From thousand layer to snowskin, stuffed with four yolks, or made with vegan jelly, mooncakes are evolving every year
It’s mooncake season. You can tell by the mountains of aluminium tins stacked on top of each other in elaborate packaging, boasting anything from one to four salted egg yolks; lotus seed paste; red bean paste; nuts and half-sugar in any Asian grocer.
But what exactly are they and what’s so important about mid-autumn? Even in Australian springtime?
Traditionally, the festival celebrates the autumn harvest that coincides with the moon being at its fullest and brightest. It falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, which is 21 September for 2021. In the past, families would gather (mainly to harvest crops), give thanks for a plentiful harvest, and pray for an equally good harvest in the future, for babies to carry on the legacy, and long lives.
These days, due to the introduction of technology and modernised farming practices, the mid-autumn festival is about giving, receiving and eating as many mooncakes as you possibly can.
So what is a mooncake? To explain it in the simplest, possible way, it’s a small, round pastry stuffed with either sweet or savoury filling. There are many different variations of the mooncake, depending on where in Asia you’re from – the only common element being the symbolism of the moon.
The square or lotus-shaped, dense mooncakes with the browned, chewy crust stamped with the name of the bakery you see in most Asian grocers are the Cantoness version. They’re the most recognised mooncake in Australia due to Hong Kong’s financial boom in the 1960s, when they became commercialised and a popular gift item. They’re commonly filled with lotus seed paste and one or two salted yolks.
With the extreme-gifting trend and auspicious nature of all Chinese celebrations, some bakeries stuff up to four salted egg yolks into a single mooncake, because the more moons you have, the more plentiful the bounty for the receiver. You’ll also see red bean paste, mung bean paste, sesame paste and a five-seed mix in some mooncakes, although they’re not as easy to find.