With the arrival of the Mid-Autumn Festival on Friday, September 29 comes the tradition of eating mooncakes. With their round, moon-like shape and intricate detailing, mooncakes typically become widely available to meet demand at festival time. Yet, for those who follow a vegan diet, finding an animal product-free option can be hard in the U.S. — especially since traditional flavors of mooncakes sometimes contain lard or salted egg yolk.
Annie Wang sought out vegan versions of the Asian treats she grew up with and began her vegan bakery Annie’s T Cakes in January 2021. Among the first of Wang’s veganized offerings to become a hit with customers was her Taiwanese pineapple cakes and she’s since added on more items. She notably made her almond cookies for the San Francisco screening of Everything Everywhere All at Once, which actress Michelle Yeoh attended, and she also makes tangyuan, the glutinous rice balls served in hot broth. But when she was initially asked to make mooncakes in her first year in business, Wang says the first hurdle was learning how to make the treat, let alone create a vegan version. When she settled on a recipe, she worked on developing flavors for the filling, creating versions with a lavender lotus paste and white chocolate ganache with black sesame. At the same time, customers were asking for versions of the more traditional, and well-recognized flavors, namely the lotus paste and red bean mooncakes with salted egg yolk. “The reason I haven’t done the egg yolk mooncake,” Wang says, “is because I was actually very nervous to try and veganize it — it’s the closest to a meat thing that I’ve made.”
Part of the reason Wang was apprehensive about attempting a veganized red lotus and salted egg yolk mooncake was the reception from customers. “I think that people usually are like, ‘Oh, it has to be exactly the same,’” Wang says, “or else they’re not going to like it, and so I figured this one would take the longest time.” She researched various recipes and options before she landed on her current recipe for vegan salted egg yolk; early versions were cashew-based, but she ultimately decided against using the nut, not because of texture or flavor, but because she wanted the mooncakes to be as allergen-free as possible.
Now, Annie’s T Cakes is debuting four specialty mooncakes as part of a Mid-Autumn Festival gift box: two salted egg yolk versions, paired with lotus paste and red bean mooncakes, along with a jasmine tea with candied lemon mooncake and a black sesame mooncake with white chocolate chips. Customers can pre-order the box as a pack of four with the aforementioned flavors, or a pack of six that includes matcha with candied strawberry and hojicha with white chocolate chip mooncakes. Both boxes are available for shipping throughout California or for local pickup in the Bay Area.
Now, recreating sweets from childhood as vegan fare isn’t Wang’s only motivating factor for starting her own bakery as a vegan. Wang’s background in environmental work also influences her work – and as such, even the packaging is compostable, once the labeling is removed. She was part of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing and eventually joined the food tech space before launching her Annie’s T Cakes, looking to “positively impact the climate through the food system” and also make the plant-based food scene more inclusive. “I wanted to bring more Asian American representation to the food space,” Wang says, “because right now when you look at the vegan food options, it’s hamburger patties or chicken nuggets, which is good, but I think that there’s a lack of kind of diversity of flavors, especially as America in general is diversifying. I don’t think that the vegan options are keeping up with that.”
With Annie’s T Cakes, Wang aims to open up people’s minds to different kinds of diets and the idea that what they choose to eat matters — but also that doing so doesn’t mean sacrificing taste or, in the case of mooncakes, long-held traditions. “I think for me, it’s a way that I feel like I’m able to contribute my skill set, and what I’m passionate about to the world,” Wang says. “What I really hope is that it can help open people’s minds up to the idea that they can do something different with their diets. Of course, I would love for everyone to go plant-based, but people don’t have to choose.”