Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mooncakes with lotus seed filling

Every year, there are a few events I look forward to. The ones that will, no doubt, see my extended family members gathered around way too much food catching up on months of lost time. 

Of course, when my cousins and I were younger, we saw a lot more of each other and our parents would often organise outings. But, as we've grown up and started work and university, there seems to be less time to spare so I'm very grateful for for the birthdays, anniversaries and festivals that force us to put aside some time and come together. 

Lotus seeds
We are celebrating the mid-autumn festival at my house a little early this year, to accommodate busy schedules. The mid-autumn festival is one I look forward to months in advance because it means I get to further hone my recipe for moon cakes. I started making them the mid-autumn festival when I was 14 and it wasn't until last year that I finally perfected them!

It may look ugly now, but wait till it goes through the mold!
Those of you in New Zealand will appreciate how expensive moon cakes are and, it was a visit from my nana (who was here for a holiday), that prompted me to show off my baking skills.  This was almost 10 years ago before I had done much baking or had a fully functioning oven. Although my very first batch didn't turn out that great, I will always remember the day and a half that it took my nana and I to make them and how much fun we had.

Remember to remove the bitter centres
The most important thing about making the lotus paste is making sure you take out the centres as they are bitter and ruin your filling. Most Chinese shops sell lotus seeds with them taken out, but there are always a few that manage to slip through the processing. 

Placing the lotus paste inside the pastry
Trying different quantities of ingredients and oven temperature ranges has seen my poor family sample very interesting mooncakes ranging from rock hard to one batch where the pastry simply melted off! It's been a long and laborious process, but I can finally say that I have a mooncake recipe that works.

Pushing out the mooncake of the mould
For anyone that's interested, mooncakes are eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which occurs on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar. This coincides with a full moon and is usually around September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. 

My nana and I still reminisce about the first time we made mooncakes and, every year, I ring home at mid-autumn festival to give her updates on how the recipe is coming along. 

Do you have a recipe that's taken you this long to get right? What about a favourite recipe that you love making with your family and friends?

This recipe was entered into Sweet New Zealand #26, a monthly Kiwi blogging event started by Alessandra Zecchini, hosted by Carmella at Easy Food Hacks.

Mooncakes with lotus seed filling (makes 12)

Lotus seed filling
400g lotus seeds (no centres!)
200g sugar
200ml vegetable oil
lots of water
1. Rinse and soak the lotus seeds for at least 4 hours. This is best done overnight. Remove any bitter centres as you find them.
2. Place the lotus seeds in a large pot with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the head and let simmer until they are mushy.
3. Drain the lotus seeds and mash into a smooth paste. Use a food processor or mash through a sieve for a very fine texture.
4. In a non-stick pan, combine the lotus paste with the sugar until it dissolves. 
5. Stir in 1/4 of the oil until well incorporated into the paste. Repeat with the rest of the oil, adding 1/4 at a time. Keep stirring until the oil is fully combined and the paste becomes thick.
6. Remove from heat and let the paste cool completely. 

Mooncake pastry


100g plain flour
60g golden syrup
1/2 tsp lye water
30g vegetable oil

1. In a large bowl, combine the golden syrup, lye water and oil.
2. Sift the flour into the bowl. Lightly combine and knead into a dough. Cover with glad wrap and rest for an hour.


1 egg 
1 tsp water

1. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll each into a small ball shape. 
2. Divide the lotus paste into 12 equal portions and roll into a small ball shape.
3. Take one portion and roll out into a circle about 1/2cm thick and wrap the lotus paste inside. Don't worry if it doesn't look too pretty, just roll the mooncake in your hands to get rid of any lines and patch any gaps with extra pastry.
4. Lightly spray your mold with oil and place the mooncake inside. Press the handle firmly to make an imprint. Transfer onto a lined baking tray and repeat with the remaining portions.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water for the eggwash.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180°C, brushing the mooncakes with the eggwash at the 10 minute mark. Bake until the mooncakes are a nice, golden brown.
7. Cool on a wire rack before storing. The pastry will become oily over the following days - don't panic as this is supposed to happen :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Eurotrip, chapter 1: Venice, Italy

Hi lovelies, 

The last time you heard from me, Jason and I had just gotten engaged and were about to head off on a 2 month trip to Europe and China..

