Mooncakes


Mooncakes

Mooncakes

MID AUTUMN FESTIVAL is also know as Moon Festival because at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest and brightest.  Mid Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar.  It is the second biggest festival after The Lunar New Year in China.  During this Festival, people give family, friends and colleagues mooncakes.  The treats are traditionally filled with an egg yolk embraced by lotus seed, red bean or five varieties of nuts and seeds.  My favorite one is the lotus paste.   The stories behind mooncakes are quite interesting too —- besides the legend of “Chang’E Flying to the Moon 嫦娥奔月”, the most well-known one is “Wu Gang Chopping Laurel Tree on the moon”.

I was a little late making mooncakes this year.  I was supposed to make them two days before the festival as the mooncakes normally need to rest for 2 days to get the best texture.   These cakes are high in calories, sugar and preservatives, so I decided to make them myself to have a healthier version.  Although it was quit a lot of work to make the lotus paste (took almost an hour to stir the paste in the pan), using the mooncake press/mold was quite fun.  The paste should be made one day ahead of time and keept in the fridge.

I gathered several mooncake recipes together and tested them out to make my own.  Lotus paste recipe coutesy of Amanda.   The golden syrup recipe coutesy of Christine Ho.

HOW TO MAKE LOTUS PASTE:

Ingredients:

200g
120g
100ml
1 Tbsp
1 Tbsp
1/8 tsp
Lotus Seeds
Sugar
Grape Seed Oil/Olive Oil
Honey
Condense Milk
Salt

Directions:

  1. Soak Lotus Seeds in water for 30 mins.
  2. Make sure to remove the green bitter tasting germ inside the seeds (if any) and discard any seeds in dark brown color, drain water.  Pour new water into a pot to cover all lotus seeds and bring to a boil, turn down fire and simmer until tender.  (picture 1)
  3. Discard water but save ½ cup.  Transfer lotus seeds into a food processor, add ½ cup of the water from the pot and grind into a smooth paste.  Pass through a fine sieve if you want the finest texture.  (picture 2)
  4. Heat up a non-stick pan, melt half the sugar until it turns brown in color. (picture 3)
  5. Add in blended lotus seeds, remaining sugar, salt and 1/2 of oil.  After the paste soaks up all the oil, add the remaining oil.  Stirring all the time until the lotus seed paste gets thickened.  (picture 4)
  6. Stir in honey and condense milk. (picture 5)
  7. Continue stirring till paste leaves the side of the pan.  (picture 6)
  8. Keep in the fridge overnight before using it.

Lotus paste

homemade lotus paste

HOW TO MAKE MOONCAKES:

Ingredients:

100g       All purpose flour
70g         Golden Syrup
2ml         Alkaline water
25ml       Grape seed oil

Filings:

500g       Lotus Paste (see recipe above)
6             Salted Egg Yolks
1 Tbsp   Rose-flavoured cooking wine (玫瑰露酒)
1             Egg (for egg wash)

Directions:

(I’m using a 63g mold and the dough/filling ratio is 3:7, you can also work with the 2:8 ratio)

  1. Mix salted egg yolks with wine.  Wipe dry the yolks with kitchen paper after a few minutes.  Cut each into two halves. Set aside.
  2. Place golden syrup in a bowl. Add in alkaline water, stir to combine. Add in oil and mix well.
  3. Add flour in to the syrup mixture and combine well. Gently knead the dough till smooth (takes 1~2 mins). Shape it into a round ball and wrap with cling wrap.  Leave it in the fridge to rest for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  4. Before making mooncakes, bring the dough to room temperature for 30 mins.  Divide dough into 12 equal portions, each weighs 19g (based on a 63g mold and the dough/filling ratio 3:7).  Roll each portion into a ball shape.  Divide lotus paste into 12 equal portions as well, each weighs 39g, the salted egg yolks are roughly 5g each half.  (Picture 1)
  5. Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg, sift through a fine sieve.
  6. Take a lotus paste ball and poke a hole in the middle with your finger. Place egg yolk inside.  (Picture 2).
  7. Flatten each dough into a small disc with a rolling pin.  (Picture 3)
  8. Wrap it around the filling and shape it into a ball. (Pictures 4 and 5)
  9. Lightly dust the wrapped dough with some flour.  Place it in the mooncake mold.  (Picture 6) and press the mooncake out (Picture 7).  Place mooncake on a baking tray line with parchment paper. (Picture 8)
  10. Spray some water on the mooncakes. (Note: this step prevents the mooncake from cracking during baking.)
  11. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 mins.  Remove from oven and leave to cool for 15mins (this step helps stabilizing the pattern on top).
  12. After 15 minutes, brush the top with very little egg wash (too much egg wash, the pattern will disappear after baking).  Return to oven and continue to bake for another 6 mins. (Picture 9)
  13. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes, brush the 2nd layer of egg wash (very little egg wash) and return to oven and continue to bake for another 6 mins or until golden brown.  Since every oven works differently, please check and make sure the mooncakes are not over browned).
  14. Leave mooncakes to cool completely and store in air tight containers. Wait for 2 days before serving, the skin will become soft and shiny, called “回油” in Chinese.

how to make mooncakes

It is best to enjoy these with a cup of hot Chinese tea!

