Monday, September 21, 2009

Making Mooncakes in Kowloon

HONG KONG - I have long known about mooncakes, the rich, round pastries made for the Mid-Autumn Festival in the Chinese lunar calendar, but I had never made them until I visited the kitchen at the Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel, and got some coaching from a hotel chef.

Like gumbo in the American South, cooks in Asia like to come up with variations on tradition and put their personal stamp on this popular creation. In the case of the Kowloon Shangri-la (, the hotel has taken mooncakes upmarket, adding black truffles to the recipe. The hotel is about more than mooncakes, gastronomically speaking, to be sure. The Kowloon property's traditional Cantonese restaurant, Shang Palace, snared two Michelin stars in the recent Hong Kong guide. Still, mooncakes are special treats.

I donned a hat and apron and washed up with antibacterial soap in a gleaming metal sink in the immaculate hotel kitchen, then walked over to a long metal counter to see how mooncakes are made. You take hand-rolled dough and add steamed, salty egg yolk, take a few shaved black truffles from a bowl and sprinkle-in white flour. Then you knead the truffles into the dough, working them in good, and shaping the doughy mass into a cylindrical shape, cutting them into pieces - in this case, 10 pieces. When the dough is throughly kneaded, you take one of the pieces you've just cut off and put it into a long wooden implement with a hole - a mold - at the end, which gives the mooncake its shape. With a sharp, hard rap on the metal counter, you dislodge the piece; if you've done it right, it's ready for the oven.

Many people - I am one of them - find mooncakes heavy and rich, but, hey, they're celebratory morsels; you don't eat them every day. Here is the recipe - courtesy of this 5-star Hong Kong hotel - should you want to make your own mooncakes at home. The Mid-Autumn Festival, by the way, runs this year until Oct. 3.

Ingredients: egg custard (380 grams); black truffle slice (8.4 gram); salty egg yolk, one piece, finely chopped; pastry puff dough, one large piece; egg wash (one egg).

1. Knead the egg custard until smooth, then add salty egg yolk and sliced black truffle. Divide the mixture into 10 small portions and set aside.
2. Knead the pastry puff dough until smooth and then divide it into 10 portions. Use the palm of the hand to press the dough to form a thin disc.
3. Place one portion of the custard mixture in the center of the pastry puff. Fold in the sides of the dough to completely enclose the filling and press the edges to seal.
4. Place the mooncake dough, seam side up in the mold, flatten the dough to conform to the shape of the mold.
5. Remove the mooncake dough from the mold, then brush with egg wash and bake the mooncake in the oven at 200 degrees Celcius for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Stuffs 10 - er, makes - 10 mooncakes.

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