Handmade mooncakes are rare these days since they are very labor-intensive and not many dim sum chefs want to make them. Ruby Gao visits masters of legendary egg custard mooncakes.
Thirty minutes after it’s taken out of oven and cooled a bit, the slightly warm handmade egg custart mooncake tastes its best. The fragrance combines milk and coconut, the crust is crispy and buttery, the golden custard filling is rich, silky and sweet, with a subtle savory hint.
This traditional Mid-Autumn Festival treat is rather small, delicate and manageable, around 5.5 centimeters in diameter, not like the big heavy “doorstop” mooncakes so commonly seen.
But it’s increasingly hard to find this kind of treat because fewer and fewer Chinese are willing to become dim sum chef doing the required, flavor-intensive work.
Although mooncakes are pastry, it’s the dim sum chef who does the work, pressing, rolling and wrapping to perfection, often drawing on years of dedication to producing treats.
“In making a mooncake, the dim sum chef dedicates himself to the task so that each bite has that distinctive, hard-to-describe homey taste. It’s a warm and heart-touching tasting experience, the raison d’etre of handmade,” says Yip Wing Wah, the dim sum “ambassador” for The Peninsula Hotel. He retired as the dim sum chef at The Peninsula Hong Kong last year.
Chef Yip, 60, son of a Hong Kong dim sum chef, has been making dim sum, especially mooncakes, for 47 years. He established his name in 1986, when he created the first egg custard mooncake.
“I was inspired by traditional Cantonese dim sum nai huang bao (egg custard steamed bun) and tried to combine the Chinese filling with Western custard,” says Yip in an e-mail interview with Shanghai Daily.
His mooncakes were quickly sold out. They have become among the most popular in Hong Kong and also on China’s mainland.