Next to Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the most important and most popular traditional Chinese holiday celebrated by most Asians throughout the world. Held during the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, a date when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest (a symbol of wholeness and togetherness), families and friends gather together under the moonlight to appreciate the moon, light lanterns and enjoy a feast. Part of the Mid-Autumn festival experience is the sharing and eating of mooncakes, a rich and heavy Chinese pastry, usually made up of sweet, dense filling covered with a thin, soft crust. Mooncakes are regarded as a “delicacy”, the traditional food of Mid-Autumn (thus Mid-Autumn Festival is sometimes referred to as Mooncake Festival) and is customarily given to friends and family as gifts.
This year, Mid-Autumn Festival falls on October 3 so I submitted a proposal for Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 for a pre Mid-Autumn celebration: a mooncake and tea party. In some parts of Asia, Mid Autumn celebration already started in August, with mooncakes being offered at hotels and high-end bakeries. Since there is no Chinatown in San Diego (Los Angeles and San Francisco both have Chinatown districts) and the only decent place I can get mooncakes is the oriental store, I decided to serve homemade mooncakes instead.
Mooncakes and Tea Party Menu
(recipes will be posted in the next few days)
Lotus Paste and Salted Egg Yolks, Red Bean Paste, Mixed Nuts
Mocha Mooncake with Espresso Lotus Paste
Thousand Layers Mooncake
Snowskin Mooncake with Red Bean Paste Filling
(green tea snowskin, peach snowskin and rose-scented snowskin)
Assorted Tea (green tea, lotus tea, jasmine)
Mooncakes consist of two basic parts: the filing and the skin. Although there are many varieties of mooncakes available nowadays, traditional ones still contain either one (or a combination of ) the following popular fillings: lotus seed paste, red bean paste and mixed nuts. As for the skin or crust, they vary depending on the region they are produced. The Cantonese style mooncake is the most common with a soft, thin crust (sometimes considered ‘chewy’). The Teochew-style mooncake has a flaky crust similar to a puff pastry. And then there is the “no-bake” mooncake called ‘snowskin’ which is made with fried glutinous rice flour. (For more info, check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mooncake). My favorite mooncakes are the ones that have salted egg yolks in the center. They can have up to four pieces, symbolizing the phases of the moon.
Making homemade mooncakes is a labor intensive process. A special mooncake mould, usually made of wood (there are some mooncake moulds made of plastic or silicone) often engraved with Chinese characters is also needed.
Lotus Paste Filling
- 2 packages of dried lotus seeds (each package 170 g)
- 2 cups water (or more if needed)
- 150 g sugar
- 100 – 150 ml peanut oil
- 2 tbs honey or maltose syrup
- 1 tsp lye water
- 1 tbs condensed milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Place water and lotus seeds in a pan and boil on medium heat until all water is absorbed and seeds are soft.
- Place cooked seeds in food processor or blender and process until very fine. Set aside.
- Heat the wok and melt 4 tbs sugar with a little bit of oil until it turns into caramel color. Add pureed lotus seeds, the rest of the sugar, oil and salt. Stir well. Add in honey/maltose, lye water, condensed milk and mix well. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until dry and paste comes off the sides of the pan. Cool.
Mooncake Skin or Pastry
- 350 gm. Hong Kong flour, bleached all purpose flour or cake flour
- 90 gm. peanut oil
- 200 gm. Moon cake syrup or golden syrup
- 1 1/4 tsp lye water
- Mix the above ingredients together and rest for at least 1 hour before moulding it with lotus paste.
To assemble Mooncake:
- 6 pcs salted egg yolks
- lotus paste filling, divided into 100 gm balls
- mooncake skin dough, divided into 50 gm balls
- egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbs water)
- Take lotus paste ball and wrap over salted egg yolk.
- Wrap moon cake skin or pastry over the lotus paste filling and press into mooncake mould.
- Knock out from the mould and bake the mooncakes for 10 minutes at 350F. Remove from oven and cool slightly (about 5 minutes). Brush with egg glaze , then return to over and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Cool at room temperature.
Notes: The mooncakes are best when left at room temperature for 2 days. This will give the skin time to “mature”. Do not refrigerate or it will get hard. However, they do freeze very well. Thaw at room temperature before serving.