Today is the 15th day of the eight month of the lunar calendar, which marks Mid-Autumn Festival. Walking lanterns, donning papier mâché masks and offering foods to the gods are all part of the festivities, but let’s be honest, most of us associate this holiday with the indispensable delicacy called mooncakes.
Traditionally, mooncakes are palm-sized Chinese pastries with an egg yolk center that is embraced by a sweet rich paste made from lotus seed, red bean or jujube and a variety of nuts and seeds. The sweet/salty contrast is what makes mooncakes so irresistibly good. Additionally, crusts can vary from being thin and glossy (Cantonese-style), flaky (Suzhou and Taiwan-style) or chewy (modern snowskin varieties). As far as symbolism goes, its round-shape signifies the completeness and unity of the family while the bright golden yolk represents the full moon and also wealth.
I was surprised to learn a few years ago that lard is commonly used in traditional mooncakes to achieve a smooth texture and impart fragrance. For vegans/vegetarians, snowskin mooncakes are a safer bet because the skin is made from cooked glutinous rice flour and vegetable oil (although you may want to check the ingredients first). Although my family is not big on mooncakes, this year I got to enjoy some heavenly nuggets – either gifted/bought from restaurants or friends, as well as a rather inauthentic version that I invented at a last minute.
Mao Shan Wang Durian Mooncake, Peony Jade
Generous chunks of 100% pure premium bittersweet Mao Shan Wang durian in organic pandan snowskin. I didn’t really care for the skin, which I found too sweet and lacking bite, but the durian… delicious, divine, decadent or heavenly, but truly, no words can do justice to describe it. Just so good! They were swiped clean in a matter of a few days hence the borrowed picture.
Pandan Lotus Paste with Brown Rice Snowskin (left) and Red Bean Paste with Glutinous Rice Snowskin (right) from Chen Xi (@peabrainner on Instagram). Both mooncakes are vegan.
I got to know Chen Xi through Instagram. Her pictures, mainly of food but also of street shots and architecture in Singapore, are colorful and varied and I was drawn to her account immediately. Moreover how often to you “meet” a fellow vegan friend in Singapore? Anyway her mother was having a mooncake sale and just the descriptions of the mooncakes alone was enough to entice me into buying. The skin of snowskin mooncakes are usually made with cooked glutinous rice flour (koh fun/gao fen), so a brown rice snowskin was novel and certainly worth a try.
Both mooncakes impressed with their not too sweet paste. There was none of the cloying oiliness that can sometimes be present in commercial mooncakes, but instead had a clean natural mouthfeel. The texture of the snowskin was the highlight – springy and thick, and infused with a gentle hint of pandan or red bean. Usually I’m a fillings person and abandon the skin (too sweet/doughy), but for the first time I actually found a snowskin that was palatable! The brown rice (pandan) snowskin was also noticeably softer than the glutinous rice (red bean) one – an interesting observation worthy of experimentation. Of the two, I preferred the pandan which came filling came studded with bits of brown rice, imparting the mooncake with a unique texture different from the usual crunchy nuts/seeds.
Matcha Buckwheat Mooncakes with Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Yolk, a creation by earlymorningoats.
Essentially, you may consider this a buckwheat peanut butter cup masquerading as a mooncake. I initially planned on making traditional/snowskin mooncakes, but eventually had to abandon the idea because of the lack of time and resources. Then last night a spark of inspiration hit; why not a buckwheat mooncake?
An ashen brown, the colour of buckwheat flour makes the perfect mimic for lotus paste. The buckwheat bake is made with a banana-flax base and stippled with pumpkin and sunflower seeds for a satisfying crunch. For the yolk, I went with a ball of sweet potato, rolled oats and peanut butter. Not only does it resemble the golden egg yolk/moon, the peanut butter adds a savoury touch similar to the salted duck egg yolk in traditional mooncakes. Finally for the “skin”, I went with a green tea cashew frosting. Green tea is a popular flavour in mooncakes because its bitter notes help balance out the sweet filling. Initially I was afraid that the earthy buckwheat and bitter matcha might be too overwhelming, but the flavours all worked out beautifully in the end.
I had some leftover sweet potato “yolks” which I baked alongside with the mooncake. This might just be the best snack ever.
This is probably the only mooncake which you can devour whole and not feel the least bit guilty! And you can enjoy it at any time of the year too!