Monday, September 8, 2014

Baking: Lotus Seed Moon Cakes

This post has been in the making for 2 years now. If you're a frequent reader then you know my goal of making traditional dishes from scratch. One such dish/dessert is moon cakes. Every year during mid autumn or moon festival, these cakes are given to your loved ones as a gift. Now, many store bought ones are pretty good. If you can find a bakery that makes them fresh then that's even better. But as you know, I like to try to make things from scratch so that I know exactly what is going into things.
A couple of years ago, I started my moon cake experiment. I bought molds over the internet and then research for recipes. A good and easy recipe was really hard to come by. I finally settled on one and tried it out. The results I got were just okay. It wasn't bad per se but I also wasn't entirely happy either. Fast forward 2 years and I found another recipe. It looked easier but still seemed to be okay. To my surprise, it was way better  than  the first. The results were better and it was less time consuming. That's a win win in my book.

All of the pictures in this post relate to my experimenting from my first year. This year with the better recipe, I didn't want to focus on blogging about the experience. I wanted to focus on the product itself. And now that I'm satisfied, I'll be sure to blog about it next year. Yeah, that's about 12 months from now. Sorry but I really don't want to make a second batch just to blog about it. Who knows, maybe next year's batch will be even better! But the recipe at the bottom will reflect the one I prefer. So no needing to wait a year to make them yourself.

Okay, and now the steps. The first year I tried making moon cakes, I was a bit overzealous with the filling. I wanted both red bean and lotus seed (both traditional fillings). In reality, I should have just stuck with one. This year, I was a bit more wise and only did lotus seed. It was much better.

For each of the fillings, I had to soak the dried ingredients, then boil them in water, drain, puree, and cook with sugar and vegetable oil. The end result is a thick pasta. Be careful not to overcook the paste as it'll be too dry and not very tasty (I learned this the hard way). So below is the red bean paste.
And this is the lotus paste. This is the most traditional of ingredients. This is actually my favorite too.
In many moon cakes, you will also find salted egg yolks. This is for good luck. Most people that I speak to actually dislike the taste of the egg yolks found in moon cakes. But you know what? They're tradition. Besides, it's fun to cut into a moon cake and try to steal the piece without egg yolks. Although the older generation definitely enjoys these salty pieces.

I do not make the salted egg yolks myself. Instead I buy them pre-made from the supermarket. It has saved me a lot of time. Maybe next year, I'll make my own. We'll see.
And now the preparation of the moon cakes. First take some dough, roll it out into a circle. Then measure out your filling (with or without egg yolk).
Add the filling to the dough.
And then carefully wrap the dough around the filling making sure it's concealed.
Then take your mold, oil it up with a brush, then press your dough and filling into it using the palm of your hand. Do this slowly and carefully to prevent cracks and ripping.
One pressed, take the mold and whack it hard on a prepared surface to loosen it. Whack it on all four sides then turn it over and let the moon cake slowly drop onto your baking pan. If it doesn't come out smoothly, smack the back of your mold with your hand to give a little push.

On my very first try, my moon cakes completely cracked. The filling was too dry and the whole thing lots moisture. Then I added more fat to the filling but it was too soft. Finally, I cooked it some more to get the right consistency and voila! A golden brown moon cake with designs and all.
Here's a closer look at the cracked moon cakes. Look at how dry everything is.
And here's the filling that's too loose. See how the whole thing collapsed? Yeah, the filling was a bit too soft.
But when I eventually got the filling right, I mass produced the moon cooks. I made both round and square.
Here's a closer look at the round. This year, I made the round ones with egg yolks inside.
While the square ones were just plain.
Again, these pictures are from 2 years ago. I made much better looking moon cakes this year where there designs are even more pronounced. The filling held up well on the first try too. And taste-wise, it was sweet but not overly so.

To store these moon cakes, don't be fooled by how dry they may look right now. One day and the skin will become oily. Don't worry, it's supposed to do that. Most recipes say to store it at room temperature in an air tight container. But it's been so damn hot these days that I put them in the refrigerator. I didn't want it to get rancid. The design gets a bit messed up when you toss it in the refrigerator but I'd rather have preserved moon cake than rancid moon cake.

Happy Mid Autumn Festival!

