Sunday, September 16, 2007
When I was much younger, the main reason why I looked forward to the annual Mid-Autumn Festival wasn't so much the mooncakes that I would get to eat. I don't know about you, but back then, before electrical battery operated toy lanterns were the norm, my siblings and I would have a helluva time carrying paper lanterns with lighted candles. Perhaps it was my childhood fascination with fire. I remember fondly how I used to love playing with fire at home - i would play with wax and make shapes out of them, adding glitter and what not. All this was done secretly of course, with hope that my parents wouldn't catch me! It seems weird now, to think that I got a kick out of burning things, including tissue paper, and well, paper.
But at least, when it came to the Mid-Autumn festival, burning things became a tad more 'legit', at least in my terms. We would gather at the large playground just downstairs my block and burn heaps of dried leaves, adding in paper to keep the fire strong. There would be plenty of children lining up candles and lighting up the entire place. The atomsphere was lively. I miss those days. I'm not sure if children still do this nowadays. I'm getting nostalgic now am I?
It was fun, and we would chow down mooncakes after we've had our fun with the mini-bonfires that was to leave black unsightly patches on the concrete ground by the next day.
Locals will be very familiar with what I'm talking about and most of you should already know the story behind mooncakes and the reason we have this festival. Technically, there are two stories - one's a legend involving Chang 'Er. It's simply a story about a heavenly archer named Hou Yi who's famous for shooting down the ten suns that scorched the earth. One day, somebody gave him this magical pill of immortality and half is enough to make one immortal. His wife, Chang Er, however, ate it she supposedly flew to the moon after that. There are many versions of this story. Wikipedia has a few versions if you're interested.
Then there's the other story in which mooncakes were actually a mode of communication during a great war. Messages were passed secretly to each other via mooncakes.
Whether is it because of Chang Er or that war, it doesn't matter because I'm just thankful that mooncakes exist - I think they're amazing treats. The traditional mooncakes have a lotus paste filling and some have salted egg yolks. These days, however, there are much more innovative versions of mooncakes. There's ginseng and wolf berry mooncake, ice cream mooncake, durian mooncakes, oreo mooncakes and even liquer mooncakes. You name it, they have it. I've tried a whole variety of mooncakes but I still hanker for the traditional ones every year. There's just something about the sweet and salty combination of the lotus paste and the salted egg yolk. But of course, mooncakes are high in sugar and fat content, so I try to eat them in moderation. It's best to drink lots of Chinese tea to avoid getting a sorethroat.
I've never made mooncakes in my life. There was no one to teach me anyway. But yesterday, my fifth aunt invited me to her place to learn how to make some. We made snowskin mooncakes (one of my favourites by the way!) Snowskin mooncakes are usually eaten chilled and I love the soft and chewy texture of the skin. It's also much easier to make than the baked ones.
We made two types - red bean and green tea ones. My aunt bought the paste from Phoon Huat. The green tea lotus paste was green and she added some pumpkin seed for added texture:
Don't they look really green? I would make my own natural paste if I knew how!
Here's the red bean filling, which looks rather dark by the way! Oh, if you're wondering why they are all in round balls, well you have to shape them that way before you wrap them with the snowskin dough.
Once you've made your snowskin dough, flatten it out and place the filling in the centre and wrap it nicely round it, till you've concealed the filling.
You might want to measure the quantity needed for each mooncake before you proceed. Depending on what mould you use, you are advised to weigh how much dough and filling you need for one mooncake. To do that, simply fill the mould with some dough and then weigh it. Remember, you want your filling to be about 2/3 of the entire weight, and 1/3 for your skin. So you do the math and proceed from there.
After you've done that, you can begin shaping your mooncakes:
As you can see, it's really easy. Once you've wrapped the dough round the filling and get a nicely shaped round ball, coat it with more glutinous rice flour (kou fen). Once it's nicely coated, fit it into the mould and use your palm to press it into shape. After it's shaped, remove it from the mould by hitting it at an angle (about 45 degrees) both left and right and then turn it over and hit it again, making sure your hand is below to catch it!
Here's the end product:
Looks lovely eh? I love the shape!
This is how the red bean one looks like after it's sliced:
You see the ratio of skin to filling? Your skin cannot be too thick or else it won't really taste nice.
And there you have it, a fool-proof guide to making snowskin mooncakes!
It's really simple and I too was surprised. Now, the most important thing is to have a really good snowskin dough. We did two types yesterday but the first one wasn't as nice as the second one so I won't be putting that recipe up. The second batch was made using this recipe from a The Straits Times article featuring mooncakes. The article was dated September 2006 and it featured a couple who made snowskin mooncakes annually using their own recipe. My aunt and I tried this recipe and loved it. It takes a little more work though. You have to steam some of the flour. This is necessary because we don't cook the dough so the flour has to be 'cooked' somehow first, before we add the shortening and water. Also, you can get the fried glutinous rice flour from Phoon Huat. It's labelled 'Kou Fen'.
The dough that this recipe gives is rather elastic and ends up with a soft chewy mouthfeel, which I prefer. This is how snowskin should be. This recipe is a clear keeper I say. I'm thinking of playing around with colours and different fillings. Hehe, this is exciting.
The Mid-Autumn festival is nearing (starts on Sept 23 I think) so if you want to give some or simply have some fun, go make some! It's really yummy :)
115 Hong Kong Flour (steam for 15 mintues, leave to cool)
115 fried glutinous rice flour
210g icing sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
5 tablespoons cold water*
1 teaspoon banana essence
2 tablesspoons Hong Kong Flour (mix with 2 tablespoons hot water to form hot dough)
1.5 kg lotus paste
100g melon seeds (baked)
salted egg yolks (steamed)
Sieve fried glutinous flour and Hong Kong flour, add in icing sugar. Make a well in the centre, add shortening, banana essence, water and hot dought, and knead until smooth. Roll the dough and wrap lotus paste & egg yolk, press into moon cake mould.
Knock mooncake out from mould and serve.
*Note: Though the recipe states 5 tablespoons water, we needed to add alot more to get the right consistency so play by ear and make sure it's not too wet or dry. Also, feel free to use any filling you want. We went ahead with red bean and green tea lotus paste and it still tasted great. Be innovative!