Despite the fact that it’s 32 freakin’ degrees celcius in Toronto today, it is actually Autumn. And in Chinatown, where they’re getting ready to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, they’re buying mooncakes.
Mooncake is a Chinese pastry traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Typical mooncakes are round or rectangular pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. A thick filling usually made from lotus paste is surrounded by a relatively thin (2-3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea.
I’ve been able to find non-egg mooncakes all year long throughout Chinatown, but the ones with eggs are more readily available during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
I became interested in the traditional version last year after attending a tea ceremony demonstration at the Bata Shoe Museum (no, I still can’t figure out the connection, either). Besides the tea, there was a demo on how to make mooncakes, with plenty of samples, and I was one of the few who actually enjoyed them. A lot of people were put off by the saltiness of the preserved eggs against the sweetness of the filling.
The Wikipedia entry has a great deal of info on various fillings, healthy versions, and even ice cream versions, and it should be pointed out that regular mooncakes are made with a lard-based pastry and can weigh in at about 1000 calories each. Which is alot for something the size of a hockey puck.
For our mooncake shopping, we headed to Kim Moon Bakery on Dundas West, the premiere spot to buy bakery versions of this delicacy. All the supermarkets in Chinatown have stacks of tins, ranging in price of about $9 up to $50, but the flavours tend to all be the same. Kim Moon had about twenty variations on offer ranging from $4 each up for eggless cakes to about $10 each for ones with four eggs. As the eggs represent good luck, the more eggs the better, unless you’re watching your cholesterol. We grabbed a coconut mooncake and a red bean mooncake, both with one egg each, but could have had green bean paste, traditional lotus paste, nut or nuts and ham. And that was at the end of the day, with lots of empty shelves.
The “Golden Pig” came from Oriental Harvest on Spadina, and was not nearly as tasty as the regular cakes. The pastry was dry, the filling not especially sweet, and while the pig was very detailed on top, there was only half of him, with no feet or belly. They took the time to give him a teeny bumhole, though, so let’s not assume there was a complete lack of attention to detail.