The recipe below is adapted from Christine's Recipes' recipe for Traditional Mooncakes

Lotus Seed Moon Cakes
Makes about 16 cakes

Ingredients

Filling
400 grams dried lotus seeds
water
200 grams granulated sugar
200 ml vegetable oil (not olive oil)
salted egg yolks (optional)

Dough
500 grams all purpose flour
300 grams Lyle's golden syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons alkaline water
140 grams vegetable oil
egg wash (optional)

Directions
1. Wash lotus seeds and soak about 8 hours or overnight.
2. Rinse and split each lotus seed open to remove the green germ in the middle.
3. Place prepared lotus seeds in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Place on stove and bring to boil. Turn heat down to simmer for about 30 minutes until lotus seeds are soft. Test a seed with a fork. If it pierces through easily then it is done. Be careful not to overcook the lotus seeds as the water may dry out and cause the seeds to burn. Add more water if necessary.
4. Drain lotus seeds but retain cooking water. You should have about 1 cup left over.
5. Place into food processor and puree until smooth. Add cooking water to help the puree become smooth.
6. Remove lotus seed puree and add to nonstick pan. Heat on medium and add sugar. Stir constantly until sugar is melted and absorbed. Add oil in 1/3 increments, folding and stirring after each addition making sure it is absorbed.
7. After last of the oil is absorbed, continue cooking until the paste thickens and comes away from the pan easily. Be careful not to overcook the lotus seed paste as it'll be too dry for baking.
*The lotus seed paste can be make one day ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature before working with paste.*
8. Preheat oven to 355oF
9. Weigh out the flour, set aside. Weigh out syrup, alkaline water, and oil together. Add to flour and mix thoroughly. Once incorporated, knead lightly with your hand until pliable and smooth. Wrap with plastic and let rest at room temperature for 40 minutes.
10. Depending on the size of your molds, the weight of the following will differ:
*For large square mold: 65 grams dough, 105 grams filling (without egg yolk) or 88 grams filling (with egg yolk), egg yolk (optional - around 17 grams each)
*For large round mold: 65 grams dough, 97 grams filling (without egg yolk) or 80 grams filling (with egg yolk), egg yolk (optional - around 17 grams each)
11. Roll out dough into thin circle. Form filling into ball. If you're using an egg yolk, make a dent in the ball and place yolk in them middle. Wrap the filling around the egg yolk evenly. Then place filling on rolled out dough and wrap dough around filling evenly. Make sure to smooth out any folds or cracks.
12. Place dough wrapped filling into prepared mold (it should be greased with vegetable oil) and press down gently using palm of hand. Push moon cake into the corners and crevasses. Push down the moon cake enough so that the designs on the cake will be sharp.
13. Take mold and bang all fours sides against a prepared surface. I pile towels and use that as my surface. Do not bang the mold against your kitchen counter. It can break! One loosened, lightly tap the cake onto a lined baking sheet. I use a silicone mat but parchment paper would also work.
14. Repeat with rest of ingredients until baking sheet is filled. Leave about 1/2 to 1 inch of space in between each moon cake when baking. Bake for 15 minutes in the oven until golden brown. 
*If using an egg wash, remove moon cakes after 10 minutes of baking, apply egg wash. Then continue baking for 5 more minutes.*
15. Remove and let rest on baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes. Then carefully remove to cooling rack to completely cool.
16. I like to store the moon cakes on a large paper cupcake liner then wrap it with plastic for gifting. Otherwise, store in an air tight container at room temperature. If the weather is warm, store in the refrigerator. After 1 or 2 days, the moon cakes will become oily. That's natural and is expected. Enjoy!

2 comments:

  1. Whoah. I am really impressed right now! I adore the lotus seed filling- although that seems fairly intense to make in and of itself... Any pointers on what bakeries to buy these in manhattan?
    Ttrockwood

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  2. Thanks! This was a labor intensive project but I enjoyed it. I love a good kitchen challenge.

    As for bakeries, I'm sorry that I don't have any advice. I haven't purchased any fresh moon cakes in years and can't remember where my family used to purchase them. The bakery ones always lasted much shorter than the supermarket purchased ones. I think eventually, my family moved towards the latter just so we can eat it for multiple days.

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