Monday, September 12, 2011

Making Chinese Mooncakes in Spain: A Study in Surrealism

This is a documentary of me attempting to make mooncakes in Spain without the correct ingredients and without a mooncake mold. The arduous process and results were a study in surrealism.

What on earth is this?! It doesn' a moon cake, but what the hell. I spent three days slaving over this thing!

Anyhow, I don't suggest you follow my modified 'recipe' as the lotus paste came out way too soft. I am guessing there was too much butter in comparison to the starch content, and hence it tended to spread all over the place.

The other issue was that the dough did not seem to have the resilience it should have had and was not stretchy and soft and tended to crack, resulting in a surface that kind of looks like the drought hit areas of the earth.

I would say that the only useful part of this blog is how to prepare the dried lotus seeds. The rest is a work in progress.

So here goes...

Preparation of the Lotus Seeds

I used dry lotus seeds as this was all I could find.

I purchased 150 g x 6 packs of dried lotus seeds. After I soaked them in water overnight and seeds that had changed color and so on were removed, this converted to around 1.9 kg of lotus seeds. This means that a 150g pack of lotus seeds will convert to roughly 316 g of usable hydrated lotus seeds.

Step 1: Soak the lotus seeds in water in a big bowl for a few hours.

Step 2: When the lotus seeds have softened sufficiently for handling, check each seed to make sure the germ has been removed from the center as this is very bitter. Also throw away any seeds that look discolored.

Step 3: Soak the lotus seeds in water again overnight.

Step 4: Measure the desired amount of seeds. In my case I needed 1.332 kg lotus seeds to make 3 kg of lotus paste. Put the rest inside a tupperware in water and store in the refrigerator.

Step 5: Boil the lotus seeds for more than 5 hours until soft. Remember that you want a smooth paste. The softer they are the less likely they are to get gritty.

The recipe I followed for making lotus paste was this from Amanda:

Amanda's Recipe

200g Lotus Seed
180g Sugar (120g recommended by author)
160 ml Peanut Oil (100 ml Olive Oil recommended by author)
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Condensed Milk
1/8 Tsp Salt

The author noted that this made around 450g of lotus paste and I needed 3kg. This meant I needed around 1332 g of lotus seeds. I modified the recipe proportions using fresh cream instead of condensed milk:

1330g Hydrated Lotus Seeds
800g Sugar
670g Butter
17 Tbsp Honey
14 Tbsp Fresh Cream
1 Tsp Salt

This is the lotus paste paste I made...or should I say Ronny made. Frankly, without his viking brute strength, it would have been impossible to stir more than 2.5kg of this paste for a few hours. It was insane. Now I think I can understand how Leif Erikson managed to get all the way to the Americas on his man/wind powered boat.

*This recipe yielded 2640g of lotus paste. Don't know what happened to the 360 g, but maybe we took too many spoonfuls out of it to 'taste it' as we were making it, and as I mentioned earlier it tasted good but was too soft.

I used several references for making my moon cakes and will link to them where relevant. In the end I chose to go with the formula on Anncoo Journal.

Anncoo's recipe:

600g Hong Kong Flour
360g Sugar Syrup
12g Alkaline Water
150g Peanut Oil
3 kg Lotus Paste

I compared this with another recipe on House of Annie.

Annie's recipe:

300g Superfine Flour (600g)
240g Mooncake Golden Syrup (480g)
1/2 Tbsp Alkaline Water (1Tbsp)
75g Cooking Oil (150g)
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda (1 Tsp)

A few questions arose at this point.

1. What is Hong Kong Flour?
2. What is Mooncake Golden Syrup?
3. What is alkaline water?

Hong Kong Flour turned out to be a fine bleached flour although I was never able to find out the percentage of its protein content. In the end, I opted for using 300 g AP flour and 300 g cake flour.

Mooncake Golden Syrup can be substituted with corn syrup or Golden Syrup, but if you really want to make it from scratch you need to let it sit for around a year before using it. See this. I opted for using a mixture of syrup and honey used in making Arab confections as this is all I could get.

Alkaline water according to some references is what is referred to as lye water in the west. However some say that it is simply alkaline water and you should do a litmus paper test to determine the pH of your tap water. Pure water has a pH of around 7.0. If the pH is more than 7.0, it is alkaline, if it is lower it is acidic. If your water isn't alkaline, adding baking soda to it can make it alkaline. The water in my area is very hard and alkaline so I just used tap water.

The other question is the baking soda in Annie's list of ingredients. As the dough has to sit for 3 hours to 1 day in her recipe, we can assume that it's not there for its raising properties. I am guessing that it is there to ensure that the dough stays alkaline.

Annie also uses a lot more syrup, which suggested to me that her dough would be softer. hmm....

In the end this is what I did:

300g AP Flour
300g Cake Flour
360g Syrup with Honey
10g Tap Water with an alkaline pH
150g Melted Butter

Anncoo's recipe says to let it sit for 20 minutes, but I decided to let it sit for much longer while I made the lotus paste. I might also add that if you have any doubts about whether your tap water is alkaline and don't want to do a litmus test, add 1 Tsp baking soda to the water.

