Commercialization of the Moon Festival

Snow-Skin Mooncake with Cherry Almond Filling

I walked into the K-Mart store near Penn Station in New York last week and discovered to my horror that the Christmas section is already fully stocked with artificial Christmas trees, holiday decorations and ribbons. I had to check the date on my New York Times to make sure I had not completely missed Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. This senseless commercialization sent shivers up my spine.

Just like Christmas in America and the West, Asian merchants have learned the art of commercializing holidays. I was rather surprised, though not completely unexpectedly, to find mooncakes being marketed all over Asia as I traveled in August even though Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (中秋節) is not until October 3rd. From Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong and Singapore to Shanghai, neighborhood bakeries as well as multi-national food chains were touting their specialty mooncakes in advertisements as well as by shelf talkers in their stores.

With the pressure to commercialize the Moon Festival comes the need to produce exotic and innovative mooncake products. I can still remember when buying mooncakes was simply to choose between single or double yolk lotus seeds paste filling cakes. Or very rarely more adventurous shoppers might find a few other types of mooncakes filled with bean paste or sesame paste. But walk about the shopping malls on Orchard Road in Singapore now and you are confronted with an infinite variety of mooncakes for sale.

Purple Cane Tea Mooncakes

In Kuala Lumpur the Purple Cane Tea Restaurant created a full line of tea flavored mooncakes with varieties such as Pu-er lotus paste tea mooncake and green tea moon cake with white lotus paste. They are sold in packages of little batik-patterned paper lanterns. In Shanghai Häagen-Dazs sells ice cream mooncakes with milk, dark or white chocolate shells, and Starbucks offers gift boxes of familiar coffee flavors such as hazelnut, chocolate, Baileys and chocolate hazelnut. In Singapore the legendary Raffles Hotel packages tins of mini snow-skin mooncakes with champagne truffle and ganache filling.

Haagen-Dazs Mooncake

Starbucks Mooncake

But nothing beats the creativity of a Hong Kong lifestyle merchant GOD. Last year they started marketing a line of “moon” cakes in the shape of four buttocks at various stages of exposure. You may already know that the Moon Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. But you may not know that “15th day of 8th Month” also means the buttocks in the Cantonese dialect. Playing on a multi-lingual pun GOD created an irresistible concept. The “moon” cakes were so popular that this year they’ve expanded the line to eight designs.

GOD Mooncakes

In 1989 the Taipan bakery in Hong Kong introduced mooncakes made with a snowy white soft wrapper and filled with different fruit flavor pastes. The mooncakes were delicate with white translucent wrappers that mysteriously displayed a hint of color from the filling. Not only were they beautiful they were also delicious. They called their new creation “snow-skin” mooncakes (冰皮月餅). These cakes were such a sensation other bakeries quickly followed suit and introduced their own varieties. These mooncakes have now spread beyond Hong Kong and are available everywhere in Asia.

Snow-skin mooncakes with cherry almond filling

The snow-skin mooncake wrapper is made from glutinous rice flour just like mochi, but with regular rice flour and wheat starch added to provide a firm body. The stiffer dough makes it possible to maintain the molded pattern and shape of the cake. I first tasted snow-skin mooncakes a few years ago in Shanghai and fell in love with them. I’ve since wondered if I could make them at home. This year I researched and successfully experimented with a few recipes. So here is my recipe for snow-skin mooncake with cherry almond filling. As much as I dislike the commercialization of the Moon Festival, I am actually quite pleased to have found innovations in modern mooncake making.

