Mid-Autumn Festival is on August 15th on the Lunar calendar, it is supposedly the night with the biggest roundest moon of the year. Mooncake is the star in around the time of the festival. Like most festivals in autumn, it probably started off as a harvest festival, and then now it is more or less one of them “get together” festival. Though, it has a bit more of the get-togetherness than other festival because the roundness of the moon signifies reunion, so. Lots of sad poetry were written about people feeling homesick around this time of the year.
Growing up I look forward to Mid-Autumn festival for two things: mooncake, and lanterns. Ya I know, lanterns again? YES. Not ones that just are built pretty and hanging up somewhere, lanterns for YOU to play with. Lanterns with a candle inside, or a glow-stick, even though I prefer to wave the glowsticks around and keep candles in my lantern.
Anyway. Back to mooncakes.
So mooncakes are basically a filling wrapped with a thin pastry, pressed into a mold of intricate shapes. Sometimes they say the name of the bakery on it, or a nice little saying like “flower is beautiful and the moon is round”, which, in Chinese poetic ways means a wonderful time. There are many different kinds of fillings. Your basic ones is lotus seed paste, red bean paste, date paste or a variety of smooth, sweet paste. Sometimes there is also nuts in the paste, or an entirely nutty filling.
The essential piece of the filling is a salted duck egg yolk, that is the “moon” in moon cake. I know what you are thinking, duck egg? Salted? Is it like them thousand years old egg or something?
Nah. They are nowhere near as exotic. They are just duck eggs, soaked in a salty water brine for a period of time. It salts the egg white and solidifies the yolk. You can steam the whole egg and eat it with something very bland like white rice congee. Or use that as your salt in stir fry veggies. The white is very very salty, so it is recommended you cut the salt down by adding a fresh egg. In this particular project, we are only using the yolk.
To keep it traditionally my favourite, we are going to do a lotus seed paste mooncake. I watched a video, it seemed very doable. Lots of steps, but very doable in theory. I found these molds on Amazon and I was all set. I even have some lotus seeds on hand because my mom gave them to me thinking I will be doing something cool with it maybe. Oh man. I learnt this last time when I made the Glutinous Rice Ball that Chinese sweets are incredibly involving and super fiddly. I am not sure if it is because some ingredients are less readily available or because the techniques are different, or because I just pure suck at it.
Chinese love lotus. There is this piece of writing we have to study in school that talked endlessly about lotus plant and how amazing it is. To be fair, we do use a lot of the plant. The roots are good to eat, we use it like any root veggies. They are good in broths, slice and deep fry them, stir fry, candied them into sweets. Apparently quite healthy. The leaves are used for wrapping things up for steaming to add flavour. The flowers are pretty. And the seeds are good. I wouldn’t link you to photos of what the seedpod looks like, it looks like a shower head but sometimes also evoke trypophobia in people. Oops.
Anyway, let’s go through the process.
Recipe from Amanda Tastes. Youtube video here in Mandarin but with English subs, check out how effortlessly she made them.
For the Lotus Seed paste, makes about 500g:
150g dry lotus seeds
80g Flavourless Oil
1/2 Tsp Salt
1. Soak lotus seed in water for 6-8 hours, or overnight. Like you would dry beans.
2. Open up each of the seeds in half. Sometimes there is a bit of green shoot in the middle trying to grow. Rip them out. They are not going to grow anymore. Mwahaha.
3. Drain the seeds. Put them into a pot, add some fresh water to just cover the seeds and cook for about 2 hours or until very soft.
4. Purée water and seeds. Add a bit more water if it is too dry. But don’t add too much. I made the mistake of adding more water than I need and you will spend a lot more time drying it out in the next steps.
5. Take the purée and put it into a non-stick pan. It will help for it to be non-stick. On medium heat, start to stir your paste around. The goal is to evaporate all the water and dry the mixture out to form a paste. Add 1/3 of the oil and stir into the mixture. Then the next 1/3, and the rest. Make sure the oil is evenly absorbed into the mixture before you add the next.
