Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Every year, it is a tradition that my mom and I make mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節). We make them around 1-2 weeks before the actual day because the mooncakes are not ready to eat right away - they need time to "settle".  We make around 50-60 mooncakes every year to give to friends, relatives, and also for ourselves to enjoy. We also take orders too. One year, we made over 100 mooncakes because a lot of our friends ordered from us. Yes, they are THAT good! Once people try our mooncakes, they always come back and tell us that the quality of our mooncakes is far better than the commercial ones. My Mom and I make the traditional kind of mooncakes, lotus seed paste (considered to be the most luxurious kind of filling) with two/three/four yokes. No contemporary, "healthy version" mooncakes for us. I mean, come on, it is only once a year that you get to eat mooncakes, might as well indulge on the traditional ones! Props to Ray for the lovely picture on the left =)

What makes our mooncakes so much better than the ones that you find at commercial outlets is that we use 100% lotus paste, as pure as it gets with no additives whatsoever. The mooncakes they sell in restaurants / bakeries / supermarkets contain "watered-down" versions of lotus paste, which is necessary for them to cut costs (they often use white kidney bean paste as filler). This is because lotus seed paste is EXPENSIVE! But since our mooncakes are homemade, we do NOT cut corners. Therefore, our mooncakes are very moist, rich and dense, unlike the dry and hard mooncakes you find elsewhere. We also throw away egg yolks that are not in perfect condition -they need to be big, round, with a nice golden orange color. My mom gets these salted duck eggs and lotus seed paste straight from a supplier that supplies to numerous Chinese restaurants in the GTA.

Lotus seed paste.

Salted duck egg yolks that were first rinsed with Chinese wine then placed in the oven.

Some of the other ingredients include: syrup and flour (to make the thin crust), water and beaten egg yolk (for spraying / brushing on top of mooncakes).

Before I go on, I guess for those who do not know, Mooncakes are Chinese bakery products traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival . The festival is for lunar worship and moon watching; moon cakes are regarded as an indispensable delicacy on this occasion. The salted egg yolks in its centre to symbolise the full moon. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival.

Here is my Mom prepping the lotus paste 

Our kitchen table several Saturdays ago. Making mooncakes is a whole day ordeal, or sometimes longer depending on how many we make. It is extremely labor intensive.

Lotus seed paste balls with egg yolks inside. We usually place two yolks in each mooncake, unless we have special request for more yolks (maximum 4 per mooncake) or none at all.

Each mooncake is then wrapped with a super thin tender layer that becomes the crust. This step is the hardest and is the most time consuming because we have to ensure the thin layer covers all areas without breaking. It is spread out really thin.

Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for "longevity" or "harmony" as well as the name of the bakery and/or the filling in the mooncake. 

For ours, we have our family name imprinted. The Chinese character, 余, that you see in the wooden mold is my family name, "YU". My Mom got this mold custom made in Hong Kong.

Each mooncake is then placed in to the mold.


The next few steps involve spraying the mooncakes with water, putting them into the oven, taking them out, brushing them with beaten egg yolk, and then putting them back into the oven.

As I mentioned above, after they are finished baking, they are not ready to eat. They have to be turned upside down for about a week so that the oil from the lotus seed paste can be absorbed by the crust all around. This process also evens out the the coloration of the mooncake - the reddish-brown tone and glossy sheen. 

Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges (we usually cut them into 6 slices) accompanied by Chinese tea. 

I think I give myself too much credit when I say "my Mom and I" and "our mooncakes". In reality, I'm mostly the "helper" and my Mom is the "do-er". My Mom learned how to make these mooncakes years ago, and it's definitely a skill that is becoming rarer and rarer as time goes by. Hopefully, I will be able to carry on this family tradition!

By the way, I'm already taking mooncake orders for next year =D