Dough and filling for making mooncakes

Making mooncake with a mold

  • Snow-Skin Mooncake with Cherry Almond Filling (櫻桃杏仁冰皮月餅)

    • Preparation time: 2 hours
    • Slow cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
    • Wrapper
    • 1 cup glutinous rice flour (糯米粉)
    • 1 cup rice flour (粘米粉)
    • 1/2 cup wheat starch (澄粉)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 cup milk
    • 3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
    • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • Cherry Almond Filling
    • 6 ozs. dried lotus seeds
    • 3 ozs. almond paste
    • 1 cup frozen cherries
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
    • Other Ingredient
    • 1/2 cup cornstarch for dusting
    • Soak the lotus seeds in about three cups of water for at least four hours. Drain completely and put them in a medium saucepan. Add three cups of fresh water and boil on medium heat for about 30 minutes.
    • Make a cherry syrup by combining the frozen cherries and one half cup of sugar using a double boiler. Heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Strain the cherries and collect the syrup. Set both aside.
    • In a food processor combine the cooked lotus seeds, the cherry syrup, almond paste and vegetable oil. Process the ingredients until they become a smooth paste. Remove from the food processor and add the slivered almonds to the paste.
    • Thoroughly combine all the ingredients for the wrapper in a medium stainless steel bowl. It should become a very thick smooth batter. Steam the batter for about 45 minutes or until cooked. Use a spoon to scrape some of the cooked dough aside to make sure it is cooked through. Remove the dough from the steamer and set aside to cool.
    • First divide the almond filling paste into portions of about two tablespoons each. Put one cherry in each portion of the paste and roll into a ball. Keeping your hands wet with some clean water will keep the paste from sticking to your fingers. Then divide the wrapper dough into about two tablespoons portions as well. Flatten the wrapper dough into circle of about 5-inch in diameter and put the filling in the center. Cover the filling with the wrapper dough to form a round ball. Dusting your hands with cornstarch will keep the wrapper from sticking to your fingers in this step.
    • For this version of mini mooncake I like to use the 2-inch diameter mold. Dust the mooncake mold with a thin layer of cornstarch using a pastry brush. Press the ball of cake into the mold. Flip the mold over and gently rap the mold. The cake should loosen and unmold easily. Use a pastry brush to dust off excess cornstarch from the cake. Refrigerate the mooncakes for storage. Serve with a strong Chinese tea.
This entry was posted in Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Recipes, Sweet Dishes, Vegetarian and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

29 Comments

  1. Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Even though innovation has created such vast numbers of different flavors and designs, what remains constant is this: taste is everything. Some of those weird flavors or flavor combinations out there just don’t work. I wish all the best to those who want to push the envelope but as for me, I still prefer a lotus paste mooncake with single yolk.

    • Posted September 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Nate, You’re right. I also question the merit of creating new flavors for the sake of being different. Many of those flavors are just unpalatable.

  2. Jessie
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve been reading a lot about mooncakes lately. I had no idea there how many different varieties there are! I would I could have the haagen daz mooncake.

    I love your mooncake recipe because I’m not too crazy about the bean paste filling but the cherry almond filling sounds so much more delicious :)

  3. Posted September 29, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Love the idea of these and thank you for the recipe too!

  4. Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I love the innovation of the new style mooncakes, but in terms of taste, I prefer the classic one (single yolk, double is too much). I’ve never managed to eat more than a quarter in one sitting either! I would prefer smaller sized ones too. Yours look beautiful!

  5. Posted September 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I adore moon cakes but I didn’t know the immense variants available!
    Thanks for the gorgeous recipe :)

    Cheers!

    Gera

  6. Posted September 29, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Starbucks made mooncakes too? Next thing you know Pizza Hut and McDonald’s will brand their own.

  7. Posted September 29, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Helen, I love single yolk lotus paste cake as well. Especially if the paste is smooth and thick. But it’s good to see innovations.

    Diana, I’m surprised too that P Hut and Micky D are not selling mooncakes yet.

  8. Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Although I understand the hidden meaning of ’15th day of 8th Month’ in Cantonese, it is still interesting to find your note on the GOD moon cake.
    Enjoyed and happy mid-Autumn Festival!

