East-Meets-West Moon Cakes and the Autumn Moon Festival
by Amy Souza
The Autumn Moon Festival is the second largest holiday in China, after the Lunar New Year. Under the bright, round moon–a symbol of family unity–families come together for a bountiful meal followed by a trek outdoors–lanterns in hand–to gaze at the full moon and eat moon cakes: sweet, round pastries imprinted with the Chinese symbol for longevity or harmony.
The legend of the mystical lady on the moon, Chang-Er, surrounds the festival. She grew up in the luxury of the heavens, where all the gods, goddesses and fairies lived, and as a young girl, served as a lady-in-waiting at the Jade Emperor’s palace. One day she accidentally broke one of the Emperor’s precious porcelain jars: as punishment, Chang-Er was banished to the craziness of Earth, where she was sent to live with a poor farming family. There she fell in love with a handsome young archer from a neighboring village, Hou Yi.
One day, the poor villagers woke up to a dawn of ten suns, which quickly began to blaze the Earth. Hou Yi, by now a master archer, shot down nine of the ten suns, saving humanity. The Queen Mother of the West awarded him the elixir of life, a magical potion that granted immortality.
Chang-Er was too curious to resist: when Hou Yi wasn’t looking, she sneaked a sip of the potent elixir. Suddenly, she found herself floating slowly up to the moon, forced to leave behind forever her earthly life. She has remained there ever since; her only company a lone bunny rabbit.
According to folklore, moon cakes played an important role during the Yuan dynasty (A.D.1280-1368), when China was ruled by the Mongolian emperor. Unhappy with the living situation under the Mongolian colonizers, a Han Chinese rebel leader, Liu Fu Tong, decided that the time had come to execute a rebellion. He ordered the making of special cakes during the annual Autumn Moon Festival: each moon-shaped cake hid a secret message detailing a plan of attack at its center. On the night of the festival, the rebel leader and his supporters successfully attacked and overthrew the Mongolian-ruled government, ushering in the Ming dynasty.
This recipe for moon cakes has replaced the traditional lotus paste filling with raspberry jam, surrounded by a peanut buttery crust. Moon cake molds are available online at www.wokshop.com. You can also use a muffin tin: before placing the moon cakes to bake, use a toothpick to poke in a dotted floral design on the topside of each individual cake.
East-Meets-West Moon Cakes
1 ¼ cup of packed light brown sugar
¾ cup of peanut butter
1 stick of butter
1 Tbs. of vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup of flour
¾ tsp. of baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Cream together brown sugar, peanut butter, vanilla extract and butter. Beat in 1 egg.
- In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Knead dough into a log and place in freezer for 20 minutes.
- To form a moon cake, roll a piece of dough out on a lightly floured board, creating a 4-inch circle, about ½ inch thick. Place 1 tsp. raspberry jam in the center of the dough circle. Fold in the sides of dough to completely enclose filling; press edges to seal.
- Lightly flour the inside of the moon cake mold. Press dough circle on the mold and flatten dough into the shape of the mold. Bang the downside end of the mold lightly to dislodge the moon cake
- Place moon cakes on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until just lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
- Finally, grab a lantern (or flashlight) and head outdoors to enjoy your moon cakes under the moonlit sky!
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