Last week I received an email advertising cupcakes made to look like moon cakes. All I could think of , besides “wow ! what a great idea”, is times have changed.
In the last several years the moon cake business has gone from the traditional lard laden pastry with the decidedly Chinese fillings like lotus paste and egg to ice cream versions and specialty cakes from Starbucks ( I assume these would have a distinct coffee flavor). The elaborate packaging has become almost as important as the cakes themselves.
But that aside, moon cakes are the traditional treat and must have of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival being celebrated this week. And it is wonderful to have so many choices of cakes from the traditional lotus seed (蓮蓉, lían róng), red bean (豆沙, dòu shā) and 5 – Kernel (五仁, wǔ rén) flavors to the decidedly un-Chinese options of chocolate ice cream and vanilla cake. For those of us for whom this holiday is a new tradition, the choices are truly something to celebrate.
Like many traditional holiday foods, these moon cakes can spell diet trouble. Maybe that is why we are only supposed to eat them once a year? One look at the recipe, which requires lard in the filling and the crust, and you can already tell that this is one calorie and saturated fat loaded treat. To be fair there are recipes that have replaced the lard with oil but that is not the “tradition”.
Finding out how many calories and fat are in a moon cake is not an easy task. Depending on the filling the numbers for a 3 inch ( across the top) moon cake can range from 200 calories to 1000 calories, with most closer to 500 calories.
However in this case we really shouldn’t blame the baker for creating this potential diet disaster. Historically moon cakes were never meant to be eaten alone by one person. The basis of the festival is a family gathering, much like a harvest festival in other cultures. The round shape of the cake symbolizes not just the moon but the togetherness of the family, a never ending bond. Moon cakes are meant to be shared with family and friends; eating wedges of cake and sipping tea or wine while gazing at the full moon.
If this is your first Mid-Autumn Festival I encourage to try the traditional moon cake, after all you are in China, and be sure to share it with family and friends.
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