One thing I look forward to when summer ends is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which is on September 27 for those of you who don’t know! When I was a child, my parents would uphold the same traditions each Mid-Autumn Festival that are now ingrained in my memory. We would light candles and carefully place them in the middle of these colourful paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes. Then, we would have a walk around the neighbourhood, taking care to shield the lanterns from the strong winds (now that I think back, holy dog doo doos, they were quite the fire hazard!). We had orange, yellow, pink, red and flower patterned lanterns, to this day I remember their delicate paper structures and vibrant colors.
Another Mid-Autumn Festival tradition we repeated was eating mooncake. My mother would slice through that decorative mooncake top and divide it into 8 even pieces. I would pick the prettiest slice and bite into the soft pastry crust filled with sweet and dense lotus seed paste, tempered by moist salted egg yolks. For a while, I refused to eat the salted egg yolk and only ate the lotus paste slices, but like my obsession with Korean boybands, this too was a passing phase.
Currently there are mooncakes of many creative filling flavours (such as coffee, durian, taro, green tea) made with different ingredients and even no-bake mooncakes meant to be served cold (Bing Pai/literally translated as Ice Skin). Over the years, the number of flavours, packaging ideas and brands diversified but I still think original lotus seed paste with salted egg tastes the best.
Mooncakes are expensive and vary in price depending on the brand and the number of yolks used. In Toronto, a box of 4 regular sized lotus seed paste mooncakes with two yolks each (185 gram/mooncake) from a popular brand, e.g. Wing Wah, averages about $40 CDN + tax. Increase that number to 4 yolks per mooncake and you’re looking at $50 CDN + tax per box. I never understood why they are so expensive until I tried to make them. There are many reasons: they are imported from Asia, good quality lotus seeds/salty egg yolks are pricey, they are a lot of work to make at home and packaging gets more extravagant each year.
In my quest to make mooncakes, I attempted to create lotus seed paste from lotus seeds, but something went horribly wrong that shouldn’t have—I’ll save this story for next year. In the end my aunt helped me find a lotus seed paste wholesaler in Scarborough. If you’re interested, they sell lotus seed paste for $5 CDN / pound (with and without peanut oil), amongst other things (update Sept 2016: they also sell raw salted egg yolk!). The company name is Kar Heung Yuen and their phone number is 416-332-0075. I would call before going to give them a headsup—they’re not open to public and you’ll need to ring a doorbell to get in (which they don’t always hear due to the heavy machinery churning out lotus seed paste).
The following recipe is loosely based on Christine’s Recipes Traditional Mooncakes (廣式月餅). There are A LOT of excellent mooncake recipe sources out there and another source worthy of mentioning is Back To Basics–Baked Traditional Mooncake (传统粤式月饼) by Guai Shu Shu. Since it was my first time making mooncakes, I encountered much trial and error and digging through the techniques to see which ones would work best. I chose to use the spring loaded mooncake mold because it would allow me to make the mooncakes at different heights (if I ran out of material), you can buy the 50 gram Square Mooncake Mold here. I tried to find the wording that really simplified the process of putting together a mooncake for beginners like me and put it down in the recipe below. Have patience, making mooncakes takes time! And most importantly, have fun and share your results with your loved ones!
Traditional Lotus Seed Paste Mooncake (月饼)
YIELD: 12 Mooncakes (50g each)
ACTIVE TIME: 1 hour 30minutes
TOTAL TIME (active + inactive time): 2 hours
CREDITS: Inspired by Christine’s Recipes Traditional Mooncakes (廣式月餅)
- 70 g golden syrup (I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
- 4 g (or 0.6 tsp) alkaline water (梘水 or kan sui)
- 33 g vegetable oil
- 120 g all-purpose flour
- 420 g pre-made lotus seed paste (divided into 12 balls, 35 g each)
- 6 raw salted egg yolks
- 1 tbsp rose cooking wine (玫瑰露酒 or mei kuei lu chiew)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp water
- 50 gram Mooncake Mold (you can buy one of your own here: Square Mooncake Mold)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the golden syrup, oil, and alkaline water. Sift in the flour and mix until it looks like a scraggly pile of loose crumbs. Knead the crust dough with your hands just until the flour is incorporated and it’s a smooth texture and mocha colour throughout. Flatten into a circular disk shape and wrap with plastic wrap. Let it to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour (or preferably overnight).
- If you haven’t done so already, divide the lotus seed paste into 12 balls, 35 g each. Divide the crust dough into 12 balls, 15 g each. Separate the yolks from the salted eggs, taking care to keep them whole.
- Soak the yolks in the rose cooking wine for 15 minutes and carefully drain the excess liquid. Slice each yolk in half.
- Use your fingers to make a hole in of each lotus seed paste ball and place the halved yolk inside. Pinch the lotus seed paste around the yolk to seal it in the center and gently roll between your palms to smooth into a ball shape.
