Sunday, September 7, 2014

Moon Cakes - Prepare to be nutellanized!



"In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at shooting. His wife was Chang'e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. But Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Feng Meng broke into Yi's house and demanded Chang'e to give the elixir to him. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang'e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi."

It's harvest time! And this year a lot of goodies came our way. From family and friends' gardens as well as from my own balcony here in Amsterdam! Hail pummeled yet delicious tomatoes, mirabelle (marmelade), garlic, cherries (jam), carrots and walnuts from the house in France where my neighbour resides in summer, to name but a few.

traditional Cantonese mooncakes
September 8th 2014 is Mid-Autumn Festival in China. Families come together, by tradition to bring in the harvest. In a sort of Thanksgiving kind of way. Prayers are going up for a long, fertile, healthy and prosperous life. The object of worship is the moon. Offerings are made to the lunar deity Chang'e mentioned in the story.

The traditional moon cake can be a tough cookie for the western palette. The salted duck egg yolk going into the center of the cake -a symbol for the full moon-  is an acquired taste. The tasty and chewy thin pastry skin is made out of a sugar syrup, flour and oil. The dough is tenderised with a minute amount of lye water.

prepare to be be nutellanized!

jelly mooncake
spiral mooncake
The -traditional- fillings of the moon cake (lotus seeds paste, jujube, sweet bean paste) can be rather sweet. Over time, more and more alternative techniques, shapes and fillings have emerged. Like so many other traditional recipes, the moon cake won't escape 'nutellanisation'... There are Jelly Moon Cakes and Snow Skin Moon Cakes now, and the once innovative fillings like Taro Paste and Pineapple are taken over by chocolate, coffee, mixed nuts, durian, pandan etc. The possibilities are endless!

I've tried to make a traditional moon cake that would please both western and asian palettes. I stuck with the lotus seed paste as the main filling and took out as much sugar as possible. Replacing the salted egg yolk took some creativity. In the end I decided to go with candied orange.

lotus seeds paste

lotus flower with seeds
You can of course use a store bought version of this typical asian flavour, but making your own, if you have access to fresh or frozen lotus seeds, is really easy, and of course makes all the difference in the end product. Most Asian shops carry either dried, pre cooked or raw and frozen lotus seeds. This recipe gives you more than enough purée to use in the moon cake recipe

400 gr. /  14.1 oz. lotus seeds
200 gr. / 7.0 oz. fine sugar
200 gr. / 7.0 oz. peanut oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)

big pot

lotus seeds

If using dried seeds, rinse and soak the seeds overnight. If using frozen or fresh seeds, just rinse them. Remove any green bits, if any, from the cores of the seeds.

Bring the seeds to a boil and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool a little. Grind the seeds to a
fine paste in a kitchen machine or food processor.

Pulse the sugar into the paste.

Transfer the paste to a frying pan. Cook the mass over a medium heat. When the sugar has completely dissolved add the oil in small quantities. Incorporate all the oil into the paste before adding more.

Continue cooking and stirring the paste until it thickens. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool completely.

Lotus and Candied Orange Moon Cakes

Depending on the size of your moon cake moulds, this recipe will make 4 or 5 big moon cakes or 8-10 smaller ones, or about 13-15 mini moon cakes.

100 gr. / 3.5 oz.  all purpose flour
60 gr. / 2.1 oz. golden syrup
½ teaspoon of lye water
30 gr. / 1.1 oz. peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)

470 gr. / 16.6 oz. lotus seed paste
35 gr. / 1.2 oz. candied orange peel
egg yellow food coloring (optional)
rice flour for coating

egg wash:
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon of water

In a big bowl, combine the golden syrup, lye water and oil. Knead into a supple dough. Leave to rest for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Divide the lotus seed paste into ⅓ and ⅔. Return the bigger portion to the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180° C / 355° F.

To make the moons; take the smaller portion of lotus paste and the candied orange and blitz them together in a kitchen machine or food processor. Add some egg yellow food colouring to make your moons shine brighter!

To make the moon paste easier to work with, chill it for an hour or so. Then divide and roll them into the number of balls matching the number of moon cakes you expect to make.

Roll the balls through the rice flour to prevent the yellow moons from bleeding into the rest of the paste during baking.

Roll the plain lotus seed paste into balls. Make a dent in the middle that fits the yellow ball. Carefully and evenly envelop it, making sure not to deform the sphere inside. Put a moon inside every ball of plain lotus seed paste.

Divide and roll the same number of balls out of the dough for the skin.  Cover a ball with a piece of cling film and flatten it into a thin circle.

Envelop all the balls with the filling in the thin dough circles and pinch them together on top to close them well.

Place the ball into a well oiled moon cake mould. Gently press down to transfer the imprint on top, making sure not to deform the moon inside too much.

Remove from the mould and put onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.

Prepare the egg wash. Whisk the water and yolk together.

Bake the moon cakes (without egg wash) until they color slightly around the edges and the imprint. Take them out of the oven and give them an egg wash. Place them back into the oven and bake until golden brown for just a few more minutes. Getting the right colour can be tricky. Keep a close eye on the cakes after the egg wash.

Place the cakes on a rack to cool completely.

Depending on the size of your moulds, baking takes from 10 to 20 minutes. 10 Minutes for the mini moon cakes, about 15 minutes for the medium sized ones, and up to 20 for big ones.

Store in an air tight container at room temperature for two days. The oil in the skin will make the moon cake glimmer with a nice shine! After a few days it is ready to eat.