Mooncakes: a Mid-autumn Festival tradition
By Shilyn Chang, staff writer
There are few things more looked forward to in Chinese holidays than the delicious treats that pop up everywhere as the festivities draw near. In addition to being incredibly appetizing, these specialty dishes remind partakers of the rich history and tradition that surround them. Being part of a culture that is widely known to be in love with food and dining, the Chinese people have come up with tales about their beloved foods, which have been passed on for generations, as if these dishes were heroes of Chinese mythology. One of the most epic of these stories belongs to the mooncake — a widely recognized Chinese treat, yet surprisingly ...
difficult to find in the Twin Cities. The mooncake is a dense, flavorful pastry roughly the size of a hockey puck with a variety of fillings. They are closely identified with the Mid-Autumn Festival — see “What’s the occasion” The amount of mooncakes that are made, bought and consumed around this festival time is staggering. Bakers all over China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia begin working longer shifts a month out from the start of the festival, producing thousands of mooncakes every day.
Even with this level of preparation and production, bakeries still have difficulty keeping up with consumer demand. In order to meet consumer needs, many kitchens don’t even have the relief of having to make only one product again and again. Why? Because the mooncake comes in many styles and flavors, all of which are in high demand. One of the most popular versions of this cake — the one also most commonly seen in the United States — is a Cantonese-style pastry with a thin flaky crust and filled with lotus seed paste and a salted duck egg yolk. The appearance is beautiful: the pastry a glossy, golden color with a design embossed on the top of the cake, usually including the name of the bakery or restaurant it came from. Other popular fillings are sweetened red bean paste, jujube paste, and a “five kernel” filling which is made up of finely chopped nuts and seeds (sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.). However, with the changing preferences of the younger Chinese generation, and the desire to have healthier and more exotic flavors, new contemporary versions of the cake have appeared. The influence of Southeast Asia has introduced more tropical flavors such as pineapple and durian, and with the high caloric content of mooncakes (around 1,000 calories per cake, give or take), fat-free versions made of jelly or fat-free ice cream also have appeared.
The high demand for mooncakes, as well as the evolution of the different styles of cakes in Asia, have turned this traditional treat into a highly desired phenomenon. They are often purchased as highly desired gifts by businessmen, friends or family members to impress the intended recipients. Average prices in the U.S. range from $10 to $20 dollars for four cakes, and can run much higher. Mooncakes purchased at well-known establishments can run up to $200 per cake. Because making these cakes is fairly labor-intensive, few people will actually make them at home. Besides having to find the proper ingredients, there is also the additional difficulty (especially in the United States) of finding the moulds necessary to create their shape and the design on the cake tops. Fortunately, they can be found in some Asian grocery stores and online, so even people here can make mooncakes.
For those who are a little more ambitious, or for those who wish to try making these tasty morsels at least once, here is a simple recipe for a traditional mooncake filled with lotus paste (makes 12 cakes):
● ¾ cup flour
● 3 tablespoons golden syrup
● ½ teaspoon alkaline water
● 2 table spoons vegetable oil
● 420 grams (approx. 15 oz.) lotus puree/paste (from an Asian grocery store)
● 6 salted egg yolks (from an Asian grocery store)
● 1 tablespoon rose-flavored cooking wine
● 1 egg yolk
● 2 tablespoons egg white
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Combine the golden syrup, alkaline water and vegetable oil and mix well. Slowly fold in the flour and knead everything into a dough. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it set for about 40 minutes.
2. Mix the salted egg yolks with the wine. The egg yolks will become opaque. Wipe them off and cut each yolk in half. Set them aside.
3. Divide the lotus paste into 12 equal portions (35 grams each) and roll each portion into a ball. Set these aside.
4. Whisk the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons egg white together to create the egg wash. Run the mixture through a fine sieve.
5. After the dough is finished resting, divide it into 12 portions, and roll them into a small ball. Flatten out each ball into a disk. Take a lotus paste ball and with your finger, make a small indentation large enough to fit a piece of the salted egg yolk inside. Fold the paste around the yolk, and shape it back into a ball. Wrap the yolk-filled lotus paste ball with the dough and seal the dough around the ball. Repeat procedure to make 12 mooncakes..
6. Grease the mooncake mould so the dough won’t stick to it, and press a mooncake in the mould. Place all the moulded cakes on the lined tray.
7. Bake the cakes for about 5 minutes. Remove them and brush each cake with the egg wash, and return them to the oven to cook for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. They are done when the pastry turns a beautiful golden-brown color. Remove from the oven, cool and enjoy!
Read more about Mid-autumn Festival legends.