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Lunar luxuries

Updated: 2013-09-07 00:38
By Pauline D. Loh, Ye Jun, Fan Zhen, Xu Junqian and Donna Mah and Rebecca Lo ( China Daily)

Every year, when the moon shines brightest, a seasonal pastry makes its rounds as a delectable tidbit and a gift for family, friends and clients. The moon cake, a uniquely Chinese creation, has of late adopted some rather Western habits. The China Daily team of food writers shows you some of the best in the country.

Editor's note:

This guide is totally subjective, gathering the opinions of professional eaters whose taste buds are so fine-tuned that they are immune to most mundane palate pleasures. Here is a list of moon cakes they will buy themselves.

Lunar luxuries
Southern-style moon cakes by Chaohuang Shifu in Beijing.

Fine chocolate temptations

For the modern connoisseurs, the ultimate word in luxury has to be the Four Seasons Beijing's Chocolate Or Noir moon cakes. These melt-in-the-mouth moon cakes are personally supervised by its executive pastry chef and are only available at the Beijing hotel. The moon cakes are presented in innovatively designed boxes inspired by traditional Chinese pendants. The Four Seasons also offers an exotic array using Asian ingredients, such as osmanthus with Chinese yam and longan with oolong tea. 480 yuan ($78) for chocolate moon cakes, 388 yuan for traditional moon cakes.

Eye candy

Visual appeal is the first lesson if you want to standout from the crowd. Sofitel Wanda Beijing invited three French artists to design the covers of their moon cake boxes, blending French art with Chinese tradition. There is also a touch of the whimsical to appeal to the real tyrants of the family — the children. While the Opera Box appeals to the adults with fruit fillings, it is the Cartoon Box, designed like a school bus, filled with chocolate and mango flavors that are flying off the shelves. 268 yuan for Opera Box, 138 yuan for Cartoon Box.

Southern style

In Beijing, there is an invasion from the south. Chaohuang Shifu, Imperial Palace Cantonese Restaurant, leads the trend with Cantonese and Chaozhou moon cakes. The latter uses water and oil pastry that bakes into light flaky whirls, reminiscent of the radish crisps that are so popular in the capital. 548 yuan per box.

Taiwan episodes

Din Tai Fung brought Chinese dumplings to world epicurean attention, and they continue to charm gourmets in major cities with their delicate pastries and fresh, light taste in soups, noodles and stir-fried dishes. Their flaky pastries for Mid-Autumn are a showcase for Taiwanese-style moon cakes, with a rich but healthy filling and traditional Chinese flaky pastry. About 250 yuan per box.

Fresh is best

When it comes to pastry, nothing is better than freshly made. Traders Hotel Beijing bakes moon cakes daily and sells them the same day, without additives or preservatives. Fillings draw inspiration from the deep south to the far north, and include rose jam, Yunnan-style to Beijing's traditional rock sugar, pine nut and raisin filling. 18 yuan per piece of 60 grams.

Peninsula classics

The Peninsula Beijing's main attraction is the mini egg-custard moon cake, based on the famous recipe originating from the mother ship in Hong Kong, which has been a long time favorite since 1986. About 500 yuan per box of four.

Foodies in Hong Kong are still waiting in line for the iconic moon cakes created by Peninsula's dim-sum chef Yip Wing-wah. The bite-sized moon cakes are regular sell-outs and every year, the Hong Kong hotel alone sells close to half a million moon cakes. HK$485 per box of eight.

In Shanghai, the Peninsula offers foodies the pleasure of freshly made moon cakes, done by the city's chefs on site, continuing the legacy of the hotel's egg-custard mini moon cakes.

Moon on a plate

Fook Lam Moon is a Hong Kong institution as much known for their exceptional Cantonese food as their well-heeled celebrity patrons. Their moon cakes are the last word in tradition, and luxury with only the best ingredients used — including a delicate pastry that has tea leaves added to cut the grease and add a fresh, green note. Rare olive kernels are added to give crunch to the fine lotus paste and salted egg yolk filling. HK$680 per box of Classic Four Moon Cake.

The moon according to Yu Lei

Executive chef Miki Imagawa of Yu Lei believes that natural is best and his moon cakes have no preservatives. His little gems have to be ordered and eaten on the spot, and are so limited that they have to be ordered in advance when you place your bookings at the restaurant. The classic custard and salted egg yolk filling is wrapped in a flaky puff pastry that crumbles deliciously at first bite. Order in, no take out. About HK$80 per plate.

Shangri-La Kowloon innovations

Flavor and fragrance are two keywords this year at the Shangri-La Kowloon. Their Chaozhou-style moon cakes with yam paste and salted egg yolks are flavored with specially imported pandan leaves, the aromatic screw pine leaves so popularly used in Southeast Asian cakes and desserts. Their version of the mini custard moon cakes, however, is spiked with quality sauternes from Chateau Guiraud's Petit Guiraud from the highly regarded 2009 vintage. HK$688 for the moon cakes with sauternes.

And the best moon cakes …

Offerings from the heart are the most heart-warming, and that is why we think the best moon cakes in China come from the Beijing Autistic Children's Association. Their moon cakes come in bright red boxes accompanied by hand-made cards from the children. Priceless.

Stories by Pauline D. Loh, Ye Jun, Fan Zhen in Beijing, Xu Junqian in Shanghai and Donna Mah and Rebecca Lo in Hong Kong. Happy Mid-Autumn!