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Moon Cakes

Gary Soup

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Mid-Autumn festival is still a month away but mooncakes are starting to rear their ugly heads in SF Chinatown. I know people who actually like them, but I suspect most people view them as China's version of the fruitcake. They're for giving, not for eating, and you sort of know that whomever you give them to will give them to someone else. (At least that's my view.)

Do you like mooncakes? If so, what style do you prefer, the Cantonese varieties that have everything but the kitchen sink in them, or the more spartan northern style? Meat-filled Jiangsu-style? Ice Cream mooncakes (I kid you not)? Any mooncake memories?

Edited by Gary Soup (log)
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The egg yolks are especially prized in mooncakes. My Chinese friends (Taiwanese, Shanghai-ese, Hokka-ese, Hong Kong-ese) prefer as little ingredients as possible. The four-yolked variety are a treasure, and each friend will admit to eating only the yolk and tossing the rest.

Me, I don't care much for the yolk, unless it's the tiny cake. I prefer the all-nut variety, which no one else seems to like. I'm partial to mung bean/pumpkin seeds.

Meat-filled cakes make my group of friends shudder. But that's just us.

A normal size mooncake will also yield 8 servings for us because they are so freakin' heavy. Check the calories and fat calories on those things. You'll be amazed.

I have never bought a mooncake. Since my parents usually get an over abundance from friends, and they detest mooncakes, I usually take them.

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I think it has a lot to do with how fresh they are. When I lived in the States, my grandmother would give them to us and we'd never eat them (or maybe just a bite to pretend we appreciated them). But now I live in Hong Kong and they're much better, even the inexpensive ones from Maxims (a bakery chain). In fact, I try to time my annual visits back to the States around mid-Autumn, so I can bring boxes of them back to my mother. She freezes them and eats them throughout the year until my next visit.

Every year, I'm given an unbelievable number of mooncakes. Boxes and boxes - sometimes four boxes at a time from one person or company. I give them away to my colleagues but there's one type that I keep - these delicious, tiny mooncakes from the Peninsula Hotel. They're like French pastry; in fact, I'm positive they use butter in the wrapping. The filling is delicate, with the yolk mixed into it rather than whole. It's not too sweet. It's quite rich - but not like in a lotus seed paste rich, more like a French pastry richness. Because they're small (eight to a box, instead of the usual four) I can eat a whole one. It goes beautifully with hot tea. Other bakeries/hotels try to imitate this type (I think they're called custard moon cakes, but it's not really custardy) but nobody makes them better than the Peninsula.

But the older generation doesn't like this type. I gave a box to my mother and she said she prefers the lotus seed type. I like the lotus seed type (with two egg yolks, which is the perfect balance for me) but can only eat a small sliver at a time.

Besides the types you named, there are a few more. One wrapped with mochi (glutinous rice flour paste) - actually, several types are wrapped in mochi. I think these are dreadful. Then there's the gimmicky Hello Kitty and Garfield mooncakes aimed at children.

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Does one eat mooncakes? Are you kidding?! My family falls all over them, and I have never met anyone who dislikes them, much less gives them away. I sure wish I had friends who would give theirs to me. I have never even heard of mooncakes being passed along like an unwanted fruitcake -- that's a new one for me.

My father favors the double-yolk lotus-seed-paste, and my mother and I favor the mixed-nut. We slice them in quarters and savor them with jasmine tea. Heaven!

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Ugh, mooncakes. I like them as simple as possible, just the paste, no yolk. But then, I'm that way with most foods. I can only swallow a sliver or two each year, though. Most of my relatives get too many boxes that they then try to give away to other people. The older generation definitely likes the kind with yolks best, but most of them have been told to watch their cholesterol, so they usually tell me not to get them the ones with yolks anymore. My mom, like me, can't stand more than a smidgen each year. Come to think of it, of all of my relatives, only two will admit to actually like them all that much.

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...I suspect most people view them as China's version of the fruitcake.

How very apt. With apologies to browniebaker, I am one of those who've long suspected the best use for mooncakes were as hockey pucks. They taste like sand (esp. if they're stale). Vaguely sweet, but dry, sand. I have never met one that I liked. Having said that, it's been ages since I've deigned to bite into one, and so, will go looking for one during the upcoming Autumn Moon festival.

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...I suspect most people view them as China's version of the fruitcake.

How very apt. With apologies to browniebaker, I am one of those who've long suspected the best use for mooncakes were as hockey pucks. They taste like sand (esp. if they're stale). Vaguely sweet, but dry, sand. I have never met one that I liked. Having said that, it's been ages since I've deigned to bite into one, and so, will go looking for one during the upcoming Autumn Moon festival.

i do like them.

wouldn't eat them often, but a quarter, maybe half of one once a year is just about right.

knew something who once ate 3 of them before he knew what they were like.

boy, he felt it later.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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I like mooncakes - but only the lotus seed paste with double yolk and red bean paste with melon seed ones. I find the nut ones too rich.

