September 18, 2011

Traditional Mooncake - Lotus Paste and Salted Egg Yolk 雙黃白蓮蓉月餅

Traditional Mooncake - Lotus Paste and Salted Egg Yolk

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By Published: 2011-09-18
Every once in a while I veer off the path of sanity and attempt the uncharted, the dangerous, the unsurmountable.  All in the name of good food, of course.  This time it was mooncakes or 雙黃白蓮蓉月餅, Chinese mooncakes for the Mid Autumn Festival, 中秋節I decided that this year I would attempt to make my own mooncakes despite never having made them by hand before and, actually now that I think about it, never having eaten homemade mooncake ever in my life.  But once the delectable thought entered my mind, who was I to resist?




We first looked for the mooncake mold or 餅印, a hand carved wood mold specifically for mooncakes.  We found it in, of all places, our local ten dollar shop/household goods store.  If you're not lucky like us, I'm sure that you could find plenty in the kitchen stores along Shanghai Street 上海街 in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon.  That's where we were going to go except that we found what we needed in our neighborhood.  There are all kinds of carved patterns, really lovely handcrafted stuff.  We bought the regular size one, as opposed to the small one, and, once home, placed it prominently on the mantle where we could admire it in all its glory.

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White Lotus Seeds 蓮子

Then we foraged for all the the raw materials for 雙黃白蓮蓉月餅, or Double Yolked White Lotus Paste Mooncake, which is the most popular of all the traditional style mooncakes.  Some ingredients took a little bit of looking/finding.  We found most of it at the wet markets and one traditional item, lard , was finally found at, of all places, Citysuper in IFC, though we could have just made some ourselves but were too lazy.  We wanted to use lard because traditionally lard was always used for mooncakes, for the smoothness and for the extra flavor.  Most times nowadays some kind of oil is substituted.  For the lotus seed paste filling, we looked for white lotus seeds , as opposed to yellow, as the flavor is suppose to be superior; and then began the long soaking, cleaning, cooking process.  We located and purchased the infamous lye water or 鹼水 at our wet market noodle vendor.  The salted duck eggs or 鹹蛋 were bought and cleaned and the yolks steamed. (Check out how make your own Salted Duck Eggs!)  The syrup for the dough was cooked.  The dough was mixed, kneaded and rested.  

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Salted Duck Egg 鹹蛋

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Salted Duck Egg Yolk  鹹蛋

Finally, after two hot days of cooking, peeling, stirring, steaming, mixing, kneading, pounding, and poking away in the kitchen, after two almost major disasters in the kitchen: lotus seeds barely saved from burning, sugar seizing to rock hardness; I was at long last ready to actually make the mooncakes!  The dough was rolled and wrapped thinly around a ball of lotus seed paste that in turn enclosed double spheres of vivid orange yolk (double the luck!), pinched closed and patted back into roundness.  Careful, careful!  The ball was dropped into the waiting wood mold and pressed down firmly.  There, it was all in!

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Now for the hardest part. The mooncake mold was to be flipped over and banged with a certain deft touch onto the working surface. The prettily molded mooncake was then suppose to fall out in one gorgeous mooncake shaped piece onto the table.  So, taking a deep breath, I banged...  Oh, the beat of my heart!  Nothing happened.  I banged again and finally could see the mooncake drooping a bit.  I quickly banged a few more times (in a panic, I'll admit) and then, pop!, there she finally was, as beautiful as a new born babe.

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This one moment of creation, of making this really beautiful thing with my own two hands, more than made up for the two days of sweat and effort.  If there is any reason to attempt a daunting task like this, this must be it: to be able to create an object coming from hundreds of years of tradition and to understand for the briefest moment all of it. Or, on the other hand, maybe I'm just plain crazy.


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Double Yolked White Lotus Paste Traditional Mooncake Recipe 雙黃白蓮蓉月餅

Makes 8 mooncakes of regular size (there are two sizes of molds, regular and small)

Ingredients

Lotus Paste 白蓮蓉

3 1/2 cups dried white lotus seed, 白蓮子 (300g)
1/2 tsp lye water,  鹼水
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
14 tbsp lard or peanut oil (179g)
1 tbsp maltose, 麥芽糖
16 salted duck eggs, 鹹蛋

Syrup for Dough

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup water
1 lemon slices

Mooncake Skin Dough

1 1/4 cup white flour
1/2 cup Syrup for Dough
2.5 tbsp lard or peanut oil
1/2 tsp lye water or 鹼水
1 egg, lightly whisked

Directions:

Making the Lotus Paste: Rinse the dried lotus seeds and cover with cold water and soak overnight.  The next day pour out water and cover again with boiling water, add the lye water, mix and wait one hour.   Rub the skins, if any, off the lotus seed, split the seeds in half to check for green sprouts inside.  If any sprouts be sure to remove as these are very bitter and will affect the taste of the paste.  Rinse clean and simmer in big pot with water covering the seeds for 3 hours or until soft. Be sure to check the water level every once in a while to make sure your pot still has enough water.

Pour the seeds into a blender, adding some of the cooking water as necessary until you have a smooth puree.  Mix the sugar into the puree.  Heat 7 tbsp of the oil in large pan.  Pour the puree into the pan and stir over a medium low flame.  Add reserved oil one tbsp at a time, as needed.  The mixture should be very moist but at the same time should eventually stop sticking to the sides of the pan.  Add the maltose and stir in.  Remove from pan, let cool.

