Playdough Mooncakes – Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

月饼 / 月餅 (Yuè bǐng / Mooncakes) are Chinese desserts enjoyed by families and friends for 中秋节 / 中秋節 (Zhōng qiū jié / Mid Autumn Festival, Moon Festival).  Since mooncakes are high in calories and my son is allergic to typical mooncake ingredients, we are celebrating with homemade playdough mooncakes and great Mid-Autumn Festival books!

Playdough mooncakes are also a great way to practice shaping the dough for real mooncakes! I hope your kids enjoy making the easy recipe, learning about culture, and watching the video tutorial (end of the post).

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

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What are Chinese mooncakes?

Traditional mooncakes are baked pastries filled with red bean, lotus seed paste, or salted duck egg yolk surrounded by a brown crust.

A highly popular variation is the 冰皮月饼 / 冰皮月餅 (bīng pí yuèbǐng / snowskin mooncake), a no-bake dessert made of glutinous rice (similar to mochi ice cream).

Snow skin mooncakes have a white exterior that is sometimes dyed. 

Skills my kids learned from Chinese playdough mooncakes

This was my first time making 橡皮泥 (xiàngpí ní / playdough)!

Let’s just say I’m not a natural in the kitchen, and it took me 3 tries to figure out how to make a soft, colorful playdough! 

There was so much more learning than what I could capture in the photos!

My children had tons of practice with practical life skills (pouring, kneading, mixing, cutting, etc).

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Teach Chinese and Korean with Play Dough

What my almost 5-year-old daughter learned

From Playdough Mooncakes, my daughter learned:

  1. Math/Science:
    1. Measure ingredients, brainstorming about adding more food coloring, oil, and flour to get the right color and texture.
    2. Fractions; we used smaller unit cups/spoons so that we would have add them to get the correct amount for the recipe.
  2. Cooking vocabulary:  Practice Chinese cooking words, such as 搓揉 (cuō róu / knead), 混合 (hùnhé / mix), 搅拌 (jiǎobàn / churn), etc.

What my 2-year-old son learned

On the other hand, the process was messy with my son participating. But it was definitely worth it for the hands-on learning!!!

My son often tries to copy what his big sister says, so he also learned a ton of new Chinese words!

Both children played for hours all weekend, and my daughter made dozens of playdough mooncakes!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

What you need to make homemade Chinese playdough mooncakes

1. Mooncake molds:

Hand-pressure mooncake mold:

  • The hand-pressure mold is very easy for a child to use independently!  The shape comes out clean and crisp with no residue.
  • We have this highly-rated set (similar here) with a mix of square and round shapes.  My daughter only likes the round floral design and did not like the square designs.  She also said she wished there were beautiful Chinese characters.  Therefore, I wish we bought this set of round moulds which includes the 中秋 Chinese words.
  • The downside is that hand-pressure molds are made of plastic.
Hand-pressure plastic mooncake mold with various designs
Hand-pressure plastic mooncake mold with various designs

Wood mooncake mold:

  • I couldn’t resist getting a beautiful wood mooncake mold!  I found this natural wood set with lucky Chinese characters:
    • 福 (fú / good fortune)
    • 禄 (lù / prosperity)
    • 寿 (shòu / longevity)
    • 喜 (xǐ / happiness)
  • Apparently, the wood set can also be used to make soap, muffins, chocolate, and biscuits!
  • The downside is that it’s harder for a child to use independently because extra care and effort are needed for removing the dough from the mold.  If your dough is warm and fresh from the oven, then it will be easy to imprint the shape and remove.  However, you will likely need to sprinkle the wood mooncake mold with flour.  Then, gently peel the dough out of the mold.
  • For cleaning, use a toothpick to remove residue from the wood mooncake mold.
Natural wood mooncake mold with lucky Chinese characters
Natural wood mooncake mold with lucky Chinese characters

2. Knife and vegetable or cookie cutters

3. Playdough of course!

Related: Make and Learn Moon Phases with Play Dough Mooncakes!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Easy, homemade play dough recipe

Since store bought play dough is hard and has an unpleasant smell, I recommend making your own play dough!

Play dough is easy to make and literally takes a few minutes. The texture is much more soft compared to store-bought Play Doh, which means the shape comes out perfectly for mooncakes!

Because you can compost natural materials, homemade play dough is more environmentally friendly compared to Play Doh.

Play dough ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tbsp veg oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2+ drops food coloring for pastel color; more for darker color

How to Make Playdough:

  1. Mix water and food coloring
  2. Mix rest of ingredients in pot
  3. Add colored water to the pot with the other ingredients
  4. Mix thoroughly on low heat until contents solidify
  5. Let cool and knead
  6. Playtime! Use mooncake molds and cookie cutters to create various designs!
  7. Store in airtight container in refrigerator
Cooking playdough on the stovetop

Tips for making playdough:

  • Don’t add food coloring when the contents starts to harden as it will take forever to blend well!  See Pinterest fail photo below!
  • Add more oil if needed to soften the dough.
  • Sprinkle more flour if too sticky.
Failed homemade playdough!
Failed playdough! This was supposed to be purple. As you can see, adding red and blue food coloring to the solid dough resulted in patchy, unmixed colors.  You will have to knead it a very, very long time for the colors to blend!

Pictures of our pretty Chinese playdough mooncakes!

After the initial trial and error, we finally created beautiful, pastel playdough for our mooncake creations!

My daughter had so much pretending that she was a chef preparing dessert for our family!

Here she is chopping little pieces of playdough mooncakes with her little knife!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Next, my daughter wanted create a few mooncakes with different colored filling on the inside!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Then, she kneaded the dough and put it in the mold.

As you can see, the mold is just the right size for young hands!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Voila!  Pretty playdough mooncakes are served!  Don’t they look a bit like real snow skin mooncakes?

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Play dough mooncakes: more candid photos of our experience

Here’s a close-up of the flour on the wood mooncake mold!

Wood mooncake mould dusted with flour to prevent sticking

Notice that the heart-shaped 寿 mold has no flour.  This is because I did not need extra flour when I used fresh, warm purple playdough.

My daughter collected all of her creations onto the cutting board and began to run out of space!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Time to get out another cutting board! It was so fun to see my daughter come up with her own designs. She used the rose mold to stamp the playdough and then cut out little designs with her mini vegetable shape cutter!

Playdough Mooncakes - Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!

Even after the holiday passes, I have a feeling that my daughter will want to make playdough mooncakes day after day! I hope your family also has great fun making playdough mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival and any other time of year!

Video tutorial of playdough mooncakes

What other activities will you be doing for Mid-Autumn Festival?

Please share in the comments below!

We love hearing how other families celebrate special traditions!

Learn about Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

To learn more about 中秋节 (Zhōng qiū jié / Mid Autumn Festival, Moon Festival), please check out:

Delicious mooncake recipes

Check out the following websites for delicious mooncake recipes:

How to teach kids Chinese

If you need tips on how to teach your child Chinese, these posts are for you!

中秋节快乐 / 中秋節快樂 (Zhōngqiū jié kuàilè / Happy Mid-Autumn Festival)!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful activity! I love your recipe, it turned out great for the very first try😘 My students had so much fun making their own “moon cakes”!

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