Homemade 猪仔饼/公仔饼 Low Sugar Moon Cake Cookies

It's officially autumn now, which means the next festival on the Lunar calendar - Mid Autumn Festival - will be here soon. Also commonly known as the Lantern Festival and Mooncake Festival, it is a day (or in present days, month) where the Chinese enjoy good food and light up colourful lanterns whilst watching the brightest full moon of the year.

In this present commercial world of capitalism, by the 1st day of September, mooncakes are already on sale in all shops in most Asian countries; while the actual day of Mid Autumn Festival falls on October 4th. I do like the mooncakes, but my ultimate favourite are the "piggy biscuits" (猪仔饼) made of plain Cantonese style mooncake pastry without the fillings. These cookies/biscuits were originally the outcome of pastry testing in the old days. As they were usually made in the form of little pigs, hence the name; although they have evolved to many other shapes over time, such as fish, flowers, and all sorts of gods/goddess figurines (公仔饼).

A late great uncle of mine was a Chinese restaurant owner and they used to have their own line of mooncakes. As a child, I was allowed in the kitchen from time to time and I remember watching the whole process of mooncake making, which was a real treat.

Since mooncake prices have sky-rocketed recently (well, for the past few years), I've decided to not buy any this year. I won't go as far as making mooncakes at this point, but I thought I could have a go at making the "piggy biscuits" (猪仔饼). I can treat this as a major "pastry testing" exercise.

The basic ingredients for mooncake pastry are:
Golden syrup
Plain flour
Edible alkaline water
1 egg for glazing

I did have to make a lot of adjustments since I don't readily have golden syrup and alkaline water in the house, so I've substituted golden syrup with Lyle's Butterscotch Syrup (just so I can finish it off) and made the alkaline water by mixing 1 part baking soda with 3 parts of water. Also, my main aim is to make my own version that's less sweet.

I had 3 goes, with different portions of ingredients, methods and baking time:

1st bake - 19 Sep 2017
I began with the minimum portion, so that I won't waste too much food if I failed.

Flour 100g
Lyle's Butterscotch Syrup 40ml (most recipes call for about 80g)
Sun flower oil 25ml (peanut oil is usually used, but I only have this at home)
Alkaline water 1ml
1 egg for glazing, lightly beaten

  1. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, add in the syrup and alkaline water. Gradually add in the oil whilst stirring constantly with a silicone spatula.
  2. Shape it into a dough and let it rest for 2 hours at room temperature (mine is 27ºC), covered with cling film.
  3. Break the dough into equal parts and roll into ball shapes, before pressing into the moulds. I haven't any appropriate mooncake moulds or Chinese cake moulds, so I just made do with s silicone floral shape cup cake mould. The holes are quite big so this combination of ingredients only yielded 3.
  4. Press the shaped dough out from the mould and arrange on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
  5. Bake in the oven at 200ºC for 5 minutes, take them out to brush the egg over the top and back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

As it is suggested that they need to rest overnight to soften, I only tested the biscuits the following day.

The result: a little hard, but tastes fine. At this point I gathered that perhaps when I reduced the syrup, it's also affected the softness of the pastry. I'm thinking, maybe I'll need to add some other liquid based ingredients to make up the reduced 40ml of syrup.

2nd bake - 21 Sep 2017

Again, I've used minimum amount of ingredients, with milk added in:

Flour 100g
Lyle's Butterscotch Syrup 40ml
Fresh milk 10ml
Sun flower oil 25ml
Alkaline water 1ml
1 egg for glazing, lightly beaten

I applied the same method as the first time round: syrup + milk + alkaline water into flour, then oil in, then mix.

The result overnight: still a little on the hard side, and I've probably messed up the baking time so they are slightly burnt on the bottom. No photos for these little flowers then.

3rd bake - 23 Sep 2017

I do find that in the first 2 trials, the dough seemed a little dry, and from what I can remember from my childhood memory watching my great uncle's chef, the dough was very soft. I decided to try a different method suggested by some other recipes I've looked at, which is to blend the wet ingredients first, before adding in the flour.

I've also gone for different portions of ingredients, which has relatively more liquid ingredients but I've also used more milk:

Flour 300g
Lyle's Butterscotch Syrup 150ml
Fresh milk 70ml
Sun flower oil 110ml
Alkaline water half a tablespoon
1 egg for glazing, lightly beaten

  1. Mix all the wet ingredients in a mixing bowl, keep stirring until it's well blended.
  2. Gradually spoon in the flour, stirring constantly. The dough came out smooth and shiny, and sticky.
  3. Most recipes of this method I looked at, suggest to leave the dough to rest for at least 2 hours; but I've decided to leave it overnight (about 8 hours) since it was already midnight when I;m done with the mixing.
  4. Place the shaped dough onto baking tray lined with baking parchment, bake in the oven at 150ºC for 8 minutes, take them out to cool down a little before brushing the egg over, then back in the oven for another 8 minutes, this time at 180ºC.
  5. With this amount of ingredients and the same moulds, I made 9 mooncake cookies.
The result:
They are actually rather soft on the touch, just minutes out of the oven, and a couple of them have cracked a little on the side so I'm thinking I have either messed up on the alkaline water or simply have to reduce it the next time.

Taste wise, absolutely fine. I believe I could probably still reduce the syrup slightly further and make up with milk, since the softness has not been affected this time.

I'm sure there are still loads to be adjusted and improved on, but I have used up the last drop of my Lyle's butterscotch syrup so the next mooncake cookie experiment may have to wait.

Till the next bake... I'm going to enjoy my tulip and daisy shaped mooncake pastry cookies.


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