Beginner’s Choice: Starting small (mini mooncakes)

It’s good to dream big, but have one’s feet on the ground and start with small steps. There is more chance of success. I am talking about small home-made mooncakes.

The Mooncake Festival is coming up (Tuesday, 21 September), and there is an abundance of mooncakes on sale. I am surprised to see so many “novelty mooncakes” in all sorts of flavours,  shapes, colours and packaging.

There is a long history to mooncakes, but most of us grew up associating them with the lantern festival and the full moon. I read that families would get together to drink tea, eat mooncakes and read poems in the garden under the light of the moon.

Mooncakes used to be home-made and were round to symbolise togetherness. The Mooncake Festival was also an occasion for a family reunion.

This year someone came up with the idea of learning how to make mooncakes. She organised the class in a short time, and it was kept small due to safe-distancing requirements. I was busy writing a blog post and couldn’t join the class, but I did get to see the makings of the mooncake at different stages when I popped into the kitchen at various points.

The whole process didn’t take very long and didn’t look very complicated. I found out that the cost of the ingredients didn’t come up to much either. The best part of it all for me was that the filling was less sweet and that the mooncakes were small and dainty. I was thinking of people who can’t take a lot of sugar, but would like to have some mooncake just to taste.

Joanna, who organised the class, was kind enough to give me the recipe. An essential tool for making mooncakes is the plastic mooncake (plunger) mould, which can be bought online for under $10.00. It’s very different from the traditional heavy wooden mould.

Ingredients

300 g of Hong Kong flour

180g of honey

60g of peanut oil

1 teaspoon of alkaline water*

1 egg yolk

1 kg of lotus paste

*Alkaline water can be made at home from water and baking soda (4:1 by volume)

Method

  • Divide the lotus paste into 30g round balls
  • Mix the alkaline water with the honey in a big bowl
  • Add the flour and mix
  • Add the oil and knead into a soft dough
  • Divide the dough into 20g balls
  • Flatten each ball of dough in the palm of your hand
  • Put the filling into dough and wrap halfway
  • Rotate the ball
  • Press the filling down with your right thumb
  • Use the fingers of your left hand to push the dough upwards until the filling is almost covered
  • Pinch the dough so that it closes the opening, and the dough completely covers the filling
  • Add flour lightly to the top of the mooncake
  • With the palm of both hands, form the mooncake into a ball slightly smaller than the mould
  • Place the mooncake mould on top of the mooncake ball, press the handle down firmly
  • Lift up the mould, brush off the excess flour with a soft brush
  • Place the formed mooncakes on a baking tray
  • Bake the mooncakes for 5 to 8 minutes in an oven at 180 degrees C
  • Remove from oven and rush with egg yolk
  • Bake for another 5 to 8 minutes until golden brown
  • Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container at room temperature
  • Keep it for three days before serving, to allow the mooncake skin to soften

Making mooncakes is a great way to get family and friends together. It’s also a good team-building activity.

Andrea, who is a regular contributor to this blog, has been busy helping the fundraising team of an NGO which provides palliative care. Mooncakes are good for fundraising. There are people who buy the mooncakes to give away to the homeless and the hungry. These sweet cakes are a bit of a treat and remind people that there are sweet moments in life, even in the midst of a pandemic, and that there are people who care and want to share.

Yesterday, something unusual happened. A neighbour who was walking her dog was followed by a family of monkeys. The baby monkey was trying to attack her dog. She frantically knocked on our door and asked if she could take refuge from the monkeys. She came in with her dog, which was shaking nervously. We gave her a lift home for her safety, as the monkeys were still around. She rang the doorbell again in the afternoon, this time with a box of mooncakes and some flowers to thank us for giving her a safe shelter from the monkeys.

In time to come, I will think of mooncakes differently, no longer as just “a luxury food item in fancy packaging”. I will remember what they stand for (family togetherness) and what they have been used for (helping others and to express gratitude).

By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 19 September 2021

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