The Chinese Full-Moon Festival is here, which means it’s time to sample traditional snacks
If there’s one thing the Chinese love, it’s a festival. Luckily for them, there are no fewer than 11 festivals in the Chinese calendar, all of which warrant a holiday and an excuse to cook up huge amounts of food. The Full-Moon Festival, which falls on September 25 this year, is celebrated when the moon is at its lowest in the sky, making it appear brighter and larger than any other time of the year. Luckily, merrymaking isn’t confined to the Orient – it has found its way to Dubai’s shores via the city’s multitude of Chinese restaurants.
We met food expert Andrew Joyce, formerly of Zheng He’s and now Culinary Director of Food and Beverage for Lafayette Dubai (which opens its deluxe gourmet store next month), to find out more about the festival and its rather unique snack. ‘After spending time in Asia, I learned that the Chinese go crazy for mooncakes,’ he says. ‘When I was at Zheng He’s, the Chinese staff would make a really big deal [of the festival]. There’s this moon goddess and they’d make sculptures of the goddess and hand over mooncakes – they take it very seriously.’
Right. But what exactly is a mooncake? Rather than try to explain this distinct dessert, Andrew went one better and made one for us. Nowadays, mooncakes can contain anything from squid to caramel macchiato (courtesy of Starbucks in China), but Andrew’s mooncakes feature a traditional red bean paste.
This particular type of mooncake is sweet, but the texture of the red bean paste is something you’d more readily associate with a savoury dish. This combination makes mooncakes an acquired taste, but persevere with the first few chews and you’ll find they have a moreish quality. Unlike, say, squid-flavoured mooncakes – we think we’ll give these a miss.
Where to buy mooncakes
Want to taste them for yourself? Try these Dubai-based venues China Club: This popular venue will be serving lotus and pineapple-flavoured mooncakes to mark the festival. Radisson Blu, Dubai Deira Creek (04 205 7333)
China Sea: The language barrier meant we couldn’t quite make out what flavour will be on offer here, but ask for ‘yuebing’ (yoo-air-bing) and you’ll find out for yourself. Al Maktoum Street, Deira (04 295 9816)
Ingredients • 454g red azuki beans • Water • ¾ cup lard or oil • 1¾ cups sugar
• 2 cups flour • 5 tablespoons lard • 10 tablespoons water • ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup flour • 5 tablespoons lard • Colouring for decoration
Red bean paste 1 Soak the red beans in water and cover for two hours.
2 Drain and discard the water. Cover with eight cups of fresh water, bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 1½ hours or until the skins open.
3 Strain the beans and discard the skins. Place the strained beans in several layers of cheesecloth and squeeze out any excess water.
4 Place in a saucepan with the lard or oil and sugar. Cook, stirring continuously, until almost all the moisture has evaporated. Let cool.
Dough 1 You will need two cups of filling for the mooncakes. Divide this into 20 portions and shape into balls.
2 Mix ingredients for the water-shortening dough and the flaky dough separately until smooth. Divide each quantity of dough into 20 equal portions.
3 Wrap one portion of flaky dough inside each portion of water-shortening dough. Roll out each piece of dough, then fold in thirds to form three layers. Roll out again, and once more fold in thirds to form three layers.
4 Flatten each piece of dough with the palm of your hand to form a circle with a 7.5cm diameter. Place one portion of filling in the centre. Gather the edges to enclose the filling and pinch to seal.
5 Place the filled packet into a mould, gently pressing to fit. Invert and remove the mould.
6 Dilute red food colouring with water and pour onto a damp paper towel on a plate. Paint the colouring onto a cookie-design stamp, then press on top of the cake. Repeat for the remaining cakes.
7 Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350°F. Leave to cool before serving.