Mooncake 101: What are They and Why are They So Popular?

20 August 2019
<p>A must-have tradition</p>

A must-have tradition

Mid-Autumn festival is around the corner and that means it’s mooncake madness!

These iconic Autumn treats are taking centre stage this month. If you’re unfamiliar, we’ll let you in on the goodness to keep you in the know.

What is it?

A typical mooncake is round and measures about 10 cm in diameter and 3–4 cm thick. The pastries are traditionally filled with either (a sweet) red bean or lotus seed paste. The crust is similar to a traditional Western pie crust – made with some combination of lard, salted duck eggs, syrup, flour, oil, sugar and water.  Crusts can be either chewy, flaky or tender.

The filling is usually dense and often contain one or more egg yolks to symbolize the full moon. The top of the pastry is typically embossed with the Chinese character for longevity or harmony and sometimes adorned with flowers and vines.

The average mooncake is said to contain approximately 1,000 calories (but varies according to filling and crust-type.

What are the different varieties?

snowskin mooncake       egg yolk mooncake

There are several varieties attributed to different regions in China including: Beijing-Style, Suzhou-Style, Guangzhou-Style, Yunnan-Style, Cantonese-Style, among others. As with anything that has even over thousands of years, many, many variations have evolved in both the fillings and crusts.

Today, most people refer to either baked or Snowskin mooncakes. Baked mooncakes are more traditional, and as the name suggests, baked (chewy, flaky or tender, as noted above). Snowskin mooncakes originated in Hong Kong as way to reduce the oiliness of traditional mooncakes. Snowskin crusts are thin and made from glutinous rice. They are not baked and usually served cold.

Traditional fillings are lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, five kernel/nuts, egg yolk and jujube paste but these have been expanded dramatically over the years. Today, the varieties of filling flavours is much more exotic and truly limitless. Contemporary varieties can range from durian to green tea to coffee to peanut butter to custard.  Most mooncakes are sweet but there are some savoury varieties you should also try, like the Assorted Nuts with Kaffir Lime and BBQ Chicken at the Four Seasons Hotel.

What’s the deal with the packaging?

Almost as important as the cakes themselves, the boxing and packaging of mooncakes has become something of a spectacle. Many high end hotels and retailers provide elegant and elaborate packaging for the mooncakes – that almost outshine the cakes themselves. These boxes are typically meant to be presented as gifts and in some cases (says business dealings) the more impressive the box, the more respect you show for the recipient. Many of the tins and boxes are meant to be reused and displayed as keepsakes.

Mooncakes and Gift-Giving: to whom should you give?

Giving and receiving mooncakes at this time of year is a common gesture among friends, family, neighbours and even business associates. You can present as a way of saying thanks (to your helper or child’s teacher, for example) or just to show appreciation.

Mooncakes are meant to be shared. Because they can be so sweet and rich, they are cut into small wedges and shared with a group over tea or coffee. As such, if you receive mooncakes as a gift and have the opportunity to share them, do so.

Where can I find them?

Glad you asked. We’ve got a round-up of places to go to get your fix and will be updating the list throughout the month.

By Kathleen Siddell / Updated August 2019 

Photos: 123rf.com

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