There are also the figurine mooncake biscuits (koong chai paeng) and mooncake pastry piglets in little cages (jue chai) for children - some of the piglets have filling while others are just plain pastry. I used to love the little piglets - we'd dig out their black bean eyes first and then slowly bite off the tail, ears and legs before munching on the body.

Besides the standard mooncakes - lotus seed paste (lin yoong), red bean paste (tau sar) and nut (ng gan), there are also snow skin non-baked mooncakes (ping pei), shanghai style thicker pastry ones, teo chew style flaky pastry mooncakes plus all sorts of new-fangled fillings such as yam, durian, chocolate, custard and coconut. There are even jelly (agar-agar) mooncakes.

Here's a link to a list of mooncake recipes if anyone would like to try making them. Making your own mooncakes seems to be all the rage in Malaysia - baking supply shops and hotels all offer mooncake making classes.

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We've made lotus and pandan paste ones. They tasted great but looked ugly. I love the red bean ones, my mum and partner love those teow chiu type with pork fat and a bunch of seeds and nuts. The nicest way to eat them is with a strong ti kuan yin and just a 1/4 at a time. I actually like just one egg yolk/mooncake, I can't handle more then that. Good mooncakes are delicious, bad ones are worse then a bad fruitcake!



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Yeah baby... good to munch.

As a rule of thumb the more yolks the better, although have to say when you get to four yolk cakes you do tend to get egg yolk overload

I was in Shanghai this time last year and had the meat mooncakes for the first time. Very nice - incredibly moreish, particularl when they are dirt cheap on the street stall! Like much Shanghai food both sweet and meat at the same time

One thing I find is my English friends dont like mooncakes. It seems to be one of those things like thousand year eggs the western palate doesnt really "get", especially the egg yolks



More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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After some thought, I've come to realize that my dislike of mooncakes probably stems from some sort of mental discontinuity between what my eyes perceive and what my tastebuds expect. When I espy a mooncake from afar, particularly one that has already been sliced open, I see a dark interior surrounded by a shiny brown pastry shell. 'Ah,' I think to myself. 'This looks just like a giant Fig Newton. I love Fig Newtons. This should taste really good.'

Seconds after biting into one, my tastebuds realize that they have been cruelly deceived. The chewy graininess of figs conmingled with sugary molasses is missing, along with the crumbly counterpoint of the cookie crust. Instead I taste something that is sandy in texture, vaguely sweetish, but *gag,* is salty as well. My throat cries out for a glass of water to wash this abomination down.

Since I am not as bright as I look, I find myself replaying this scene on a yearly basis, a victim of mooncake manufacturers who baldly perpetrate Fig Newton counterfeiture on clueless ABCs. I submit that it would be marketing coup for Chinese bakeries everywhere to offer mooncakes that actually taste like Fig Newtons. I would buy one.

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It's funny you should mention fig newtons. When I try to describe mooncakes to someone who hadn't had them, I say the lotus pastes ones are like a Chinese fig newton. Hmmm. Maybe not such a good descriptor afterall. A dear friend has also described them as a very gooey peanut butter cookie (she likes them).



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Mmmm, Titus, mooncakes that taste like fig newtons; now that's something I can get behind. However, the great thing about fig newtons is the fig to cookie ration, so I guess the mooncake version would still have too much filling to be really good.

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One thing I find is my English friends dont like mooncakes.  It seems to be one of those things like thousand year eggs the western palate doesnt really "get", especially the egg yolks.

What's to "get" about mooncakes? I'm a lao wai myself, and love thousand year old eggs, salted duck eggs, etc. but do not like mooncakes, even the Shanghai style mooncakes I usually get foisted on me, which never contain egg yolks. I guess I don't "get" fruit cake, either.

Of the Chinese people I know (including my own extended family) the ones who will admit to liking mooncakes are a definite minority, although many will usually nibble a sliver for tradition's sake.

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My mom used to get the "Seven stars accompanied by the Moon" box, which has a HUGE mooncake in the middle with 7 (count them) yolks in it. Surrounding it in a circle were seven smaller ones with 1 yolk each inside. My mom loved the yolk, it's great sharing with her cuz I don't like the yolk, and I'll just get the paste part. But I have to admit, the dosage for mooncakes is 1/8 to 1/4 part per year. :biggrin:

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I like the "Melon' or "Lotus Seed" Mooncakes. 1 or 2 per year, does the job. I'm surprised to see that the "Maxim's" in Hong Kong is selling them, when we opened the original "Maxim's" in the basement of "Lane Crawford House" in Hk's Central District it was a European Style Coffee shop Restaurant. the quickly expanded until sold to the "hong Kong Land Company". There were Bakeries in "Kowloon" that were famous for baking them, shipped all over the World.

