When we were kids, we’d always referred to this time of year either as the Lantern Festival (as in: “Cool, a shiny new toy for me to play with") or the Mooncake Festival (as in : “Cool, a yummy thing for me to eat”).
Mini-critic senior with last year's lantern
Only recently have I stopped to ponder the significance of the day when trying to explain it to the mini-critics. And the circle continues because they are only really interested in the mooncakes and the possibility of a lantern (if I can remember where I stashed them).
To be honest, I don’t really know much about the festival apart from the “eating mooncakes and parading around with lanterns” part. Thank goodness for Google and Wikipedia.
Mooncakes in tin
I also vaguely remember Mum explaining something about hidden secret messages, so I google that and find this interesting info.
But back to the mooncakes – what are they? Well, the Chinese versions are circular in shape, have an elaborately decorated outer pastry “skin” which is packed with different types of fillings. These fillings include sweetened red bean (azuki bean) paste, lotus seed paste, yam/taro paste, a “nutty” mix with ham(!) and even durian (Malaysian version). Usually there are salted egg yolks in the centre of the cake as well. (I never could get into the nut/ham version). The outer crust of mooncakes are usually made of wheat flour, but there is also a variation we called the Ping Pei mooncake which has an outer “skin” made from glutinous rice flour – like mochi cake.
Here are pics of some I purchased from Emperors Garden in Sydney's Chinatown.
Mooncake with white lotus paste filling and single yolk
Mooncake with red bean paste filling
Ping Pei/ Crystal mooncake in front (mini versions from a different bakery)
The pretty tin depicting a very Sydney scene-this pic is specifically for Mum :)
(You can check out this link to learn more about mooncakes)
This year, I decided to attempt one of my favourite versions - the Teochew style mooncake filled with yam (taro) paste.
I found a recipe here. In retrospect, I probably should have followed the given dough recipe because I think that my dough needed a little bit more shortening/butter to “puff” properly.
Instead, I’d used a previous recipe which worked well for pasties/curry puffs, but didn’t quite expand as much for this attempt (the previous post also has step by step “rolling” information). If you’d like to see how much these things can “open up”, check it out; here.
I also added some food colouring to the dough because if I remember correctly, the mooncakes we bought were tinted green and pink. Unfortunately the colour didn’t show up once it had cooked.
Also, I found out from The Waitakere Redneck’s Kitchen that the mooncake needs to be dunked in hot oil three times before the frying.
So, in true Test With Skewer fashion, I experimented to see what happened if:
1) 1 batch was dunked 3 times then fried (1 in quite hot oil, the other over gentler heat)
2) 1 batch was dunked 3 times and then baked.
3) 1 batch (of 2 mooncakes) was baked in the oven (1 covered in oil and one au naturel).
The results? The pics explain what went on during these attempts.
Batch one - dunked three times then fried. Didn't open up at all. I wonder if it's because I hate deep - frying and used oil that wasn't hot enough/ deep enough. (I like eating deep-fried stuff though:))
Batch two - dunked three times then baked. Started to open up a little bit (on the sides), but the oil content caused the tops to burn a bit)
Batch three - baked without any oil - distinct layers but no "opening". Maybe with more shortening in the pastry this may work better?
Batch three- rubbed with oil then baked. The oil caused it to brown very quickly as well.
I’d definitely try again with a higher butter content and either just straight baking or the dunk/bake method to see what happens.