Rebecca Firth, a.k.a. DisplacedHousewife, is your go-to baking ambassador for worldly treats. This single mom of two has been baking her way to the top of the blogosphere since 2014, continuously showing off her creative culinary chops with over-the-top recipes, dramatic photography, and a signature hint of wit.
Taking inspiration from her years as an expat mom in Beijing, China, Rebecca created a westernized update of the Mooncake, a centuries-old Chinese pastry with a stunning appearance, for our September/October issue. Traditionally, these gorgeous treats are baked during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a celebration of the harvest and the fullest, brightest moon of the year. We talked mooncake-shop with the baking guru, covering baking with different molds (including vintage, wooden molds!), playing with flavors, and whether you can sneak a bite of a mooncake, warm and fresh out of the oven. Rebecca even shared her signature mooncake recipe with us!
For more mooncake madness, try our adapted and version of Rebecca’s Chocolate Almond Mooncakes from the September/October issue, updated with a gram measurement correction. Be sure to check out our guide to using different mooncake molds before you make them for yourself too.
What was your first experience with mooncakes?
Rebecca Firth: The first time I had them was when my family lived in China for my then-husband’s job. We arrived in August, so the Mid-Autumn Festival came shortly after that. If you work in China, you will be inundated with mooncakes. Like, it’s insane. So, around the Mid-Autumn Festival, he just started bringing home armfuls of mooncakes. I was so excited with them because they were so beautiful. I became obsessed with them.
When did you try your hand at baking them?
RF: It wasn’t until I moved back to the States. My goal was to make a mooncake that a western audience could make with ingredients that would normally be in their pantry. I didn’t want them to have to go seek out special ingredients like salted duck yolk.
How did you go about adapting a traditional mooncake recipe for American bakers?
RF: I wanted to make it as uncomplicated as possible, so I tried to make something that would be familiar to basically everybody I know. I needed something that would be firm while it baked and wouldn’t get soft or spread. I got my inspiration from date paleo truffles—even though these aren’t even remotely paleo. I noticed a lot of traditional mooncakes do have a combination of dried fruit and nuts in them. And I thought chocolate and almonds would be an awesome flavor combination while the dates would provide really good structure.
How many times did you test the recipe to get the desired aesthetic you were going for?
RF: I probably made them at least eight times. I tried making the dough without the vodka, just because I know some people might not want to put vodka in their dough. It worked without the vodka, but the dough was not as tender as I like it to be. I also futzed around with the chocolate. I tried to see if the recipe would work with semisweet chocolate as well as dark chocolate. Which it does!
What do you look for in modern mooncake molds? How do you know they’ll work well?
RF: I purchase mine online from Amazon. Do your research and read the reviews! I got a mold that had great reviews and that I thought looked nice with lots of stamp options for different designs. Price doesn’t usually matter either. The less expensive plastic ones will still give you a good, clean imprint on top of your mooncake.