Mid-Autumn festival is tomorrow. I actually don’t know much about the Chinese lunar calendar but I know it is ridiculously accurate in weather prediction. Almost always after the mid-autumn festival, the weather will start to cool. The festival is a celebration of harvest, full moon and getting together with your family and EAT of course. As a kid growing up in Hong Kong, me and my brother used to play with lanterns at night on the streets, it would be so much fun. There are the battery or the traditional lanterns lit with candles. Mooncakes, is a must-eat during that day. In Hong Kong, where most of the Chinese population are of Cantonese descent, I grew up eating traditional Cantonese mooncakes. The essence of the Cantonese mooncakes is its thin “crust” and sweet lotus seed filling with a salty and rich preserved duck egg yolk, representing the full moon. Other fillings are also used in other types, like a combination of five kinds of nuts with dried fruits, red bean paste etc. The lotus seed filling is the most classic. Like many traditional sweets, it is packed with sugar, fats and cholesterol, but who can resist eating one in the midst of the festival? I know I can’t. l learned how to make them about 5 years ago? I don’t really remember, but ever since learning it, I have never bought mooncakes. Mooncakes tend to be overpriced when everyone tries to buy them as gifts for family and friends. I passed by a local Chinese bakery a couple of days ago, they are selling them for more than CDN $10 each! It is, at the end, a piece of pastry. Making mooncakes has became a ritual for me this time every year. Most people prefer to buy mooncakes but for me, making them feels so festive.
These are traditional moulds I have at home, they are carved from wood – I like them more than the plastic ones because they have very nice details, just something a plastic mould can’t produce.
It is difficult to explain the ingredients and method in words so I am not posting the recipe here. A good filling needs to withstand heat from the oven so it will turn out nicely. It also needs to be smooth and has a rich lotus seed flavour. I was able to get a filling that is specifically made for mookcakes, I can’t find it here anywhere in the Asian supermarkets here. The process also requires some technique that is best learned in a demonstration class (I took a class in Hong Kong).
I also have plastic moulds, they just look flimsy, like toys – the smaller one is actually broken and glued back together by my dad. There is an advantage of plastic moulds – no knocking on the counter like using wooden moulds in order to get the mooncakes out. I can’t imagine the noise level when these were made back in the days before the invasion of plastics and machines. The picture above is a freshly baked mooncake, it takes a couple of days for the oil to get absorbed by the crust so it would look less opaque – like what you would find in the supermarkets or bakeries. I just love the combination of the sweet rich filling with the salty yolks – sooo good! Also, you can never taste fresh mooncakes if you don’t make them, because store-bought ones are always made ahead in preparation for the festival. Fresh mooncakes are sooo delicious with a crunchy crust with a warm filling – simply unbeatable!