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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I like the "Melon' or "Lotus Seed" Mooncakes. 1 or 2 per year, does the job. I'm surprised to see that the "Maxim's" in Hong Kong is selling them, when we opened the original "Maxim's" in the basement of "Lane Crawford House" in Hk's Central District it was a European Style Coffee shop Restaurant. the quickly expanded until sold to the "hong Kong Land Company". There were Bakeries in "Kowloon" that were famous for baking them, shipped all over the World.

The original inspiration for Maxim's was a Russian tea house of that name in the French Concession area of old Shanghai, renowned for its exquisite European pastries. I think almost every Chinatown in the world nowadays has a "Maxim's" selling Western pastries.

Maxim's in Hong Kong has grown into a huge conglomerate of bakeries, coffe shops and fast food and sit-down restaurants serving both Chinese and Western foods. I think they will sell any kind of foodstuff there is a market for.

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Do we like them? We're getting married in September, and we're giving them out as dessert to the guests (of which only half will be Asian, so it will be an interesting test to see which tables eat them and which don't). Of course, we're not using the egg yolk-bearing kind, to be fair to those who have never had them before.

I want pancakes! God, do you people understand every language except English? Yo quiero pancakes! Donnez moi pancakes! Click click bloody click pancakes!

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Having grown up in Singapore in the materialistic 80's I have fond memories of the wild frenzy of mooncake variants that various enterprising bakeries tried to make money with. Many of them were quite frankly awful. I particularly remember the durian variant that was just....terrible. And I looove durian.

Who remembers the crystal skin varieties? I don't know if they even sell them any more. THe idea was that the pastry wrapping was not baked, and remained white. They were also called 'snowskin'. There was even a type of crystal skin where the skin was flavoured with pandan (screwpine). I was never keen on the redbean or meat fillings, let alone the mung bean paste fillings. I guess it was mainly the texture, as the various bean or meat fillings were crumbly, reminding one of the texture of a stale moon cake. I hated the nut ones as a child, but would be willing to give them another try now that I am older.

I find myself a traditionalist when it comes to mooncakes. I only like the common, lotus-seed paste, burnished golden mooncakes. Whether they should contain yolks tends to depend on my mood of the time. The creamy saltiness of the yolks tend to point up the sweetness of the lotus seed paste while reducing the heaviness of the mooncake.

The appeal for me lies on the unctuous smooth richness of the filling, which is never overly sweet in the high-end moon cakes. A tiny wedge of sliver of the cake is perfect with a cup of strong, potent chinese tea - Ti Kuan Yin for preference - as a teatime snack. The most perfumed cakes were made with lard in the filling instead of vegetable oil, rendering the addition of melon seeds in the paste unnecessary. The deep brown pastry tended to add bittersweet notes to the gentle sweetness of the paste, and the aroma of the tea just brought it all together perfectly.

And then we'd wonder where the mooncake went, shrug, and unwrap another with a grin. :biggrin:

I guess that mooncakes easily turn people off if they are even slightly stale, as the filling or even the cake itself begins to weep oil and gain an almost plutonium-like denseness. Unlike fruitcakes, which are prized more the longer they have sat steeping in brandy (or if you are my aunt, cognac). Luckily I like both!


Dryden, I think it's great that you are using little mooncakes for wedding cake favours. Nice change of pace from the interminable not-very-good wedding fruitcake chunks. One of my aunt's colleagues gave out tiny (2-3 inch diameter) mooncakes for her wedding too. However, as she was marrying a Japanese fellow they opted for the red bean filling as a very apt statement on the blending of cultures. :hmmm:

" ..Is simplicity the best

Or simply the easiest

The narrowest path

Is always the holiest.. "

--Depeche Mode - Judas

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The Origin of the Moon Cake: Two Legends

Watching How Moon Cakes are Made at KeeHua Bakery

Bakers Prepare Cantonese-style Mooncakes

Mooncake FAQ/Interview with Baker

Starbuck's Coffee-flavoured Mooncake

The Wok Shop Mooncake Molds

Mooncake Recipes (scroll down)

Lotus Seed Paste Mooncake

By Yan Can Cook, Inc

GourmAsia Recipe

Mooncake Recipe


Written by Carol Stepanchuk and Charles Wang, this book provides teachers with an introduction to the many celebrations of the Chinese calendar year, including the Mid-Autumn, the Double Fifth (Dragon Boat), the Hungry Ghost and others. It tells of food, costumes, religious significance, song-and-dance performances, and symbolism. The book also provides an introduction to the traditional Chinese wedding. Illustrated with black and white and color photos. Grades 3-9. (176 pgs.)

Available From:

China Books & Periodicals

2929 Twenty-Fourth Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

Tel. 415-282-2994/Fax 415-282-0994

Price: $14.95 plus shipping

* A set of two handcarved mooncake molds, with recipe included, are also available through China Books & Periodicals at the cost of $5.95 a set.

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