Tomorrow, on September 24, Asia will celebrate the annual Mid-Autumn Festival. The Festival is known for colourful lanterns and the custom of family and friends exchanging mooncakes and enjoying a wedge of the delicacy, served with tea, at gatherings celebrating the festival. Today, it is also customary for business people to present them to their clients as presents. But there are mooncakes and then there are mooncakes so, here’s eight things your tastebuds need to know about this festive fare…
- Mooncakes have been around for 3,000 years as the main staple of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival (aka Mooncake Festival). The celebrations take place on the “Night of the Moon” which is every 15thday of the 8thmonth of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, in mid-autumn.
- The festival is intricately linked to legends of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. According to the Liji, an ancient Chinese book recording customs and ceremonies, the Chinese Emperor should offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and the moon in autumn.
- The circular, full shape of the sweet treat is seen as a symbol of prosperity, unity and the reunion of families. The round pastries typically measure about 10 cm in diameter and are 3–4 cm thick. They traditionally have a filling of red bean or lotus seed paste surrounded by a thin (2–3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs but creative variations abound.
- 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 the filling inside. Imprints of the moon, Lady Chang’e on the moon, flowers, vines, or a rabbit (symbol of the moon) may surround the characters for additional decoration.
- In Malaysia, Mooncakes are quite similar to the traditional Chinese the most popular types, especially in Kuala Lumpur, being White Lotus Seed Paste Cake, Snow Skins and Black Sesame With Yolk. A more contemporary offering comes from Malaysia’s artisanal ice-cream shop ‘Inside Scoop’ which makes ice-cream mooncakes (wrapped in flour-dusted delicate snow skin) in flavours including: Unicorn with raspberry yolk; best-seller Durian with Chocolate Ganache Yolk; and Mint Chocolate Chip with Oreo Crunch. Haagen-Dazs also makes a chocolate-coated ice-cream mooncake. Malaysia’s Silk Mooncakes in Penang make a traditional mooncake with Nyonya sambal filling.
- In Singapore, Cat & the Fiddle make a cheesecake version of the delicacy infused with cream cheese and lotus paste and encased in a soft snow skin wrap. Flavours include Cookies and Cream, Strawberry, Blueberry and Chocolate. Bakerzin offers a Tom Yum flavoured mooncake. Mooncakes at Singapore’s Grand Hyatt Hotel feature a range of alcoholic beverages like gin, vodka, whiskey and umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur).
- In Hong Kong, the Peninsula Hotel’s pastry chef Yip Wingwah created a mooncake with a Western-style cookie crust which could hold a rich, creamy custard centre. Vegans are not left out: Hong Kong’s Green Common bakery sell quinoa-red bean paste and blueberry mixed nuts mooncakes.
- So, what are they like? JTC’s editor had the unique opportunity last week to observe a mooncake-making demonstration at the Dorsett Grand Subang hotel in Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and tried a mooncake filled with Durian, known locally as the King of Fruits. It was pleasant; the texture was thick and heavy; and the flavour was exotic, strong and lingering.
“中秋快乐” – Happy Mid-Autumn Festival everyone!