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Rounding up the troops for festival







Loh’s homemade, organic mixed nuts mooncake.

Loh’s homemade, organic mixed nuts mooncake.

FOR many, the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, is about family reunions.

This is due to the belief that the moon is the roundest on this day, and the word “round” is a homophone for “reunion”.

Many families and friends now gather to make their own mooncakes as a form of reunion as well as to have healthier goodies that cost much less than those produced in bulk and sold in the market.

StarMetro speaks to a few families and friends who make mooncakes using their own recipes for the festival.

Varieties of mooncakes

It is for the love of their families that two mothers decided to take up the tedious chore of making their own mooncakes. It was the hope of creating fond memories of the Mid-Autumn Festival for her son that spurred Loh Yee Hui to learn to make mooncakes.

“Back then, I didn’t know anything about mooncake-making!

“I just want my son to have good memories of this festival and remember the quality time spent with family,” she said.

Loh’s students enjoying the mooncake-making session. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG, SAM THAM and LOW LAY PHON/The Star
Loh’s students enjoying the mooncake-making session. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG, SAM THAM and LOW LAY PHON/The Star

That was five years ago, when her son was three. Since then, mooncake-making has become an annual family affair.

From taking 45 minutes to cover the filling in dough to mere seconds now, Loh has graduated from mooncake rookie to becoming an expert who now teaches students how to make the traditional treat.

“I do not have mooncake-making classes annually, only when there’s demand,” she said.

She added that mooncakes sold in the market were too sweet for her liking and she only learned to bake it for her son.

However, after learning to make the healthier version, she began to enjoy eating them.

As a vegetarian and an advocate on healthy living and Sattvic diet, Loh uses organic and natural ingredients for her homemade mooncakes. The 39-year-old has published several cookbooks on organic recipes.

The clear jelly mooncakes by Tham are made upon request. The ‘yolk’ is made from sweet potatoes.
The clear jelly mooncakes by Tham are made upon request. The ‘yolk’ is made from sweet potatoes.

“It can be difficult to get organic ingredients. If you are unable to do so, you can opt for natural and fresh ingredients,” she said.

Aside from a lower sugar content, she adds kaffir lime leaves for fragrance.

Instead of store-bought syrups, she makes her own a year ahead, which is the time needed for it to be ready.

For those reading this now, do not fret if you do not have your own year-old homemade syrup as you can get it from organic shops.

In the mooncake-making class, one student brought her young son along. Loh said having children in the kitchen is a great learning experience for them.

“Measuring the ingredients and following the recipe helps in their logical thinking and arithmetic skills,” she said.

Housewife Tham Siew Leng is not one who enjoys making cakes but after seeing her sister making mooncakes, her curiosity got the best of her.

“My children enjoy eating the mooncakes I make, my youngest likes the snowskin ones,” the 49-year-old said.

Nine flavours of jelly mooncakes are blueberry, mango, pumpkin, dragonfruit, cendol, red bean, yam, corn and Japanese sweet potato.
Nine flavours of jelly mooncakes are blueberry, mango, pumpkin, dragonfruit, cendol, red bean, yam, corn and Japanese sweet potato.

What began as a fun experiment turned into a business opportunity when she began getting orders and has garnered regulars over the years.

She makes about 100 boxes every Mid Autumn and gets orders through word-of-mouth.

“I do not really market or promote my mooncakes as I do not have the time and energy to take in a lot of orders.

“It is a lot of work, as I have to cook all the ingredients myself,” she said.

She has tweaked her recipe over the years and recently made clear jelly ones upon request from customers.

“Customers said they were too pretty to be eaten,” she said.

Tham offers nine choices of flavoured jelly mooncakes, namely blueberry, mango, pumpkin, dragon fruit, cendol, red bean, yam, corn and Japanese sweet potato.

(Clockwise from top) Black sesame paste, red bean paste and white lotus paste are used as fillings fpr the homemade mooncakes.
(Clockwise from top) Black sesame paste, red bean paste and white lotus paste are used as fillings fpr the homemade mooncakes.

The “yolk” in her jelly mooncakes are actually made from sweet potatoes.

“Hence it’s suitable for vegetarians,” she said.

Aside from the store-bought lotus paste, Tham uses mostly natural ingredients; the colour and sweetness are derived from the fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and mangoes.

Only minimal colouring is added to the jelly mooncake skin. Another reason that motivates her to continue making mooncakes is to help promote her son’s cafe in Puchong.

A reunion of sorts

The joy of getting together to make mooncakes has fostered closer bonds among a group of long-time school friends who decided to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by learning the recipe.

It was also a time for them to gather and reminisce about their school days.

Wong Foon Yoke, 43, said the idea of spending time together while making mooncakes was first mooted last year.

“It is very nice to meet the group of friends whom I have not met for a very long time, and we decided to continue this tradition of ours this year.

“We appreciate our friendship and what is more fun than doing something meaningful together,” she said.

Wong was one of six members who participated in the mooncake making session at their friend Goh Yeen Nee’s house in Bayu Segar, Cheras.

They also brought along their children to the pastry-making session so they can mingle among themselves.

“It is nice to see our children get along as we believe they can appreciate the significance of the Mid-Autumn Festival as well as its traditions and other Chinese culture.

“Making mooncake from scratch is a dying trade and all of us can learn the proper steps of making a mooncake here,” she said.

The group also asked another friend Yoong Lian Yew, 48, who loved baking, to show them how to bake three different mooncakes – the Shanghai Cheese Mooncake, Snowskin Mooncake, and traditional mooncakes with various fillings including red bean, white lotus paste and black sesame paste.

“Making mooncakes together is more enjoyable than making them alone and we get to enjoy the process.

“This year, we made a healthier version using butter instead of margarine, less sugar than the ones in the market, and used dragon fruits for its natural colour instead of using artificial food colouring.

Tham makes about 100 boxes of jelly mooncake every Mid-Autumn Festival and gets orders through word-of-mouth.
Tham makes about 100 boxes of jelly mooncake every Mid-Autumn Festival and gets orders through word-of-mouth. 

“Mooncakes are normally sweet and expensive and we do not know what ingredients are used.

“So, we prefer to make mooncakes ourselves because we can determine the ingredients and flavour to our own liking,” she said.

During the mooncake-making session, they started off with measuring the fillings before wrapping with the skin that consists of a mixture of ingredients.

Their children also helped with the guidance of the adults.

For the snowskin mooncake, dragonfruit is cut into small pieces and squashed before being mixed with the snowskin to give the natural colour and taste.

Newly moulded snowskin mooncake made of dragonfruit.
Newly moulded snowskin mooncake made of dragonfruit.

Yoong, who has loved making pastries since 20 years ago, said she has perfected her own recipe.

“It all started as a hobby. We will try different ingredients to make it better,” she said, adding that if they had extra mooncakes, they would give some to old folk’s homes.

Apart from making mooncake, Yoong also bakes biscuits and pastries during festive seasons.

She made sure all her friends got her handmade baked goods each year.

“She always gives me so many baked goodies during festive seasons. Last year, she gave me eight different flavoured biscuits,” said Goh.

   

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