This article originally appeared on the Pastel blog on August 31, 2022. Copyright © 2022 Pastel Ventures, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
Growing up, Annie Wang remembers sitting on her grandmother’s couch in Flushing, near one of the largest Chinatowns in New York, and eating all the way around the egg yolk in a lotus mooncake. Perhaps it was already in the stars that she was destined to become the vegan baker behind Annie’s T Cakes in Oakland. “I never ate the egg yolk,” Wang confides, and she was the kind of kid who avoided eggs in other dishes, or at least swapped yolks for whites with her brother.
Mooncakes rise this time of year, gleaming in bakery cases and gift boxes leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 10. But while store-bought versions can be heavy with sugar and preservatives, Wang presses mooncakes filled with fresh ingredients and modern flavors. She’s been vegetarian for more than a decade, leaning vegan the past few years. During the pandemic, she started baking a vegan version of her childhood favorite Taiwanese pineapple cakes, and at the request of a customer, began dabbling in vegan mooncake biscuits for Lunar New Year in 2022 — not the traditional timing but a rare treat. Now that it’s the full season for the Mid-Autumn Festival, she’s debuting a new flavor in a couple of cute sizes, whether you want to savor one mini mooncake or share a galaxy with family and friends.
“They were kind of tricky to do vegan,” Wang says. Mooncakes are labor intensive, and Wang swapped out eggs and dairy, and spent weeks testing cracks and leaks. Certain fillings were trickier to adapt — red bean was the easiest, while black sesame threatened to ooze. The skins for the classic baked version usually call for vegetable oil, so that was straightforward, and she’s also experimenting with a “snow skin” mochi variation, which would be naturally gluten free. It’s a two-day process to grind the filling, cook to thicken, cool completely, and scoop into rounds. Before mixing a second dough, flattening into skins, bundling both together, and stamping in a mold — with conviction if you love a pretty design. You’ll never find a salted yolk in the center of these, and there’s no final brush of egg wash for shine — Wang says every sub flunked the test, and she ultimately preferred a precisely pressed matte mooncake that still gets golden edges.
In addition to traditional red bean, she’s known for playing with modern flavors: Fans love the deeply roasted and inky black sesame, while delicate matcha and jasmine tea infuse earthy mung bean paste. New this festival season, she’s debuting hojicha, folding in a trend that you may have spotted in boba drinks or other desserts. Those come in a couple of sizes, so you don’t have to commit to a luxury box, you could just get a mini for a snack. Given the truly fresh ingredients, they are best eaten within a day or two, but they also freeze well! The pro tip is to pop them in the oven at 350°F for about 10 minutes, if you’d like to reignite the glow of those golden edges.