Since my husband left home to study abroad he always missed Chinese New Year, Ghost month, Mid-Autumn Festival or any other event important to his culture. As a lovely wife and a ‘custard bun’ I made myself a promise I will keep his traditions and culture alive in our family. And as over-ambitious person I’m ready for upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) more than 3 weeks before it.
Today I won’t write about origins, meaning or traditions connected to the festival, but give you a mini-guide to pick a perfect mooncake and show you which brand we picked in the end.
Types of mooncakes
- Beijing-style mooncake: either foamy dough or flaky, white dough with two most popular fillings are the mountain hawthorn and wisteria blossom flavors
- Cantonese-style mooncake: have many variations, with lotus seed paste, melon seed paste, nuts, ham, chicken, duck, roast pork, mushrooms, egg yolks and many more. Some complicated versions contain four egg yolks, representing the four phases of the moon.Some of new, non-traditional mooncakes sold in Hong Kong are even made from chocolate, ice-cream or jelly – personally I wouldn’t try, just like I don’t change traditional dishes we eat in my country on Christmas.
- Chaoshan-style mooncake: flaky crust variety, but larger than the Suzhou-style mooncake, close in diameter to the Cantonese style, but thinner.Uses many different fillings, but the aroma of lard after roasting is emphasised.
- Ningbo-style mooncake: another inspired by the Suzhou’s style, prevalent in Zhejiang province, and has a compact covering. The fillings are either seaweed or ham; it is also known for its spicy and salty flavor – good taste but horrible texture, falling down like french pastry.
- Suzhou-style mooncake: has really long (over 1000 years) tradition and is known for it’s layers of flaky dough and generous allotment of sugar and lard. There are more than a dozen variations, but it’s also smaller than most regional varieties. They feature both sweet and savory types, the latter served hot and usually filled with pork mince. Filling made from roasted black sesame (椒鹽) are common in flaky Suzhou-style mooncakes.
- Yunnan-style mooncake: distinctive feature is the combination of various flours for the dough and includes rice flour, wheat flour and buckwheat flour, most of the types are sweet one.
- Taiwanese-style mooncake: filled with sweetened red bean paste , mung bean, taro paste sometimes with mochi in the center, most popular are with a salted duck egg yolk in the mung bean mooncakes, and either salted duck egg or asavory treat in the taro mooncakes. Modern,quite popular mooncakes are wide in variety that include low fat, lard free and ice cream versions – so probably everything mooncake shouldn’t be.
Most popular brands in China and Hong Kong
- 好利來 – Holiland
- 元祖月餅 – Ganso
- 榮華 – Wing Wah
- 安琪 – Angel
- 杏花樓 – Xinghua Lou
- 華美 – Hua Mei
- 美心月餅 – Hua Lian Mei Xin
- 稻香村 – Dao Xiang Cun
- 利口福 – Li Kou Fu
How to pick the right mooncake for you?
First of all chose what type of mooncake could suit your feeling – is it a ‘snow-mooncake’, or traditional one, what filling it should have. Next take a look if they are offered by brands above – places with long history and some fame are better than getting a mooncake from a random person in the market. If you have a chance check two things: how it looks and how it smells. Good quality mooncake should have even size – places that are round should be round, edges should be equal. Good quality bakeries use good quality, expensive molds. Skin should have yellow/light brown/brown (depends what kind of mooncake you want to get), shiny, doesn’t look like a raw pastry. Logo of the brand (or pattern) should be clear, not crushed or looking like it was about to melt. You shouldn’t be able to see the filling. Smell should be very intense – if it was freshly made it should have a smell of ingredients used to make it. Cakes that been out for too long or are made with low quality products will have weird smell – you will just know it’s not THAT smell, or won’t have smell at all. If you buy your cake packed check calories, fat and sugar at the back of the package – try to pick as low as possible, you want to enjoy a festival, not get a heart attack.
4 pieces (6 suggested servings) of ‘double yolk lotus seed paste mooncakes‘ by XinYuan. Ingredients: white kidney beans, lotus seeds, sugar, peanut oil, wheat flour, salter egg yolk. ‘Only’ 463 kcal/serving. Surely not for girls on a diet. We got them for 13.99 USD + tax in 99 Ranch Market. They already come up with a plastic fork and knife inside.
Why we got them? It has a filling I wanted, the price was reasonable, calories were not so bad as in the rest and… the metal box it comes with – my husband told me many Chinese people keep them and put their money, car keys etc. there Sometimes money they keep in that box are given away with it on next Mid-Autumn Festival to the family. I still don’t know what I will use it for, but surely I will come up with something.
Making your own mooncake
If you want to make a mooncake on your own I would recommend those two recipes – one of them is for non-baked mooncake a.k.a. snow-mooncake: http://www.recipekungfu.com/?p=956 and http://en.christinesrecipes.com/2011/09/traditional-mooncakes.html
I couldn’t find mooncake mold in any of the chinese malls in Bay Area but you can get it for just 3.25 USD on eBay (but it takes around 11 business days to ship, the one sold in America cost 4.50 USD up to 10 USD. Beside traditional round/square shape, you can make different picture on it. And one piggy-shaped.
My husband’s short advice
If you’re having a mooncake for a first time – buy one, not the whole box. If you don’t like them you won’t regret buying a whole box. If you love – you can get a whole box the next day, shops and bakeries will have them 50-60% off original price. Beside that remember to drink hot tea or water – it kills the fat feeling in your mouth and helps your stomach handle the cake. Keep in the fridge or at least in a cool place, especially once you open it.
Have you ever tried a mooncake? Did you like it? Are you preparing for Mid-Autumn Festival as well? Share your experience!