Friday, 21 September 2007

Tradisional Lotus Mooncake

The candle casts deep shadows on the screen,The Milky Way dims and morning stars fade.Chang-O must regret stealing the elixir,As she broods in loneliness night after night.- Poem by the great Tang poet Li Shang-yin (812-858 A.D.)

There are several stories about the origins of mooncakes and the myths and legends behind the Mooncake Festival. One of the more romantic myths is that Chang-O, the most beautiful woman of Chinese mythology stole the elixir of life that her husband had obtained with great difficulty from the Royal Mother.
The story goes like this: Long ago, the earth was in a state of havoc because there were 10 suns in the sky, and these were the sons of the Jade Emperor. Rivers dried up, the land became barren, and many people died. Seeing the death and destruction caused by his sons, the Jade Emperor took this matter to the god Hou Yi. The Emperor asked Hou Yi to persuade his sons to rise up away from the earth to end the catastrophe.
When Hou Yi asked the suns to leave the sky, they refused. Made angry by their defiance, Hou Yi, a great archer, launched arrows at the suns, shooting them down one by one until his wife Chang-O pleaded with him to save one sun to keep the earth warm and bright.
Knowing that the Jade Emperor was furious at the slaying of his sons, Hou Yi and Chang-O were forced to stay on earth.

Chang-O was unhappy, so her husband tried to win back her favour by gathering herbs that would give them once again the power to ascend to heaven. Chang-O remained angry, however, and ate all the herbs herself. She flew up to the moon, where she remains alone, living in the Moon Palace. The Tang poet, Li Shang-yin wrote the above verse on Chang O's sad story three thousand years later, and the story of Chang-O's flight to the moon has persisted since among the people of the world. There are several versions of this story, but this is the more popular version.

On the 15th of the 8th lunar month every year (this year it falls on September 25), when the moon is at its brightest and loveliest, Chinese people around the world look at the moon and remember Chang-O and her legend. The occasions is celebrated as the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known asthe Moon Festival.

MooncakesMooncakes became part of the Mid-Autumn Festival because during the Yuan dynasty (1280 1368 A.D.) when China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (960-1280 A.D.) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and set out to co-ordinate the rebellion without it being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Packed into each mooncake was a message with the outline of the attack.
On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels succesfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.).
Today, mooncakes are eaten to commemorate this event.
For generations, mooncakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes, a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert.

LanternsChinese lanterns are also specialities for this festival. The most common are the paper folding type.However, there are many varieties of lanterns made of different shapes and materials. In Malaysia, kids like to buy the lanterns in animal or flower shapes which are sold in Chinese sundry shops, night markets or wet markets, or at the nearest shopping centre.

During the festival, parents allow children to stay up late, and take them to high vantage points to light their lanterns and watch the moon rise before eating their mooncakes.

For mooncake skin:
  • 400g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tbsp alkaline water (kan sui)
  • 100g peanut/corn oil
  • 550g flour, sifted
  • A few drops of dark soy sauce
  • 600g sugar
  • 400g water
  • 1/2 lime, sqeeze out the juice. Use only the skin
  • 1 tbsp maltose (mak ngah tong)
For the lotus paste:
  • 600g lotus seed
  • 1 tsp alkaline water
  • 500g sugar
  • 1 tbsp maltose
  • 400g groundnut oil
For the skin, mix sieved bicarbonate of soda, syrup, alkaline water and oil with a wooden spoon and allow to rest for 4-5 hours in a basin. Add the dark soy sauce, then fold in sifted flour gradually and mix evenly to form a smooth and soft dough. Let the dough rest for another 6-7 hours. Divide dough into even balls, each weighing 40-50g.

* When the dough is "well rested" after 5 hours, it hardens a bit and is more elastic. It is also easy to work with.
* The golden syrup is the key factor in ensuring that mooncakes keep longer and the skin does not turn mouldy quickly. The syrup is kept in a cool and dry place and left to mature. It can be made months ahead or kept up to a year.
* Freshly baked mooncakes should be left uncovered so that the free circulation of air around it will slowly soften the skin and help it to mature. This takes 2-3 days.
* Dark soy sauce is used for the pastry dough because it gives a darker shade to the mooncake skin after baking.
To make the syrup, put sugar, water and lime skin into a saucepan. Boil over a slow fire until golden brown. Discard the lemon slices. Cool sufficiently before use.
To make the lotus paste, Cover lotus seeds with boiling water and add alkaline water. Cover container for 20 minutes. Rub the skin off the lotus seeds, then drain and wash them in clean water. Cover the seeds again with water and boil until soft. Blend seeds into a paste. In a non-stick wok or saucepan, heat up 200g oil and 300g sugar and cook until mixture turns into the colour of golden caramel. Pour in lotus paste and continue stirring. Add the remaining oil and sugar. Cook until the paste thickens and doesn’t stick to the sides of the wok or pan. Add maltose and stir for a while. To test if the paste is ready, scoop a little into your hand and flatten it. If it doesn’t feel sticky, the paste is ready. Dish out the paste and leave to cool.
To assemble the mooncake, divide the dough into even pieces of 40g each. Roll the dough into a ball and flatten out with your hand. eigh the red beans/lotus seed paste. If you like the yolk of salted eggs, you can insert one in the centre. Place the filling in the middle of the flat dough and slowly wrap around it. Seal the edges and roll dough lightly between your palms until the filling is hidden. Dust mould lightly with flour. Press doughball into the mooncake mould. Knock the mould against the table to dislodge the mooncake. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 ÂșC for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Brush on beaten egg glaze. Return to bake for another 10 minutes or till golden.

Note: Do not overbake mooncake otherwise filling will overflow and mooncake will lose its shape.

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