6. Next, add the sugar and salt. Do not stop stirring. It is a long process. Took me about an hour with the extra water.
7. As the mixture dries out it will get more difficult to mix. It will be of a dough like consistency. And that is how you want it. Set it on a plate and let cool.
For the pastry (supposed to make 24 x 50g mooncake)
180g AP Flour
55g Flavourless Oil
1/8 Tsp Dietary Alkaline *
1/2 Tsp Water
*I have no idea where you can get some. I looked online for information and some people say it is the same as baking soda. But baking soda is NaHCO3, baking powder is NaHCO3 whereas this is Na2CO3. So they are all very similar but none of them is exactly right. Recipe says it is for colour, and you can skip it. So I used baking soda. The amount is so minimal I don’t think it’d make a difference.
1. Mix dietary alkaline and water in a bowl and stir till melted.
2. Pour in honey and oil and whisk until combined. Note here, the flavour of your honey is going to be very noticeable in the final product. I’d recommend using something fairly neutral. I only had orange blossom honey at the time of making it, and the mooncake carried a very strong flavour of orange blossom honey. It is very nice, but I’d say it took the spotlight for me. Other recipes also use inverted sugar syrup instead of honey. I have no idea what it is so I’d stick with honey. XD
3. Sift in the flour and fold into the mixture to form a dough. Use your hands if you have to.
4. Wrap the dough up in clingfilm and let it rest for 1-2 hours in room temperature.
To prep Duck eggs:
1. Buy fresh salted duck eggs instead of cooked ones.
2. Seperate the yolk and white. You can save the white for cooking, but make sure you mix in some fresh eggs. I tried to stir fry broccoli with the white, it was so salty even after two fresh water wash I couldn’t eat it. D:
3. Put the yolk into a bowl of water to rinse off any white that clings onto the yolk.
To assemble the mooncake:
1. You will need a scale. There is no or but about it. Most of the molds will specify how much it’ll hold. Mine is a 50g mold, which is I think the most popular. Since you can’t change how heavy the yolk is, you will have to base everything around the yolk. So if your yolk weights 15g, then everything else should be 35g for the mooncake to be the right amount to go into the mold. The pastry should be about 15-18g ish according to most recipes I have looked at, so that leaves you about 18-20g ish of lotus seed paste. This is really important not to go over because otherwise IT WILL NOT FIT INTO THE MOLD. Also, might burst when you press on the mold. So this is quite important.
2. So weight your yolks with the lotus seed for the filling. This recipe calls for 35g filling altogether. Roll your lotus seed paste into a ball, press it down in the palm of your hand and put the yolk inside it. Try to cover the yolk entirely with the paste. It is going to be messy, it is going to be tricky. Keep at it!
3. The next step is the same thing, weight your fillings and then add the appropriate weight of pastry. Roll the pastry into a ball, and then press the ball in your palm, put the paste ball into it, and attempt to wrap. You should refer to the video on this because it is very difficult to explain the motion. This I find to be the trickiest bit of the entire process. I found filling bursting out from various spots. I have also seen techniques you can put pastry in between two pieces of clingfilm and roll it out bigger, then put the filling in. You can try either ways, it takes a lot of patience.
4. Preheat your oven to 180°c/356°f. Prepare flat baking sheets for your mooncake to sit on.
5. Roll the mooncake ball in a bit of flour. Put it into your mold and press it directly on your baking sheets. Be really gentle! Bursting makes me sad.
6. Pop into the oven for 5 minutes. Prepare an eggwash. Lightly and gently brush the eggwash on. Take care not to fill the crevices if you chose a mold with many crevices. Otherwise it will just bake onto the top and all your nice patterns are gone.
7. Bake for another 15 minutes and they should be good to come out.
8. Let cool, and then put into a box. They need to sit for 1-2 days before they are ready to eat. This is a weird weird thing, apparently, right after baking the mooncakes are bone dry. But the oil/fat comes back out from the yolk into the pastry in 1-2 days and it’d be nice and soft again. Chinese magic!!!
They were very tasty. But they were certainly a pain to make. I think if I didn’t have to make the fillings from scratch it might be easier. I dunno. I did feel superbly accomplished.