Subscribe to free Email Newsletter

  Chinese Way>Life

Heavenly handmade mooncakes

2013-08-15 10:11:43

(Shanghai Daily)


Last year in Hong Kong, people were known to quarrel over the last box of chef Yip’s egg custard mooncakes.

Restaurants and manufacturers have tried in vain to recreate the flavor and texture.

“We’ve already made the recipe public, but even so, it’s impossible to copy because it’s our hands that make the taste different,” says Lai Wing Koon, an apprentice of chef Yip, and now head dim sum chef at The Peninsula Shanghai.

The chef holds out his hands, seemingly ordinary but much rougher than most. He suffers wrist pain caused by continual gripping and twisting dough over the years.

We were allowed to visit chef Lai’s kitchen where we tried to find out the secret behind the delicacy.

A quaint carved wooden mold and a Chinese steelyard or hand scale with weights are used to weigh and measure the ingredients of the dough and custard filling. He prefers the old-time scale to the modern, electronic weighing devices.

Flour, butter and egg gradually turn into milk-white dough as the chef rolls, presses and kneads it.

“An experienced chef precisely controls his hand pressure,” Lai says. “If it’s too strong, it will cause the crust to break during baking. If too gentle, the final texture will be influenced and not crispy enough.”

It’s impossible to explain the correct pressure using language or sketches, he says. Experience is everything and apprentices learn by watching and practicing.

Hands make the difference

“The hand is our most important measure,” says chef Yip, adding that it sometimes works better than advanced scales.

Each piece of dough for a single mooncake, in addition to being weighed in the scale, is again weighed in the chef’s hand and he can tell by the heft whether the dough and filling will fit perfectly in the mold.

“I also use my hand to measure whether the dough is ready,” chef Lai says.

When his palm presses the dough and doesn’t leave a palm print, then it’s ready and the filling can be placed inside and the whole can be sent to the oven.

This takes dedication and speed.

At The Peninsula Shanghai, for example, the mooncake team of four dim sum chefs will turn out 300 boxes a day, each containing eight pieces. Every chef makes an average of 600 cakes a day on average.

From 8am to 6pm, chefs repeat the same steps. Lunch is a luxury.

Chef Lai inspects the cakes carefully and sometimes “redoes” three cakes among 10 because the decorative lines are the crust are not clear enough.

He insists on perfection.

“Mooncakes represent family reunion and bring happiness. No matter how hard the work is, I consider making mooncakes a way of expressing happiness,” says chef Yip.

He believes that dedication determines the quality and flavor.

We recommend:

Chinese Valentine's Day, our gay day! Guangdong celebrates "Qiqiao" festival Tibetan musician seeks new style to promote local culture
1 2 3