Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mooncakes, Moon Festival and Lye Water

Lye Water

Tomorrow evening is the Mid-Autumn Festival also called the Chinese Moon Festival. This is the time to enjoy mooncakes, persimmons and pomelos. Last week a friend of mine gave me her mooncake recipe. Noel encouraged me to try it and told me where to buy good lotus paste and lye water. Lye water? Well, yes, there is lye water in the mooncake dough.
I have always been curious about lye water 鹼水 gáanséui.  The first time I ate noodles at daaih paaih dong or Hong Kong style coffee shops I wondered what was added in the dough to give these noodles such a strong alkaline taste. I was told that it was indeed “gáanseúi” (alkali).
Lye water is caustic alkaline water. Food grade lye (caustic soda or NaOH) is used for food processing.  Chinese cooks use a small amount in the dough to give noodles and dumplings a springy and bouncier texture in the mouth. I recently read that pretzels and bagels are soaked in lye water (to soften them) before baking. Lye water is also a preservative.

Noel also lent me her mini moon cake plastic mould. I told her that I had a wooden one that I had bought 2-3 years ago partly because I was interested in making mooncakes, partly because I liked the boat shape and its mini-compartments with handcrafted flower patterns. Three years have passed and I have not used the mould as its primary use.

Beautiful wooden boat sitting on my desk

Wooden mould with handcrafted patterns

It has been sitting on my desk ever since then! Noel advised me to use her mould.  “Traditional wooden ones are for professionals”: she said. Sure!!!

So this year, for the first time, I tried to make mini mooncakes (with a plastic mould)!

Lotus paste and dough balls

Shaping dough and lotus paste into mooncake-shape!

Mooncakes on baking tray (uncooked)

Cooked mooncakes (with egg yolk glaze)

Mini Mooncakes (12 pieces)

Ingredients for the dough:  
  • 100g flour
  • 10g custard powder
  • 60ml syrup
  • 22g (27ml) peanut oil
  • 5g (3/4 tsp) sesame oil
  • 4g (½ tsp) lye water
  • 1 egg yolk (beaten for egg wash)
  • 1 catty of lotus paste (~580g)
  • Plastic mini moon cake mould, 1 water spray bottle
  • Preheat oven at Th.6.
  • Dough: In a mixing bowl, put flour (sifted) with custard powder and stir well. Make a well.
  • In the centre add peanut oil, sesame oil, syrup and lye water. Mix well and knead into soft dough.
  • Divide into small dices (15g each). Set aside.
  • Filling: Divide lotus seed paste into equal size balls (45g each).   
  • Flatten the soft dough with your palm to form a circle, wrap in the lotus seed paste ball.
  • Shape around and press into the mould.
  • Unmold and place on a greased baking tray. Spray water on the surface and bake for 5min. Remove and brush egg yolk on top.
  • Return to the oven and reduce heat to th.4 and bake for another 12-14min. Set aside. The moon cakes taste better next day.

Verdict: I need advice on how to wrap the dough nicely around the ball of lotus paste. It might just be that I need to make more?! I know: “practice makes perfect”. However, we already have received a lot of mooncakes this year and with the addition of my production (not matter how “mini” there are) we have more than enough. But, sure, I am going to buy a plastic mould and try again next year maybe with different flavours! And a big thank to Noel!

Post-note: I forgot to say that these mini mooncakes are delicious! I love the smooth and sweet lotus paste. The dough is not greasy and has a delicate peanut/sesame flavour (no alkaline taste at all!).

My first homemade mini mooncake!

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