The Washington Post
How mooncakes made my holidays sweeter
I never considered myself a picky eater, but when traditional Chinese holidays rolled around, I wanted little to do with the customary foods. Zong zi with peanuts for the Dragon Boat Festival? Only a nibble to appease Grandma. Mooncakes for the Mid-autumn Festival? No way. I’d rather have mochi ice cream!
Call me a strange kid, but unlike my Chinese American friends, I was never fond of the red bean and salted-egg flavors so prevalent in my family’s cuisine. Instead, I was drawn to fruity and creamy treats, like cloyingly sweet green tea mochi ice cream, milk tea with boba and strawberry sherbet.
My first taste of a snow skin mooncake, however, made a crack in this wall of pickiness, creating an opening for the vast frontier of Chinese desserts. A chewy bite of the mooncake reminded me of ichigo daifuku, or
strawberry red bean mochi. And the chilled snow skin appealed to my ice-cream-obsessed taste buds. One bite led to another, and soon I was converted to the earthy flavors of the red bean and eager to sample the Chinese treats I once shunned.
Snow skin and traditional mooncakes are served during the Mid-autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, between mid-september and October. This year, the holiday will be on Sept. 10.
Because they can be time-consuming to make, many people buy both types of mooncakes. But for some, including me, it’s much more rewarding to hold a homemade “full moon” in the palm of your hand. So if you’re willing to take a stab at making this venerable treat, I suggest starting with snow skin mooncakes.
On the surface, snow skin mooncakes resemble the intricately designed, flaky mooncakes. Inside, however, they couldn’t be more different.
These lighter, molded cakes arrived in the 1960s from Hong Kong pastry shops that sought to create a less oily dessert than traditional mooncakes, which are usually made with salted duck egg yolks, lotus seed paste and lard, and can take more than a day to prepare.
Instead, snow skin mooncakes incorporate glutinous rice flour, sugar and water, and use simple fillings, such as custard and mung bean paste. The creamy custard can be flavored with fruit juice, cheese or cocoa powder, and the snow-white skin can be dyed various vibrant colors and molded with flower and geometric patterns.
They also are a bit easier for home cooks to tackle because the creamier snack, while still a project, takes only about two hours to make — no baking required.
On Sept. 10, families around the world will come together and rejoice at the luminescent moon, which often is at its biggest and brightest for the harvest season. And while the snow skin mooncake may not be as steeped in tradition as its heartier cousin, it has become a fan favorite during the festival.