This is what the dough looked like when it was put into the refrigerator:

The morning after making the lotus paste (and it had cooled down), it was time to shape and bake the moon cakes.

Shaping and Baking the Moon Cakes

Step 1: Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it warm-up to room temperature or at least until it is soft and pliable.

Step 2: Knead the lotus paste well and make 80g balls (or 150g if you think you can do it) . I had difficulty wrapping 150g of paste as my paste as very soft in comparison to my dough. I reduced the amount and decided to wrap them in the same way as I wrap Chinese beef pies - which is not the way to wrap moon cakes, but if you have trouble wrapping it the correct way, I suggest you do what I did!

Step 3: Knead the wrapper dough well and make 50g balls with it.

Step 4: Flatten out the dough into a circle with your hands and wrap the lotus paste ball with it completely.
See this. I didn't put an egg in the center, but put some walnuts and almonds candied with honey in the center.

Step 5: If you have a mold, then lightly dust the ball with cake flour and press it into the mold and remove. If not flatten it with your hands so that you have circular mooncake (with no fancy designs on it).

Step 6: Preheat oven to 180C.

Step 7: Bake 10 mooncakes or so at a time for 7 minutes. Remove them from the oven, cool them and bake the next batch for 7 minutes. Basically the mooncakes will need to cool for 10 minutes.

Step 8: Dial down the oven temperature to 175C and let the first batch rest for another 3 minutes at least.

Step 9: Paint the surface of the first batch of mooncakes with egg wash and put 10 of them back in the oven and bake them for 20 minutes.

Step 10: Repeat the process until all the mooncakes are baked.

Note: I used a well whipped egg yolk + 1 Tsp water for my egg wash.

I was talking to a friend of mine while making these and she mentioned walnut mooncakes, which made me want to make some candied walnuts and almonds.

I just coated a handful of walnuts and Marcona almonds with dark honey from Galicia and roasted them in the oven preheated to 175C (350F) for around 12 - 15 minutes, stirring them around a bit at the 7 minute mark or so. I incorporated these into a few of the mooncakes.

Let me end this by quoting Annie:

"Honestly, if you live in Asia where the filling ingredients are easy to find and buy pre-made, and most of the other ingredients for the skin are also prepared for you, it's not really hard at all. If you live in the West, where the ingredients may be more difficult to find and you'd have to make everything from scratch by yourself, then yes, I'd say it would be tougher."

No kidding!

The last and perhaps most important question is how they tasted. Well, my crust turned out to be like a soft pie crust and the lotus seed paste was very aromatic because of the Galician honey and home made vanilla essenceI used. They were definitely palatable, but they just were not....Chinese mooncakes. Please consult my original sources when making yours.

Addendum 1: The mooncakes need to be made at least 2 days before consumption. After 2 days the wrapper will soften and the cakes will become very fragrant. I left mine out on a cooling rack for the rest of the day and them stored them in an airtight container. Whenever I open the containers the aromatic scent of dark honey from Galicia, caramelized sugar, vanilla, butter and fresh cream spill out of the container and it's a real pleasure to take one of the moonakes out and eat them. Mine may look awkward, but they taste fabulous.

Addendum 2: I used 100% cake flour to bake another batch, and let the dough sit for 20 minutes. This appears to yield a more elastic dough. However, when I baked them the wrappers seemed to crack. This could be because I did not wait until the lotus paste had warmed-up to room temperature.

Addendum 3: If the lotus paste is soft, let it harden in the refrigerator and take them out and make the balls right before they are ready to be put into the wrapper. Then let them soften inside the wrapper before you put them into the mold or shape them with your hands.


Amelia's De-ssert said...

Hi, your lotus paste looks good.
I made the lotus paste once, I gave up cos it took me 1/2 a day to clean 2kg of louts seed. LOL
I use anncoo's mooncake recipe too and it turn out very good.

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Amelia: LOL...I think we should stick to making moon cakes only if we can buy ready made lotus paste!

Anncoo said...

Oh dear, you really made the lotus paste from scratch. I should have send you the alkaline water to solve your problem.
Please leave me your email address in my contact.

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Anncoo: My friends think my moon cakes look like the REAL moon! It is cracked and full of craters. lol I have just stopped by your site and admired your perfect ones. haha ;)

Elra's cooking and baking said...

Thanks for the recipes Murasaki!

Janine said...

I'm glad I hopped by here, because I'm definitely amazed at your courage for attempting to make moon cakes with your homemade lotus paste AND without the mould. And they don't look half as bad as you've described them - they still look very presentable!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Janine: lol, thanks. :)

My Little Space said...

No jokes at all, Murasaki! You actually making your own lotus paste. Hat off! Well, I'm glad you made this. At least you can enjoy some really nice Asian cuisines at home.