Recently moon cakes were discovered in the local Oriental Market! What are moon cakes you might ask? More importantly, why are the markets taking a sudden interest in them? Those questions lead to a very fun investigation of which you can participate!
Moon cakes are sweet thin-skinned pastries with a thick, dense filling inside. The cakes traditionally have a thin outer layer of dough which is either soft or flaky. The dense insides consist of lotus seed paste sometimes featuring a salted duck egg yolk which represents the moon.
These are of Chinese origin and the Japanese variation is most commonly filled with sweet smooth azuki bean paste known as red bean paste, and almost never come with a salted egg yolk in the middle. There are many different variations. Modern versions are known to come in completely different forms such as jelly moon cakes filled with sweet red bean paste or fruit fillings.
They are fairly rich, meant to be cut up into sections and passed around amongst a group of people. The fillings may sound intimidatingly weird to those who haven’t experienced this part of Eastern culture. Despite that, the lotus seed paste and red bean paste fillings are on the sweet side and surprisingly the yolks tend to give more body to the flavor of the lotus seed.
Red bean filled are a good tame version for those new to it and unwilling to quite jump into the egg yolks. Lotus paste fillings are offered without yolks as well.
Moon cakes commonly come in rectangular, square or circular shapes. Traditionally, the Chinese characters baked into the top of the cakes symbolize “harmony” or “longevity”. The embellishments around the characters may feature pictures associated with the moon as well.
For example, a rabbit may appear due to the fact it’s associated with being the moon god’s companion. It is also said to appear on the face of the moon. The story of the moon god Chang’e and the moon rabbit can be found on Wikipedia.
The Mid-Autumn festival or moon festival, associated with these pastries is on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar. This year the date for the moon festival is September 12, 2011. On this day the moon is at its most vivid brightness. This festival is one where friends and family gather to view the moon and eat moon cake underneath it.
“Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:
• Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns
• Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e (Chinese: 嫦娥; pinyin: Cháng’é)
• Erect the Mid-Autumn Festival.(树中秋，竖中秋，in China,树and 竖are homophones）It is not about planting trees but hanging lanterns on the bamboo pole and putting them on a high point, such as roofs, trees, terraces, etc. It is a custom in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, etc.
• Collecting dandelion leaves and distributing them evenly among family members
• Fire Dragon Dances
• In Taiwan, since the 1980s, barbecuing meat outdoors has become a widespread way to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.”-Wikipedia
Travel to China in your own home! Keep an open mind, try new foods and eat with friends under the autumn harvest moon!