Janice Wong's snow skin mooncakes feature the flavours of Japan this year
Fairest of them all
Gratitude, celebration, a spirit of reunion and the moon's very own beauty – that is the atmosphere within which the Mid-Autumn Festival is ensconced, bringing with it a series of spritely, colourful mooncakes sprouting over our city. Savoured in our diverse little country by even those who do not commemorate the holiday, these delectable treats are constantly brought to the next level by the innovative hands of dessert enthusiasts and pâtissiers. Just like Singapore's famed pastry chef Janice Wong has done, putting forward her own take on the classic seasonal mooncake. This year, she's bringing Japan to our doorsteps.
Driven by a fulfiling trip to the various farms and seeing the produce in person, Janice Wong curated a list of nine prefectures in Japan from which to source for the best ingredients – all featured through a representative flavour in her limited-edition mooncake box set. The pastes that fill each snow skin mooncake are immensely rich, owing to the purity of the ingredients used to create them. A sneak peek: if you want a taste of the Wakayama prefecture, try ume (a type of Asian plum said to have incredible health benefits); from Kyoto, there is hojicha; from Hokkaido, discover the flavors of kinako (roasted soy flour); and from Kumamoto, the famed chestnut.
That said, our session with Janice Wong wasn't just to see for ourselves what her creativity birthed this year. We also had a special chance to witness the behind-the-scenes of each handcrafted mooncake being made from scratch, right from the mixture of vegetable shortening, icing sugar, milk, and kao fen (fried glutinous rice flour) that makes up the snow skin mooncake wrapper, to trapping her bespoke pastes within the delightfully sweet casings. Not only that – we tried making some ourselves, and we can safely account for the particular satisfaction to be had from eating the fruits of your own labor. Below, a run-down of tips from the masterclass that may give you some inspiration to make your own mooncakes this coming September.
Keep it small
This may be preferential, but a common complaint among mooncake lovers is that each of them are too big to eat in full within a single sit-down – especially if they come in a box full of must-try flavors. Chef Janice's solution: no more than 48g per mooncake. The formula is to portion out 20g of the snow skin wrapper for every 28g of paste used. Together, a perfectly-sized snack is formed, just enough to please even Goldilocks.
Keep the table floured, but your hands moderately sticky
While preparing the snow skin wrapper, sprinkling generous amounts of flour on the table will help the process of rolling the flour mixture into a ball and prevent it from sticking to the surface when you subsequently flatten it down. The pastes also have to be spherical, and with softer pastes like the ume, even more flour is called for to help it keep its shape. Beware of having too much flour on your hands when you eventually wrap the mooncake together though – it would result in more difficulty closing up the mooncake's bottom, since the wrapper would be too dry to stick together.
Keep going – the wrapping takes a while to get a handle of
The wrapping is no easy feat, we must admit. Chef Janice likened the process to wrapping dumplings (though there are a variety of ways to get the mooncake wrapped), of which she revealed she had undergone for a prolonged period of time. It was no wonder then that she demonstrated the wrapping of a mooncake smoothly and elaboratively, while we had quite a notable lack of finesse when handling the separate ingredients. Never fret, though – even if your first few mooncakes are horribly deformed, they still taste great. And it's a simple matter of deliberate repetition, so your hands do get used to the motions and muscle memory kicking in. In fact, it can get quite meditative after a while.
Keep it chilled and fresh
As we know by now, snow skin mooncakes are meant to be refrigerated and consumed within a few weeks, as they have relatively short shelf lives. Then again, this point is almost a non-issue; if they're as tasty as chef Janice's, isn't it obvious that the mooncakes in our fridges wouldn't exactly exist?
Keep some tea at hand
Finally, it's time to breathe some tradition into the mix: a steaming pot of tea to complement the hard work. We took ours with two of Janice Wong's Special Teas – berry chamomile tea and marzipan rose tea – both fragrant but elevating the mooncake experience with distinct fragrances.
Janice Wong's Mooncake Box Set goes for S$65/box. Pre-order at this website between 1 July and 25 August to get a 25% early bird discount.