Corner Café

September 11, 2008

Shanghai Mooncakes 上海月餅 / 甘露酥

Filed under: Dim Sum — SeaDragon @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,


I don’t know when the so called ‘Shanghai mooncakes’ first appeared on the Malaysian mooncake scene. But the past couple of years, I kept coming across the name ‘Shanghai mooncakes’ from Malaysian websites and bloggers. It was quite an eye-opener to me as I have never heard of Shanghai mooncakes before. A quick search on the internet yields no recipe result from China. All the recipes seem to come from Malaysian or Singaporean websites or bloggers. So what is going on here?
As far as I know from my reasonably limited knowledge on mooncakes, the mooncake that came from around Shanghai area is the well known ‘Su-Style Mooncake’ (蘇式月餅) from Jiangsu (usually shortened to just ‘Su’ as a name) province of China which is known for its Huaiyang cuisine. So it is not surprising that all the different types of ‘Su-Style Mooncake’ are made with Huaiyang Flaky Pastry. Now that begs the question, where then do the shortcrust- or biscuit-pastry ‘Shanghai Mooncakes’ of Malaysia originated from?
After a closer scrutiny at those recipes, I was surprised to discover they were very similar to a Cantonese dim sum called ‘Kam Loh Sou’ (甘露酥 or occasionally written as 金露酥). ‘Kam Loh Sou’ is a Hong Kong styled pastry snack with lotus paste and salted egg yolk wrapped inside a shortcrust-like biscuit (or cookie) pastry. Now we all know that Hong Kong was under British rule so the the snack is probably a fusion of English and Chinese cuisine by combining a western styled pastry with a Chinese filling. The reason being that the two characters, ‘kam loh’, do not make any sense in Chinese to describe the snack, they would have literally translated as ‘sweet dews/beads’ or ‘golden dews/beads’ as written, so it must have been a direct phonetic translation of a foreign word. If the two characters, ‘kam loh’, are pronounces quickly together, they sounded like ‘crumble’ or ‘crumbly’ which would perfectly describe the texture of the shortcrust pastry.
If the ‘Shanghai mooncake’ is indeed an adaptation from ‘kam loh sou’, then it must have been a marketing genius who renamed the snack as ‘Shanghai Mooncake’ as a clever marketing ploy to sell more mooncakes.
The so called Shanghai mooncakes I have come across asked for 2 parts filling to 1 part pastry for each mooncake and I found it impossible to wrap with this ratio. So I have to adjust it to roughly 1 part filling to 1 part pastry which most ‘Kam Loh Sou’ recipes recommended. Another moot point was that most ‘Kam Loh Sou’ recipes use a bigger proportion of egg in making the pastry (except one recipe in one of my cookbooks which uses no egg at all), while the Shanghai mooncakes use a tiny proportion of egg in theirs. After attempting to use only half an egg to make the pastry, I found the dough too stiff for wrapping, so finally I added in the other half of the egg to make the pastry more pliable, not sure if the cold weather has anything to do with it. Even with the adjustment to the recipe of 1 : 1 ratio for filling and pastry, I still found it hard to wrap with the pastry splitting open everytimes I stretched it a bit too much trying to accommodate the filling. So I don’t know how the ratio of 2 : 1 of filling to pastry can work, unless I am missing something or there’s a special technique of wrapping, or a lot of patching up required?
As you know from my previous post, I am currently learning to make salted eggs for the first time, but they are still not ready yet, a few more days to go. So in desperation, I resorted to making vegetarian salted yolks using mung bean paste for the filling.
After baking, a few of the mooncakes did have crooked shapes (too much egg addded maybe?) with a little of the pastry melting downward slightly, but the rest stood up well.

One of the crooked mooncakes with the expanding base.

The pastry of the mooncakes was crisp and delicious just after cooling down, but it did soften just that slightest after storing for one day, which didn’t surprise me as the pastry would have absorbed some moisture from the filling. But it still had that shortcrust texture, just not as crisp as freshly baked. Anyway I will still post the recipe I adjusted and used for future reference below, but I will try to improve it for next year if I remember. For my own record, try half lard, half butter next time, and use icing sugar instead of caster sugar.

Makes approx. 12 mooncakes, or 20 mini-size mooncakes

Biscuit Pastry:
160g butter
100g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
270g plain flour
30g custard powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg, lightly beaten for eggwash
some pepitas, walnut halves, or flaked almonds, for decoration

Outer Filling:
500g lotus paste

Inner Filling (makes about 250g paste) *:
125g (1/2 cup) split mung beans
60ml canola oil
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

* The inner filling may be substituted with cooked salted egg yolks, use whole yolk or halved yolk depending on size of each mooncake
Inner Filling:
Rinse then soak the skinless mung beans for about 2 hours, drain and steam until soft, about 20 to 30 minutes. Mash the cooked mung beans and stir in sugar and salt. Heat the oil in a wok and add the mung beans, stirring to mix well together until it becomes a stiff paste. Remove and cool. Pinch and round into balls of about 15g-20g each for bigger mooncakes, or 10g each for making mini mooncakes.