Mooncakes

French Macarons


Macaron

Macarons

When thinking of macarons, you probably think of Ladurée as they are one of the top premier sellers of macaron in France.  They offer dozens of flavors and almost every tourist will stop there to have their first macaron.  These delicate almond-meringue cookies are not cheap, Bottega Louie in LA downtown sell theirs for $2.50 per tiny piece.

These French sandwich cookies are made entirely of almond powder, egg whites, and sugar.   The most difficult part is achieving the right consistency and presentation of the macaron shells.  The technique for making macarons is a little tricky as there are so many factors at play – the amounts of ingredients, the mixing of the batter, the length of resting time, the oven tempearture, the baking time, etc.  All of these things can cause problems.  The first few times I made them, no feet were developed at the bottom.  Although the flavor was still good, I failed.  I tried many online recipes before I found one that worked for me.  Some have more sugar which will make the shells very glossy but the sweetness is too overpowering.  I did a lot of reading online and practiced to understand the chemistry behind it.  “Not So Humble Pie” blog is a great troubleshooting guide and has a lot of useful tips,  I recommend everyone read it before starting the baking process.

Ingredients:

100g
35g
200g
120g
gel food coloring
Egg whites (about 3 eggs)
Caster sugar
Icing sugar
Almond meal
Optional

Directions:

  1. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.  Prepare a piping bag with a round tip.  You can place the bag into a measuring cup and cuff the bag’s opening over the top, this makes the bag easy to fill hands-free.
  2. Sift almond meal and powdered sugar together to remove any clumps, sift twice if possible.  Set aside.  (picture 1)
  3. Weigh out the egg whites into a large stainless mixing bowl.
  4. Begin beating the eggs on low speed.  Once the egg whites are very foamy, begin sprinkling in the sugar as you beat.   Increase the speed to medium, if necessary, and beat the meringue to stiff glossy peaks.
  5. Add the food coloring (It takes 2-4 drops of gel) and mix.  (Pictures 2 and 3).
  6. Add about 1/4 of the almond/sugar mixture and fold in until no streaks remain. Continue to add the almond mixture in quarters, folding until you reach the proper batter.   It should take roughly 50 folds until the mixture is smooth and a very viscous liquid, not runny. Over-mixing the batter, your macarons will be flat and have no foot, under-mixing the batter, they will not be smooth on top.  (Pictures 4 and 5)
  7. Pour the batter into your prepared piping bag.  (Picture 6)
  8. Place a tiny drop of batter at each corner of the baking sheet to secure the parchment paper.  (Picture 7)
  9. Pipe rows of batter (dollops a little bigger than a quarter) onto the baking sheets, giving them space to spread.
  10. Tap the pan on the counter several times to bring up any air bubbles (this prevents cracking).
  11. If you want to sprinkle nuts on top, do it now so that they will stick to the top of the shells.  (Picture 9)
  12. Allow the cookies to rest on a level surface for 30-60 minutes.  Until they are no longer tacky to a light touch.
  13. While the cookies are resting, you can preheat your oven to 300F.
  14. Bake the cookies for 16-20 minutes.

macaron

Parchment produces taller compact feet, the Silpat baked cookies’ feet tend to be shorter and a bit ruffled.  The cookie from the following picture was baked on parchment paper.

Macaron

The bottom of the shell should be flat and easy to come off the parchment paper, it shouldn’t be sticky.

Macaron bottom

The delicate shell had a crunch outside but yet was moist so it melted in your mouth.

Macarons

Notes:

  • If you’re using stainless steel container to beat the egg whites, feel free to add a pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or couple drops of lemon juice to help strengthen the egg whites.
  • Only use gel coloring.
  • If your oven is a fan-forced (convection) oven, do not turn on the fan.  Each oven is different, I placed an oven rack in the upper 3rd as the heat was too strong at the bottom or middle rack.  You will need to know how your oven works and adjust the rack position.

My favorite macaron filling is the Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe here), you can choose any fillings you want and a lot of them can be found on Martha Stewart‘s website.

Basic Swiss Meringue Filling

6 large egg whites 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, and whisk on high speed until mixture is cool and stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Use immediately.

Basic Swiss Meringue Buttercream Filling

Basic Swiss Meringue + 1 1/4 pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Chocolate Ganache Filling

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped (preferably 70 percent cacao)
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened

  • Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour cream over chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add butter, then whisk mixture until smooth. Let cool, stirring often. Use immediately.