Gazing in amazement of the full moon, laughing during family dinner, playing with lanterns, and eating yummy mooncakes; that’s how we celebrate the Mooncake festival at my house every year. When my family owned a bakery, we used to make and sell fresh mooncakes every year, around September. Some of my most poignant childhood memories consisted of watching the chefs gently folding the yolk into the lotus seed, rolling it into a ball, wrapping a thin layer of the pastry dough on top, filling the mooncake mold, and knocking the mold onto the kitchen onto the flour-dusted countertop and the aroma of fresh baked mooncakes wafting through the bakery as me and my siblings steadfastly filled each box of mooncakes. Although it was always a busy time of year for us, it was also really fun and festive to interact with people from all walks of life.
Now that we don’t have a bakery anymore, tradition looks a bit different these days, but everything else remains the same – moments spent with family, enjoying dinner, looking up at the moon, and eating moon cakes. These are some of my most cherished childhood memories and it’s something I hope to pass onto my children and future generations. If you love mooncakes as much as I do, read on to learn everything there is to know about mooncakes; from the history to type of mooncakes to finding the best mooncake brand!
Mooncake Festival History
In case you don’t already know, let me explain what the Mooncake Festival is! The Mooncake Festival is a once-a-year celebration of the full moon, taking place on August 15th of the lunar calendar. The Chinese have a saying for the full moon which is “人月兩團圓”, which stresses the importance of people and moon gathering together as a family. Originally, the mid autumn festival celebrated the reapings of a harvest by honoring the moon. In modern times however, it is a celebration of family and the importance of bringing everyone together and appreciating the full moon.
Types of Mooncakes
Lotus seed with Egg Yolk 蛋黄蓮蓉 – With its silky caramel-like flavor combined with the salted duck egg yolk at its center, it’s easy to see why this is the most common and classic mooncake. The savoriness of the salted egg yolk balanced with the sweetness of lotus seed, creates a really rich combination of flavors.
Lotus Seed 蓮蓉– Lotus seed is soaked in water and then blended to form a paste, and then cooked with oil and caramelized sugar to make this silky, rich, and creamy paste that taste like caramel.The more concentrated the lotus seed, the sweeter it is.
Mixed Nuts 五仁月饼- Mixed Nuts mooncake is made from 5 different types of nuts and sugar. For folks that want a lighter alternative, they might opt for this healthier option!
Ham and Mixed Nuts 火腿月饼- This mooncake has mixed nuts but also chunks of Chinese cured ham folded into the mooncake. The flavor tastes sweet and nutty with bits of salted ham to balance out the sweetness.
Red Bean 红豆- Red bean is another popular option for mooncakes if you like azuki beans. This paste has a sweet grainy texture made from delicious red beans.
Good or Bad Mooncake?
I have worked with mooncakes for over 20 years, and I know pretty much everything there is to know. There are several important things to keep in mind when picking out a mooncake for the holidays.
- Thin wrapper- A nice thin layer of wrapper that surrounds the mooncake is important for the taste and texture of the mooncake
- Egg yolk should be moist – A good way to tell if the egg yolk is dry, is how easily it will fall out of the mooncake. A moist egg yolk should stick to the lotus sweed upon cutting. A dry egg yolk means that the egg yolk is either old or the mooncake is not fresh.
- Oil – Contrary to popular belief, eating a mooncake fresh out of the oven isn’t ideal. It’s always best to let the mooncake sit for several days to let the “oil” return to the mooncake, because the oil is what makes the mooncake smooth and silky.
In my experience, buying mooncakes that are locally made are better and definitely fresher. The ones from overseas likely contain preservatives to help mooncakes stay fresh. Some mooncakes also have brand names from Hong Kong but in actuality are manufactured in China. There are even some unfortunate videos of manufacturers taking old mooncakes and repackaging for this year. During this season, a lot of local bakeries make mooncakes, so make sure to buy local and support small businesses!