The eighth Chinese mid-lunar moon marks the Moon’s birthday and is believed to be the only night of the year when the moon looks perfectly round. At the time of the Moon Festival, particular moon-viewing parties are held with much wine and feasting, and poems composed to the moon. Moon cakes are generally packed in boxes of four cakes and are a traditional gift from one family to another.
The reason why moon cakes are so meaningful goes back to the 14th century when China was overrun by the Mongol invaders who dominated the country at a cruel and oppressive fashion. The women of the households devised a clever way to organize an uprising. They inserted messages in the filling of the moon cakes received during the Moon Festival, conveying secret directions to patriots who may be relied on to join in the battle that ended in war and liberation.
Moon cakes are not easy to make, as special, elaborately carved wooden mounds must get employed to shape them. Many Westerners find the filling made from strong lotus seed paste unpalatable, particularly with the salted egg yolk at its centre. If you can, try to find moon cakes with a filling of maintained melon and melon seeds. For anybody with a sweet tooth this is irresistible, especially when cut into thin wedges and nibbled while drinking clear, fragrant Chinese tea.
It is the packaging of moon cakes that makes them tempting, usually square gold and red tins with Chinese characters and motifs printed on them, and containing four individually wrapped cakes. For the determined cook, the pastry should be very rich and preferably made with at least a percentage of lard. Some popular fillings are candied fruits or sweetened lotus seed paste.