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Publication Date : 06-08-2012
Have a taste of mooncakes by Peninsula Bangkok's Mei Jiang
If you're dining at the Peninsula Bangkok's Mei Jiang restaurant over the next couple of months, don't be surprised if chef Jackie Ho has little time for more than a hurried hello when he stops at your table.
Ho, along with his team, is going to be very busy from Friday through the end of September, as he and his team make 200,000 mooncakes by hand in just 52 days. That works out to 3,846 mooncakes per day using approximately 10 tonnes of ingredients including duck eggs and wheat flour.
The Peninsula's mooncakes are available in two flavours, traditional Lotus Seed Paste and the best-selling Egg Custard, which is created from a traditional recipe made famous by the Peninsula Hong Kong. Freshly made every day, the hotel's mooncakes are known for their soft pastry shells and small size - each weighs about 40 grams compared to the regular size of 160 grammes. You can finish each one - and down another - easily.
"Last year, we sold nearly 200,000 hand-made mooncakes and the demand increases every year. Almost every process is done by hand. No preservatives are used. It must be kept refrigerated and can keep for seven days," says Ho.
Traditional Chinese mooncakes are eaten during the mid-autumn festival that falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month - September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. This year, it falls on September 30. The date parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. The full moon is traditionally a symbol for reunion (tuan yuan) and this festival is a time for family reunions and gathering around the hearth (yuan means round).
Families gather to admire the moon, eat mooncakes and partake of other cultural traditions. Enjoying the moon is an ancient tradition in China going back nearly 1,400 years. Celebrating the moon during mid-autumn appears to have started during the Zhou Dynasty. Today, mooncakes are still considered an indispensable delicacy and are offered by friends and colleagues and at family gatherings while celebrating the festival.
Ho recently hosted a cooking class and demonstrated how to make the popular egg custard mooncake. To prepare the dough, the chef mixes pastry flour, butter, corn starch and custard powder with eggs until a smooth dough is formed and then slowly adds fresh milk, sugar and rum and kneads the ingredients well to form a soft dough. He leaves it for five hours then divide it into balls - each weighing 19 grammes.
For the custard filling, he puts the ingredients into the mixing devices and stirs until they well blended and smooth. The ingredients include butter, coconut milk, eggs, condensed milk, corn starch, wheat flour and salted egg yolks. After steaming the filling for two hours, it is placed in the freezer for at least 90 minutes. It's then removed and allowed to come back to room temperature before stirring again until smooth. The filling is divided into 21-gramme balls.
Now it's time to wrap the filling in the prepared dough. Ho shows participants how to flatten an individual portion of the dough to make the skin into a circle and add one portion of the filling in the middle of the flattened circle. After this, he wraps the skin on all sides of the filling and make sure it is closed. He slowly rolls this preparation into a ball.
He dusts his wooden mould with a small amount of flour and places the prepared ball inside it. He tells the class to tap to flatten it out so that it takes the shape of the mould with a carved pattern inside, then knock it out several times before placing it on the baking tray. The small cakes are baked in the oven for about six minutes. Once removed, they are kept at five-degree Celsius before packing in a box.
As he nears the end of his mooncake mission, Ho will once again turn his full attention to Mei Jiang, offering a special mid-autumn set menu from September 27 to 30. Every dish is guaranteed monosodium glutamate-free and most of the sauces are home made.