Note: This mixing of the paste took me a long time of stirring at the pan, I think maybe 15, 20 minutes.  In the end I didn't add enough oil to the paste, so that is why for the recipe I have instructed the addition of the reserved oil, 1 tbsp at a time.  One should just be able to make this paste into a ball without it sticking to everything.  The final mix should be more moist and oily than you think is okay, the reason being that the mooncake skin actually absorbs alot of the oil during the 油, or mooncake 'resting' phase.  More explanation on this later.

Preparing the Salted Duck Eggs:  Carefully rinse the ash off the salted duck eggs.  Prepare a large bowl for catching the egg white and a smaller bowl for steaming the yolks.  Crack the eggs over the large bowl.  After cracking all the eggs, you will see that the yolks are already in a solid state.  Just pick them out, rinse lightly under water just to get off any egg white sticking on and place into your smaller bowl.  Once water is boiled, place a steamer with the yolks in it over the water for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.

Making the Syrup for Dough:  Boil the water, sugar and lemon in a small pot over a low fire, stirring
often, until the mixture turns golden brown and is sticky.  Let cool.

Making the Mooncake Skin Dough:  Mix the flour, syrup, oil, and lye water in a large bowl.  Knead the dough until smooth.  Cover and let rest for 3 hours.  Divide the dough into 8 equal portions.

Putting the Mooncake together: Here you probably should have some kind of kitchen scale because otherwise you are going to have a really hard time getting the right size of dough and filling to fit the wooden mooncake mold.  The thing is you can't really make it larger than the mold because you have to slam it out.  Much smaller than the mold wouldn't work either.  We got a cheap plastic one at the local household goods store which works just fine.

Weigh out the dough portion to around 50g.  Lightly flour the work surface and roll out the dough into a circle of 6 inches.  Weigh out a portion of the lotus paste of 90g.  Put two of the salted duck yolks in the lotus paste and form into a neat sphere, trying to keep the yolks evenly in the center.  Wrap the rolled out dough around it and pinch shut, neatly tearing off any extra dough and pinching shut those cracks (since the dough is oily it will stick together again easily.) The idea here is to have a thin even skin all around the mooncake.

Flour the inside of the mooncake mold.  Shake off excess flour.  Lightly flour the round of dough and filling.  Drop the round of dough and filling carefully into the mold, making sure the sides don't catch on to the points of the wood mold.  Press down lightly with your palm until the dough/filling have filled up all parts of the mold.  If the weight calculations are correct, it should just fill your mold.  If not, be sure to adjust for the next mooncake.

Flip over the mold.  Bang flat down on the table (holding your breath, of course).  If you are really good at these sort of things the perfect mooncake will be waiting for you when you lift.  Or, if you are like the rest of us, nothing will happen.  Do not fear.  Bang again.  Check.  If you see the mooncake beginning to droop from the mold, bang again, but not flat down as before as you do not want to mush the part of the mooncake that has come down already.  Just bang at a slight angle that protects any drooping part of the mooncake from contact with the table.  A couple of sharp knocks here and there will get the rest of that sucker down, I promise.  And then.. What can I say?  A thing of beauty.

Heat the oven to 375 F.  Bake the mooncakes for 15 minutes and then bring out and brush with egg wash.  Bake for 10-15 minutes more or until the mooncake is golden brown.  Take out and let cool. When completely cool place mooncakes on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container.  Let the mooncakes sit in a cool place (not the fridge) for 2 to 3 days. This is the resting phase or the 油 phase. (We only found out about this afterwards.  When we made our mooncakes, we at first thought that the skin came out a bit hard or dry.  But then we found out from a old timer that you have to 'wait for it'.  Things change but don't change, eh?)  What happens is that the mooncake skin starts to absorb the oil from the filling, becoming tender and scented in the process.  All the flavors inside and out mix up together.  

So after a few days the mooncakes are finally ready to eat!  Cut a mooncake into eight wedges and share with your friends and family along with some good chinese tea.  What a journey, eh?  Well, enjoy your mooncakes so deliciously hard won and Happy Mid Autumn Festival!


More Chinese Festival Fun at The Hong Kong Cookery:

chinese new year, tray of togetherness, candied fruitChinese New Year Tray of Togetherness 中國新年攢盒

chinese new year, nian gao, rice cakes, sweet, chinese new year cake, feastChinese New Year Cake Nian Gao 年糕

zong zi rice dumpling recipeZong Zi Rice Dumpling 粽子
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4 comments:

  1. Wow! You are as passionate (if not more) as I about cooking authentic regional cuisine! What a great recipe and experience...you are a master of the kitchen...I'm not sure I could get this one done! Congrats on your success and please invite me over for tea and moon cakes someday! ��

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    Replies
    1. Hi The BDC - Thanks! We do like exploring authentic food recipes and this mooncake one is definitely a keeper ~ellen

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  2. Dear lawdy - the uncharted, the dangerous, and the unsurmountable indeed! Your mooncakes look incredible!!! I'm going to keep an eye out for mooncake moulds when I am in HK later this year, and give it a go :-)
    Thanks for sharing your culinary adventures. Your blog is charming and I'm glad to have found it. I'm inspired by your commitment to authentic Chinese food and also by your fearlessness!
    Can I ask where you find traditional recipes such as this? Sometimes I have fleeting mad ideas but wouldn't know where to begin looking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Izzy - Thanks! We mostly get our traditional recipe ideas from our own memories and from bugging the old timers for tips and such and also from our collection of old Chinese cookbooks. I hope you have fun mooncake mould shopping, they are so gorgeous! ~ellen

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