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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Food Articles >> Mooncake


Mooncake is a Chinese confection that is traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, although they can be eaten at other times of the year as well. Typical mooncakes are either round or rectangular puck-shaped pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. They have a relatively thin crust (2-3 mm), which surrounds a thick pasty filling and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are typically rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. It is usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea.

Traditional mooncakes are typically baked and consists of a thin tender skin enveloping a sweet and slightly oily filling. The moon cake can also contain single or multiple whole salted egg yolks in its center to symbolize the full moon. The saltiness of the yolk balances well with the sweet filling in the mooncake. Although rarely so, mooncakes can also be steamed or fried.

Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for "longevity" or "harmony" as well as the name of the bakery and filling in the moon cake. Imprints of a moon, a woman on the moon, flowers, vines, or a rabbit may surround the characters for additional decoration.

Mooncakes are expensive and are considered a delicacy. Making them and their fillings is also a labor-intensive process; as such, few people make them at home and choose instead to purchase them at Asian markets and bakeries.

Many types of fillings can be found in traditional mooncakes according to the region culture:

  • Lotus seed paste (蓮蓉, lían róng): Considered by some to be the original and most luxurious mooncake filling, lotus paste filling is found in all types of mooncakes. Due to the high price of lotus paste, white kidney bean paste is sometimes used as a filler.
  • Red bean and other sweet bean pastes (豆沙, dòu shā): Bean pastes are some of the most common fillings found in Chinese desserts. Although red bean paste, made from azuki beans, is the most common worldwide, there are regional and original preferences for bean paste made from Mung bean as well as black bean known throughout history.
  • Jujube paste (棗泥, zǎo ní): A sweet paste made from the ripe fruits of the jujube plant. The paste is dark red in color, a little fruity/smoky in flavor and slightly sour in taste. Depending on the quality of the paste, jujube paste may be confused with red bean paste.
  • Five kernel (五仁, wǔ rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltose syrup. Commonly used nuts and seeds include: walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds. In addition, the mixture will usually contain candied winter melon, Chinese dried ham, or pieces of rock sugar as additional flavoring.

Traditional mooncakes vary widely depending on the region where the mooncake is produced. While most regions produce traditional mooncakes with many types of fillings, they usually only make their mooncake from one type of crust or another. Although vegetarian mooncakes may use vegetable oil, many mooncakes use lard in their recipes for an optimum mouthfeel. There are three types of mooncake crust used in Chinese cuisine:

  • Chewy: This crust has a reddish-brown tone and glossy sheen. It is the most common type of crust used on Cantonese-style mooncakes. It is also the most commonly seen type of mooncake in North America and many western countries. Chewy mooncake crusts are made using a combination of thick sugar syrup, lye water, flour, and oil, thus giving this crust its rich taste and a chewy yet tender texture. Chewiness can be increased further by adding maltose syrup to the mixture.
    • The dough is also baked into fish or piglet shapes (Cantonese: "Jue Zai Bang"; 豬仔餅; lit. "Piglet Biscuits") and sold at mooncake bakeries as a chewy snack. They often come individually packaged in small plastic baskets, to symbolize fish being caught or piglets being bound for sale.
  • Flaky: Flaky crusts are most indicative of Suzhou-style mooncakes. The dough is made by rolling together alternating layers of oily dough and flour that has been stir-fried in oil. This crust has a very similar texture to the likes of puff pastry.
  • Tender: Mooncakes from certain provinces of China and Taiwan are often made to be tender rather than flaky or chewy. The texture of this type of mooncake crust is similar to the likes of the shortcrust pastry used in Western pie crusts or tart shells. Tender crusts are made mainly of a homogenous mix of sugar, oil, flour, and water. This type of crust is also commonly used in other type of Chinese pastries, such as the egg tart.

Mooncake Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival is intricately linked to the legends of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. But despite its central role in the Mid-Autumn Festival, the popularity of mooncakes has declined in recent years. Part of the reason is that people are becoming more health-conscious. Traditional mooncakes are made with lard, and a lot of sugar. Another reason for the decline in popularity is that the Moon Festival has become increasingly commercialized. People are focusing more on the exchange of gifts, and less on the traditional celebrations, such that its symbolism has eroded. Many mooncakes are bought by businessmen who give them to their clients as presents.