Friday, 24 November 2017

 

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These days, mooncakes are no longer as traditional as they used to be; exciting flavors make their debut. 

By Sharmila Rajah

Weeks before the mid-autumn festival, Chinese in Hong Kong, Malaysia, China and Singapore rush about, flocking to bakeries and stores to stock up on mooncakes – the traditional, seasonal pastry that makes an appearance during the festival. A symbol of longevity, good health, friendship and respect, the mooncake is a delicacy that has been treasured by the Chinese community for centuries. The mid-autumn festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth Lunar month, typically falls between the months of September and October each year. This year, the festival was celebrated on October 4, with families gathering at dinner with the full moon in view; children parading with lanterns; and adults, exchanging customary mooncakes. Round like the moon, the mooncake also symbolizes eternal unity and harmony of the family.

The mooncake is likened to the fruit cake at Christmas – popular and treasured, yet not necessarily savored or enjoyed as it used to be, by past generations. A circular pastry that’s elaborately decorated, the mooncake is overwhelmingly dense with filling of sweetened fruit, seed or bean paste. It is about 3 to 3½ inches in diameter and approximately 1½ inches in thickness with a crunchy, flaky golden-brown crust; its face – etched with intricate designs of pagodas, floral carvings and Chinese characters or animals such as frogs and rabbits. It is this outer crust that gives this ancient pastry its signature look.

The most traditional of mooncakes are sweetened by lotus paste and black or red bean paste; its core gleaming with the creamy yolk of a salted duck’s egg. The egg yolk represents the ethereal moon. The contrast between the saltiness of the egg yolk and the sweetness of the bean or lotus paste is, undoubtedly, an acquired taste. The yolk adds textural and flavor depth to the pastry. Sometimes, mooncakes tend to come with two, three or more egg yolks. Look closely at your mooncake; the small, red dot markings on the pastry indicate the number of yolks contained within the mooncake. You’d be able to find other mooncake fillings to be just as popular, like the winter melon paste, coconut paste with dried fruits, and a mixture of melon seeds, sesame seeds, almonds and olive kernel. Mooncakes are meant to be consumed slowly, sliced into four or eight smaller parts and shared with family and friends.

Like any other pastry, the mooncake’s golden dough is kneaded before being rolled out into a log. Looking at craft production, the chef plucks small pieces off, flattening them between his hands before stuffing each dough ball with a sweet or savory filling. Each ball is, then, individually pressed in a traditional wooden mooncake mold. These days, you could use modern plastic molds in the kitchen for convenience. 

Here’s a look at some novelty flavored mooncakes that were hugely popular at the recent mid-autumn festival celebrated in Hong Kong and Malaysia:

Malaysia

Our pick: Quirky flavors such as green tea key lime, roselle blueberry and peanut butter brownie mooncakes by Starbucks.

Our pick: Snow skin mooncakes with handcrafted ice-cream flavored fillings like crunchy chocolate, and raspberry cheesecake with a tangy raspberry yolk contained within, by Inside Scoop, a local artisanal gelato maker. Their ice creams are custom-made from scratch, without the use of preservatives and artificial coloring.

Our pick: The lotus jade tea mooncake collection by TWG Tea Salons & Boutiques that comprises: Daydream - a mooncake with a red baked exterior, white lotus body and a unique almond and blueberry purée heart, infused with Red Balloon tea; Cerise – a golden crust mooncake that encases a luxurious white chocolate and crunchy coconut with Amarena cherry interior, surrounded by a brown lotus paste infused with Pu-Erh tea; and Sunset – a golden baked crust concealing an aromatic Matcha almond paste center, cradled by a red bean paste and scattered with melon seeds.

Our pick: The Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur’s mango and melon seed snow skin, Manjari dark chocolate with raspberry jelly; caramelized white chocolate; and Gianduja hazelnut chocolate infused with oolong tea mooncakes. Its chocolate and durian (a pungent tropical fruit) mooncakes are highly sought after.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong-made mooncakes are hugely popular in the China market, revered for their quality and safety standards.

Our pick: The famed egg custard mooncakes by Peninsula Hotel is a 30-year old creation but continues to be one of the city’s priciest and most sought after. Inspired by the classic egg tart, the hotel’s mooncakes are smaller and lighter than traditional mooncakes. This year, the hotel’s kitchen churned out lychee, jasmine and earl grey flavored mooncakes.

Our pick: Six handmade mooncakes with unique ingredients such as durian fruit and ginger by Blesscuit Bakery, a local bakery with stores in Hong Kong and Macau.

Our pick: A sweet potato and egg custard mooncake, rich in potassium and fiber for the health conscious, by bakery chain Maria’s Bakery.

Our pick: Low-sugar, healthier varieties from Ms B’s Cakery, featuring silky, smooth white lotus seed paste mooncakes, made with natural sweeteners. Ms B’s Cakery was founded in 2011 by a famous Hong Kong socialite, setting the benchmark for exquisite cakes and pastries in the city.

You can read more in our print magazine Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit (Autumn 2017)!

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