste. “I was looking into what to do with leftover mooncake skins,” explains Annie Wang, who runs the vegan home bakery Annie T’s Cakes out of her Uptown Oakland apartment.
The answer, Wang discovered, was mooncake biscuits. According to Chinese custom, bakers would put a small portion of mooncake dough in the oven to test its temperature. Eventually, they started forming these test batches into the shape of little pigs and selling them as a standalone item—an inexpensive alternative to the mooncakes proper, minus their luxurious lotus seed and salted egg yolk fillings. Kids, in particular, love the biscuits, which Wang describes as being akin to a flaky, not-too-sweet cookie.
In Hong Kong, Malaysia and elsewhere in the Chinese diaspora, mooncake biscuits are a common sighting during the Mid-Autumn Festival (which typically falls in September or October). But this year Wang decided to feature them in her Lunar New Year snack box—just released for preorder—in part because the biscuits are such a rarity in the Bay Area.
The Lunar New Year boxes ($30), which also include almond cookies and the more typical filled varieties of mooncake, will be available for pickup in Oakland from Jan. 27–Feb. 1.
All of the baked treats are 100 percent vegan, in keeping with the bakery’s overall mission to veganize traditional East Asian sweets. Armed with a cottage food license and an arsenal of plant-based egg and dairy substitutes, Wang says she hopes efforts like hers will help create a better, more sustainable food system.
As it did for so many other Americans, the pandemic brought Wang face to face with the hard realization that “a full-time job is not necessarily as stable as we thought.” When she was laid off from her marketing job in May of 2020, she dove headfirst into her passion for food tech and vegan baking, spending the better part of the year on recipe development.
Her first breakthrough wound up becoming the item that Annie’s is best known for: a plant-based version of Taiwanese pineapple cakes, or fengli su, probably Taiwan’s most iconic snack cake. Wang, who is Chinese American, grew up eating the cakes, and she says it only took her three tries to come up with an eggless recipe that hit all the right notes, with a buttery (but butter-free) shortbread crust and jammy pineapple filling. Conveniently, the cakes are also gluten-free.
Meanwhile, for Lunar New Year, Wang is excited to introduce her vegan mooncake biscuits to customers who aren’t familiar with them. “They’re really satisfying to eat, and you can eat a lot of them,” she says. “It’s not a heavy snack.” In Hong Kong or Singapore, the little pig-shaped biscuits are typically sold in baskets that are meant to look like cages—which, Wang says, “as a vegan is less fun for me to think about.” So, Wang’s version isn’t modeled after a pig at all. Instead, she stuck with a more traditional-looking engraved mooncake design, though she’s playing around with other shapes for the future.
The bakery is also selling kits for preparing tang yuan soup, a rice flour–based dessert that’s also commonly eaten during Lunar New Year.
Growing up, Wang remembers that Lunar New Year was all about family time: making dumplings, playing mahjong, watching Chinese comedy skits on TV that she couldn’t understand. Wang's Lunar New Year box is well suited for that kind of small, intimate gathering—the kind most people will be having to ring in the Year of the Tiger this coming month.
“It’s not a great time for the world,” Wang says. “But one of the small side benefits of the pandemic is a lot of people really got closer to their smaller circle.”
The Annie’s T Cakes Lunar New Year Box ($30) is available for preorder through Jan. 18, with pickup at Little Giant Ice Cream (1951 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) Jan. 27–Feb. 1. Shipping is also available in California only.
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