Thursday, August 13, 2009

Soochow Mooncake

The Mooncake Festival which is celebrated by all Chinese people every year will fall in early October this year. It came as a surprise to me as we usually celebrate it around mid September every year and October sounds so late! Anyways, I know nothing about the Lunar Calendar and absolutely not in a position to argue about the dates and I only know that I want to make mooncakes in my kitchen this year instead of forking out money for expensive packaging that adorns the imported mooncakes from Hong Kong and Taiwan that are sold in Chinatown.
This flaky pastry in Chinese biscuits and cookies originated from the Soochow cooking and the texture of this pastry is quite similar to the Western puff pastry, except that butter is not used in any of its formation. Lard is the most preferred choice in Chinese baking but modern cooking has shifted to a more healthier option of vegetable shortening or sometimes cooking oil. For this mooncake, baking at a lower temperature of 340F for 35 mins was required as the color of the pastry must remain white instead of the usual brown. The crisp clean white color of this pastry was the thing that made me curious to try out this recipe.

As with all Asian pastries, making these mooncakes requires a lot of patience and time. The pastry always comprises of 2 parts of dough, one with a combination of flour, sugar and oil and the other pure oil with flour. Vegetable shortening is the main fat content here and because of its high smoking point, it doesn't brown very fast under lower oven temperature, hence maintaining the whiteness of the pastry after baking. The result is a more tender pastry and the flakiness is really a test of skills in folding and rolling. I managed to get a thin flaky layer but I think the numbers of layers should be more as the main focus in these pastries is enjoying their flakiness which is light in the mouth and yet gives a lingering taste of bits and pieces in the corners of the mouth.

I adapted this recipe from the book titled Mooncake by Alan Ooi, which I believe is the best selling mooncake Recipe Book in Malaysia currently. Instead of the recommended red date longan paste and walnuts for the filling, I opted for a more simple lotus nut paste which I desperately needed to finish using before it spoils in the fridge. I am not sure how the mooncakes turned out so white in the recipe book itself as I already started to get a yellowish dough when I started to combine the doughs and rolled them out together. Even though cooked, the mooncake actually looked pale and easily dented if handled roughly when being removed from the oven. As always, I scaled down all the ingredients to yield half of the recipe and I was glad I did as the rolling and shaping part of the pastries took up alot of the time. Since this is only a trial run on one of the recipes, I figured I make a small batch or else everyone else will be so fed up with mooncakes even before October arrives!

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