  9. Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Oh MY! I love all these mooncakes. I hope my mooncake mould arrives in the mail soon. Lovely post :)

  10. L
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the recipe! I miss eating lots of “Bing Pei” mooncakes when I lived in Hong Kong. I can find them at home, but they’re ridiculously expensive after being exported overseas! What I REALLY wish I could still eat are those Haagan Daaz mooncakes. *drool* I still remember how amazing those were…sigh.

  11. Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    This is an awesome homage to the mooncake!
    I think the rear-end ‘moon’cakes were hilarious!!!

  12. Posted October 5, 2009 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Those mooncakes look delicious, but a Starbucks moon cake…sheesh!

  13. Posted October 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Starbucks mooncakes!? Seriously?
    I love the buttocks mooncakes. Those are really funny!
    I’ve had snow-skin mooncakes before and they’re my favorites too. Love the ‘mochi’ skin. Great you could come up with your own recipe!

  14. Teresa
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Wow, Starbucks mooncakes…

    Say where do you get your mooncake molds?

    I look forward to trying your recipe. Thanks!

  15. Posted November 18, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    My first time here and I am loving it! Keep up the good work!

    Dan

  16. Posted April 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Mooncake, my favourite festive dessert..
    I am tempted to make some at home following your recipe, but I know I will make a mess!

  17. Caroline
    Posted August 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the recipe.
    It taste great except the skin a bit chewy. I prefer a softer type, any tips?
    I just add more milk?

    • Posted August 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Yes, to soften the “mochi” skin you can add a little extra milk. I use volume measure in my recipe because that is the common standard in America. Unfortunately measuring powder or flour ingredients by volume is not always accurate. You can also experiment with increasing the proportion of the glutinous rice flour vs. rice flour. Use 1 1/3 cups glutinous rice and 2/3 cup rice flour. I hope this helps.

  18. Caroline
    Posted August 27, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Yeah!
    Thank you so much.
    I will try too make some again next weekend.
    After being refrigerated , the snow skin just get stiffer.` Maybe I will try 1/2 cup of rice flour instead since i like the softer version and add in additional 1/3 cup of milk. Will let you know the outcome after i try.

    Cheers!

    • Posted August 27, 2010 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      Caroline, Too much glutinous rice may result in too elastic of a dough and not being able to keep the form of the mold. So experiment with the proportions.

  19. Caroline
    Posted August 28, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Noted with thanks.
    But saw some other rcipe that need not steam that flour, it is possible?

    • Posted August 30, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm… I don’t think not cooking the flour would work. It will just be a slurry.

  20. Caroline
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Hei, i think i know where it went wrong.
    I bought the wrong icing sugar, it is the icing sugar with conrstarch mix, no wonder the texture gone stiff. Will try again soon. Thank you so much!

  21. Li Kheng
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    No matter how many types of mooncakes I have tried, I have never liked any except plain lotus paste (sometimes with egg yolk) with watermelon seeds (does the Hokkien word Kua Chi refer to watermelon seed?). That is until this year when I was in Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago and picked up Purple Cane’s green tea lotus paste mooncake with watermelon seeds! I felt it was the best mooncake I had eaten in my life!

  22. Caroline
    Posted September 11, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Tried again, still chewy and hard…
    Any better tips?

    • Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Caroline, I would try to adjust the proportions of the glutinous rice flour vs rice flour. You may also want to take the mooncakes out of the refrigerator ahead of time before serving at room temperature. Refrigeration will keep the mooncakes fresh longer but it does harden the skin.

  23. Adri Leigh
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    How many mooncakes should this recipe make?

    • Posted February 7, 2013 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      It really depends on the size of the mold. You may want to make one sample first to determine the amount of filling and wrapper dough needed to fill the mold. Then you can estimate the number of cake you can get out of the recipe. As a rough estimate I would say you can get four cakes from a three-inch diameter mold or eight cakes from a one-and-one-half-inch diameter mold.

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