Thursday, September 08, 2011
Mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival 2011 - Baked Skin Variety
The Mid-Autumn Festival means an influx of mooncakes, the traditional delight you nibble on with a sip of Chinese tea while you savour the full moon. As a sign of respect, mooncakes are also exchanged during the festival between families and friends. They are often given as corporate gifts too hence the booming mooncake business. Fickle tastebuds see the hotels, bakeries and Chinese restaurants vying for the public's tummies with various flavours. However, traditional favourites still remain popular - the sweet and soft lotus paste encased in a baked skin that hides a savoury edge in the form of a salted egg yolk in the centre, which is said to resemble the moon.
In trying these baked skin varieties, one glaring problem stared at my face...the salted egg yolks. Said to resemble the shape of the moon, unfortunately most of these taste like the craters that dot the moon as most I encountered were dry and hard. This seems most evident in mass produced mooncakes as they use salted egg yolks that are brined for a shorter period (more than 20 days is needed for the brining process to create a softer centre, usually 30-40 days). Freshness also plays a part. Some mooncake makers try to alleviate this problem by mimicking the salted egg yolk with custard centers with the salted egg yolk aroma. These custard salted egg yolk centers keep better and avoids that unpleasant hard bite.
On a personal level, the lotus paste mooncake from Shangri-la Kuala Lumpur won me over with its not too sweet and aromatic white lotus paste. It was also very fresh where the salted egg yolk was still soft and moist. A close favourite was the Sunway Resort's low sugar white lotus paste. In the past, I've only done the hotels but this year, I dabbled with the established mooncake makers such as Tong Kee (a brand my mother swears by) and Foh San. They definitely produce pretty darn good mooncakes with aromatic lotus paste and soft skin. However, the salted egg yolks tend to be a little dried out.
A personal favourite of my mother's is the mixed nuts (ngan yan) version and the Chinese ham version (kam tui) hence this year I decided to poke around the hotels to look for a version she'll be happy with. The Shangri-la version is a firm favourite of my friends who swear by its mixed nuts scented with the grapefruit aroma but my mother finds it a tad too dry for her liking. I loved the Renaissance's mixed nuts version (macadamia nuts included!) since it had a soft texture but freshness is an issue. A friend had bought me the mixed nuts version which I loved but when I bought the Chinese ham version, it was all dried out with no evident Chinese ham aromas. Instead, my mother's all-time favourite from Tong Kee kam tui mooncake, won me over with its soft texture and aromatic Chinese ham even though it was not as nutty as the rest.
Renaissance Kuala Lumpur
One must admit I've been very blase about Renaissance's offerings as I still remember one disastrous year where the snowskin varieties I tried were rather dismal. When a friend bought me the baked mooncake with assorted nuts and seeds (RM22), I was won over. Filled with loads of nutty goodness including macadamia nuts, I loved the soft texture delicately perfumed with the grapefruit aroma. I decided to give the Chinese ham version (RM26). Incredibly dissapointing - dried out centre with not enough Chinese ham to give it much aroma. The double salted egg yolk with white lotus paste (RM22) was decent as the lotus paste was not too sweet but it still suffered from the slightly hard salted egg yolk centre.
Available at Mid-Valley Megamall Centre Court, Lower Ground Floor and Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Corner of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Ampang, KL, Tel:03-2162 2233.
Recently, the office was pleasantly surprised with a box of mooncakes from Sunway Resort. The pink box, which comes with a handy handle consisted of four mooncakes with a packet of Chinese tea. We enjoyed the low sugar white lotus paste (RM21) with its smooth texture. Initially, the low sugar jade custard paste (RM22) didn't sound so appealing but I liked the soft custard centre shaped like a salted egg yolk. The low sugar red bean paste (RM20) was decent but got a little cloying after a few bites, while the assorted organic nuts (RM23) was way too sweet and quite dry. I remember a few readers wanted the red dates paste, Sunway Resort has that old styled flavour. Personally I find the red dates paste too sweet for my liking.
For more details on the Sunway Resort's varieties, see this link.
Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur
Another favourite of mine is Li Yen's mooncakes from their baked varieties to the snowkin ones with decadent Moet & Chandon champagne. The lotus paste version is smooth while the kam tui (RM19.50) variety was aromatic with its mixed nuts but a little too sweet for my liking.
Available at Li Yen Restaurant, 2nd Floor, Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, Tel: 03-2142 8000.
Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur
Every year, Shangri-la's mooncakes are divine and this year's lotus paste is smooth with the best salted egg yolk with a soft centre. I love this year's box, kudos to their design theme as the green jade-like panel adds a classy touch to the whole ensemble.
Chef Choi Restaurant
This Chinese restaurant along Jalan Ampang excels in their super smooth snowskin white lotus paste. The baked variety with the salted egg yolk is just as good.
Chef Choi Restaurant, 159, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, Tel: 03-2163 5866
I used to be a great fan of Foh San's Heong Far biscuits (RM26.50 per packet), made from the mooncake skin and studded with melon seeds. However, this year's version is dismal with a doughy texture and imbalance of spices that flavour the biscuit. Since I was buying the biscuits, I also tried their lotus paste with salted egg yolk. While the texture of the lotus paste was nice with melon seeds and a soft skin, the salted egg yolk failed again with a hard center.
Foh San Mooncakes, available at all Jusco outlets.
Famous for their flaky egg tarts, Tong Kee also produces mooncakes that my mother would religiously buy each year. I really love their kam tui mooncakes (RM16.50), redolent with the smoky aromas of the Chinese ham and the white lotus paste mooncake (RM16.50) is also nice even though the salted egg yolk was a little dry in the middle.
Available at Jusco outlets and Tong Kee bakeries. See this link to their Facebook page.
Equatorial Kuala Lumpur
Equatorial Kuala Lumpur has one of the prettiest boxes around with a colourful butterfly theme. They have some unusual flavours like glutinous rice yam, a nice combination with lotus paste. I was not too keen though on the chrysanthemum pu-er tea version since the flavours were a little odd. Their white lotus paste version is also pretty good.
Available at O Gourmet, Bangsar Shopping Centre, Village Grocer, Tangs at Pavilion KL and Equatorial Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Sultan Ismail, KL. For details, see this link.
Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore
A favourite of my sister's from across the Causeway. These mini mooncakes come in a lovely red box. In terms of texture, the mooncake tends to be a little dry even though the skin is soft. The salted egg yolk is a tad dry too.
For more unusual mooncake varieties in Singapore, do check out Time Out Singapore's round up on the interesting flavours available.
Tomorrow it will be the snowskin varieties. See the Flickr set for the full set of mooncakes.