China’s Modern Mooncakes

A selection of mooncake varieties from contemporary China. Featured in: China's Modern Mooncakes »

In the last few years, American companies have begun to make mooncakes, the sweets that are a staple of the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival.
Traditionally, mooncakes are made from three kinds of crust - chewy, flakey, or "tender" - that are usually shortened with lard, and filled with sweet pastes made from lotus seeds, sweet beans like azuki or mung beans, jujubes or other dried fruits, or chopped nuts.
Some mooncakes contain a salted duck egg yolk, which symbolizes the full moon. The treats are often served at nighttime parties, when friends and family gather to look at the harvest moon.
The most common style of mooncake is made using wooden molds with decorations carved into them. Popular decorations include the symbols for fortune, harmony, or longevity, or images of flowers. Another popular theme shows two mythological figures who live on the moon: a woman named Chang'e, who ate a pill that gave her immortality, and a rabbit, whose shape you can see in the full moon's shadows.
These days, very few people make mooncakes at home, preferring to buy them from bakeries, shops, or restaurants. As mooncakes are generally given as gifts, many come in brightly decorated display boxes.
More economical versions of mooncakes are sold individually, often wrapped simply in printed paper.
In recent years, American chains have begun making their own versions of mooncakes. Starbucks offers sets of mooncakes with the company's logo on them in decidedly Western flavors like "espresso coffee cheese and orange" and "green tea toffee cheese".
Perhaps the most popular have been Haagen Dazs' chocolate-covered ice cream varieties, which sell for as much as $125 for a gift box of six and are especially popular among the young, upwardly mobile residents of Shanghai and Beijing.

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