They’re Chinese pastries traditionally given as gifts during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is coming up. This year it starts on the 19th of September. Mooncakes are roughly analogous to Christmas fruitcakes in the West inasmuch as they’re loved by many, detested by others, but are inarguably the signature sweetmeat of the season.
The Mid-Autmn Festival is one of the four big festivals of the Chinese year and is what one might call a “moveable feast” in that the dates changes from year to year according to a.) the Chinese lunar calendar and b.) which weekend is closest to the actual date of the autumn full moon. It’s sort of like our Thanksgiving but with a little astronomy thrown in. Like Thanksgiving, it’s the party that follows the harvest.
Tradition dictates that during the Mid-Autumn Festival special measures are taken to honor the moon, hence the mooncake. Mooncakes are round cakes about 2-3 inches across and roughly and inch and a half tall. Essentially they’re cakes made of sweetened bean paste enclosed in a skin of pastry. In the middle of the bean paste is a bright yellow salted egg yolk…the “moon” in the mooncake.
Surely an unconventional combo for we Westerners, but having lived in a heavily Korean neighborhood back in Chicago I can tell you that sweet bean paste is very nice stuff. The salted yolk will be a new experience, but heck, I’m game. Let’s rock!