- Sandwich a portion of the crust dough between plastic wrap and roll into a flat circle with a rolling pin, just large enough to encase the ball of lotus seed paste. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and place the crust on the palm of your hand with the bottom plastic wrap facing downwards. Now you’ll wrap the lotus seed paste with the crust—Place the lotus seed paste ball in the center of the crust and fold the overhanging left, right, top and bottom sides over the ball, peeling away the plastic wrap as the crust adheres to the lotus seed paste. Pinch together any holes in the crust dough and make sure it covers the entire ball. Gently roll between your palms to smooth out the dough.
- Dust the mooncake ball and insides of the mold with flour. Place the ball into the mold, brace the bottom against a flat surface and firmly press down on the handle. Remove the mooncake from the mold and voila! Your first mooncake molded! Repeat with the rest of the lotus seed paste and crust.
Baking The Mooncake
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line your baking pan with parchment paper before placing the mooncakes on it. Meanwhile, mix your eggwash ingredients together and run through a sieve to make sure it is smooth.
- Bake the mooncakes for 8 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them sit for 10 minutes (but keep the oven running at 350°F!). During this time, carefully paint the mooncake with egg wash. To prevent smudging the decorative pattern, make sure your brush is clean so that eggwash residue doesn’t gather in the grooves of the pattern. Another method is using a food-safe spray bottle to distribute your eggwash. This way, you can coat the mooncakes quickly and evenly.
- Return the mooncakes to the oven for 10-15 minutes, monitoring closely to prevent burning and over-browning. The colour that you want to aim for is golden honey brown, which is a typical mooncake colour.
- Don’t eat them yet! After baking, your mooncakes will be more like cookies due to the crunchy crust, which is not what we want. Allow them to cool completely before placing the mooncakes in an airtight container for three (3) days. During this time, the crust will become soft and shiny through the release of oil. The mooncakes will last for about 3 weeks stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.
- Giving the crust dough time to rest in the fridge will relax any gluten bonds formed during the handling of the dough, which causes toughness in the crust.
- Raw salted egg yolks should hold their shape fairly well, the texture would be similar to a medium boiled egg yolk which is still shiny, runny and almost solid. Despite this, I find that salted yolk sacs break easier than non-salted yolks because they stick firmly to the side of the shells. If you pour them out too quickly, the sac might rip and some of the yolk will escape. If you find that the yolks you are using are very runny (after you’ve removed them from the shells and marinated with rose cooking wine), pop them in the microwave for about 10 or 15 seconds.
- I used the Kin Tam brand of salted duck eggs, which has a dark brown soil like paste on the outside of it. Don’t worry, rub this paste off and the egg is white/light blue inside.
- You can buy lotus seed paste for $5 CDN / pound at a company called ‘Kar Heung Yuen’ in Scarborough (23 Milliken Blvd). They also sell raw salted egg yolks. Their phone number is 416-332-0075. I found Lyle’s golden syrup at the value-mart nearby, apparently lots of places carry them, call ahead to check. Raw salted eggs, alkaline water (梘水 or kan sui) and rose cooking wine (玫瑰露酒 or mei kuei lu chiew ) can be found at your local Chinese supermarket such as TnT and Foodie.
Ready to add something incredibly easy and tasty to your cooking repertoire? This Pomfret Pan-fried recipe takes less than 15 minutes to season and cook, making it delicious AND perfect for a weeknight meal. If your kids eat seafood, they’ll love it, and if they don’t, this is an excellent recipe to introduce them into this food category.
The Golden Pomfret is my FAVOURITE fish to eat with no exceptions. My mother started cooking this for me from a very young age. The Golden Pomfret’s natural taste is something to be celebrated—little to no seasoning will compliment it best. It’s prized for being one of the few non-fishy tasting fish, with its flat shape, subtle sweet taste and firm texture. It is relatively easy to cook and consume, as you can cook the entire fish whole and the large bone structure makes isolating the fish meat a breeze (compared to some fish that have many tiny bones to eat around).
Occasionally, Pomfrets are also called Pompano or Butter fish, although this naming seems to vary from location and grocery store. In different languages Pomfret is also known as 金鲳魚 (Chinese), Avoli (Malayalam), Vawal (Tamil).
If you’re wondering where you can find this miracle fish, they are readily available in the seafood section of most Chinese grocery stores in the Greater Toronto Area such as TnT, Foodie, Sunny Supermarket. If the location of these stores are inconvenient for you, here is a list of the Best Fish Stores in Toronto from Blog TO (call ahead to check if they have golden pomfret before going). I suggest spending the extra few dollars to purchase the fish defrosted and gutted because they are difficult to clean and if you don’t do it well, the pomfret will taste bitter at the lower front half of the fish. Yes, I speak from experience.
My mother serves this dish with a side of mayonnaise which is another alternative to serving the fish with lemon wedges. I eat the meat right off the bones of the fish, although you can cut and present it like I have in the photo (in my opinion, the fish tastes too good to wait!). I hope you enjoy this Pomfret Pan-Fried recipe it as much as I do!
