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The Most Celebrated Cake of the Year

Posted on 1st Feb, 2011 by Georgia Pellegrini

Chinese New Year, which falls on February 3 this year, is one of the most important Chinese holidays. A centuries old tradition, it is a time of festivals and a time of food, when families gather and reflect on their beliefs and their actions. The celebration is part of the Chinese Lunisolar Calendar, and begins with a family feast on the first day of the month and culminates with a Lantern Festival on the 15th day. Though traditions vary by region, Chinese families often decorate their doors with the color red, and shower each other with gifts and food of many kinds.

Food for Celebrating

One of the most popular celebration treats among families is called mooncakes, a round or rectangular thin crust pastry filled with a sweet dense filling. Traditionally, they have a Chinese imprint on the top of the pastry crust, symbolizing longevity or harmony. Mooncakes are most often eaten during another major celebration on the Chinese calendar—the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is mythically linked to the Moon Goddess of Immortality. Mooncakes are so prevalent during this holiday that it is sometimes referred to as the “Mooncake Festival.”

Exploring the Variations

Common fillings for mooncakes are sweet bean paste, jujube paste, various seeds and nuts, and lotus seed paste. Texture ranges from chewy to flaky to tender depending on the baker. Lard is a common ingredient which lends to the texture.

As time goes on, people are becoming ever more experimental with mooncake fillings. From taro to pineapple, to coffee and chocolate, mooncakes are modernizing with the times and bring something new every year to a very old family tradition.

Foodily.com has some great examples of new variations on an old recipe.

Try Adzuki mooncakes, and cupcake style mooncakes to start this New Year off right!

And in the end, even if this isn’t a holiday you normally celebrate, we all can use an extra opportunity to sit with family and friends over good food and reflect.

What is your favorite family food tradition?

Georgia Pellegrini is a chef, author, and blogger who has worked at Gramercy Tavern, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and one of the premier Michelin restaurants in the south of France, La Chassagnette. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Food Heroes, and the upcoming book “Girl Hunter.” She travels the world eating good food, meeting the good people who make it, and writing about it on her popular blog GeorgiaPellegrini.com.

Food, we love you.

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Comments (4)

  1. 3rd Feb 2011
    by Holly

    Sorry but I’m rather confused here – so if this is a cake for celebrating Mid Autumn which is around September, then how is this connected to the Lunar New Year in February?

    • 9th Feb 2011
      by Mariana Abdala

      Hi Holly,
      Thanks for reading our blog! In Chinese tradition, moon cakes are popular at several times of the year, and two of those times happen to be during the Mid Autumn festival, and also during the Lunar New Year in February. They are one of those foods that are seen as staples in many celebrations, which is why it takes the crown for most celebrated cake! I love moon cakes with lotus paste, they are delicate and unique in flavor.

  2. 10th Feb 2011
    by EY

    Looks interesting but I was rather confused as well when I saw this post associated with LNY. I grew up in Taiwan and of the rich variety of foods served during LNY, mooncakes was never one of them during this time. It’s not the best time to choose to highlight such a wonderful Chinese treat. Hmm…

    • 10th Feb 2011
      by Mariana Abdala

      Thanks for the feedback EY. What are some foods that you associate with LNY that would be better to highlight than moon cakes?

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