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Cakes play important role in Moon Festival

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In honor of the Chinese Moon Festival, Super Cao Nguyen Market is stocking specialized mooncake products. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • In honor of the Chinese Moon Festival, Super Cao Nguyen Market is stocking specialized mooncake products.

The time of harvest leading up to the autumnal equinox is an important one in many cultures. In Western cultures, the harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, the delineation marking the transition between the longer days of summer and the shorter days of winter.

In Eastern cultures, especially Chinese and Vietnamese, it is a time of celebrating the fullness of the harvest. This year, the Moon Festival takes place Monday- Tuesday.

Two of the most important components of celebration are taro root, similar to potatoes and considered to be the first food discovered by moonlight, and Chinese lanterns that glow with the benevolent light of the moon.

In Chinese culture, taro root is also symbolic of unity and fortune within the family. A traditional food in abundance this time of year is the mooncake, a symbol of luck and good fortune that honors the moon and lady Chang’e with her jade rabbit. She was worshipped in China as Tai  Yin Niang Niang, or Moon Goddess.

Just before the moon landing by Apollo 11 in 1969, someone at mission control told the crew to be on the lookout for Chang’e and her jade rabbit. They included a description of the duo, to which Buzz Aldrin responded, “Okay, We’ll keep a close lookout for the bunny girl.”

The majority of mooncakes in Oklahoma City are those of south and west Asian influence, ones made with cookie dough and scented with caramel. They are beautiful confections, golden brown with elaborate markings.

Although there are many varieties of fillings, Theresa, owner of Lang’s Bakery, 2524 N. Military Ave., said that you could compare the most popular ones with fruitcake.

Lang’s has a wide selection of moon cakes available through September.

There are plenty of varieties available at Super Cao Nguyen, 2668 N. Military Ave., and manager Hai Luong is happy to help adventurous shoppers find what they seek. They are rich pastries with dense, velvety dough wrapped around a mildly sweet and slightly crunchy filling.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can even make them yourself.

We’ve provided a slight adaptation of several recipes, borrowed heavily from Carolyn Phillip’s article in Zester Daily.

The adaptations are primarily for easier-to-find ingredients. Mooncake molds are available almost exclusively online, as making the cakes is a time-consuming process and most busy families simply purchase them. Good luck!

Equipment needed:

2 medium working bowls

2-cup or larger heat-resistant measuring cup

Cookie sheet(s) lined with two layers of parchment paper each

Heat-resistant spatulas

Pastry brush

Mooncake molds

For the fruit and nut filling (for best results make this one day in advance):

1 heaping cup (about 25 large) dried red Chinese dates

1 cup filtered water

1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins

3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

1/2  cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup Chinese rose-scented white liquor (Meiguilu) or vodka

2 tbsp. caramel (recipe above)

1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 tbsp. flour

1 tbsp. rice flour

For the caramel:

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup filtered water (divide in half)

3 tbsp. white rice vinegar or cider vinegar

For the pastry:

2 2/3 cups regular white Asian flour (which has a lower gluten content)

3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. caramel (recipe above)

1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil

Extra flour as needed

For the glaze:

1 egg yolk

2 tsp. Chinese rose-scented white liquor (Meiguilu), or vodka

1 tbsp. caramel (recipe above)

Directions:

1. For the filling, cook the dates in the water until they are soft and the water has been absorbed. Remove the dates from the heat, and when cool enough to handle, pit them if they are not already pitted. Carefully chop them into a fine paste, using a knife so that you can remove any pits or shards that you come across. Mix the paste and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl until evenly mixed. Cover and refrigerate until the next day.

2. To make the caramel, place the powdered sugar and 1/2 cup water in a steel pan (so you can easily see the sugar change color). Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, cover for a few minutes and then uncover. Add the vinegar and bring the pan back to a boil without stirring. Quickly boil the sugar syrup for about 10 minutes it will start to turn amber. When it is an even golden brown, lower the heat to medium-high and then add the rest of the water, careful to avoid splashes. As the boiling starts to simmer down, stir the caramel with a heat-tolerant spatula until smooth. Pour the caramel into a heat-resistant measuring cup or bowl and let it cool to room temperature. You should have about 1 and 1/4 cups.

3. For the dough, pour flour in a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the oil and caramel. Mix these together gently with a spoon, making a very soft dough. Roll the dough out on a floured surface into an even 20-inch cylinder. Cut the cylinder into 10 pieces, about 2 inches wide. Roll each piece into a soft ball, and keep the dough completely covered when you’re not handling it.

4. Heat the oven to 325 F. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven to keep the bottoms of the pastries from burning; you will cook one sheet of pastries at a time. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix together the glaze; have two pastry brushes, a thin spatula, your mooncake mold and a pastry scraper ready. Dust the inside of your mooncake mold heavily with flour and knock out the excess.

5. Working on one pastry at a time, pat out one piece of dough into a 5- to 6-inch circle, making the center slightly mounded. Place a portion of the filling in the center and wrap the dough around the filling. Lightly roll the now-large ball between your palms so the filling is evenly covered.

If you have a mooncake mold, roll one side of the ball in some flour and then place the ball flour side down inside the mooncake mold. Press lightly but firmly on the ball so it fills the mold. Then, turn the mold upside-down and whack it on your counter to release the pastry. If you do not, do your best to shape them as moonlike as possible. You can press patterns into the dough or use a butter knife to “carve” them. Place the pastry on a cookie sheet and dust off excess flour.

Use a pastry brush to coat the pastry with the glaze.

6. Bake the mooncakes until they are a golden brown, around 25 minutes for the small cakes and 35-40 minutes for the large ones. Cool the pastries completely.

7. Invite your friends over for a Moon Festival party, and serve mooncakes with hot tea while enjoying each other’s company while gazing at the full harvest moon.

print headline: China moon, Mooncakes play an important role in the Moon Festival, celebrated this month.

 

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