What are the best mooncakes wearing this season? This is not as silly a question as it may seem. Mooncake has become rather trendy and fashion-forward - it is not your tradition-bound cake anymore.
The air of anticipation we feel come September is not unlike how we look forward to a new fashion collection - think Pret-a-Portea cakes at the Berkeley, London.
Mooncake does lend itself to such chichi treatment - be it new shades, new skins, new flavours, a grandiose name, or a new box design.
Call it frivolous, but it's the sentiment of the day - if fashionistas have license to go gaga over a new shade of nail polish, why can't lotus-paste eaters flutter over a nouveau shade of blue on crystal skin mooncake.
The kind of innovations that takes place include vamping up the mooncake using black sesame seeds or salty mung bean paste, or chocolate, as substitutes for the customary salted egg yolk centre.
While purists stand by traditional lotus and red bean paste mooncakes, durian mooncakes are all the rage. Some chefs insist that durian mooncakes should not be baked and should be enjoyed as fresh pulp in snow skin mooncakes.
Mooncakes are also getting sized down to cater to health-conscious consumers and also to keep them affordably priced.
East meets West - again
Grand Imperial Group of Restaurants' signature mooncake this year is Snow Skin Green Tea with Custard Chocolate (RM18.80 nett [S$7.40]). This mooncake has an aromatic paste blended with sencha (Japanese green tea) and a Belgian chocolate couverture centre which is soft and custard-like. The snow skin is also made with green tea powder.
The restaurant chain has nine baked and two snow skin mooncakes. The baked mooncakes include the new varieties: Almond with Sesame White Lotus Paste, Bamboo Charcoal with White Lotus Tiramisu and Black Sesame White Lotus Single Yolk. Snow Skin White Lotus Macadamia Nuts with Salted Egg Yolk is the other snow skin mooncake.
"The restaurant makes only 10 boxes of the green tea mooncakes each day to maintain their freshness. Those who want to buy more will have to pre-order," said Maggie Chow, Grand Imperial Group's business development manager.
A little bit cheesy
When you mix pandan (lotus) paste with parmesan cheese, you get a sweet and salty taste. That's the new taste experience when you savour Autumn Jade, Hilton Kuala Lumpur's signature snow skin mooncake this year. Created by Chinese restaurant Chynna's executive chef Lam Hock Hin, the mooncake has the fresh flavour of pandan and parmesan cheese combined with mandarin orange-infused chocolate filling.
"The pandan paste is mixed with parmesan cheese for a sweet and salty taste. The sandy orangey paste is icing sugar with orange juice and essence. The 'core' is a shell of white chocolate wrapping dark chocolate!" said Lam.
"Pumping dark chocolate into the two hollow halves of the white chocolate shell which are joined to make the core is tedious work!" he said.
The startling Blue Moon is still on the menu - for the third year. This is a snow skin amaretto lotus paste mooncake with blueberry cheese feuillantine. Amaretto, a sweet, almond-flavoured liqueur is mixed with lotus paste, blended blueberries, and mashed cheese, then frozen. It is later coated with crunchy chocolate (feuillantine) and wrapped in snow skin. The feuillantine lends a little crunch and the cheese gives it pizzazz.
All the hotel's 11 types of mooncakes are made daily without added preservatives. Prices start from RM22+. A Prestige Box of four is RM88+. The Heavenly Gold mooncakes in a Premium Box of four or six is priced at RM198+ and RM276+ respectively.
Durian is still king
Last year, Tai Thong's Imperial Musang King Royale mooncakes were so "wildly successful" they are doubling its production this year. The top of-the-range durian mooncake weighs between 130g and 140g each and is sold in a box of two. The snow skin allows the pure taste of durian to come through.
"No heat is used in the making to maintain its fresh flavour - the durian pulp is simply removed and wrapped in snow skin," said Yiu Wing Keung, group executive chef.
He shares this tip on the best way to serve crystal durian mooncake: Remove the durian mooncake from the freezer and cut it while it is hard. Thaw for five minutes to soften before consuming.
"Never thaw durian mooncake too long or the pulp will be too soft to cut," Yiu said. If kept properly in the freezer, even durian mooncakes can be stored for months.
There are two new additions to Tai Thong's durian range. Premium Durian Duet is a box of four snow skin mooncakes (90g) with D24 or Red Prawn durian filling. D24 has a sweet taste while Red Prawn has a hint of bitterness.
Tutti frutti flavours
Tai Thong is also upping the ante on fruity flavours with a double whammy: a fruity two-layer filling. The Snow Skin Honey Lemon Grapefruit has a fruity two-layer filling using juice from zesty lemon and grapefruit. One portion of lotus paste has grapefruit juice and honey; the other lemon and honey flavouring.
Honey Grapefruit and Mixed Nuts, a baked mooncake, combines sweet and tangy flavours of honey grapefruit paste encasing a nutty core of dried fruits, winter melon, almonds and sesame seeds.
Dragon fruit and Coconut Single Yolk has a tri-colour filling! There is a pinkish paste made with dragon fruit which wraps around a greenish pandan-flavoured paste with shredded coconut and yellow salted egg yolk.
Less is more, small is cute. Eastin Hotel's Mini Crystal Blueberry Paste mooncakes are its newest variant. The hotel's Ee Chinese Cuisine restaurant makes snow skin mini mooncakes with traditional (pandan or lotus paste fillings) and exotic (durian paste, corn with custard and blueberry) flavours. The Mini Crystal Durian Paste (with D24 durian pulp) is truly awesome with its sweet, creamy taste.
Mini mooncakes are gaining popularity because they look exquisite, petite and non-threatening to the waistline. The mini delights are priced from RM11+ per piece.
Pump(k)in' and mint-ing mooncakes
Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur's Dynasty restaurant has two new snow skin mooncakes: Snow Skin Mint Lotus Paste, and Snow Skin Pumpkin Paste. It also has a selection of 14 traditional mooncakes.
"Snow Skin Mint with Lotus Paste Mooncake has a skin made with blended mint leaves, hence the specks of mint in the skin. For the filling, mint juice is added to lotus paste and cane sugar which is less sweet, is used," said dim sum chef Chai Chee Yuan.
The mooncakes are priced at RM13.80 nett.