The texture of the salty mung bean paste.

The vegetarian yolks made from mung bean paste.

Outer Filling:
Divide the lotus paste into 40g portion each for bigger mooncakes, or 20-25g portion each for mini mooncakes.

Biscuit Pastry:
1. Sift plain flour, custard powder and baking powder together. Set aside.
2. Cream softened butter and sugar until pale in colour.
3. Beat in egg then fold in the flour mixture. Lightly knead into a soft dough. Cover with cling film and leave aside to rest for about 20 minutes.
4. Divide into 50g portion each for bigger mooncakes, or 30g portion for mini mooncakes.

Wrapping and baking mooncakes:
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Make sure the pastry is still soft enough after resting, especially in cold weather, by lightly kneading the pastry with your fingers until pliable. Press each pastry piece into a flat round circle. Place a portion of lotus paste in the middle and a ball of mung bean paste on top of the lotus paste. Alternatively, wrap the mung bean ball inside the lotus paste beforehand and place the combined filling in the middle of the pastry round.
2. Wrap the filling inside the pastry by pushing the pastry up and around the filling while pressing the filling inside the enclosing pastry (this method is the same as wrapping traditional Cantonese mooncakes which ensures an even thickness of pastry). Altenatively, roll the pastry into a thin pastry cicle and wrap the filling inside by pinching and sealing the edges.
3. After wrapping the filling, shape into a ball shape and then roll the bottom part between your palms to shape into a cylindrical bottom with a dome top (roughly like a mushroom before the cap opens).
4. Eggwash the top of each mooncake and place 3 pepitas or flaked almonds (or 1 halved walnut) decoratively on top.
5. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until light golden brown.


Taste: Crisp biscuit-like pastry with a soft, sweet and salty filling
Consume: Best within a few days
Storage: Store in airtight container
Recipe References: ‘上海月餅’ recipe by Wendy 老師, and ‘蛋黃甘露酥’ recipe by 李德全 in the Chinese cookbook, ‘茶樓點心好簡單’


  1. sd

    these mooncakes are perfect to me.

    i have a recipe from Planta magazine, see if i can dig it up for you

    Comment by lily ng — September 12, 2008 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

  2. looks great, i’m sure taste great too. u can try warming it up for a few sec in the MW and it’ll be as good as fresh.

    Happy Mooncake Festival!

    Comment by Ida — September 12, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  3. looks different from the usual shanghai moonies, but it’s kinda cute, “new age”? ha! ha!

    Comment by skinnymum — September 13, 2008 @ 3:02 am | Reply

  4. Lily,
    Thanks. I think the cold weather affected my dough because the butter in the dough turned hard after resting and making it very hard to wrap. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival.

    Thanks, happy Mooncake Festival to you too. I actually liked it at room temperature too because the softened pastry tasted like the Cantonese mooncakes after two days. LOL.

    Comment by SeaDragon — September 13, 2008 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  5. Seadragon, I was going to try dry-steam baking your flaky pastry mooncake, but abandoned the idea because I think the layers need very high heat to separate properly. Your Shanghai mooncake has inspired me to try a version with a biscuit crust that can be dry-steam baked. The ingredients in the Shanghai skin are almost identical to a steamed pudding biscuit, which has less butter and more liquid like milk.

    Before I do this, I need to decide on the filling. I may do a peanut/sugar filling or a fruit paste filling.

    Comment by VaporChef — December 15, 2009 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

    • Let us know how it goes.

      Comment by SeaDragon — December 26, 2009 @ 8:34 am | Reply

      • I made my first mooncake today in a slow cooker! It’s a small 1.5-quart slow cooker, and according to the instructions, the inside temperature doesn’t go higher than about 200 degrees F (about the same as steam-baking temperature). I didn’t have a mooncake mold, so I pressed the dough into a tart pan and baked it in the pan. The cooker held 2 mooncakes, stacked on a rack. The trick is to make sure no pan touches the bottom of the cooker or the cake could be scorched. I put a small ring of metal foil on the bottom of the cooker and put the bottom mooncake on top of the ring. Before I put the lid on, I covered the top with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Cooking time was 2 hours on the “high heat” setting.

        The dough was the Shanghai mooncake dough but with only half the butter. It was still very workable. I could have added more egg or some milk if it was too stiff. The filling was ground peanuts and raisins. I put some of the filling on top of each mooncake after brushing with the egg wash.

        Below are some pictures of the mooncakes. They came out a little too crisp, like a cookie shell, so I might shorten the cooking time when I make them again. The mooncakes were VERY tasty! I might try a flaky pastry in the slow cooker too. Steam-baking mooncakes could work too, if I can put them in a sealed pan that stops the steam from leaking in. My slow cooker cost me $6 US and it’s been very fun to find new uses for it.

        Comment by VaporChef — January 21, 2010 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

        • That’s very innovative, look good too.

          Comment by SeaDragon — January 24, 2010 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

          • Thank you, SeaDragon. See my update below.