Pomfret Pan-Fried (金鲳魚)
YIELD: 1 whole fish (3-4 portions when served with rice)
ACTIVE TIME: 10 minutes
TOTAL TIME (active + inactive time): 15 minutes
CREDITS: Mother & Aunt
- 1 tsp cooking oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Golden Pomfret (approx. 550g)
- pepper to taste
- lemon wedge on the side
- Using a damp paper towel, clean any leftover residue off the fish and pat dry completely dry. Create 3-4 neat slits into both sides of the fish. Rub the oil onto the surface of the fish and sprinkle generously with salt.
- Heat a non-stick pan on slightly-above-medium heat. When pan is hot, place the fish on the pan and cook until the pan-side down is dark golden-brown and crispy (4-5 minutes). Using a spatula or tongs, flip to the other side and repeat. Serve hot with lemon wedges or mayonnaise on the side.
- The time of cooking really depends on the size of the fish, keep an eye on it and check when the pan-side down becomes a dark golden-brown color.
- The fish is done cooking when the flesh is opaque and you can remove the meat from the bones cleanly. If you still see any translucent meat near the bones, or have any difficulty removing the meat, cook it for 1-2 minutes longer.
For the first time ever, I made jam—specifically, apricot jam using freshly picked, completely organic apricots! Never really having adopted the ‘think local’ and ‘seasonal cooking’ attitude, this was an exciting experience for me. There’s something to be said about adapting your cooking to what mother earth provides at that given moment—it feels incredibly rewarding.
It began with my parents bringing over a few apricots, telling me that their neighbour’s tree had an overabundance of these tiny orange fruits ripe for the picking and that they were giving them away.
I asked if there were anymore and they said there were so many that they could probably get me several pounds, which they did. I was then faced with a dilemma, I wasn’t able to eat all of them in time which would be quite wasteful. So I thought, why not make jam? Here’s how I did it.
First, I googled ‘Apricot Jam Recipe’ and of course, David Lebovitz’s ‘Apricot Jam’ recipe was the first result on the page. I am a big fan of his writing and I purchased his book ‘My Paris Kitchen’ a while back (quite an entertaining read, although I am guilty of having yet tried any of the recipes in it!).
With confidence, I followed the recipe to a tee (with scaled ingredient measurements), although I also watched Martha’s Stewart’s Apricot Jam instructional video for additional research. As for the canning process, there are many online resources available and I decided to use the canning beginner’s guide published on ‘Food in Jars’.
I used the Bernadin’s 125 ml canning jars (available at Walmart and Canadian Tire), which were the perfect size to give as gifts to friends and family. There are a lot of ‘canning kits’ for sale which include tongs specifically to fit around glass jars, a rod with a magnet on the end for picking up jar covers, and a funnel for filling the jars. These kits were tempting, but in the end, I stuck with getting an ordinary funnel and using regular cooking tongs to manoeuvre the jars and jar covers. For me, this worked out fine and I now have 12 jars of Apricot jam (some already handed out) which pair wonderfully with toast or scones.
From this experience, I learned two new skills—how to make jam (incredibly easy), and how to ‘can’ jam so it will have a longer shelf life. I wish I had done this sooner because this is definitely a notch on my culinary belt that I’m proud of! I hope you try it too!
YIELD: 12 Jars of Jam (125ml each)
ACTIVE TIME: 30 mins
TOTAL TIME (active + inactive time): 2 hrs (I don’t quite remember to be honest)
CREDITS: David Lebovitz’s Apricot Jam recipe
- 1.6 kg fresh apricots
- 100ml (little less than 1/2 cup) water
- 5 cups (1125 g) white sugar
- 1.5 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Cut the apricots in half and take out the pits. Take 3-4 pits, wrap them in a paper towel and crack them open with a hammer on a surface you won’t mind damaging (like concrete). Discard the brown shell and save the white bits in a spice bag (or teabag) which you will cook with the apricot later.
- Add the apricots and water to a stock pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Stir occasional to prevent burning the bottom. Once the apricots reach a roiling boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and stir in the sugar, lemon juice and the teabag containing the white bits from the apricot pit.
- Put a small plate in the freezer.
- Keep simmering the apricots with occasional stirring until they have broken down and the mixture looks somewhat like jam. Put a small amount of this ‘jam’ on the chilled plate and pop it back into the freezer for 3 – 4 minutes. Now do the nudge test, which involves sliding your finger through the jam and if it wrinkles as shown in the photo above, then it’s ready. If it’s not ready, then keep cooking and testing until it is.
- Remove the spice bag with the apricot bits. Use a funnel and distribute the jam into the canning jars. Follow the canning instructions/guidelines you have on hand.
- According to David Lebovitz, this jam will keep for 1 year if refrigerated. I canned my jams for longer shelf life so mine will last 18 months unopened, and 6 months to a year after I open them (keeping them refrigerated of course). These are the canning instructions I used: beginner’s guide published on ‘Food in Jars’.
- The white bits (kernel) of the apricot seeds is commonly added to apricot jam to impart a another dimension of bitter flavour.