Did you know that on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, the moon is at its roundest? On that day too Chinese from around the world celebrate Mid Autumn Festival. It appears that it’s the 2nd largest celebration after Chinese New Year, possibly because “back-in-the-days”, farmers celebrate the end of summer harvesting season. There also seem to be a love story linked to the celebration of the mooncake festival, but i’ll leave you to explore Wikipedia cos there’s like 5 versions of “that” love story.
For the 2nd year in a row I have been baking my own mooncakes to be given away to relatives. Last year I took up a lesson in mooncake making from a local baking supply shop–I needed to learn the trick of getting the mooncake skin really thin while the cake is filled with a generous amount of paste filling. I must say the lesson costing RM 80, was worth every single sen.
The secret to having a very pliable dough lied in the golden syrup that I used–to be specific Tate and Lyle’s. Westerners are familiar with this syrup at the breakfast table, drizzled over plump and fluffy pancakes or that crispy waffle. The consistency of the syrup allowed the well-rested dough to remain pliable while I stretch it thin, wrapping it around a ball of paste.
Mom was my mooncake moulding helper. I passed the mooncakes over to her and using her body weight and strong arms she pressed out these lovely cakes like a machine. I have 3 designs which I use to differentiate the type of filling per mooncake.
With 4 kilos of lotus and pandan paste filling we managed to output approx 70+ moonies in about 3 hours. Baking them was the easy part–they had to go into the oven for 30 minutes, stopping 2 times at 10 minutes and 20 minutes for the egg glaze. The result after 30 minutes doesn’t look very appetizing–the skin is slightly spotty, dry, not shiny and is very tough. Crispy too.
The secret is to leave them to release its oils, usually appearing after 3-4 days in a container. The skin starts to soften, the colour turns darker, the oil is started to secrete slowly giving it a very good shine and the mooncake design comes up even sharper.
After a week, this is how it looks like. Notice how the colours has evened out? Mooncakes are not difficult to make at all, it’s just time consuming. And, uses a lot of elbow grease, particularly if you’re using those traditional wooden moulds. All the knocking may even hurt your eardrums!
This year we attempted an all time favourite, the mixed nuts mooncake. Traditionally, it contains bits of ham but we stuck to the nuts combo. The filling was a challenge, toasting everything, chopping them, getting them to bind together, shaping into 55g balls–argh–next year probably think twice about this. Now I know why these are so pricey!
If you ever thought of making your own mooncakes, go for a class. It’s really the technique that you pay money to master, and then it’s a smooth ride after. Happy Mid Autumn Festival!