            Comment by VaporChef — January 25, 2010 @ 6:50 am | Reply

        • I made a second set of slow-cooker mooncakes yesterday, and they turned out much better than the first ones. For the dough, I reduced the amount of butter again to the ratio of 2 tablespoons per cup of flour and added more beaten egg to compensate for the liquid. The filling was the same peanut and raisins and a little sugar, but instead of topping the mooncake with the mixture, I decorated it with some leaves made of the mooncake dough. The baking time was 1 hour and 45 minutes on the “high” setting.

          The pictures show the special rack I made for baking in the slow cooker. At the bottom of the slow cooker is the metal ring I made of crumpled aluminum foil. The first mooncake sits on that. The rack is a cylinder of aluminum foil with 2 bamboo skewers inserted through the sides to form a platform. I put that in the cooker next and put the second mooncake pan on the bamboo skewers. There are vent holes around the bottom the foil cylinder to let the heat circulate evenly, and the cylinder must be tall enough to completely surround the second mooncake. The fluted mini tart pans are about 4 inches in diameter.

          In the pictures, you can see that the mooncakes turned out a lovely golden brown. The shell was crisp but not burned like before. After the mooncakes rested for a day, the crust softened a little from moisture in the filling. It was melt-in-your-mouth DELICIOUS!! The extra egg in the dough gave the crust a cake-like texture and fragrance. One bite and I was reminded of the pastries I had eaten as a child in New York City’s Chinatown. It was a Marcel Proust-Madeleine moment. The reduced fat content made it healthier too.

          Comment by VaporChef — January 25, 2010 @ 6:55 am | Reply

          • Thank you for sharing your method, I’m sure it will be very useful for readers here if they don’t have an oven and can use slow-cooker to make them.

            Comment by SeaDragon — January 31, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

        • I made one last batch of Shanghai style mooncakes before moving onto flaky pastry mooncakes. If you’re a good artist, you can make some very wonderful graphics on homemade mooncakes WITHOUT a mooncake mold.

          The top mooncake in the picture has the ancient form of the chinese character for change: a sun on the top and a moon on the bottom, symbolizing change as the transition from day to night. I think I made the sun a little small, although the proportion is similar to the modern chinese character.

          The bottom mooncake is an arrangement of gingko leaves. The Gingko tree is the national tree of China, so I thought gingko mooncakes would be quite suitable for the Chinese New Year.

          Both of these were baked in a slow cooker and in fluted mini tart pans. Don’t forget to put a paper towel under the cooker’s lid to absorb moisture.

          Comment by VaporChef — January 31, 2010 @ 8:01 am | Reply

          • You’re funny, making mooncakes for Chinese New Year, might confused people wrong time of the year 🙂 But they sure look good and delicious! Thanks again for sharing.

            Comment by SeaDragon — January 31, 2010 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

            • Glad you liked them. It’s tradition to make mooncakes for Chinese New Year, not just the mid Autumn Festival. I’ve eaten mooncakes on Chinese New Year. I’d eat them all year round if they weren’t so high in calories. 🙂

              Comment by VaporChef — January 31, 2010 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

              • Oh really? We never eat mooncakes during Chinese New Year. The only moon related food is the round rice dumplings (yuan xiao or tang yuan) eaten on the 15th day.

                Comment by SeaDragon — February 4, 2010 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

        • Here’s the picture of the mooncakes:

          Comment by VaporChef — January 31, 2010 @ 8:02 am | Reply

  6. Well, the Mooncake Festival is almost here. I took this recipe and made my own version by modifying the dough for a softer texture and making a filling from pureed dried plums and lima beans. Very tasty. The recipe and pictures are at the link below. Mooncakes began my journey into low temperature baking and led to my launching VaporBaker, so they of special significance to me.

    Comment by vaporchef — August 18, 2010 @ 7:05 am | Reply

  7. Hi there, love your blog. This is a wonderful recipe, I just love Shanghai mooncakes and can’t wait to try this on my own! I’d like to ask a question with regards to your own record: Why you would use icing sugar instead of caster sugar? Will icing sugar help the biscuit pastry to stay crispier? Many thanks for posting the recipe! =)

    Comment by Vivian — September 1, 2010 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

    • Can’t remember why I used icing sugar, probably that was in the recipes I adapted from…

      Comment by SeaDragon — September 6, 2010 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

  8. Seadragon, do you know anything about the “Momoyama mooncakes”? How are they different from traditional mooncakes?

    Comment by vaporchef — March 22, 2011 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

    • Unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting Momoyama Mooncakes yet. They are a type of “filling wrapped in filling” mooncakes. Therefore the “pastry” is supposedly very fine textured as it is made of white bean paste. If you search using the Chinese characters of 桃山月餅, you should be able to find quite a lot of recipes in Chinese or Japanese.

      Comment by SeaDragon — March 22, 2011 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  9. “SHANGHAI MOONCAKE” was created by a malaysia chinese restaurant called “Oversea Restaurant” in 1982. But not everyone know about this “legend” . 😉
    Further info:

    Comment by YU — April 17, 2011 @ 12:33 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the info, so we can finally track down the origin of this mooncake.

      Comment by SeaDragon — April 19, 2011 @ 7:24 am | Reply

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