With This Year’s Mid-Autumn Mooncakes, Annie’s T Cakes Re-Envisions Vegan Asian Food
September 14, 2023
On a September evening in 2022, baker Annie Wang was walking down the street in Oakland, feeling tired but accomplished after her feat of shipping boxes of mooncakes all over California for the first time. “I was thinking it’s crazy that there are so many people right now who are eating something that I literally made with my own hands,” she says.
With the Mid-Autumn Festival approaching on September 29, 2023, Annie is preparing for this year’s push for mooncake orders and reflecting on her journey so far. Since starting Annie’s T Cakes in 2020, Annie has been honing her baking and business skills to diversify the food scene and make environmentalism irresistible in the form of her classic East Asian treats.
Refreshing a Nostalgic Mid-Autumn Treat
At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, Annie’s T Cakes offers Taiwanese pineapple tartlets, the famous almond cookies that she served at Oakland’s premiere of the (now Oscar-winning) film Everything Everywhere All At Once, and five flavors of her signature mooncakes: matcha, jasmine tea, hojicha, black sesame, and red bean. (Everything is served in compostable packaging.)
While mooncakes can be enjoyed year round, they’re commonly eaten leading up to and during the Mid-Autumn Festival. One of the most important holidays in Chinese culture, the Mid-Autumn Festival dates back over 3,000 years. Based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar, it’s an occasion to celebrate the brightest moon of the year, and festivities include carrying and displaying bright lanterns, as well as eating mooncakes.
“I have a lot of really fond memories of mooncakes,” says Annie, who recalls giving and receiving these delicate pastries, with thin crust and slightly sweet fillings, around this time of year.
“I feel like people are modernizing mooncakes a lot more than they did before,” says Annie, whose plant-based recipes are unique twists on the familiar flavors. “When thinking of products, I try to think about what I would like to eat and also what my friends often eat. If they went into a coffee shop or a bakery in Chinatown, what would they want?”
Annie’s top choice was always the lotus paste filling with a salted egg yolk in the middle, and this year, she perfected her own vegan version. For Annie, this is a milestone in her journey of enjoying the best of both worlds of plant-based foods and the Chinese cuisine that she grew up eating.
Diversifying the World of Vegan Foods
“This business is a really great way for me to both provide my skill set to the world, and also a way to make a positive impact on the climate,” Annie says. She’s driven to diversifying the food scene, both in terms of flavors and foods, as well as industry leadership and system change agents.
Starting her business pushed Annie to transition from a decade of vegetarianism to full veganism. As she got involved with environmental efforts in college and worked in innovative food spaces, she considered veganism as how she wanted to live and eat sustainably. “Over time I started to realize that a lot of the reasons I became vegetarian directly translated to being vegan,” she says.
Her diet has sometimes put her in a place of feeling like she has to give up foods she grew up eating. Although she didn’t start baking until recently, she spent a lot of quality time with her mom in the kitchen growing up, and she has been cooking since she was young.
“It can be a little bit challenging, I think, to find the foods that I used to eat growing up,” says Annie. She started her business, in part, to help close that gap between familiar cultural foods and vegan foods. “I wanted to see these kinds of products in the world, for myself and for others, and for the environmental impact, too.”
Grounding in Community at the Farmers Market
After working in food tech startups and nonprofits, Annie had plenty of skills and knowledge about food, but transitioning to business ownership has been a learning experience. Reflecting on her first two years of business, she says, “A lot of it is just trying to figure out the most inventive ways to get things done.”
Starting her business challenged her to grapple with the pressure to grind and the guilt of taking time to rest. She says, “There’s a pressure, especially as a business owner, to be constantly working. In general in America, we all feel guilty when we’re not doing something.”
She says that the hardest part of her small business journey so far has been learning how to manage her time and energy, and she admits it’s an ongoing process. She finds support and comfort among other small business owners and supportive shoppers at the farmers market.
“The people I meet [at the farmers market] are always trying to support each other however they can. We’re all in the same boat, and we are all really understanding with one another,” she says. “And most of the customers that I’ve met are super excited about what everyone’s doing, and I think they also understand how hard it can be.”
As she prepares to fill out this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival orders, she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had so far to share her craft. “I think this is the most fulfilled I’ve ever felt,” she says. “It’s just really gratifying to be able to make something and then have it go out into the world and then people enjoy and people connect with it.”
Support Annie’s T Cakes at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, and pre-order a Mid-Autumn Mooncake Box for pick up at the farmers market and other locations in the Bay Area.