How I Celebrated Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
Last year, a Saigon native named Michelle invited women around the city to bake mooncakes for local orphanages through the best expat resource in Saigon, Female Expats and Locals in Ho Chi Minh City. (Side note: If you are a female and plan on moving to Saigon, this group will have your back throughout your stay.) Since Mid-Autumn Festival doubles as a second Children’s Day, the gesture of making 200 animal-shaped mooncakes for orphaned youth in my surrogate city was all the more important. Joining me was my friend Kellie, who runs the American English conversation platform Talk One.
Making mooncakes is PAINSTAKING. After a grueling six hours of careful measuring, endless kneading, and tiresome stirring of our various concoctions, I will never take another mooncake for granted. Every aspect of making mooncakes is so deliberate and a process of trial by error so if you attempt the recipe below, be patient yourself. Michelle is a devout baker and shared with us a family recipe. The difference between homemade mooncakes and storebought is so stark, I don’t think I could ever go back to eating factory manufactured ones pumped with preservatives for better shelf-life. One thing I noticed about all the pop-up stalls selling mooncakes throughout the Mid-Autumn festival season is that the day after, there was still so much excess since there were so many stalls. I assume they’re resold in markets the following year, which makes me a bit wary supporting wholesale sellers instead of mom-and-pop bakeries. Out of the year and a half of living in Vietnam, making mooncakes was one of my top ten experiences because I got to eat for a good cause and met some pretty phenomenal, giving women in Saigon.
The ladies showing off their balls
ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS
- This was my first introduction to golden syrup, a simple syrup recipe that calls for the syrup to be aged. The golden syrup is crucial in making mooncakes as it determines the color and fragrance of the mooncake skin. Make sure you prepare this sweetener in advance.
- Caster sugar is a finer version of granulated sugar, but don’t mistake it for powdered sugar.
- Invest in a food scale and make sure you have a blender handy.
- If your dough feels too sticky, add the flour in small increments. You need a semi-soft dough; if it gets too dry, the dough will crack when you try to wrap it around the filing.
- For the animal faces, used uncooked black beans. Put aside some dough for ligaments like ears and a tail.
Some of the volunteers wrapping the filling
Invest in a food scale to make the process more streamlined. This is not an eyeball-the-measurements kind of affair.
Other tools you’ll need: a rolling pin and a blender.
With Michelle Nguyen, the baker slash volunteer behind the event
A hot tray of mooncakes. Also, baking in the Saigon heat is something else.
Don’t forget to brush the mooncakes with a thin coat of eggwash.