..And then I sort of went missing.

I'm sorry. 

I haven't died. I've just been overwhelmed with life.

I'd like all the foodies out there to know that I have been keeping up to date with your blogs during my lunch breaks (while drooling over your great recipes). I started feeling a bit guilty last week about not posting so I thought I'd start by catching you up on our (not so recent) holiday!

I'll try to be more active from now on. 

Love, Lucy

One of the many enchanting alleyways
The first stop on our trip was beautiful Venice, Italy. The first thing that hit me was how colourful this city was. That, and the total lack of cars. Before you call me silly, let me assure you that I was expecting canals and gondolas in Venice but, somehow, it slipped my mind that it would be used for non-tourist applications..

Silly me.

Gondolas (parked?) outside the Hard Rock Cafe
We arrived on a cold, foggy morning which had just begun to drizzle. We had been told that winter was not the best time to tour Europe, but the fog just made the city look more enchanting and we found that we didn't mind the rain at all. It felt like we were in a fairy tale.

Our hotel
It took us a little while to find our accommodation  which is situated in Cannareigio, as we weren't prepared for a city without many street signs. Luckily, we didn't take too many wrong turns and, eventually, we were welcomed in to the warmth of our hotel.

Squid Ink Pasta (not pictured: lasagna)
For lunch, we found a cute little restaurant nearby where we had Squid Ink Pasta and Lasagna. The squid ink gave the pasta a very light salty flavour which was quite pleasant but, I have to be honest, I was expecting a little more. Unfortunately, we didn't rate the lasagna very highly.

Rialto Bridge
But what kind of people would we be if we let something like an uneventful meal ruin our time in VENICE??

St Mark's Basilica
Although the city seems small on a map, our little feet got quite tired after walking on cobbles for a couple of days. We made full use of our vaporetto (water bus) passes and were able to get a great view of the city from the canals. The locals were super friendly and there were even people offering free hugs (although, I have to admit, I thought they were going to rob me at first!).

Free hugs in San Marco
Whilst wandering through San Marco, we decided to ditch the map and do a little exploring of our own. This led us down a few random alleyways and we ended up a little lost..

Spaghetti mare e monti

Instead of panicking, we settled ourselves down in a nearby restaurant (they're never too far) for dinner. We were able to share a set menu and, fortunately, this meal was a great improvement compared to the meal we had earlier in the day. It definitely pays to wander off the main tourist paths for food! Whether or not it was intentional..

Steak and chips (sorry, I forgot to get the name on the menu)
The spaghetti was delicious, with clean seafood flavours from the clams and mussels on a tomato base. Our second course of steak, chips and spinach was also well cooked and followed with a delicious tiramisu.

Staff at Harry's Bar dressed nicer than us
One of the places near the top of my Venice list was Harry's Bar, the home of the Bellini -a favourite drink of mine. They are also famous for carpaccio and the dry martini. One of the most fancy places I've ever been to, the staff were meticulously dressed in sharp white suits and made us feel quite under dressed for such a fancy place.

Peach Bellinis from Harry's Bar
The menu here is incredibly pricey but their reputation means they can pretty much charge whatever they want. Our Bellinis were 16.50 each and came to us with a bowl of olives and a history of the bar and its owner.

This was easily the most expensive thing we spend our money on in Europe, but I think it was worth it. Jason and I had never enjoyed olives more than we did that day.

Every morning looked like this
We absolutely loved our time in this city and found that we didn't really mind being here in winter. The misty mornings made our surroundings seem magical and it was nice not being in large crowds.

Hope you enjoyed a snippet of our Venice photos and I look forward to showing you the rest of our trip.

Ciao for now :)

Next stop: Berlin, Germany